A fellow typospherian entrusted this 1925 Remington Portable #2 to me. It looked pretty good from a distance with nice decals and intact paint, but it had seen some action:
It was dirty:
It had a bunch of bent type bars that stuck up and collided with neighbors:
The worst thing about it was the petrified condition of the platen. It was a tragic platen—cracked, crusty, and crumbling:
And no feet—the rubber must have crumbled away. When I am an old lady and I write my memoirs about being an amateur typewriter repairperson, I am going to title it: Dirt, Drawbands, and Degraded Rubber since it seems just about every dysfunctional typewriter I come across suffers from at least one of these maladies.
The feed rollers were just as bad as the platen – either they had crumbled off or had turned into hardened sticky squares. You couldn’t feed a sheet of paper with that platen and those rollers.
But—but—but—as you can see from the picture above, IT TYPED.
OK, Little Friend, I said, let’s see what we can do for you. Fortified by my recent experience fixing up a friend’s Remington Portable #1, I felt like I was up to the task.
I had several options for the platen:
There’s a lot of discussion on platen recovering in the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group and the optimal hardness of a platen. It shouldn’t be hard as a rock because it will feel and sound terrible and characters will punch through. However, if it’s too soft, characters will punch through too. From what I gather from the Facebook group, a platen should have around a “just-right” Shore 90A hardness. Here’s an interesting rubber material hardness table at https://mykin.com/rubber-hardness-chart/. If what I am reading at the Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group is correct, a platen should be between a leather belt and shopping cart wheel in hardness.
In the FB Typewriter Maintenance Group, there are many OPINIONS on the wisdom of using heat shrink tubing for platens, with some frowning upon the method. I am very open-minded and willing to experiment for the greater good. I am very 🙃. As Smiley Bone says, “There’s always time for science!”
So I forged ahead and went the DIY route to see what kind of results I could get with heat shrink tubing. For a single platen, this is not exactly the budget alternative. I am frequently tinkering with distressed typewriters, so this works for me. I ended up buying 25 ft of heat shrink tubing, a heat gun, and a Type A rubber durometer (Because Science).
I found an inspirational and very helpful platen recovering Instructable from Knife141. Knife141 also has an Instructable on efficient ironing. He’s kind of a Renaissance Dude.
There is also a good post from Ted Munk about adding a single layer of heat shrink to the existing rubber layer of a hard platen. This Remington’s platen is just too far gone—a complete strip down and multiple layers would be required.
I started out by removing the platen. The Remington Portable #2 has a screw on the end of the right platen knob. It has a very thin, wide slot so I had to grind down a screwdriver head to fit it.
I popped the platen out and continued onto the feed rollers. There are a total of eight feed rollers: four small in front and four larger in the rear. The easiest way to get them out is to remove the paper tray. Backspace Does Not Erase has a terrific post on removing the paper tray from a Remington Portable #2 which was very helpful to me.
I flipped the typewriter over (with the typebars down) and tapped out the small knurled rods on each side that held the paper tray in place, pulling them out with needle nose pliers once the knurled ends were visible.
The paper tray lifted out in pieces and it was very dirty under there.
I took lots of pictures which were very helpful when I was reassembling. The front feed rollers sit on rods in a thin, springy piece of metal that lies under the paper tray. This piece is very easily bent and is wedged under a center rod on the carriage
I then started work on the platen. I measured the diameter of the cracked platen in several places and found it to be between 1.123 and 1.149 inches in diameter, right around 1 ⅛”.
Removing the cracked rubber covering with a utility knife and a screw driver, I found one end secured with a tiny brad. After removing the brad and doing some careful prying, I was able to skin the platen like a banana since the rubber had a fabric backing. The core was a soft, rough wood which I sanded down a little.
I bought 25ft of commercial grade polyolefin heat shrink tubing, 3:1 Heat Shrink Tubing (Pre Shrink OD:1-1/2″ 25Ft, Black). I chose the heat shrink tubing without adhesive because I wanted to be able to remove it easily if it didn’t work out.
I cut the tubing a little longer than the platen core:
I had to remove the ratchet thingy at the end of the platen so that I had a uniform tube to work with. I hate dealing with rusty screws and teeny parts that can get lost, but I was worried that the shrink tubing would split around this shape.
I used a heat gun and applied five layers of shrink tubing, one layer at a time, rolling between layers to keep the cylinder smooth and consistent in size..
Tip: start at one end of the platen and move your heat shrinking along lengthwise. On one early layer I just did a generalized back and forth with the heat gun and I got air bubbles. These eventually flattened but I could have avoided this if I had worked along the length of the platen
After I applied five consecutive layers of heat shrink tubing and reached an outer diameter of 1 ⅛ inches, I trimmed the ends with a very sharp utility knife:
I made new feed rollers with small size heat shrink tubing. I tried to use fuel line tubing for the rear rollers. Though that worked great on the Remington Portable #1, the outer diameter of the fuel line tubing was (weirdly) too large for the #2 and the rear rollers wouldn’t spin freely.
While I was re-inserting the platen, a piece from the ratcheting section by the left carriage return fell out. Oh no. I should have secured those pieces with tape or rubber bands as RobertG. recommends.
I was so glad that I had this photo from the dirty dismantling process that I could refer to while I tried to figure out where the little spring wires go:
I finally got it all back together and re-inserted the platen. I straightened out the bent typebars and key levers with needle nose pliers and carefully cleaned the mechanical parts with mineral spirits, Q-tips, and love. My air compressor was very useful for blowing away greasy chunks.
The typewriter was looking pretty swell and typing nicely.
So what does my $30.00 durometer read? The new polyolefin platen has a hardness reading of just about Shore 90A – 95A—right there between a leather belt and shopping cart wheel:
For comparison, my Torpedo with a rock-hard platen that sounds like a machine gun reads about Shore 98A and the buttery soft platen of Blue Boy the Silent-Super reads just Shore 90A.
The results of the heat shrink seem pretty good to me, but to really put this platen through its paces, I needed typewriter feet. This one came with no feet. They must have crumbled off at some time in the distant past. The low-slung, exposed guts under the machine were dragging on the table without feet.
For feet, I had some options:
I decided to order feet from Steve Dade. I found Steve’s contact information at Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page and dropped him a line via email.
Steve promptly replied and sent me a set of beautiful feet. He offers a very affordable complete rubber package for the Remington Portable #2 (platen, feet, feed rollers), but I ordered just the feet. I am very happy with my heat shrink platen and feed rollers right now, but I may change my mind.
The beauty of the invoice that came with the feet is killing me.
Ah yes, this is the life. The feet grip the table nicely – no slipping. The feet raise the body off the table so there’s no funny business with mechanics dragging.
Regarding my heat shrink platen, it may be too hard. The periods and commas sort of punch through. My durometer registers Shore 95A in places. Overall, I am pleased. The imprint is dark and nicely consistent, and the sound is not overly loud. I think this platen recovering experiment is about 95% perfect. It is a vast improvement over the cracked and unusable platen I started with.
What a nice project. I spent several pleasant evenings listening to music, scrubbing the old guts and the type and key tops, and thinking my thoughts. So old is this one. Typists who used this typewriter in its prime are all gone. There seems to be no one out there who can tell me what this key means. Those that knew took that mystery with them when they shuffled off this mortal coil:
The season here is just beginning to turn. The air carries a faint but distinct chill. I went to a funeral last week and that, coupled with the shortening and darkening days, cause my thoughts turn to What It All Means. Perhaps it’s this: life is short and we need to appreciate its fleeting beauty, gentle pleasures, and small mysteries. There’s so much joy in life and regeneration—typewriter-related and otherwise—and it’s good to consciously savor and actively participate while we can.