Let's talk rubber

Except for the occasional metal or wooden platen roll or paper feed roll, every typewriter has a rubber platen and paper feeds. And if it doesn't have a rubber platen, it'll have rubber feet. Rubber has many obvious, excellent qualities, and one bad habit: it deteriorates over time and it doesn't like most cleaning agents and solvents.
Check your average old machine and you'll see cracks in the rubber and the feet (if still there) will have squashed out of shape.
The following text covers everything from industrial recovering to reproduction and household solutions. (Of course it is just a matter of time before your newly covered platen will go brittle again. The only way to delay the process is to cover the rubber with a thin layer of vaseline and never to touch it again.)

How far you want to take a restoration project is a matter of personal preference. Some people don't mind discolorations of the platen, because they see it as a sign of authenticity in an old machine. Others routinely remove platens and paper feeds from their machines when they strip them and send them off for recovering.

The recovering of typewriter platens is not a booming business and specialists are hard to find. You may want to check for rubber stamp factories in the yellow pages. Otherwise, companies that produce rubber tubes may be able to help.
One US company that does specialize in this virtually obsolete field of business is the West Coast Platen Co. based  in Los Angeles. Their e-mail is platen@worldnet.ATT.net This may be a good idea if California is around the corner.

DIY-platen recovering
Yes, it can be done. All you need is a tremendous supply of black rubber tubes in all conceivable sizes. Here's what an expert says (that's Ronald Babb).:

"I have the unfair advantage of also restoring player pianos and hence have a large supply of many different diameter rubber hoses to draw from.

  • I first examine the roller and find one or two places where it is still round and intact. I use a micrometer to measure this so I can duplicate it.
  • I then remove the old rubber by either slicing it if it is the least bit pliable or, in most cases, breaking it off with a pair of pliers.
  • I then use an razor knife to remove the little bits that still adhere to the roller core (which is usually brass). I make sure this piece is very clean and smooth so I can slide the new rubber on.
  • I look through the rubber tubing for something with about the right inner diameter to fit very snugly on the core.
  • I then determine if the thickness of the rubber will make the finished diameter close to what I measure the original at. It can vary slightly since there is "play" in the roller spring loaded mounting assembly.
  • In a few cases I have used two diameters of hoses, one over the other, to get the right thickness. If I am using 2 pieces of hose, I put the inner one in the outer one before I put them on the core.
  • I then either lather, KY, or spit (pardon me) on the rubber/rollercore to ease their sliding together. I make sure the replacement is much longer than the roller core so I can pull the rubber completely over and slightly beyond the end of the core.
  • I then cut the hose just short of the other end of the roller core to free it from the rest of the hose. With a very sharp Exacto knife, I roll the roller in a straight line on the cabinet top and cut the rubber to the correct size on the roller. That's it.
The biggest bother is searching through the rubber hoses trying to come up with the correct diameters. On a Remington #3 I used some wire insulation from a heavy duty power cable. I stripped off a piece of insulation of about the right length, cleaned out the fiber they used to insulate from the wire, and used that, it was the right diameter.

Improvised solutions
If the platen is still in acceptable condition (or if you just don't want to recover it and you can live with the dents or cracks) you may try this: place a sheet or half sheet of fine wet or dry emery across your hand and lay the platen in it. Poor lacquer thinner onto it and rotate the platen while
working it back and forth from end to end. It removes the old surface and it gives the platen a new look. (Wear gloves!) Don't clean the platen with thinner when it is in the machine. The thinner is likely to damage the paint on the machine!
And finally, here's an awkward one, that I found on Richard Polt's great website: Take a permanent marker pen and paint it black!

Feet are a different story. Feet are among the most wanted parts for restoration machines, together with original ribbon spools (does anyone have some for my Hammond 12?) and spool covers.
To produce replacement feet, you can:

  1. Reproduce them, using a kit to cast shapes in rubber. I've never seen these kits, but they seem to exist. One problem is that you'll need an authentic one to get the right shape for your mold. An authentic one might be reproduced in wood to create the mold, by looking at pictures.

  1. If you're going to produce a wooden replica, you might as well make four and paint them black. Or make them a bit smaller and cover them with black rubber foil.

  1. You may check with plumbers, hardware stores and in other places for rubber articles that could be used as feet. How about this one from Gary Bothe: "You're gonna think this is weird, but it's amazing what you can find when you look in odd places. In the Midwest, there is a chain of stores aimed at the needs of farmers called Fleet Farm, (also known as "the man's mall".) One item of interest is called a 5/8 RUBBER FULLERBALL, a part of the valve assembly in automatic cow watering cups. It bears a striking resemblance to the feet on an Underwood #5, it has a hole through the middle for a screw, and it can be whittled and cut on to make it serve other purposes as well. I used 6 of them to replace the rubber things that are under the screws that attach the Blickensderfer 7 mounting bracket to the oak base. They worked great." 

This one is in bad shape. It is on my World 2 typewriter. You know what? I kind of like it as it is...