Repairing a mechanical canary

August 1, 2012

Q. I have a mechanical canary that my parents gave me more than 50 years ago, when I was a child. It has “made in Japan” stamped on the bottom and runs on a D battery. It hasn’t worked for years, but I would like to see if it can be repaired so that I can hear its melodic chirps and see it come to “life” once more. The base has felt “grass” that needs to be replaced, but the rest of the bird, cage and even the silk flowers are in great shape. Where can I have my childhood keepsake repaired?

Takoma Park

A. Guido Calvetty Alave at GCA-La Precision (703-255-0055), a watch and clock shop in Vienna, repairs singing bird automata. These mechanical toys — now collector’s items — have complicated mechanisms, bellows and sometimes pumps. So the cost of the repair varies depending on what needs to be done. Alave recommends making an appointment to bring your piece into his shop for an evaluation, which he can do while you wait. If your bird needs a complete overhaul, expect to spend at least $650. Alave sometimes needs to make parts, so he warns customers that repairs might take a while — sometimes even six months. “I’ve learned not to promise,” he said.

The highest-quality singing birds were made in Germany, Alave said, but very high-quality ones also came from Japan in the 1950s. Singing birds in cages are still made today. The ones with real feathers and intricate mechanisms cost a lot, but some are remarkably inexpensive. Schylling (www.schylling.com), a Massachusetts manufacturer that specializes in classic toys, makes a wind-up bird in a bamboo cage that sells for about $14. It’s great for creating new memories for a kid of today — not so good for reviving memories for a kid from the last century.

Q. We recently moved into a new home where the previous owners refinished a guest bathroom. Unfortunately, they used the same shiny 6-by-6-inch wall tiles throughout: on the walls and floors, and in the large stall shower. The result is an incredibly slippery shower floor. It’s so slippery that bath mats don’t even stick very well. Is there anything we can do to make the existing tile less slippery, without retiling this limited-use room? Also, are there any potential problems other than slipperiness that we might face because we have wall tiles on the bathroom floor? Will wall tile hold up under foot traffic?


This mid-20th-century mechanical canary has been silent for years. (READER PHOTO)

Vienna

A. A shower floor covered with six-inch tiles is far more slippery than one with small tiles, because extra grout lines add a lot of traction. That’s a good thing to keep in mind should you ever decide to redo the shower. In the meantime, solutions include anti-skid mats and peel-and-stick strips, which you can find at home centers or hardware stores, and anti-skid coatings and etching solutions, which you might need to buy over the Internet. Slip Tech (sliptech.com) sells its product in two sizes, enough to treat 100 square feet for $40 or enough for 1,500 square feet for $200. Slip Doctors (www.slipdoctors.com) sells its Stone Grip, which treats 300 to 400 square feet, for $74. The etching is shallow, so it doesn’t change the tile’s appearance. But that also means it doesn’t last forever, though in a low-use bathroom like yours, it should solve your problem for quite a few years.

Eventually, you can either reapply an etching solution or switch to a spray-on coating, such as Slip Doctors’ extra-fine non-slip spray. You could actually just start with the spray and reapply it as needed. But once you spray, you can’t etch, so it makes sense to try the etching material first. (The spray would be the only option if you were trying to make an acrylic or fiberglass tub less slippery.)

Etching products contain acid, so be sure to follow instructions precisely. If you hire someone to do the application, make sure they do, too. Don’t be tempted to leave the acid on the tile for longer than the label recommends, because tile that’s etched too heavily will lose its shine and might become harder to clean, says Greg Cohen, president of Slip Doctors.

Have 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.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in July, such as oiling a garage door and using the air conditioner efficiently, at washingtonpost.com/home.

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