Typewriters may come and typewriters may go, but I’d like to keep my standing in-house collection under double digits. We’re a family of many hobbies and collections and our home is already bursting with fun stuff. I could use a barn.
Also, I’m not really into amassing a huge collection of typewriters – I’m not looking to acquire a Corona Four in every color. And I really like junkers – I like to clean and make them functional. It’s very satisfying. For the most part, once they are working, they start to lose their grip on me.
Last week I saw a very dirty, nonfunctional Royal KHM at my favorite neighborhood junk shop. I found it utterly COMPELLING:
It was really dirty – gunk inside and out and dried mud on the top cover. She wasn’t typing at all. The draw band was off and wrapped under the carriage. All the keys were frozen in time. So bad. So very bad.
The shop owner saw me staring at it longingly and told me I could have it for $25. I told her that I didn’t want to own it, I just wanted to clean it up. She told me I could take it home, clean it and bring it back if that’s what made me happy. Yes, that’s what makes me happy.
1938 Royal KHM (Kinda Hardly Moving)
I brought the typewriter home and pulled out my handy-dandy air blower thing and blew out layers of dust and cobwebs, being careful to work in a semi-enclosed area outside in case I blew out a loose part. As I examined my foster child a little more my closely, my heart sank when I realized that not only was her drawband off, but her mainspring moved very reluctantly. That’s why her intact drawband had fallen off. The drum wasn’t moving. No zip. It turned as if it were moving through dried gum and did not bounce back. I doused the mainspring drum with PB Blaster penetrating lubricant and hoped for the best.
I removed the drawband since it was tangled up under the carriage and cleaned and lubricated the rails. I was flummoxed when I got to the the top cover. It didn’t pop up like my other typewriters. I had to remove four screws to remove the top cover – one inside each spool container and one at each back corner of the cover. Rob Bowker has an excellent post on accessing the insides of a Royal KHM that I unfortunately found after all was done.
Everything under the cover was very rusty and gummy. I doused the segment, spooling mechanism, ribbon vibrator with PB Blaster and started scrubbing the typebars with a very fine Scotch-Brite pad:
I started working the keys, loosening things up and flushing the segment with denatured alcohol.
The keys looked better after just a clean with a Q-tip:
I tested the mainspring and HURRAY! It was loosening up after PB Blaster treatment and was winding and zipping with some authority. I re-attached the drawband and off we went. The carriage was a little grudging at first, but moving it back and forth repeatedly freed it to move smoothly. What a great feeling.
I washed the outside case with warm soapy water first to get the worst of the mud off. I then used Scrubbing Bubbles to remove the residual grime, being very careful to avoid the decals (which were already very faded).
I rejuvenated the old, ripped ribbon with WD-40 and carefully rewound the ribbon. I put the top cover back on temporarily and tested the typing.
The type seemed a little dirty, so I scrubbed the type with denatured alcohol. I was very careful to drape the painted surfaces of the typewriter since the denatured alcohol will eat into the paint.
The margin release and the tab system use shared parts and neither system was working. From what I could see, everything was in an advanced state of gumminess. I cleaned and lubed all the moving parts of the margin release and tab system and worked them with my hands. Slowly the tabs began to work and the margin release was pulling back properly.
The Royal KHM is typing like a champ right now. No letter piling. When I first put paper in her, she had a couple lines with an erratic left margin, but that disappeared and I have typed out two full pages single-spaced without margin issues or letter piling. It makes me think that I should re-visit my Royal Aristocrat with margin issues and give her a second deep cleaning.
I felt bad about the ratty WD-40ed ribbon – it was printing OK, but it was sort of rotten and holey.
I had just ordered some ribbons from Amazon so I threw in a new red and black one. Classy!
I had some auto wax and spiffed up the outer case. Here are some glamor shots I took before I returned her to the junk shop:
Moe at the junk shop was thrilled to see the transformed KHM. I took a page from TypetheClouds’ book and sent the Royal KHM back out into the world with care and feeding instructions. In the future, Moe will gladly let me take junker typewriters home for clean up.
I was reluctant to let this Royal KHM go. She went from congealed paralysis to being my fastest, snappiest and springiest typer. What a bright, happy typewriter! I have read about the Royal’s quick and snappy touch. It lives.
I think this new system of catch, clean and release may really work out for me. I get to experience new and exciting typewriters regularly without typewriter accumulation and the world gets functional typewriters. Typewriter fostering is a win-win in my book!
30 thoughts on “The Foster Typewriter: Royal KHM”
Huzzah! What a fabulous thing to do. I should be getting ready for the school run, but sitting here captivated by your adventure in typewriter rescue. 🙂
I am very glad that I had come across your “catch and release” post and your idea of attaching care and useful links to the machine.
This is a great idea, and nicely executed. Well done.
Thank you! It was great fun – I wonder what I’ll bring home next.
Wow! That is one lucky “junk” shop owner.
There is certainly a lot of satisfaction in bringing a typewriter back to life—no monetary recompense required. I’m essentially doing the same thing for the Urban Legend Institute, here.
I wish there were something like the Urban Legend Institute in this area – I would happily volunteer.
You could try contacting 826 Valencia in SF. They are the model for WordPlay Cincy / The Urban Legend Institute as well as other similar places around the country. I don’t know whether they use any typewriters or sell any, but they should!
I may contact 826 Valencia. If they don’t currently use typewriters, they may want to consider their use.
I see that they run the Pirate Supply Store – we’ve bought supplies (flags and such) there before. Quirky fun.
I’ve done this before for a few machines, it’s a great way to have the fun of putting a deserving machine back into active circulation, and I don’t know any shop owner who’d turn down a free refurb. 😀
I was worried that in its decrepit condition it would be sold for its pretty keys. Now it is a kick-ass Father’s Day present for someone out there.
Very lucky shop! Quite a transformation, it looks stunning now!
(Can understand how that is very rewarding to do. Feels good to fix and get something working again 🙂
It’s a great way to experience different types of typewriters – I’d love to clean up an old Underwood Standard next. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of knowing an Underwood.
Excellent clean-up, well done. My KHM came as a gift from a friend who had used it a lot for fanzine artwork back in the 80s. The leathercloth cover had done a great job of keeping the dust out but as it was decomposing, there was a fine tilth of crumbs to remove. I admire your resolve at letting this one go. I wouldn’t part with mine for any amount – it is such a joy to use and has that ‘serious’ typewriter look about it. Like you, I’d like to get my hands on an Underwood 5 or something like it. I’m sure one will come my way eventually!
I may end up going back to the shop and retrieving it in the end. I was just amazed at what a lively typer the KHM was after clean up.
I celebrated Typewriter Day by bringing home a lovely rusty 1922 LC Smith No. 8 – not an Underwood 5, but close.
Wonderful article. The Royal KHM is my favorite typewriter, due in no small part to it being the model I used when I first started writing seriously (back in 1976). I lost that typewriter when burglars burned my home down, and have always missed it. Even chose my pen name, Manuel Royal, in memory of that beautiful, sturdy machine.
That’s a heartbreaking story about your KHM. I think about my foster KHM regularly – it may have been one of the best typewriters I have ever typed on. I may have to bring another one home to clean up.
Good on you for doing this to a machine in need… It’s important to keep them running.
I inherited a 1936 KHM that I’m just beginning to figure out how to restore. Thank you for the helpful article.
These old, dirty typewriters are really satisfying to clean up. They are incredibly durable and can often be restored to full function with a deep cleaning. Good luck with your KHM.
Thank you for your detailed post! I found a free-but-filthy typewriter in a neighbor’s basement, and I believe it is the same model. I’ve never typed on (let alone fixed up!) a typewriter. I haven’t done more than dust it off and clean off some of the worst grime with WD-40, but this post inspires me!
That KHM I cleaned up was a memorable typewriter – one of the best I have ever typed on. Good luck with your free & filthy find. Mineral spirits is my current solvent of choice for clearing put mechanical gumminess and stiffness and putting spring in the step. Try to keep the WD-40 out of the mechanics – many typospherians have found WD-40 problematic in the long term, often leading to frozen mechanisms.
Thanks for the tip! I’ve just cleaned the exterior so far, so hopefully I haven’t done anything I’ll regret later…
Check out Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page on basic restoration:
If you want to dig deeper and learn some of Richard Polt’s favorite techniques, get his book:
The Typewriter Revolution:A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century
Great post! Inspiring what a little love and care can do. I am new this type world. After being told that my barely 10 yr. old uber modern apple computer was a dinosaur, I happen to find one of these Royal KHM beauties and picked it up. This was a mix of protest, love, and curiosity. My machine works surprisingly well but could use a little cleaning and I want to take proper care of it.
Have you come across a place I might download instructions or other “how to care” , original or new….?
Thanks in advance for any other info you might have.
What a wonderful first typewriter for you – I remember that Royal KHM as one of the best standards I’ve ever typed on.
Richard Polt of The Classic Typewriter Page has an archive of typewriter manuals downloadable in .pdf format:
and has a Royal KH/KHM manual from 1937:
Richard has some tips on his Classic Typewriter website:
but he has a whole chapter dedicated to his favorite tips in his book, Typewriter Revolution:
Congratulations, good luck with your KHM and welcome to the typosphere.!
Good heavens, I am following your typewriter journey! A Royal KH followed me home last week ($20!) and is in slightly better working condition, but the ribbon cover has me flummoxed. So I Googled it up…and here you are, with enthusiasm and know how as always. Mine is a 1934, painted gray (which I understand from the forum I frequent was pretty common for them to undergo in the 50s). A few keys are disconnected as well — but I will persevere! I gotta have that action!
Ah! I remember that old KHM. It was my first “catch and release” project. I was very nervous about approaching the shop owner to see if she was open to me taking it home for a cleaning and a repair. Fortunately, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and I brought home many dirty, broken typewriters from Moe’s shop after that.
Good luck with your KH and its disconnected keys!
This is wonderful! I got a 1937 KHM for free off Craigslist. I am having a few issues – the ribbon vibrator gets stuck in the up position. I’ll see if mineral spirits loosen it up, but I think it is slightly bent. Unfortunately, I can’t budge the screws that hold the plate in front of the vibrator to get to it for either cleaning or gentle bending. The other issue is the bell trip is not making contact with the margin stop so the bell doesn’t ring. The trip (the part connected to the bell itself) seems a bit loose and hangs too low, and I can’t figure out a way to get to it without removing the carriage. Do you know of any online resources for how to remove a KHM carriage? I’ve found some videos and guides for other Royals but this one is a little different. I’m a little worried I’ll remove the carriage and create bigger problems.
Congratulations on your free KHM – they are fantastic typewriters. Regarding your ribbon vibrator, give it a really good clean – I’ve found that cleaning and manually working the parts clears up about 75% of ribbon lift problems. If you need to gently bend parts, you can do that without dismantling. Here’s a video from Phoenix Typewriter in which he carefully forms a bent ribbon vibrator on a Smith-Corona portable. The same principles apply on a Royal standard: clean then figure out where it might be binding and gently bend.
And about your bell, you can probably get that working without removing the carriage. Here’s Phoenix Typewriter again, fixing a bell on a wide-carriage KHM. He does a through cleaning of the bell mechanism and then bends at two points in the bell system. It’s a good video because it details his problem solving method:
My recommendation is to not remove a carriage from a Royal standard unless you are quite experienced with typewriters and Royal standards in particular. There are many, many fragile parts that can be damaged on removal and two sets of bearings and retaining pinions that are easily lost and must be placed correctly when re-assembled.
Good luck with your KHM! I am knee deep in old Royal standards right now – including a 1916 Royal 10 that came to me with its carriage removed and missing some important parts. It’s almost done and I hope to post about it before Christmas.
Thank you so much! These videos will be very helpful. The situation with my bell is exactly what is happening in this video. If I can ask one more question: I think he calls that tool a t-bender but I can’t seem to find that online when I google. Can I use a pair of needle nose pliers to try to bend it or is there another tool you recommend? Thanks again for your help. I love how the typewriter community is always so generous with their advice.
I am so glad the videos were helpful. Duane was probably using a specialized t-bender in the video that looks like this:
Typewriter tools are hard to come by, but in this case a pair of small, thin needle nose pliers should work.