How To: Fixing an old electric fan, getting stains out of copper

July 20, 2011

Q. I have an old Westinghouse Whirlwind Style 280598 tabletop electric fan whose blades have stopped spinning, as if the pin that attaches them to the motor has become stuck or clogged with gunk. The motor still tries, but I dare not plug it in again until the blade assembly can spin freely. Who in this area repairs small, decades-old appliances?

—The District

A. You might just need to oil the fan, suggests David Easler, a member of the Antique Fan Collectors Association. When he started collecting in 1994, the first fan he bought was acting just like yours. A little oil got it back in working condition. “Most modern fan bearings are self-lubricating, and so there is no need to oil anything during the life of the product,” Easler said in an e-mail. “But this was not the case in the ’20s when the Westinghouse fan in question here was made.”

In a way, it’s a hint about priorities. New gear needs little ongoing maintenance, but when it breaks, it’s toast. Older gear needs periodic attention, but if you give it that, it lasts forever. “The instruction information that came with the old fans was about care and maintenance,” Easler noted, “whereas the information one gets now is more likely about limitations on manufacturing warranties and cautions about the obvious hazards of plugging it in while underwater.” The collectors group publishes a primer on how to lube fans at www.fancollectors.org/
info/lube.htm
.


Westinghouse Whirlwind Tabletop fan, style# 280598A (Craig Glandon)

If you can’t get the fan working, try taking it to Appliance Fix-It in Falls Church (703-820-1253). Gene Keller, whose father started the company in 1958, says it charges $20 to take apart and assess a small fan and $40 for a big one. If the repair is simple, it will be completed, “no further charge,” Keller said. If it’s more involved, the company will give you a price and you can decide whether to proceed.

Q. We bought a coffee table with a copper top with an aged finish. The patina is not uniform or bright. Guests left glasses on the table, and now there are rings we cannot get out. Copper cleaner just makes the area brighter and more copper-colored than the rest. What’s the solution?

—Alexandria

A. Tony Rakich, a Connecticut metallurgist for 50 years who answers technical questions for the Copper Development Association, recommends cutting a lemon in half, dipping it in salt, and rubbing it on the surface in an inconspicuous place. If that strips off surface oxidation, keep rubbing over the entire surface. You may need to rub longer in areas with stubborn stains, such as the water rings. If lemon and salt don’t work, Rakish suggests trying a commercial metal cleaner that’s a different brand from what you’ve already tried.

Once the surface is clean, you can apply a surface finish to prevent new oxidation. Rakish recommended Permalac, a lacquer made by Sculpt Nouveau (www.sculptnouveau.com; 800-728-5787). The company specializes in selling metal-finishing products, such as solutions that create various patinas, to sculptors. The finish is available in a variety of gloss levels, from shiny to flat, and comes as a brush-on liquid as well as in spray cans.

Another solution is to accept the water rings as just the first in a series of marks that will eventually give your coffee table the mellow, well-worn look of a penny that’s had a busy life. The copper is going to lose its shine and develop a patina over time anyway, so if you don’t try to slow that down, you wind up with a beautiful finish faster.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line and tell us where you live.

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in July, such as checking your deck for problems.

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