Jeanne Huber’s ‘How To’: Get a typewriter or flashlight fixed


An old typewriter can get a makeover. (Courtesy “The Typewriter Film.”)
June 4

Question: My grandmother, who is in her 90s, recently gave me her Underwood typewriter. She is not sure of its age but thinks it’s at least 65 years old. To me, it looks really old, and it is very heavy! I would like to find a shop to fix it up so I can display it. Any suggestions?

— Silver Spring

Answer: Even today, a tuned-up typewriter can be a useful thing to have and not just as a decorative item. Want to type an address onto an envelope? Fill out a paper form? A typewriter does it easily and neatly, although it may also make you appreciate your computer’s delete key and spell checker.

One company that services typewriters is Rockville Office Machines (301-468-1973 www.rockvilleofficemachines.com). A family-owned business, it charges $35 for a repair estimate. If you decide to go ahead with the repair, that fee goes toward the final bill. The minimum repair fee is $75 plus parts. For vintage typewriters, the total cost tends to be at least $100.

But when you’re done, you should have a nicely functioning machine. Ribbons are available, although you won’t always get an exact match. The company advises keeping any old spools you have. It can rewind new ribbon onto those and you’ll be good to go.

Of course, if you don’t plan to use the typewriter, a full tune-up isn’t necessary. In that case, you might just want to wipe away dust and grime, vacuum off any loose dirt then use a toothbrush and cotton rags moistened in mineral spirits to soften and remove oily deposits. Wear gloves made of nitrile, which stands up to mineral spirits better than some other glove materials, and wait for a nice day so you can work outdoors or at least have a window open.

Question: I have an old flashlight that has great sentimental meaning but doesn’t work. Is there a store in the D.C. area where I can take it for repair?

— Silver Spring

Answer: Greg Skenderis at Washington Police Supply (202-462-4532; www.copgear.com) repairs all sorts of tools used by police officers, including flashlights, so he might be able to help. Artisan Lamp in Washington (202-244-8900; www.artisanlamp.com) is another option, but you would need to take the flashlight there and ask for an evaluation. Dan Barlow, president of HacDC, a “maker space” for tinkerers and inventors in Washington (202-556-4225; www.hacdc.org), would be happy to take a look. “I have already done one of these,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The batteries were left in it and corroded so much that the owner couldn’t remove them. I got them out and cleaned up the contacts so it works again.”

Corrosion is one typical problem with old flashlights. Replacing burned-out bulbs or spent batteries are others, because the original parts might not match what’s available today. And sometimes, there are springs, broken contacts or other problems.

For these complex problems, turn to Steve Giterman (614-878-8812; sgiterman@ columbus.rr.com), who is based in Ohio. He wrote a primer about repairing vintage flashlights, which you can read at www.gotalight.net, and is featured on www.flashlightmuseum.com, another hub for collectors. “I’ve never seen a flashlight I couldn’t fix,” he said, and he has stories to tell about how grateful past customers have been. “People get really attached to some of these old flashlights,” he said. One man broke down in tears when he learned that his father’s flashlight, which the man had broken while a child, was finally fixed.

Giterman used to do repairs without charging, as a hobby. Today, as he nears retirement from his day job, he gives free advice by e-mail but charges $20 to evaluate a flashlight mailed to him. For repair work, he charges $25 an hour with a one-hour minimum. He’ll apply the evaluation fee to the repair cost. Giterman makes and sells custom battery packs that allow modern alkaline batteries to work in vintage flashlights. He also has a selection of replacement bulbs.

And finally, if your flashlight was made by one of the companies that still services their models, you can go directly to an authorized repair shop. MagLite provides links to its repair partners on its Web site, www.maglite.com. Streamlight (www.streamlight.com) also lists repair centers for its products.

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

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