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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sheening Up the Japan

The Shine Also Rises
(as does the Urania)
Many of us have tried various methods of restoring the high sheen to the japan black finish on our old typewriters. In Australia, collectors often look with envy at typewriters offered for sale by Derrick Brown in Brisbane, after Derrick had given them his "special treatment". It's almost three years since Ryan Adney at Magic Margin described his polishing technique here. There's a PDF of Richard Milton's restoration secrets here. And there are plenty of very useful tips on Richard Polt's The Classic Typewriter Page here.
Over the years I have experimented with a large range of products, with varying degree of success. In the past week or so, I have used what were for me "new" cleaner-polishers, and feel confident in recommending at least two of them. It was a shame I didn't take a "before" photograph of the Remington 3 portable I received last Friday, because using these products completely transformed the paintwork. The little Rem now stands out like a beacon from the pack with its gleaming finish.
I did take "before and after" photos of three portables I worked on today, but I'm afraid the images don't really do credit to the improvements in their looks. None of the three looked too bad to start with (unlike the Remington 3, which was visibly crudded). But I can assure you, they are all now far shinier than they were a few hours ago.
Three things I should point out:
1. I wouldn't risk getting any of these products near a decal.
2. For the sake of the exercise, I only worked on the top plates. From experience, it is usually the top plate, especially when it is a fairly flat surface, which cops the bulk of the build-up of crud over the years. The sides and paper plate are often not as badly affected by crud.
Crud can be deceptive. It's often almost like a transparent film, but it's there - blocking a clear view between the original japanning of 80 or 90 years ago and you today. You can often polish up a typewriter, even after using something like a light cleaning lubricant, and while the surface make appear to look better, the crud is still there. As Ryan Adney pointed out, it's only when you use something that will lift the crud, and then take a look at your cleaning rag, that you realise how much of it was/is actually clinging tight to the typewriter.
And it's only when you have cleaned the crud off that you begin to see the real results of your efforts, and the japan black starts to shine through as it should.
3. As Derrick Brown has often said, nothing, absolutely nothing, will in the end beat good ol' elbow grease. Whatever product or method you use, at the end of the day it's the amount of your rubbing and polishing that will count.
I get good results on making a start on breaking up the crud by using something as simple and handy as a few drops of dish washing liquid. Between each stage of the process I wash off any residue with the light cleaning lubricant.
After that I used both of the "new" (to me) products I found very useful, again applying the lubricant to "wash off" residue between applications. I worked in small areas at a time, such as one side in front of the left spool, then the other side. Thus the products I used didn't have time to settle and dry, but were on the surface for maybe 20-30 seconds at the very most at any one time. Where possible (and perhaps this is cheating), I also used a buffer pad electric drill attachment - again with great care. 
Anyway, I was pleased with the results. One way of telling the difference in these photos is to look at how blurry or clear the reflections from my back yard are (it's a mulberry tree in winter - bare).


ZetiX said...

I managed to lift that crud off a few machines using Turtle Wax car polish and A LOT of elbow grease. Though the results are rewarding indeed. Seemingly dull and lifeless paint got its depth and shine back. Using a white or light grey rag can keep you motivated as you clearly see the amount of grime removed off the surface :)

Bill M said...

I've got to give some of those suggestions a try. Good advice Robert. Thanks.

shordzi said...

Car polish rulez!