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

Picture of 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!

Aloha, I just got a mini Corona Agency Typewriter.made in N.Y. It is very rusted

but all keys and space bar work. There is even the original black ribbon in the

spools. Should I use water on Q tips to clean it or should I use Q tips dipped in the automotive oil to clean it. I haven't done anything yet because I'm afraid to ruin it.

Mahalo & Aloha

Melani from Hawaii


Thor VonE1 month ago

You are a life savior! Thank you so much! I had a jammed carrier but now everything is functional again!

calliope84 months ago

Thanks for sharing! I have the 1940 version of this model which is in decent working order but needs a deep clean & the space bar is giving a little trouble. It has been a journey figuring out what all the levers do! At first the carriage didn't move all the way to the left but playing with the margin lever finally got it in place. Why is the ding of that bell so satisfying? It probably used to drive the people who had to use it daily nuts!

TAZMPictures6 months ago

So I finally got around to cleaning my 1938 Underwood, and fixing things one by one, using a trial and error, what-happens-when-I-wiggle-this-lever method, and the one thing I can't figure out is how the bell works. How does yours work?

knife141 (author)  TAZMPictures6 months ago
Start with the bell and follow the linkage. At some point you will probably find a small metal part that should swivel as the carriage passes. When the carriage passes one way it rings the bell, and when it passes the other way (on a carriage return) it pivots out of the way (upward on most typewriters). It's probably stuck in its upward position. Manually free it, then clean it until it pivots easily.
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)  TAZMPictures1 year 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.
snayl3 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)  snayl3 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.
pfred23 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)  pfred23 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 knife1413 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)  pfred23 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 knife1413 years ago
Sure np. Just like the instructions say try it in an unobtrusive area first to see how you like it. Here Fido!