A photographer/collector who likes analog cameras and the images film produces, while also enjoying

A photographer/collector who likes analog cameras and the images film produces, while also enjoying
A photographer/collector who likes analog cameras and the images film produces, while also enjoying the latest digital.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My First Oliver No. 5 (Clean-Up Method Used)

Since I started collecting a little over a year ago, I have read much about methods for cleaning and particularly lubricating a typewriter.  The overriding sentiment is to not use ANY lubricant (oil/etc.) on the machine except for the tiniest of a drop on only the few most important of movement points.  Not all movement points, only those designated as critical.

The 17 typewriters I have collected to date have mostly been in very good working order.  For those machines I have done only a limited amount of surface cleaning for cosmetic purposes.  Typical examples are typewriters that may have a somewhat single sticky key that clears itself up after striking that key a couple of times.  I am then ok for any further typing during that session.  Then when I put it up for several weeks and take it out again, the same key may stick for the first time or two upon depression before it clears up.  I am not a person who actually types daily, so mechanically I have not worried about such machines.  I primarily collect typewriters as historical, functional, works of art.

The view of purist on the matter is to disassemble the typewriter totally, or at least sufficiently to individually clean all those parts that are causing the issues.  Then put the immaculate pieces back together and only place a tiny drop of oil on the fewest of places, and then only if necessary.  The reason is to avoid where possible the collection of dust, particles, and the movement becoming gummy later.

Sorry, but this certainly seems to be the hard way around.  While I have experience working on mechanical things, I am not willing on every refurbish, to devote the learning and experience required, nor the time needed to successfully complete a full overhaul of all typewriters makes and models.  A limited number of hours on a machine to get it functioning and cosmetically attractive is the level of hands on involvement I like at this stage of my life.

There seems to be only three choices: Buy already refurbished or fully restored typewriters from others?  Learn to do the work myself?  Quit collecting typewriters.  While I have no qualms with the pricing of a fully reconditioned typewriter because I do understand the effort involved, I do not wish to spend $450 to $650 or m or for each.  17 x $600 or more would make this an expensive hobby.  Since I will continue to collect, that leave only me doing the work myself.  What if I could find an alternative, newer cleaning method to achieve the needed results?

Pryor to the Oliver, I have had two typewriters that had sufficiently sticky or none working movements that required more drastic measures to return functionality.  In the first instance I tried as much as possible without full disassembly to follow the consensus methods of cleaning the machine.  On the second typewriter I cheated (Some of this method described further on).  I tried the second method carefully on only the portion of the works that seemed to be the cause of issues.  Six months later the typewriter where I followed conventional wisdom, still occasionally sticks.  The typewriter were I had used an unorthodox method functions fine and produces a very smooth feel.  The single caveat is that I do keep all but one of my typewriters covered via one method or another when not in use.  The single uncovered typewriter is the one on display at any given time in my office.  So I do avoid dust/dirt as much as possible.

Now to the Oliver No. 5 I just refurbished.  It was undoubtedly in the worst overall condition of any typewriter I have owned.  Filthy, stained, movement sticky to the point of none-functionality.  It was obvious that this typewriter was going to require a full cleaning and possibly repair.  I fretted and tried different cleaning methods on small “test” spots for a couple of weeks.

It then hit me.  I was a long time gun collector.  As a cop I had been a firearms instructor and armor.  Why am I so afraid of this piece of metal.  I had taken apart, repaired, and refurbished many an antique firearm.  For the most part both firearms and typewriters are made of the same materials, and have been stored/neglected in the same conditions.  I then read and re-read Richard Polt’s page on Basic Typewriter Restoration (http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/tw-restoration.html), and Scott Kernaghan’s page on Oils ‘aint oils (http://filthyplaten.blogspot.com/2012/11/oils-aint-oils.html).  I figured that worst I could do is ruin the typewriter.  I would treat this refurbish like I was cleaning up an old antique firearm.

**Warning** The methods I will discuss here worked for me on this particular typewriter.  It may not work for you!  I also cannot know for quite some time if the long term result of these methods may produce a typewriter that again becomes sticky.

**Warning**  Care must be taken with the chemicals I have used to ensure that the painted surfaces of the typewriter are not affected!  The paint and the decals on my Oliver No. 5 were not affected by what I used, in this instance.  I would try the chemicals in a small spot on the underside painted surface of the typewriter.  Let the chemical sit on the surface for a considerable period of time to ensure no ill effects.  Use these cleaners in a well-ventilated area.

This image shows the cleaners, polishers, waxes that I used in the refurbish:

 I feel that the order of use is important to the ease of cleaning and to protect the typewriter.  Here is exactly how I proceeded:

  • The whole process was conducted by only removing the carriage from the base, the carriage return string, and the front plate covering the key levers.
  • Typewriter body and carriage were placed on a towel in the driveway, in the sun, and thoroughly sprayed with Birchwood Casey “Gun Scrubber”.  Top, bottom, in crevices.
  • The Gun Scrubber generally evaporates shortly after application.  Using large amounts however, as in this instance, does leave wet residue areas.  The product literally “blows off” Dirt and crud.
  • Use compressed air thoroughly to remove any remaining liquid from the Gun Scrubber.  Allow to dry for some time in the hot sun or a warm area.
  • Carry inside carefully!  Gun Scrubber may temporarily soften paint.  I did not continue the any further activity on the typewriter for several hours until I felt that any softness in the paint was gone.
  • I used Cling Wrap (What your wife uses in the kitchen to cover left overs), to cover as much of the outside painted surfaces as possible.  Also protected was the platen rubber
  • Begin applying liberal amounts of Hoppe’s #9 Bore Cleaner to the unpainted metal surfaces. (You did test to ensure that painted surfaces were not affected didn’t you?  The liquid does seep under the Cling Wrap.)
  • I learned  many years ago to let the chemical do its work.  You could apply the Hoppe’s and immediately begin scrubbing to remove the layers of crud and film, but that is slow and requires a lot of elbow grease.  I used a ½” wide artists brush and painted on the Hoppe’s over a small area.  Then applied to another area while waiting for the chemical action to do its work on the previously applied area.  After 15 minutes or so I went back to the initial area and reapplied Hoppe’s.  This reapplication is required Several times, depending upon the amount of foreign substances to be removed.  Each reapplication results in some or all of the crud being removed.  The most difficult areas require scrubbing.  For that purpose I used tooth brushes, cotton swabs, pipe cleaners depending upon the location and size of the stubborn area.  In a couple of spot I even used a bronze bristled brush to “help” remove material.  (Just be sure that the bronze brush does not scrape any painted surfaces)
  • The Hoppe’s cleaning of all metal surfaces took me three sessions.  Chemicals continue to work the whole time they are left on the surface.  I did not want to use the Gun Scrubber each time I stopped a session because it is expensive and because it is time consuming.  Therefore, at the end of each Hoppe’s session I removed any Cling Wrap and sprayed all typewriter surfaces which had been in contact with the Hoppe’s using G96 Gun Treatment.  This product is a combination Cleaner, lubricant, protectant and stops the chemical processes of the Hoppe’s.  At each subsequent session just reapply the Cling Wrap and continue liberally brushing on the Hoppe’s.  Even over surfaces that had be previously sprayed with the G96.
  • When you feel that the Hoppe’s has done as well as possible, it is time to go back out onto the driveway and again thoroughly spray all nooks and crannies with the Gun Scrubber.  This is meant to fully remove any traces of the Hoppe’s and flush out any remaining foreign material.  You will be amazed at how shinny and new looking the metal will appear!  Again thoroughly blow out all areas of the typewriter to remove the Gun Scrubber liquid that does not evaporate.  Let dry in a warm area and allow the paint to re-harden.
  • At this point unless you have a mechanical problem, you will have a mechanism that works smoothly.  But here we reach the point where I differ from most.  Especially after working on this Oliver.  I have concluded that protecting against rust is the most important consideration.  You cannot protect metal pieces against rust without any rust inhibitor.  I want the typewriter to last without any further deterioration for the next 100 years.  Rust is the enemy!
  • I thoroughly sprayed all unpainted metal surfaces with the G96.  Including into hard to reach areas.  Oil will be dripping out of the typewriter (Blasphemy I know) so leave the machine for a period of time sitting on a towel to absorb what drips out.  I then again used the compressed air to blow out as much remaining excess lubricant as possible.
  • The next session I spent using soft towels, cotton swabs, and small patches going over ALL metal surfaces wiping off any excess G96.
  • Thereafter I tackled polishing the nickel surfaces.  I used a combination of both Turtle Wax Chrome & Metal Polish along with Mother’s Mag Polish.  Which ever worked best on each piece.  Following instructions, this work helps remove dullness to most areas and  restores shine to those surfaces that were originally shinny.
  • On to the key pads.  I carefully used Polishing compound (Not Rubbing Compound) on all sides of the keys to bring them back to a white or near white condition.  Do not rub so hard that you start removing the black lettering!
  • Finally the painted body.  This Oliver is about 103 years old.  Much oxidation and dulling.  I started with Rubbing compound lightly at first as this is the most aggressive in removing paint.  Stay away from any decal areas!  Then onto the Polishing compound.  These are less aggressive and put a glossier luster to the paint.  I also was able to CAREFULLY use the polishing compound on the decaled surfaces to produce a shine while not causing the decals to deteriorate.  Finally wax of your choice over the whole machine.  Buff out by hand and there you are.  While not like it came from the showroom, still quite appealing.
  • I finished up by applying petroleum jelly, a little at at time, on the rubber surfaces of  the Platen and rollers.  Allowing it to sit on each section for a few minutes before wiping off.  This restored the not-to-bad rubber so that it better grab paper.
This produces a typewriter that feels silky smooth in operation.  The typewriter is protected from corrosion and other environmental factors.  Should last another 100 years.  To me the worst possible scenario would be that a few years down the line I may have to use Gun Scrubber again and some G96 to be back into tip-top shape.  Hope this provides readers with another point of view on typewriter refurbish.  Thanks!

More to come............

Birchwood Casey “Gun Scrubber”:
Flammable petroleum distillates spray.  Washes foreign matter from metal surfaces.
Cling Wrap: Plastic paper that clings to other surfaces.  Used in the kitchen under several brand names to cover/seal bowls of food.
Hoppe’s #9 Bore Cleaner: Oil based chemical cleaner.  Made to remove rust, copper, powder, & most other contaminates from metal.
G96 Gun Treatment: Lubricant designed for firearms that contains chemicals to clean minor contaminates from metal, lubricate metal, and protect metal from rust.
Chrome, Metal, Mag Polish: Compound designed to rub onto metal surfaces to clean and shine
Polishing Compound: Compound designed to rub onto painted surfaces that removes slight amounts of paint to restore finish shine.
Rubbing Compound: Compound designed to rub onto painted surfaces that easily removes large amounts of paint to restore finish shine to painted surfaces that are severely deteriorated
Petroleum Jelly: Petroleum product that is said to soften old rubber.  Seems to help clean/restore platens that are only marginally deteriorated and are in somewhat good shape to begin with.


  1. Amazing work! Thanks for sharing your cleaners and techniques. I have an Oliver 3 that needs basic touching up and this will be very helpful.

  2. Yes Bruce, thanks for sharing all the good cleaning info. Gun cleaning would be a close match to typewriter cleaning. Boy, your Oliver looks like it just came out of the factory! Inspires me to do more on mine. Hows that Remington Super Riter though?

  3. Thanks Donald! The Oliver only looks factory fresh in the overall images. When you look up close, the cosmetic defects become apparent through.
    The Super Riter is fine and still in the collection. Sits under a pillow case however, on shelves in the basement. I don't get much time to use it. My last 8 or 9 months have been consumed by a family change of residence. New house prep, selling old, moves, and settle-in. I retired and thought I would have all this time, but don't seem to know where it goes.........

  4. Typewriters are quite sensitive when it comes to cleaning them, especially on re-lubricating the parts. So it’s good that you were able to use your gun cleaning products with it, and that you are able to keep it in its possible best form. Thanks for sharing!

    Bernice Parsons @ Badger Anodising Ltd.

  5. Nice job. Thanks for sharing. I've been looking for a good and safe way to clean the key caps ("key pads").