A Typist's Companion for
the 21st Century
For the best and latest presentation of my favorite techniques,
see Chapter 4 of my book.
Meanwhile, here's a collection of tips I've discovered myself and
learned from friends. (Thanks especially to Rob Bowker, Gregory
Fischer, Paul Dobias, Luis Galiano, Tim McCoy, Jared Mogensen, Jett
Morton, Paul Musgrave, Lynn Myers, Robert Neuwirth, Paul Panella,
Joseph Pierson, George Prytulak, Paul Ross, Matthieu Théorêt, Lane
Welch, and Peter Weil.) Everybody, if you have more tips, send them in!
Before you do anything: Think about whether you're willing
to live with the consequences if you mess up. Try to make sure
that your alterations are reversible, and don't do anything to a
truly rare machine other than gentle dusting and cleaning. The
best way to get familiar with restoration techniques is to
experiment on an ordinary typewriter first (how about a good old
Underwood No. 5?). Whenever possible, test all these techniques on
a hidden surface of the typewriter before you attack the main
Online Typewriter Support, by Will Davis,
provides further advice on operating, maintaining, and repairing a
For more good ideas about restoration, check out The
Typewriter Restoration Site.
Names of some products below are linked to Google Shopping so
you can compare prices online.
Initial cleanup and lubrication
Click here for a
basic illustrated guide to cleaning and lubrication from a
1977 Reader's Digest book.
These are happy hours for me, as I get to discover the various parts
and features of my new typewriter and I start to uncover the beauty
hidden under the filth. The paint on your typewriter may appear
cracked and dull, but chances are that you are looking at decades'
worth of tightly compacted dirt, grease, ink, sweat, and cigarette
smoke. If you can manage to remove that layer of crud, you may find
that the underlying paint job is still smooth and can be made to
gleam. If you're unlucky, the crud will turn out to be a layer of
varnish applied at the factory, which has grown wrinkly and brown
with age; that can be hard to remove. Of course, if you're lucky
enough to find a typewriter that has been kept in a case, this won't
be an issue -- it will just need a little loving care. In any case,
you'll find the following items useful:
The following substances can help remove dirt and grease (often old
typewriters have been over-oiled at some point in the past, or even
dipped in a vat of oil, which in the long term turns into a sticky
mess that must be removed).
- Soft, clean, white cotton rags. You'll go through a
lot of these. The gentlest approach (recommended at first) is to
wipe the typewriter with a wet rag, or a rag dipped in water
with a few drops of dishwashing liquid.
- Brushes: you can try toothbrushes, nail brushes,
brushes for cleaning firearms or dentures, and artist's
paintbrushes. The bristles on brushes can be trimmed to make
- Q-tips are nice for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
(Synthetic-tipped alternative: Tipton's
swabs. One collector has written to me: "Instead of using
Q-Tips, you can also roll your own swabs using wooden applicator
sticks (6" long x 1/16" diameter) and cotton batting. Bamboo
skewers work just as well, and they last for days/weeks. One
roll of cotton batting will yield about a million swabs. As soon
as a swab is dirty, you pull it off and replace it. The most
important thing is to use damp--not wet--swabs. You can achieve
this by rolling a wet swab on a piece of blotting paper. By
doing this, you avoid flooding the surface, and water won't seep
into all the wrong places."
- For initial dust removal, the vacuum-cleaner hose attachment
kits sold in computer and computer supply stores and catalogs
work very well. They are especially helpful in cleaning
- For more precise blasts of compressed air, buy a canister
intended for cleaning electronic equipment (these are available
at most office supply stores).
- You can also sic your leaf blower on your dusty old
typewriter, or take it down to the gas station and take
advantage of their compressed air. (Probably not a great idea
for rare typewriters!)
- Meghan S. writes: "Hey, I found something a few months back
that helped wonders for the initial dust-off when I acquired a
new machine -- dryer sheets! They collect dust as you wipe,
moving it all to one spot, and generally the dust will stick to
the sheet -- even dust you didn't know was there. Helps with
thin layers of grease that cotton rags will just move around,
too. And they're thin enough that you can get into hard-to-reach
spaces (just not the small pieces)."
How do you remove mold from a typewriter?
- Soft Scrub is a gentle liquid cleanser that is easily
available. To remove heavy dirt, try applying diluted Soft Scrub
with a finger or rag, and removing it with a rag, over and over
and over. Careful: some finishes will be scratched even by this
cleanser. But my Caligraph required vigorous scrubbing with
undiluted Soft Scrub!
- Try Dentucreme: "yes, the toothpaste for dentures. It
is very mildly abrasive and extremely effective on surfaces that
would show scratches. I use it on mother-of-pearl and other
delicate surfaces." --Lane Welch
- Steve Maloney reports that "Gojo,"
a hand cleaner, is excellent for cleaning original lacquer
Bubbles is good for penetrating tiny crevices on wrinkle paint. Use a
toothbrush to get it down into the wrinkles. It does have a
tendency to remove some paint, and can harm decals, so be
- "For typewriters that have textured finishes, I would
not recommend using furniture polish. I have found that the best
way to clean these surfaces without buffing down the textured
finish is to use a 'fingernail' brush and a solution of baking
soda and mild dishwashing detergent. I am liberal with the
baking soda and conservative with the dishwashing detergent. The
dishwashing detergent is mainly there for removing oils. You
might be surprised how much dirt gets accumulated in these
textured finishes." -- Paul Dobias
- "A very good cleaner that works well with 'crackle
lacquer' finishes is Dow Scrubbing Bubbles. It is a
water based foaming cleaner that lifts out dirt and other grunge
from the nooks and crannies in the finish. It also works
well on smooth finishes, but is really good if you are trying to
get down into the detail. It also is excellent for such
things as the oil cloth and simulated leather of portable
cases. The current product is made by Johnson, and is not
as good in my estimation as the original Dow product, but it is
still very good. I have used it on car interiors such as
headliners, and or musical instrument cases, as well as music
amplifiers with Tolex covering. Using a soft brush like an
old tooth brush works well. It is then good, after wiping
off the last application, to use plain water to wipe down the
surface until clean." --Tim McCoy
- "Another more aggressive product, but still water based, is “Krud
Kutter”; this stuff will clean the grease off of an old
engine, but not harm the paint. It, like the Scrubbing
Bubbles, should be finished with a clean water wipe down, until
all traces of dirt are off. There is another even more
aggressive version called Krud Kutter Graffiti Remover.
I’ve not tried it, but it might be useful in a watered down
form, but test it on something before using it on some
collectable." --Tim McCoy
- "For postwar machines, use a cleaner designed for pots and
pans, or even dish soap--it will cut through the grime and make
any gray typewriter a little less gray/dull." --Nick Bodemer
- Oil will improve the functioning of some parts, notably when
applied to the carriage rails. Apply very sparingly, with the
end of a pin or paper clip. Use a light, high-grade oil. 3-in-1
Oil is an easily available option. Probably a better choice is
gun oil, such as Hoppe's
Oil, or a penetrant such as PB
- It's a bad idea to put oil in the segment (the slotted
piece that holds the typebars); the oil can get dirty and gummy
after a while.
- It's a bad idea to use WD-40
on a typewriter. It is not a good lubricant for fine machinery
and after a little time, it will get gummy and make things worse
- Gun cleaning solvents can be very useful. I have had good luck
Gun Scrubber. Other products I have heard about are M-Pro
gun cleaning spray, G-96, and Break Free.
Super Penetrant has worked very well for me in
removing old oil and lubricating mechanisms.
Blaster can remove old grease and free up parts. It
also can restore shine to dark wrinkle paint, as it seeps into
- Stronger products (use outdoors, and test inconspicuously on
decals and paint) include naphtha (lighter fluid) and carburetor
- "Also a good cleaner is equal parts of acetone, automatic
transmission fluid, kerosene, and mineral spirits. Be careful of
the acetone, however. This is a standard firearms cleaning
mixture for cleaning bores, etc. For really gunked up
typewriters, it works pretty good." --Paul Ross
- Mineral spirits (e.g., Varsol or Stoddard
Solvent, available at paint stores) have been recommended
to me. "Brush the mineral spirits on, using a natural-fiber
brush which is bonded onto the handle with metal, not plastic.
The machine should then be GENTLY blown out with an air
compressor. Then apply a light lubrication to moving parts."
- "When performing cleaning and lubrication, I would recommend
following up after degreasers and lighter oils with a heavier
oil. Also, oils used around chipped and delaminating coatings
may contribute to further delamination. For instance, for
blowing out dusts, removing some grease buildup, and to leave
behind a think layer of lubricant, I would recommend using 'TV
Tuner Cleaner,' and then follow up with a light oil." -- Paul
- "At 50 cents each, Southern
cleaning rags may be expensive (after all, they're going
to get dirty quick), but they put out no lint, and they've been
a big help." --Robert Neuwirth
- "Automatic transmission fluid, thinned 50% with kerosene, is
an excellent rust preventive and general lubricant. Lots of
anti-oxidant material in it, so it doesn't 'gum up' with time.
As usual, in oiling, apply sparingly." --Paul Ross
- Instead of lubricating with oil, which can eventually collect
dust and make the mechanism stick again, you can try dry,
powdered graphite. (This is not recommended for use on
anything that has aluminum, since graphite has a high galvanic
difference to aluminum and will pit and corrode it.)
Magic rust and lead Removing Cloths do a good job rubbing
grime, rust, and discoloration off typebars and other naked
metal pieces. Leaves a bit of a greasy feel, so you have to rub
down with a plain cloth after you're done". --Robert Neuwirth
- "Iosso Gunbrite is good at taking off serious surface rust
without destroying chromed surfaces, though you have to rub like
crazy." --Robert Neuwirth
- Platen cleaning: after an initial wiping with water and Soft
Scrub, several brands of rubber/plastic restorer can remove more
dirt. For more on platens, see the next section. "Rubber
rejuvenators" will clean platens, but not really rejuvenate the
rubber. In my experience, the stuff is also good for dissolving
old grease, such as grease stuck in the slots of a segment.
Rubber Cleaner Conditioner is a heavy-duty solvent that cleans
type and platens. If you can find a dauber (like the type used
for liquid shoe polish) spread a thin coating on the type and
let it work for about a minute or two, then wipe off with a rag.
For the platen, if the platen can be removed, put some Fedron on
a rag and wipe the rubber off. It instantly removes dirt, ink,
and rust marks. Fedron is harsh: be sure to keep it away from
paint, decals, and all delicate parts and materials (such as
string and plastic). Use in a well-ventilated area: it stinks!
- "That moldy smell" is a common problem, especially with
portables--and if you're allergic to mold, it can be a real
health hazard. Yes, the smell is caused primarily by mold,
combined with decades of dust and cigarette smoke. Mold won't
grow on metal, but it will grow on typewriter ribbons and on
fabric-covered cases. Take your typewriter out of its case and
blow the lint and dust out of it (a compressed air canister for
cleaning computer and stereo equipment is handy here). Throw
away the ribbon. Look carefully for any surfaces that may have
mold on them (the typebars usually rest on fabric or felt; some
typewriters also have felt elsewhere, to deaden the noise).
Clean and polish the machine using the materials I list on this
page. The cases can be cleaned with harsher materials, such as
Scrubbing Bubbles, Concrobium mold control, Lysol, window
cleaner, or ammonia. Mr. Clean's Eraser Pads have also been
recommended to me for this purpose. Then let everything dry
thoroughly, preferably in sunlight. Store typewriters and cases
in dry environments with moderate temperatures. You may have to
clean the cases again every 6 months or so.
- Paul Panella writes: "I've found that the musty smell from the
old leatherette cases can be removed by first wiping down with a
light disinfectant wipe. I use Clorox disinfecting wipes. Then I
generously apply Old English lemon oil furniture polish inside
and out. The leatherette just soaks it up and it seems to take
care of the strong odor with no residue. These old cases are so
dry that the lemon oil disappears almost immediately."
- Paul Musgrave writes: "Sometimes, the smell of an old
typewriter is quite pleasant and should be left as is for the
sake of authenticity. Other times, an old typewriter has
been left in a basement where a nasty, eye-scorching fungus has
staked its claim on the dormant old machine. This is
particularly true of higher-end portables (ones with felt
soundproofing) that have been left in their wood-shell cases in
a damp environment. Some examples are the Smith Corona
Silent and Olympia SMs.
"My first experience with a nasty, moldy typewriter was with a
Smith Corona Super. I went so far as to remove the felt,
but unfortunately, I wasn't quite able to get the soundproofing
to really work after that. I switched tactics after that
experience. My next machine was with a Smith Corona Silent
(Speedline). It is a beautiful machine, but the musty
smell was strong enough to fill the room. This time, I
used Concrobium Mold Control. It is sold in spray bottles
at Home Depot (among other retailers). I took the shell
off the Silent, carefully sprayed the Concrobium on the felt (it
leaves a foggy glaze on most parts, so I highly recommend being
precise in spraying...even pressing the nozzle directly against
the felt and slowly injecting the fluid into the felt).
After letting it soak into the felt for a few minutes, I sopped
up the excess in a paper towel and let the pieces air dry.
Sure enough, the Concrobium killed whatever mold and spores
lived in the felt and took the edge off the smell. I've
tried the same technique with a SC Skyriter with success.
From what I understand, Concrobium leaves an anti-fungal and
anti-microbial film wherever it is applied to kill whatever
fungi is on it and prevent it from returning. Since the
felt in a typewriter is almost always hidden and used solely for
sound deadening, I can't imagine the film would be a
problem. It's been nearly a year since I treated my
Silent, and I've not had any ill effects whatsoever.
"In most cases, the wooden carrying case often absorbs the musty
odor. This was true in the case of my Silent. I was
able to clean the case (inside and out) using the techniques I
learned on your webpage, which helped somewhat. To kill
the rest of the smell, I took some fresh pipe tobacco (cheap
stuff from the drug store will work, as long as it smells
pleasant), wrapped about a silver dollar's worth up in a coffee
filter, tied it into a bundle using a trash bag tie, and set it
in the typewriter case. After a few weeks, the slight
remains of the old typewriter smell blends with the smell of the
fresh pipe tobacco and the typewriter smells quite divine.
I normally wouldn't recommend tobacco use to anybody, but in
this case it was put to a really good use!"
Improving paint, metal, rubber, and other
The typical deep-black color of an early typewriter consists of
lacquer, which is quite difficult to restore. Enamel paint was
introduced in the 1920s. Typewriters also have many metal parts
which are susceptible to rust and discoloration. The shiny metal
parts of older typewriters are nickel-plated; some newer machines
have chrome-plated parts.
- Rust removal should be attempted by the gentlest method first.
In order from gentlest to roughest, I recommend: Mother's Mag
& Aluminum Polish (available at auto supply stores);
superfine steel wool (try to avoid getting the steel filings
into the mechanism); superfine sandpaper; rougher steel wool; a
synthetic scrubbing pad; a rotary tool (such as a Dremel) with a
wire brush attachment (I recommend the cup-shaped brush; wear
eye protection, as bits of wire will fly off); a rotary tool
with a cratex attachment (rubber impregnated with a tough
material). The cratex attachments do a great job of removing
rust, but they will leave a mark; use them for initial heavy
rust removal, then finish with a wire brush to smooth out the
is an excellent product if you need to remove rust from the
whole body of a machine, or if you want to de-rust individual
parts without using the methods above. You immerse things in
this product and only the rust disappears. It is nontoxic and
reusable. In order to immerse a whole typewriter, you will need
5 gallons (it can be diluted a bit with water if necessary).
Remove the body panels and platen. If there are any remaining
paint and decals, protect them with a good coat of wax, as the
Evapo-Rust can harm them. After soaking in Evapo-Rust for up to
24 hours, things can be rinsed off in water. Then dry them
immediately with a hair dryer or other means. (With some parts
you may not mind having a residue of Evapo-Rust on them, which
will protect against future rust, so there is no need to rinse.)
The Evapo-Rust may leave a dull or dark residue on surfaces,
which can easily be polished clean. You may also get acceptable
effects by spraying Evapo-Rust repeatedly for about an hour,
instead of immersing the machine. Some products chemically
identical to Evapo-Rust are also available. They and the
original can be found on eBay with a search for "Evapo-Rust."
- "For minor rust removal, try using an electric eraser (also
known as an 'architect's eraser'). Koh-I-Noor and Staedtler both
make fairly inexpensive models with a variety of eraser refills.
The gray, ink erasers are the most aggressive. The soft, white
refills are especially good for removing light surface dirt and
oxide layers (practice on a tarnished penny!)."
- Here's a really easy way to touch up small spots of black
paint (which is by far the most common color on early
typewriters): use a permanent black marker. This is easy to
apply, lies flat on the surface, and can make a big difference.
Despite the term "permanent," it is also easier to remove than
- What if you want or need to use real paint? Touch-up paint
for cars, which is sold in tiny bottles in auto shops, can be
handy here. It dries to a glossy finish and is not thick or
clumpy, as long as it's shaken enough in advance. But take a
good look at your typewriter in the sunlight after this paint
has dried -- you may find that it's not really as black as the
- "The paint pen to use is Uni-Paint medium line PX-20 (or fine
line if you prefer) Opaque Oil Base marker. You can order them
at Staples in just about any color of the rainbow.They only take
a day or two to get." -- Robert Nelson
- "For coatings touch up, ensure that surfaces are free of
oils, buff exposed substrate materials with an abrasive pad, and
recoat with nail polish. The 'anchor tooth' from abrading will
ensure adhesion, but your requirements probably won't be higher
than a simple visually detected surface profile. Nail polishes
come in many shades, so you should be able to get your exact
match. Also, they have a tendency to set up a little thicker
than some of the automotive paints, which adds to the depth and
luster of the color to better simulate the multiple layer effect
of lacquers." -- Paul Dobias
Gone" can remove unwanted paint that has been added by a
previous owner, revealing the original paint and decals below.
It also removes Wite-Out.
- To restore faded paint on keys and scales, try Lacquer-Stik
Feet and feed rollers
- Bob Aubert offers new replacement feet made of black Buna N
synthetic rubber, which is far more durable than the original
composite material. The feet are sold in sets for the following
typewriters: Columbia/Barlock Models 1- 20; Hammond 1 - 12, and
the non-folding Multiplex; Harris/Rex Visible 4; LC Smith 1 - 8;
Oliver 1 - 11; Smith Premier 1 - 10; Remington Standard 10;
Royal Flatbed 1 - 5; early Royal 10; Underwood 1 - 5; Wellington
2 & 3; Williams 1 - 6, Yost 1 - 4, and some portables.
Prices vary from $7.50 to $35.00 per set (postpaid) depending on
size and whether or not the mounting hardware is included.
He does not have any tapered square of rectangular feet. There
are two different sizes of stepped bumpers available. They
will work any typewriter with 1/2" or 5/8" mounting holes.
If you require a different stem diameter, these feet can be
modified to fit. For more info, Bob's e-mail address is email@example.com or
call him at (856) 461-7080.
- You can also visit your local hardware store in search of
rubber parts that will work as feet. Sometimes a rubber stopper
will be ideal (tip: squeeze the big end in first, not the small
end). Andy McWilliams writes that this item worked perfectly to
replace the feet on a Remington portable #5 (and they will
probably work on similar Remington portables): 27/32 x 9/32 inch
slip joint washers, Home Depot stock number 38809b, made by
Danco Co., Concordville, PA 19331. Ryan Long had luck fitting
his own Remington portable #5 with "Replacement Aqua-Seal
Washers for 'American Standard,'" size: fits 2k-2h and 2c, made
by Danco for faucet repair. They fit into place and lock with an
- One collector writes: "I am writing to you to add a tip
regarding typewriter feet. I found this stuff to be most
ingenious indeed and very reasonably priced compared to having
feet manufactured professionally or even purchasing new old
stock. It runs about $9.00 to $12.00 for a packet. The
product is called Sugru.
It is an air-curing molding glue putty that dries overnight into
a soft silicone/ rubber and it comes in a variety of colors that
can be mixed into custom colors too. Black, white and gray are
also available. You can shape it, mold it or cover things with
it and it adheres to the surface you apply it to! It can even be
ordered in a magnetized form."
- Slices of wine corks can make easy replacements for feet, if
you don't feel you need rubber.
- Another possibility is refurbishing the old rubber feet. Carl
Strange recommends "a product called Plasti
Dip, which is usually thought of as a coating for hand
tools; it gives new life (and restored bulk, to say nothing of a
rubbery grip) to emaciated typewriter feet. A can costs about
$8. I used it on a 1941 Underwood Champion and my dear old
Underwood 11 with very satisfactory results."
- Feed rollers are often hardened or have developed
"flats" from being pressed against the platen for decades.
Matthieu Théorêt reports that removing the old rubber and
replacing it with shrink
tubing can be the solution. "For the back rollers, I used
about 8 layers of tubing, shrunk and cut to attain a great look.
The front rollers took only 4 layers. I used a smaller diameter
tube that I loosened with my pliers, so that the shrunk result
would be really tight."
- Bob Aubert suggests using rubber hose for cars to recover your
feed rollers. "I've done it this way at least a hundred times
and it works! Simply take your old rollers to a auto place, ask
to see their hose stock, pick something that is close and it
will be just fine. Shop for a brand that is smooth on the
outside! Cut it roughly to size, slip it on, put the shaft into
an electric drill, and trim the excess off with a razor while
it's turning. It will look like it was done in the Remington
- You may also be able to recover feed rollers with latex
tubing, sold by length in some hardware stores.
- Another solution worth trying is pencil grips.
- Black electrical tape may also work, and for this method you
don't need to remove the feed rollers from their housing (which
is sometimes difficult). Just cut and scrape off the old rubber
and apply the tape, stretching fairly tightly and making it as
long as it needs to be to reproduce the original diameter. Put
it on in such a way that the normal direction of rotation will
tend to keep flattening down the end of the tape.
- One last suggestion for feed rollers: when heated with a hair
dryer they may become pliable and you may be able to reshape
them. Heat may also help you unstick feed rollers from a platen.
The platen is the printing surface of a typewriter -- normally, a
rubber-covered cylinder. The rubber on an old platen may get hard
and slick, so that it doesn't grip paper properly and the type hits
it with a harsh, loud impact. What to do?
- Vigorous scrubbing with Soft Scrub will remove the dirty and
slick exterior layer of the rubber, and improve the grip.
- You can also try roughening the platen by scrubbing it with
sandpaper, but I like the results of Soft Scrub better.
- Brake fluid (DOT 3) reacts chemically with rubber and breaks
it down. It will soften rubber unacceptably when exposed to it
for the long term. A little exposure, however, can add a little
flexibility and grip to the outermost layer of a platen. You can
wipe a thin layer of brake fluid on with a paper towel, leave it
on for about an hour, then wipe off any residue. Avoid skin and
eye contact. Allow several hours of drying after this procedure,
because at first the platen exterior will be too soft and should
not be handled or used.
- Use one or two sheets of backing paper for cushioning if your
platen is hard.
- Up until April 2012, the Ames Supply Co. of Illinois provided
a platen recovering service. In May 2012 they announced they
were going out of business after 110 years.
- In Germany, platens
will be recovered by Eveline
- In Italy, contact Domenico
- In the Netherlands, AKB Longs will
- In Switzerland, Typ Gummi TGW will do the
- In the UK, contact Mr. & Mrs.
Vintage Typewriters or try Longs.
- In the USA, J.J.
Short recovers platens. Write to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org to
get a quote, providing the following information: the inside
diameter of the rubber tube or the outside diameter of the
wooden or metal core without the rubber; the current outside
diameter of the platen; and the length of the rubber. "For
multiple platens in the same size range we will offer discounted
pricing for qtys of 2-5 and 6+."
- West Coast Platen, http://www.platen.com/,
had some spare platens in stock as of June 2012. You may e-mail
- Rino Breebart has
on his blog how he recovered a Hermes platen using a
bicycle inner tube. For a diameter and smoothness matching the
original specifications, you probably want to get a
professionally installed new platen, but this is an interesting
- I have used colored shrink tubing to give a platen a new
surface and a new color (purple!). Like using a bicycle tube,
this is not the most professional and precise solution, but it
is at least fun. You need tubing that is big enough to fit
easily over the platen. You can heat it over a gas stove burner,
turning frequently and rolling the platen on a counter every so
often to smooth out the wrinkles. After 5-10 minutes the tubing
will fit tightly onto the platen.
- Many early typewriters are decorated with pinstripes -- often
these are thin parallel lines of blue and yellow. Beugler offers
a kit for precision pinstriping with paint. Other pinstriping
supplies are available from Finesse
Pinstriping. You can also find pinstriping decals at many
hobby shops, or order them from The Antique Phonograph Supply
Co., Route 23, Box 123, Davenport Center, NY 13751-0123, phone
- Bits of gold may be missing from the decals or lettering. One
amateurish solution is to touch them up with a fine-point
metallic gold marker. This is easily scratched off, but for the
beginner that's probably a virtue. The metallic marker really
can improve the neatness of your typewriter if it's used wisely.
- Replacement decals for many antique typewriters are offered by
Paul Robert. Visit his
Etsy shop here. A longer list of his decals is here.
- It's possible to get nickel parts replated. You may want to
consult a professional (such as Rayco Metal Finishing),
but a home replating kit is made by Vigor-Bestfit, 320 Thornton
Road, Lithia Springs, GA 30057. Phone 770-944-2733, fax
770-944-2765. The kit is available at Zak Jewelry Tools, 55 West
47th Street, New York, NY, phone 212-768-8122.
- Replacement leather handle straps (for cases) can be cut from
used leather belts. Nice replacement leather handles are also
available at some music stores, as they are used on instrument
- If the key legends (the letters, numbers, etc.) on your keys
are stained or faded, you can replace them. It helps a lot to
have special tools for removing and replacing the metal key
rings. I have prepared a PDF of key legends that you can download here. Print it on a laser
printer at actual size (not "shrink to fit"). The PDF is
high-resolution (1200dpi), but the quality of your printout will
depend on your printer, the print settings, and the paper used.
You may also prefer this black-and-white
Here's the sensuous phase. Loving applications and re-applications
of polishing agents will leave your typewriter looking glossy, fresh
and grateful. You'll be amazed at the difference!
- For a safe, effective finish used by museums, I recommend
Renaissance brand microcrystalline wax. It can be found on eBay and at various
suppliers. Apply and buff the wax with clean cotton cloth.
- A good alternative is a commercial blend of microcrystalline
waxes, in paste form, such as Johnson's "Klear" or "AeroWax."
Cleaner Wax (available in auto supply stores) works
nicely. Other car finishes, such as Turtle Wax, can also work
- Wax can be removed with a cloth dampened in mineral spirits
(such as Varsol and Stoddard Solvent). Use in a well-ventilated
- Pledge is an easily available polish that I have
often used as a cleaning and polishing agent. Spray it on a
clean rag, wipe the part you're polishing thoroughly with the
rag, repeat until the rag doesn't look brownish at all. However,
I have been warned that overuse of Pledge can leave a sticky
residue. It also contains silicone, which may be impossible to
remove later; do not spray it on the mechanism, and do not use
Pledge on a rare machine. Endust claims that it contains
no silicone. Nick Bodemer reports, "For prewar typewriters, I
use Old English Lemon Furniture Polish--it works very well, and
does not remove decals (even on a 1930s Royal)."
- I've also heard that Fantastick works well as a
polish and cleaner.
- Other effective polishes include Armor All and Klasse
- Elaine Golladay suggests Klasse
in One Acrylic Protectant. Note that this car polish will
leave a strong and shiny acrylic layer on the typewriter.
& Aluminum Polish (available at auto supply stores) is
an excellent cleaner and polish for metal parts both large and
small. On machines with a lot of aluminum (such as the Blick 6
or Hammond Folding) this stuff can work a miraculous
- Other metal polishes include Flyt (available at gun shops) and
(which has been highly recommended to me for aluminum -- ask at
auto supply shops).
Click here for a
basic illustrated guide to simple repairs from a 1977 Reader's
here for a Web version of Clarence LeRoy Jones' Typewriter Mechanical Training
Manual, published by the U.S. War Department in 1944.
manuals can be found on my manuals page.
Manual typewriters operate on relatively simple principles, and you
can usually fix a problem using patient investigation and some
screwdrivers. But don't underestimate the need to keep track of all
the parts you remove! You can easily find yourself with a pile of
parts that you can't fit together again. Check Online
Typewriter Support, by Will Davis, for further advice on
operating, maintaining, and repairing a manual typewriter. As for
typewriter repair shops, visit my list of
- Chapman Mfg. Co. has put together a
nice screwdriver kit with bits designed especially for
- You may want to invest in a set of gunsmith's screwdrivers.
in boxed sets with up to 58 interchangeable bits, as well as
ultrathin sets. This allows you to find a perfect fit for every
slotted screwhead, so damage is less likely to occur. (Note that
older screws tend to have much narrower slots than modern ones.)
"The best source for these screwdrivers is Brownell's, Inc., 200
South Front Street, Montezuma, Iowa 50171; tel. 515-623-5401;
fax 515-623-3896. Check out their 'Magna-Tip Super-Sets.' You'll
wonder how you managed without them. About $82.00, but they'll
last a lifetime."
- Magnetic screwdrivers are helpful for holding on to
- Sears sells very useful sets of Craftsman tools meant for
repairing computers and other electronic equipment. The tools
are hard steel, many have fine tips, and an ample variety of
screwdrivers is included.
- Dental picks are helpful as a means of reaching and
manipulating interior areas.
- A common problem is a broken carriage drawband (cord or
strap). The basic principle is simple: attach a new drawband to
the barrel (containing the mainspring) and one end of the
carriage. The mainspring normally does not have to be wound up
while you are doing this; it can be tightened later. But this is
all easier said than done, and this repair can be frustrating.
The method will vary based on the model of typewriter. You may
want to use or create a long, thin wire with a hook at the end
which can be pushed under the carriage and used to pull the cord
- Kite string or strong fishing line
can be a helpful replacement for broken drawbands. Rob Bowker
writes, "In the absence of fine waxed string I have at one time
used baler twine, but more poetically I have used 'cat-gut' - a
nice organic replacement. A 1950s, warped and unplayable tennis
racket was the donor."
- Flat shoelaces can replace carriage pull straps.
- Sometimes the mainspring itself is broken. Usually one end of
it has snapped off. Open up the barrel to take a look. You can
usually make a new hole in the end of the spring using a Dremel
wheel, and reattach the spring to the barrel.
- Rob Blickensderfer (email@example.com)
makes parts for various antique typewriters, such as Hammond
ribbon spool covers, Blickensderfer paper supports and release
bails, and cranks for the Smith Premier brush cleaner. Very
- Jim Donahue (770-714-0556, firstname.lastname@example.org) runs
"Oliverservices," with many parts for Olivers as well as several
products to service them: ribbons, touch-up paint, stainless
return cable, replated parts, etc. Visit his eBay store here.
- David Randall shows us how to make new ribbon covers for a
Remington noiseless portable on
blog as well as how to make new
So now you're ready to do some actual typing with your machine! Even
if you're not going to use it for everyday correspondence, it's nice
to know that it's functioning and "alive" once again. You need to
deal with a few issues such as inking, clean type, and alignment.
- Ribbons for most typewriters can sometimes still be
found as close as your nearest office supply shop. The standard
width is half an inch, and you'll find that this will work on
almost all typewriters made after 1920 or so. If your typewriter
can type in two colors (and most can), buy a black-and-red
ribbon: it looks nice! For suggestions on ribbon sources, see my FAQ.
- Ribbon spools must be appropriate to your machine. The
most common are the kind that fit Underwoods, Smith-Coronas, and
Royal portables; German typewriters usually use a type called
DIN 2103 which has a larger central hole. Olivetti spools need
to be held down with a particular kind of nut (type DIN 466 M3);
you can find new ones online.
- Odd-size ribbons: try ribbons made for computer printers,
printing calculators, time clocks, and cash registers.
- How to re-ink a ribbon: "Once a ribbon has run out of ink, and
the typewriter has wound it all up onto one spool, remove the
ribbon from the typewriter. Get a bottle of STAMP-PAD INK, the
same colour as the ribbon (this works best with single-colour
ribbons). Keeping the ribbon wound up onto one spool, coat the
outermost part of the ribbon with stamp-pad ink, and allow it to
saturate through to the interior layers of ribbon, wound around
the spool. You should really only have to do this rather
sparingly. No more than 2-3 drops here and there. Let the ink
soak into the ribbon, and then rethread the whole thing back
into the typewriter. It'll run like new :) A bottle of stamp-pad
ink is like $5, and one little bottle will last you for many
re-inkings. Stamp-pad ink is ideal, because like typewriter ink,
it doesn't readily dry out in open air, so that means the ribbon
won't dry out overnight, but will stay moist...well...until it
runs out of ink again!" --Shahan Cheong
- It may be worthwhile to treat a ribbon that still has ink, but
has dried out, by spraying it with WD-40. Lay it out yard by
yard / meter by meter and spray lightly and quickly. (Reminder:
do not use WD-40 to
lubricate the typewriter itself.)
- Ink rollers for Blickensderfers and other ink-roller
machines can be procured at a good office supply shop. Buy
rollers made for printing calculators. You'll have to cut them
out of their plastic housing, and the price is a little steep
($3 or $4 for one roller -- the original Blickensderfer price
was 25 cents a dozen!). Your fingers will get filthy. But it'll
all be worthwhile when you see what nice work your old typewheel
machine can do.
- Hammonds originally came with a rubberized cloth impression
strip that came between the hammer and the paper. It is usually
missing or broken, but it is necessary in order to get good
typing. Paul Robert recommends: "If there is a bicycle shop in
your area, go there and buy one of those narrow rubber
protection strips that go around the wheel to protect the inner
tube from being punctured by the spokes. Cut off a piece one
half inch shorter than the full length of the carriage, punch
two holes on each side and you have the perfect impression
- Ink pads for machines like the Williams: I want to look into
this, but haven't done research yet. Don't replace an ink pad
unless you really want to use the machine, as in the long run
the chemicals in the ink can corrode the type! A piece of black
felt cut to the right size will look very nice.
- To make sure your types will print clearly, you'll probably
need to clean out the crevices of letters like "e" and "s." Use
the tip of a pin. Be gentle, so you won't harm the type.
- For heavy-duty type cleaning, try Fedron (see above under
"Initial Cleanup") or denatured alcohol (don't get it on paint).
- Old products such as Star Type Cleaner were intended to fit
into the type and lift out some ink. For a modern replacement,
Matthieu Théorêt reports: "the Staedtler
eraser is malleable enough and lifts the old caked ink
like a charm." Elaine Hadden Golladay recommends Dap
BlueStik (a reusable adhesive putty).
- Alignment may be a big problem in an old typewriter.
The typebars may stick at the printing point, because they're
too far to the right or left. The Oliver may produce especially
wacky-looking work because of the nature of its typebars. The
only solution is to bend the typebars back into position, using
guesswork and experimentation and care. If you're lucky, you can
find some specialized tools for gently bending typebars;
otherwise, try needle-nosed pliers.