Instructables
Picture of Restoring a 1937 Typewriter
This typewriter is a 1937 LC Smith model 11 that I picked up at a flea market.   It had a number of problems, such as the carriage would hang (and when it didn't hang it squeaked), the space bar only worked randomly, shifted characters did not type on the same line as non-shifted characters, some of the key tops were unreadable, and the entire machine was filthy -- inside and out.

But the price was right -- $15.  And, it looked like all the parts were there.  So, I brought it home to see if I could get it back to something of the machine it once was.
 
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Step 1: Tools and supplies required

Picture of Tools and supplies required
I have no specialized tools to work on typewriters, so I make do with what I have in my little shop.  From a tool perspective, I used the following:
- precision screwdrivers (gunsmith screwdrivers)
- needle nosed pliers
- a 5/16th combination wrench
- a small brass hammer
- air compressor (for blowing out cobwebs)

In terms of supplies:
- Q-tips (about 250 of them)
- coarse automotive rubbing compound
- fine automotive rubbing compound
- automobile wax
- alcohol
- acetone
- metal polish
- and more rags than I could count

Step 2: Fixing the space bar

The first thing I tackled was the space bar issue.  If you look closely at photo 1 you will notice that the space bar is not sitting level -- it is higher on one side than the other.

Turning the typewriter on its back (photo 2) I found the problem, actually two problems.  First, a screw was missing that attached the space bar to the space bar lever (noted in photo 2).  Also, the stops on the space bar had been bent downward, probably from someone pulling up on them because of the problem with the carriage hanging up.  I bent them back into position using my needle nose pliers, replaced the screw, and all was well once again in space bar land!

Step 3: Fixing a jammed carriage

The cause for the carriage hanging took a bit more time.  What I found was at the back of the carriage, the tab bar needed to be adjusted.  Someone probably leaned this old machine on its back without supporting the weight properly, causing the tab bar to move inward slightly.  I slightly loosened the tab bar's screws on both sides (see photos), lightly tapped the bar back into alignment with a brass hammer, and tightened the screws.  This fixed the "carriage hang" problem.  But, the carriage still squeaked when it moved, which is addressed in the next step.

Step 4: Fixing a squeaky carriage

The cause of the squeak was dryness and filth!  I taped an alcohol-soaked cotton swab onto a bamboo skewer, and cleaned the track shown in the photo.  Once I had 74 years of debris cleaned out, I lightly oiled this track with a cotton swab.  The squeak was gone, and the carriage moved like new.

Step 5: Adjusting the shift alignment

I then removed all the side and back panels from the typewriter and started my search for how to adjust the shifting mechanism.  On this typewriter the shift key moves the type basket to produce the shifting.  I found the adjustment for this underneath the type basket toward the back of the machine.  Since the shifted characters were printing too high, I turned the adjusting nut to allow the type basket to move lower when the shift key was pressed.  I continued adjusting and testing until it was perfectly aligned, then tightened the lock nut.

Step 6: Cleaning the inside of the beast

Picture of Cleaning the inside of the beast
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With the mechanical issues behind me, I started on the lengthy process of cleaning this beast.  With all the panels removed, I began by blowing everything out with compressed air.  This removed the cobwebs, but not the 74 years of caked on dust, dirt, and tobacco residue (pretty much every office in the '30's, '40's, and '50's was filled with tobacco smoke).

This is where the acetone, alcohol, and q-tips came in.  Using q-tips and cleaners, I cleaned every surface possible inside this machine.  The first three photos show the condition before I began, and the last photo shows the improvement inside the machine.  This was a lengthy process -- I worked on this off and on for almost a week, but when I was finished, 74 years of accumulated dirt and grime were gone!

Step 7: Cleaning the carriage

Then the real work began!  74 years of exposure had taken its toll on the outside parts of this typewriter.  Not only do you have the dust, dirt, and smoke residue to deal with, you also have skin oil, oxidation, and accumulated spills that come into play.

The first thing I did was remove the platen and go over everything painted black with a mild cleaner.  I used a few drops of dishwashing detergent in a bottle of water as a cleaner.  I scrubbed everything I could reach with this cleaner, then dried it carefully.

The next step was to go over everything with a strong automobile rubbing compound (red compound).  Using a lot of pressure, I used this rubbing compound on no more than two square inches at a time.  Next came the fine (white) automobile rubbing compound.  During this process I began to see the beginnings of a shine starting to come through.  In several places I had to apply the white compound several times to really begin to see improvement.

The final step for the black metal parts was to use regular automobile wax.

For the plated (shiny) parts I used a metal polish.

Step 8: Cleaning the type bars

Picture of Cleaning the type bars
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Cleaning the type bars on these old machines is tedious.  Using q-tips and alcohol, I scrubbed both sides (and the tops) of each individual type bar -- one at a time!  Photo 1 shows what they looked like before I started, and photo 2 shows the results.

Step 9: Cleaning the case

Picture of Cleaning the case
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Cleaning the case was essentially the same process used on the carriage.  I first wiped the surface with a cleaner, then began with the red rubbing compound, then the white rubbing compound, and finally the automobile wax.

I decided to not touch up the areas where paint had worn off on this machine -- I sort of liked the looks of the battle scars.

Cleaning the outside of this typewriter took almost as much time as cleaning the inside, but what a difference it made!

Step 10: Replacing bad key tops

Picture of Replacing bad key tops
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There were 9 keys on this machine that had key tops that were literally worn out (see first three photos). 

Using a special font on my computer, I printed new key tops on a piece of off-white paper, and laminated both sides with a cold laminating film.  The film on the top side is designed to mimic the original finish of the key tops, and the film on the back side keeps my glue from discoloring the new key top.

I cut these out and glued them onto the old key tops (see the last two photos).

I then cleaned each key with metal polish.

Now I had a fairly respectable keyboard!

Step 11: Completed!

Picture of Completed!
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I didn't keep track of how much time I put into this old typewriter, but I'm guessing it was somewhere around 30-40 hours.  I don't really count this time as labor, however, because I enjoy bringing these old machines back to life.

Most people would probably have considered this typewriter beyond help due to the condition I found it in.  The secret to bringing something like this back from the dead is not to be overwhelmed at everything that is wrong, but to tackle each problem one-at-a-time and fix it.  If you stay with it, eventually you have success.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable, and my hope is that it inspires a few people to discover the enjoyment of bringing something old and neglected back to life!
TAZMPictures9 months ago
I have an Underwood No. 5, not too rare to learn by trial and error. I've disassembled it (chronicling everything with photos) but I'm afraid to take anything else apart. My question: dipping the entire thing in warm water with a smidgen of detergent, and ensuring it dries properly, is not recommended? We used to do that with M16s in the Army, which was also frowned upon, but it saved a lot of time and effort.
knife141 (author)  TAZMPictures9 months ago
I've read about people dipping typewriters in order to clean them, but I've never done it myself -- sort of have a fear of rust developing in tight places. My own method is to first blow it out with compressed air, then flush out crud with alcohol, then only add a tiny bit of thin oil to key pivot points (but not the type bar slots). In terms of disassembling, only dissemble what you absolutely have to. Old typewriters can have somewhere around 2,500-3,500 individual parts (including screws), and it would be virtually impossible to completely dissemble one and then get it reassembled properly. Speaking of dipping M16's -- I have a friend who puts his black powder revolver in the dishwasher to clean it. Works for him, but it has a lot few parts than a typewriter! Good luck with your project.
Ahh i see. i thought it had something to do with the colour. this however makes more sense. i've bought a typewriter today. its from new york. remington number 12. it's gonna need a very big clean up though. thanks for your help
may i ask why you had to use different coloured rubbing compounds?
knife141 (author)  instructascott2 years ago
The white compound is much finer than the red. I start with the red, then move to the white. It's sort of like starting out with rough sandpaper and moving to finer.
snayl2 years ago
Very nice work, sir. I have collected a few old typewriters myself, in various states of wear, and your instructable has given me enough information (and inspiration) to try to clean them myself, instead of looking for a typewriter repairman somewhere (or just leaving them be). Many thanks!
knife141 (author)  snayl2 years ago
Good luck! Restoring old typewriters can be both fun and frustrating! My approach is to first fix the mechanical problems, then work on cleaning. You can put a lot of hours in an old typewriter, but if you enjoy the satisfaction of bringing an old machine back from the dead, it can be very satisfying. Again, good luck & thanks for the comment.
pfred22 years ago
I see you waxed your project when you were done. I wax a lot of stuff myself to protect it. One other thing I do often is I spray stuff with a clear over coat of spray paint. I can hardly see it on bare metal but it gives a durable protective coating to surfaces.

Stuff I have in my garage now for that is called Krylon Acrylic Crystal Clear. Wax works, but the spray holds up better.

I buy lots of old junk myself and restore it. I find the task very rewarding. Like you said you can't think about the time if you are doing something you enjoy.

I think you did a great job and the machine you revived looks fantastic!
knife141 (author)  pfred22 years ago
Thanks, pfred2! I use wax to protect a lot of stuff, too -- Johnson's paste wax for wood, auto wax for metal. I used to use some really expensive wax ($20 for just a few ounces), but I find the regular stuff seems to hold up just as well. I'll have to give the Krylon Acrylic Crystal Clear a try. Thanks again.
pfred2 knife1412 years ago
Be aware it is paint, just a clear colorless one. If you lay it on really thick it may seem like there is a plastic coating on everything. But I find a thin even coat is kind of nice over bare metal. Can be hardly noticeable.

Where I live it is a constant battle fighting rust and sometimes just wax doesn't cut it. But I know often it isn't right to paint some metal pieces a color either. So the clear coat is kind of a compromise in between to me.

Basically I guess this spray is a bit like car clear coat in a can. Which really puts it squarely between wax and paint doesn't it? I just figured I'd throw it out there.
knife141 (author)  pfred22 years ago
Thanks for the info. This sounds like it could come in handy for some of my projects. I appreciate you taking the time to educate me about it. I'm going to give it a try.
pfred2 knife1412 years ago
Sure np. Just like the instructions say try it in an unobtrusive area first to see how you like it. Here Fido!