For new typewriter owners: a little basic maintenance. Oiling keys, changing ribbons, and polishing.

In the past two and a half years, I have had about 75 typewriters move in and out of our house. A little bit of me wishes I could keep more of them, but Ed likely would be less inclined to  keep me around if I did. Priorities, I guess. 

Over the course of those two years, a handful of customers have asked me for a few basics when it comes to typewriter maintenance. And so, better late than never, here are a few of them, including how to oil the keys, a very basic how-to on changing a ribbon and, in the case of glossy metal machines, how to polish them to a great shine.

First, a few basic things that any typewriter owner should purchase to maintain their machines: 1) compressed air; 2) Machine Oil, such as 3-in-1 oil or Zoom Spout Oil; and 3) mild cleaning wipes (preferably without bleach, as bleach can cause old paint to peel).  You should avoid WD-40 because it can actually dry the keys out.

The first step, after you've wiped down the dust and grit as best you can from the exterior of the machine, is to use the compressed air to blow out any dust bunnies or cobwebs that may have built up inside. 

Next, to oil the keys. Run a thin line of the machine oil along the "joints" of the keys, where they encounter a lot of friction. The spaces between the keys do get buildup from dust, smoke and grit. If a key is sticking, a little patience might be required. Hold the key at its end and work it back and forth. As you move the key up and down, alternate gently pushing the key to its left, then to its right. You really are just trying to work the gunk out. All are different - some just take a little bit of oil, some take some real effort to get unstuck. I have spent 20 minutes working on one key in a really sticky situation. Sometimes it is also worth going back over it repeatedly.  

Finally, to install the ribbon. Typically they are set up to run from the left spool to the right, so I install the emptier spool on the left side (pic 1). {Side note: Most machines have a small lever that you press that actually shifts which direction the ribbon runs, so it can move from one spool back to the other. Each machine is different, though, so if you can, find a manual for your machine online. I may be able to help you.} Anyway. Thread the ribbon through the prongs on either side of the spool holders (pic 2), then through the ribbon holders just against the platen (the round rubber roller inside of the carriage - pics 3 and 4). There are also quite a few demonstrations on youtube if this isn't quite clear enough (and... it probably is not). 

The most fun part, if you have one of the older glossy metal machines, is to polish them up! Do not try this with a machine that has a crinkle finish, as the one in the photos above is. With the glossy machines, though, you can use auto wax - my favorite for typewriters is Meguiar's in the red bottle (though something like Turtle Wax works just fine). You apply the wax in just the way you wax a car; wipe a thin layer on with one cloth, wipe it off when dry with another cloth.    

Taking WSV's typewriters for a walk at Wonder Fair's Letter Writing Club

Lawrence is spoiled with retail gems, but among them the printshop/art shop/gallery/design mecca Wonder Fair may be my most favorite. The shop has sent customers and fans on secret club scavenger hunts, brought in national artists for printmaking contests, and, among many other things, just generally sells about the coolest functional and art paper ephemera you are likely to find. Last month, owner/operator Meredith Moore gave us one more reason to love WF with Letter Writing Club at the adorable (and tasty) Decade Coffee shop in East Lawrence.

The idea is to put away our glowing screens, and to focus on writing some old-fashioned letters to whoever or whomever you'd like. Decade has no wifi, so only a little smartphone self-control is required (I mostly succeeded). For this meetup - just the second LWC yet - Meredith was kind enough to let me bring some typewriters for the club to check out and use. These old typewriters, like any good old mechanical item, do need some use to stay in good fighting shape. Plus, I wanted to go as I could not actually remember the last time I wrote an real letter. The last one I for sure remember writing was a junior at KU in 2003. ELEVEN years ago. 

It was a great exercise! Writing a letter is such a unique way of corresponding - I was surprised by how differently I write when confronted with that format. I definitely need some practice. Additionally, in using a typewriter with no delete or correction ability, what you put down is what you get (which I suppose is also basically true if you use your even-more-old-fashioned hands to write something). 

Typers vs. writers.

Perhaps one of the most fun parts of the day for me was troubleshooting typewriter issues and teaching a couple of people (a college student and an adorable little girl) that had never before used typewriters how they work. The little girl, who had never even seen a typewriter before, wrote a letter to her grandma that said "I love you." As someone who got into acquiring typewriters in the first place because of my kid obsession with my grandpa's Underwood, my heart got a little melty. 

It was a great experience (and as a bonus Decade's coffee and cookies are delicious). I will return. And my relatives and friends may see a few of these strange old-fashioned things turn up in their mailboxes. 

If you are interested in a typewriter for yourself or a loved one, let me know! I am surprised at how brisk sales have been lately, but I am doing pretty well at restocking (as well as driving all over and beyond the metro, finding them). There are definitely a few interesting ones that will be put up in the shop this week, including a black and white Underwood/Olivetti 450, which is so modern-looking it hurts.