How to Oil a Typewriter

by Anthony Thompson; Updated September 26, 2017
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Once the workhorse of every office, the typewriter has been almost completely replaced by the computer. Many manual models have become highly collectible, but with the industry that once maintained and repaired such machines virtually extinct, owners must learn to do the work for themselves. Regular oiling is essential to keep a typewriter running smoothly and prevent metal parts from rusting, but excessive or incorrectly applied lubrication can prevent a machine from functioning properly. Used correctly, oil can help keep any machine in full working order for many years to come.

Items you will need

  • Soft brush
  • Compressed air duster
  • Typewriter oil
  • Toothpick or paper clip
Step 1

Remove any visible dust from typewriter using a brush, suitable vacuum cleaner attachment or a can of compressed air to blow it away. This will prevent the dust from sticking to the oil and gumming up the works.

Step 2

Press the space bar until the carriage moves all the way to the left. Use the brush to clean the carriage rails, then use the carriage return lever to move the carriage all the way to the right and clean the rails on that side. Add a thin smear of oil to each end of the carriage track. As the carriage moves back and forth, this oil will work its way across the entire length of the mechanism.

Step 3

Add a drop of oil to the joint between the "Shift" and the "Shift Lock" keys. Depress and release the "Shift Lock" key several times to help work the oil into the mechanism. If it is visible, you can also lubricate the joint on the ribbon selector lever to ensure that it can always move freely.

Step 4

Remove the ribbon from the typewriter and place it to one side. Carefully lubricate the moving parts of the ribbon mechanism, paying particular attention to the reversing arms that switch the ribbon direction when it reaches the end of the spool. Replace the ribbon.

Step 5

Tip the typewriter upwards from the front until it is resting on its back and the underside is exposed. Brush away any loose debris, then add a small amount of oil to any exposed nuts or linkages in the mechanism. Return the typewriter to its usual position.

Tips

  • To prevent over-oiling, dip a toothpick or the straightened end of a paper clip into your oil. This will allow you to apply small drops to parts of the typewriter with great precision.

    Dust is the number one enemy of any manual typewriter and the cause of the majority of minor mechanical problems. When not in use, always keep your machine covered or in its case.

    Use a light, high-grade engineering oil. If typewriter oil is not available, you can use gun oil or sewing machine oil.

Warnings

  • Immediately mop up any excess oil with a soft, clean cloth.

    Take great care not to get any oil on the typebars or ribbon, as this can lead to smudgy letters.

About the Author

Based in London, Anthony Thompson originally worked in the financial sector but has been writing professionally since 1992. The former editor of a monthly computing and technology magazine, his work has appeared in The Guardian, GQ and Time Out.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images