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How do I safely get the dust off an old Royal 1930's typewriter?

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Hello I can help, I have a couple of guides.

Typewriter Restoration Tip #1 Initial cleanup and lubrication The paint on your typewriter may appear cracked and dull, but chances are that you are looking at a century's worth of tightly compacted dirt, 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 very 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:

  • 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.
  • Dental picks are used by several hobbyists as a means of reaching and manipulating interior areas.
  • Q-tips are nice for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
  • 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 mechanical parts.
  • 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 just take your dusty old typewriter down to the gas station, and take advantage of their compressed air. (Probably not a great idea for rare typewriters.)
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 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.
  • Try Dentucreme: It is very mildly abrasive and extremely effective on surfaces that would show scratches.
  • Try "Gojo," a hand cleaner, is excellent for cleaning original lacquer black.
  • Gun cleaning solvents can be very useful. ie Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber or M-Pro gun cleaning spray, G-96, and Break Free.
  • Liquid Wrench Deodorized Super Penetrant has worked very well for me in removing old oil and lubricating mechanisms. It frees up sluggish typebars and jammed parts.
  • Stronger products (use outdoors, don't rub on decals, and watch out for paint damage) include naptha, lighter fluid, and carburetor cleaner.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 Gun Oil. 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. A degreaser is better.
  • 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 '3 in 1' type oil.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Window cleaners are not recommended, as they can sometimes harm or remove paint.
  • Platen cleaning: after an initial wiping with water and Soft Scrub, several brands of rubber/plastic restorer made for cars work well (e.g. Armor All). However, none will make a browned, aged platen turn black. If one is concerned about the preservation of an old platen, probably there are chemical-effect risks involved in the use of inks to dye the platen. To recover a platen, see "Mechanical repairs" below.
  • Fedron Rubber Cleaner Conditioner is a heavy-duty solvent that really 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!

Duane ONeil

Posted on Sep 16, 2009

  • FJA Products
    FJA Products Sep 16, 2009

    Typewriter Restoration Tip #2

    Improving paint, metal, and rubber

    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; newer machines are chrome-plated.

    • Rust removal should be attempted by the gentlest method first. In order from gentlest to roughest, Mother's Mag & Aluminum Polish (available at auto supply stores); superfine steel wool (try to avoid getting the steel filings into the mechanism); rougher steel wool; a synthetic scrubbing pad; a rotary tool (such as a Dremel) with a wire brush attachment (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 finish.
    • "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 paint.
    • 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 original paint.
    • "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
    • "Goo Gone" can remove unwanted paint that has been added by a previous owner, revealing the original paint and decals below.
    • Many early typewriters are decorated with pinstripes -- often these are thin parallel lines of blue and yellow and you can find pinstriping decals at many hobby shops.
    • 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.
    • Another metallic marker tip: the silver metallic markers can be used to cover up small patches of rust that have worn away the nickel. This is not a durable covering, and it won't be glossy like the nickel -- however, the change in color may really improve the overall appearance of the nickeled part.
    • You can 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.
    • 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."
    • 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 cases

    Duane ONeil




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