Common tools, solvents, chemicals, and their Uses
Though typewriter repair may appear to be a dark art, requiring complicated and specialised tooling, most --if not all-- typewriter issues can be fixed with simple household materials and materials from the local hardware or surplus store. This is a list of common tools that you may encounter.
Tools are very important for getting inside your typewriter and for removing parts. Here are a few tools that should be included in every repairman's case.
You’ll want a nice set of screwdrivers. Gunners' and long precision screwdrivers are very nice, and you’ll also want some with bigger handles for a better grip and for use with larger screws. Flat-head screwdrivers are most commonly used, you will rarely find any other kind of screw head. Holdy screwdrivers are also nice for driving hard-to-hold tiny screws. You can never have too many screwdrivers.
Make sure you have screwdrivers that fit the head of the screw well. Any looseness can cause stripping.
Pliers and Tweezers
Another essential tool of a typewriter repairman. Pliers are great for holding things and forming parts. A set of needle nose pliers is used for repairs that involve forming (bending) metal, and having two or 3 of various lengths and sizes can not only help with accessing parts that are deep within the machine, but also make it much easier to make parts bend in a precise manner. One pair of long needle nose with rubber coating on the tips is highly recommended to prevent scratches.
Somewhat less important but still helpful are tweezers. Ceramic-tipped self-holding tweezers can be used to position screws to make them easier to screw in, or gently move past linkages to access internal parts. Definitely not necessary, but can be nice to have.
Many typewriters have nuts and bolts, along with screws. A good set of wrenches are essential for loosening these. The most common nut/bolt you will come across is 1/4”. An adjustable wrench is also good for those odd sizes you come across every now and again.
Highly recommended; dental picks are peerless when it comes to removing gunk from thin areas and accessing tiny gaps. One end may be bent into a hook to assist drawband repairs.
Check your grocery or drug store's dental care area, or look for clay tools at a craft store. It's a good idea to have plastic tips as well as metal if you can find them.
Spring Hooks are similar to dental picks, but are specifically designed for attaching extension springs. Useful, but not essential. Most dental picks will do the same job.
Brushes have a variety of uses, though you'll see them used most commonly for removing dust and old ink on the keyslugs.
- "Cheap Paintbrush Set" - Recommended as a slower, more manual alternative to an air compressor to remove dust. It's best to be careful and have a variety of paintbrushes at your disposal.
- Toothbrush - hard stiffness recommended.
- Brass Brush - use only on unpainted metal, like typeslugs. Do not use on brass or very soft metals or anything painted.
- Straw cleaning brush and/or pipe cleaners - to get into small areas.
- Car detailing or soft paintbrushes - let you work cleaners into crevasses without being abrasive.
You want to use as little chemicals and oils as possible, but the most commonly used are below.
You can buy typeslug cleaning putty that can be used multiple times. Use it each time after you use your typewriter to keep the characters looking sharp. This putty will not remove old, caked on ink and dirt. Make sure you brush everything, first.
Solvents, Scrubs, and Degreasers
Solvents are commonly used to loosen caked on dirt, dust, and other gunk. Here are some common solvents and degreasers. Be careful with these as they are not good for paint or rubber and will also dissolve those. Do NOT EVER use these on decals.
- Isopropyl Alcohol - Alcohol is one of the less aggressive chemical solvents. It does not smell too harshly, and evaporates quickly. Isopropyl Alcohol is more accessible and less volatile.
- Mineral Spirits - Mineral Spirits are more volatile and aggressive than Isopropyl Alcohol. Be very careful with this, as the fumes are not good for your brain.
- Degreasers - There are various degreasers you can use. The most recommended are Mean Green, Simple Green, Purple Power, and Zep Orange. Once you have cleaned with these, you will need to flush the area with something like Isopropyl alcohol. Water can be used, as well, but make sure you get everything very dry.
- Dish Soap - A mild degreaser and surfactant, hand dish detergent is sometimes the best option. Try to avoid things with petroleum like Dawn. Use diluted in water with a damp cloth or toothbrush.
- Soft Scrub/Cif Cream/Viss Cleanser - Do not get the type with bleach in it! This can be used safely with a toothbrush on crinkle paint, the rough stuff from the late 40s through early 60s. Please test in an area that's not easily seen, first. Any problems with peeling paint will be made worse by scrubbing. This stuff is great for cleaning platens and making them a bit more grippy, too. Make sure you wipe it down well with a damp cloth a few times to get all residue off. Never use it on gloss paint!
These should not be used as oil, even if the package says you can. These include:
- WD40 - ubiquitous therefore easy to find, can be used to clean some components
- PB Blast - strong smelling, use with ventilation, not recommended for cleaning
- 3n1 Oil - easy to find in a drip bottle with narrow tip, less smell than the above options
- and more.
- Ballistol - good for penetrating and lubricating, comes in a tall green pressurized bottle with a red tube.
You will want something to free stuck screws. Drip some onto the screw head and let it penetrate into the threads. Don't spray it on your typewriter, as you'll have to clean it all off. Be patient and wait before trying to remove screws you haven't had out recently. It can be difficult to find proper replacements if you strip them.
- Chapman wrenches are exceptional for loosening stuck screws.
The proper oil for typewriters is light machine oil.
- sewing machines
- instruments like trumpets
- things that need consistent lubrication with metal on metal rubbing
- on bare metal to help prevent flash rust
- Hoppes No. 9
- Marvel Mystery Oil
- Singer Sewing Machine Oil
- Liberty Oil
It's useful to have a needle tip applicator for lubrication, because you want to use the smallest amount possible and get it exactly where needed.
Despite popular belief in some places on the internet, oil is good for typewriters, in certain places. Manufacturers of typewriters like the Smith-Premier and Oliver came with oiling instructions and tools for a reason.
The belief that oil is bad for typewriters comes from this: DO NOT OVER-OIL, AND NEVER OIL DIRTY PARTS. Keep oil to places like carriage rails, carriage wheels, and the escapement. Sometimes the ribbon system, backspace, and tabulator mechanisms need oiling too. It is generally not recommended to oil the segment, because it is hard to clean thoroughly, but if it is ascertained that the segment is perfectly clean, light oil will improve the typewriter's running.
- Some of these are supposedly "paint-safe", but it is generally untrue as older paints contain oxides of iron or cobalt. Do not put any of these on anything but bare metal.
- Evaporust - Nontoxic, water based, biodegradable, liquid. Apply with cotton swab.
- Naval Jelly - A bit toxic, use in a ventilated place, gel so it sticks on better. Apply with cotton swab or small paintbrush.
- CLR - good for soaking very rusty parts that are unpainted metal and can be removed from the machine.
- Fine Wet-Sand - sandpaper or sponge meant to be used with water. This will keep dust down and quickly strips rust off things like rails.
- Emery Cloth - This is basically a very fine sandpaper. It's good for polishing. If you use wet sand, this should be your second step.
- Melamine Eraser - Works on surface rust, but takes a lot of elbow grease.
- Steel Wool - will leave shavings, so don't use on parts inside the machine without running a vacuum. Emery cloth is a better alternative.
- Fiberglass Pot Scrubber - can leave small fiberglass splinters, quite abrasive, only use on very tough rusted spots.
Waxes and Polishes
- Carnauba Wax - Use pure carnauba wax to polish gloss painted areas. Rub on sparingly, allow to haze, buff off with clean soft cloth.
- Cleaning Wax - Look for a carnauba based cleaning wax like Mother's and use elbow grease with something like a microfiber or terrycloth rag.
- Beeswax - Not for the lazy. Warm a small piece in your hand until it's pliable. "Write" on the paint, then buff in immediately with fast, strong strokes using cloth like an old t-shirt. Once none of the writing is visible, polish with soft cloth. If the surface feels slightly sticky, you didn't buff enough. It's a lot of work, but the advantage is a very smooth shine that's quite durable and warm rather than extra glossy.
- Polishing Compound - Do not use this on paint. You can use it in places where you had to remove rust from bare metal to help smooth them out again.
- Rubbing Compound - comes in various grits. You want very fine, like Mother's Rubbing compound, if you need to remove tar and nicotine from paint. Coarse grits will be more abrasive, but can be useful on rust or foreign paint.
- Rotary Tool Buffers - Some people like these and some do not. Be very gentle, and only use them on bare metal.