Many of the articles below have been taken from the Australasian Telephone Collectors Society
Inc. (ATCS) and some from other sources. Items and information has been appended to some of the articles. The author takes no responsibility
for any of the advice given. Remember - always test on an unseen part first.
for a PDF file on restoration and operation of Old Telephones
Bakelite quick clean
Curly cord cleaning
Curly cord un-kinking
Textile Cord cleaning
Remember - don't go too mad about it - take it easy and only do what is needed.
If the item is in bad condition, be it Bakelite, metal or wood then a complete strip down is called for. Lay the component
parts on a board and store away. Note broken parts and make a decision on whether they can be restored or replaced.
Note all those parts that have to be replaced.
If Bakelite, then inspect for cracks - unless it is a coloured part, discard and replace the faulty item. Coloured parts are
difficult and expensive to come by and are generally easier to repair than the black Bakelite parts. If you need replacement
coloured parts then obtain them only when you have an old part with you. Coloured items are difficult to match - do not try
to match in artificial light.
Normally it will be the outer casings that need cleaning. Clean off grease and glue with White Spirit and biro marks with Mentholated
Spirit. Clean off the residue with a dry cloth.
Wood must now be repaired and then, if necessary, rubbed down until the surface is flat. At this point the wood will
have to be varnished (see below).
Bakelite once cleaned can be restored by various means. Cutting compound such as "T Cut" (sometimes too harsh) or
Paste Polishing No. 5 should bring the case to a good shine. If it turns mottley brown with what looks like
showing through - then stop because the you have broken the surface. Black boot polish sometimes hides this, but generally
replacement is the only course of action.
Finishes on Telephones
The following is an edited
version of an article which first appeared in the ATCS Newsletter of
The surface finish of wood telephones varies from one manufacturer to another and it is
essential, as far as possible when doing restoration work to replicate
the original finish and so retain authenticity. Some phones,
particularly of European make, had a mirror-like finish whereas others
had one or two brushed coats of a clear finish which allows the grain to
DON'T overdo the finish of phones
which should be 'rough'.
DO endeavour to get a good polished surface on those phones
which should be polished.
When the surface is badly
deteriorated it is often possible to get an idea of the original finish
and material used from the protected areas such as under the transmitter
mount or under the writing slope.
Shellac was the early standard,
used as French polish on high gloss surfaces and brushed on for rough
surfaces. Clear vanish has been used on US oak phones but is slow
drying. 1920's saw clear cellulose lacquer introduced which was ideal
for production lines. This was suitable for rough and polished finishes.
There is a temptation to use polyester vanishes but these tend not to
The aim of this article is to
indicate how mirror finishes can be obtained on open grain timber for
those phones which should have a smooth finish. The following describes
finishing using mainly shellac.
After stripping the original finish
down to bare wood and sanding, the next step is apply a clear sanding
undercoat by brush or spray. When dry, the undercoat is fine sanded to
obtain a smooth surface free of wood grain pores.
Follow this with the relevant
finishing coats and finishing procedures to give the required gloss
surface. It takes an expert to achieve the beautiful appearance of say a
wall Ericsson but with care and patience, quite reasonable results can
The final rubbing of shellac will
leave a bright, glossy finish. If the finish is too glossy, the surface
can be rubbed back with pumace powder, wet the surface with a mixture of
3 parts turps and 1 part linseed oil, dust with pumace powder and rub
with a clean cloth to the desired degree of satin is
Some times the existing surface is
too good to strip down but not good enough to leave "as is". Gently cut
the surface back with the above turps/oil mixture, clean thoroughly with
turps and a clean rag and apply a rubbing coat of shellac. This will
usually restore the finish adequately.
You need to experiment a little to
achieve the finish you require, just remember the more you fiddle with
the surface finish the smoother it will become and this may not be the
finish you require.
These were covered with
ebonite, a mixture of black powdered rubber and sulphur - a hard
to obtain material now days.
Google turns up this:-
Quality Ebonite is
produced by only a few companies in the world today. In fact only 2
manufacturers that I know of with good enough results to use for high grade
Making ebonite at
this quality level is not easy and production is costly plus the market for it
is small... only pipe makers, fountain pen makers and some crafters of musical
instruments use it. GEC had a factory in Coventry (UK) producing most of
the telephone and pipe industries Ebonite.
The last couple of years we have been using Ebonite from the rather new German Ebonite manufacturer called Schönberger Ebonite.
click on the Union flag to get it in English you'll see that they sell
eboDust and blackMelt, which would appear to be exactly what you need. It is
presumed that these are baked on.
So repair is very difficult and
original finishing seems to be impossible now-days.
A Quick Finish
A quick and easy way to restore wood back to a good condition is use the following instructions:
- Clean all glue, dirt, grease and other detritus off the wood.
- Do not use abrasive.
- Mix up the following and wash over surface to be revived with a clean paper towel.
2 parts raw linseed oil, 1 part pure turpentine, 1 part methylated spirit and 1 part malt vinegar.
- Once dry, polish with Button Polish (a bit expensive but does a good job).
The author has used this on water stained furniture and it comes up a treat. It saved him striping down a wooden cabinet
and has not been touched it for 5 years since.
This method also retains that "old" look which is generally lost with a totally striped item.
Click here for more restoration information of wood
The following is
taken from notes made by Victor Bilokin for his talk on French Polishing
at the ATCS September 98 meeting in Sydney and published in the ATCS
Please note: All brand names refer to Australian
brands. Similar products are probably available in most other
Do not leave stripper on for too long. Clean up with
methylated spirits, NOT water as this raises the grain.
Do not strip in sunlight as a poisonous gas is given off.
Use lacquer thinners when removing lacquer.
Do gluing and other repairs before stripping. Always
strip the hardest part first.
Sand paper comes in two basic types. The cheaper variety
is called “fre-cut” or similar whilst the better quality, more expensive
type is “Garnet Paper”. It comes in a number of grades from 80 (course),
100, 150, 180, 220, 240 (fine).
When sanding a
job it is advisable to skip no more than one grade when working from rough
work (course) through to fine work otherwise sanding marks will show after
shellac has been applied.
FRENCH POLISH & SHELLAC
Orange Shellac. Refined animal resin secreted by
insects called Lac bugs which live on twigs and branches of certain trees
in South East Asia.
White Shellac. Made from bleached orange shellac.
Is creamy-white in colour. Not as durable or as water resistant as orange
De-waxed Shellac. Relatively clear liquid taken
from the top of a vessel after normal shellac has been allowed to stand.
The natural undissolved waxes settle. More transparent than normal
Shellac can be obtained
in several forms:
Ready mixed, such as that made by Feast Watson,
available from most hardware stores. This is the most expensive
Flake shellac is
available bagged from certain antique restoration shops and hardware
stores. Dissolves quickly in methylated spirit.
Button shellac is also
available bagged from certain antique restoration shops and hardware
stores. Takes longer to dissolve in metho due to the button
Both flake and button shellac can be purchased in bulk
from specialist polishing suppliers. This is the cheapest method of
Mix shellac 1 part to 4 parts methylated
spirits. When dissolved, strain using a funnel into which is placed a
rolled up “Chux” wipe (kitchen wipe). Strain into a new container with an
airtight seal to keep the shellac for later use. Shellac for French
Polishing should be slightly thicker than metho (thick water). If it is
too thick it will be hard to work.
It is generally accepted that shellac is best applied
using a polishing rubber. Use washed sheeting cotton or a
handkerchief (don’t tell
mother) and fill with clean cotton wool. Form into the shape of half an
avocado with all the cotton material ends upward to be held in the hand.
Somewhat like wrapping a Christmas pudding. Cotton wool material can be
obtained from some specialist restoration shops. Do not use nylon
Apply shellac by dipping rubber into container, removing
excess by pressing firmly onto a clean piece of paper.
Glide the rubber onto the surface using light pressure
while the rubber is wet. Commence with straight strokes. Increase pressure
as rubber dries out and do circles and figure-eight movements. When the
rubber becomes tacky on the job it is time to straighten up and run along
the grain to avoid circular marks and to avoid ripping the
Repeat application leaving time between coats to dry. The
more coats on the work, the longer time needed between coats. It is vital
that each coat is left to dry thoroughly before application of subsequent
Work in a warm dust free room with light reflected from
the surfaces of the job.
Do not polish when it is raining or damp. Moisture in the
air mixes with the metho causing blooming, where the finish has milky
white streaks. Blooming can be corrected by allowing work to dry out
thoroughly and re-applying shellac.
Remove all traces of glue from work before polishing as
this will leave an unsightly mark after shellac has dried.
Rubber can be kept for further use in an air tight
REJUVENATING OLD FRENCH POLISH
First clean surface of old polish with clean rag and
turps to remove any grime accumulated over the years.
Using 0000 steel wool and linseed oil, go over the
surface to remove any fine scratches and marks.
Apply wax to remove scratches using 000 steel wool and
only a small amount of wax. If too much wax has been applied, the
polishing cloth will stick to the surface when polishing off after 15-20
Always go with the grain when applying wax with steel
wool. Finish off polishing using a clean soft cloth polishing in any
Two types of wax are used. Clear for light finishes.
Black for old timber finishes.
Do not use “Mr Sheen” (spray can household
cleaner/polish) as a polish as it contains silicone.
The metal parts on most UK telephones were generally coated with a gloss
black painted finish. These coating were known as a Japanned finish.
Wikipedia describes Japanning as:-
Most often a heavy black lacquer, almost like enamel
paint. The European technique uses varnishes that have a resin base,
similar to shellac, applied in
heat-dried layers which are then polished, to give a smooth glossy finish.
It can also come in reds, greens and blues.
In restoring a telephone any gloss (or semi-gloss) black paint would do,
but remember that a high gloss finish could look too 'new'.
From the ATCS Newsletter May
1999 by Tony Campbell
phone collectors who also do restoration work will, where possible,
endeavour to keep the original finish. After all, if an item is,
perhaps, coming up to 100 years old, it should in my opinion look
aged, not shining as just from the factory. I know this opinion has
had much heated debate and agree there is nothing worse than a
shabby old piece.
When faced with a restoration job where cleaning, etc. is
just not enough, wood usually presents not an insurmountable problem
to produce a reasonable finish. Cords likewise, but if the
metalwork will not appear presentable with cleaning, etc. there is
little the amateur can do by a simple process. After all if you
restore woodwork and it shows the effort in a good finish, the poor
nickel on the handset, cradle, etc. will do nothing to make the
phone presentable and decent.
Like most collectors I had accumulated numerous items such
as handsets, cradles, gongs, not to mention the countless nuts and
washers, some so small they require special care to keep them safe,
all needing re-plating.
So what to do? It makes the task more simple to have these
components refinished if one lives in a city, where it is still
possible to find platers who will take on small jobs containing
small pieces. But living as I do in a rural part there are no
platers who will do this small work, and the thought of sending
these precious parts through the post to a distant plater is
frightening. I had one experience and never again. Imagine my
nightmare, a dismantled Ericsson handset with receiver nuts, washers
and face plate screws, etc. was sent off only to receive back just
the larger parts. After many loud words over the phone the
remaining small pieces were received. It turned out a concerned
person at the platers had put to one side the nuts, etc. fearing
they'd get lost. So no more episodes of having the blood pressure
excited for me.
For quite a long time I mulled over this conundrum, I wanted
to do my own nickel plating but was afraid of what was
involved. What was now needed was information, so I
bought/read all the text I could find. At this point I learned
that the finish achieved by a small plant, such as I had in mind,
would not be to the standard of the commercial platers, but was
nonetheless assured it would be acceptable. The plating houses use a
sophisticated process producing superior
The decision was made, I would set up a small plant as
professionally as possible. A list of all requirements was
made and this included a proper polishing and buffing set-up. The
reason being all books I'd read had emphasised over and over the
necessity of a proper finish on parts prior to plating. It's
somewhat similar to a computer – garbage in garbage
Although it is possible to use a car battery or battery
charger as a power source, I decided on a purpose made power unit, I
would build one myself. This involved a hefty mains
transformer with a selection of low voltage outputs, and as high a
current rating as possible. A transformer with various tappings from
3V-30V at 10A. was used. These output tappings were arranged
on two rotary switches and fed through a rectifier, rheostat,
meters, fuses, etc. and I now had my power source. In a plating set
up the square area of the surface of the items to be plated dictate
the current required, therefore variable current output is
It was decided that five litres of electrolyte was adequate
for plating purposes and a tank for this quantity and tanks for
various preparatory cleaning processes were bought. These tanks were
all plastic polypropylene. They are, of course, all food
One of the preparatory processes is the stripping of old
nickel and this facet of the operation caused me some problems for
quite a time. I could not find a source for a nickel stripper and
the stripper often referred to in past issues of ATCS, N-STRIP 165S
could not be located either. Commercially, chemical stripping
is seldom now used, an electrical process being preferred. It is
possible in a small set up to also use this electrical process but
this can etch and effect the substrate which is important if surface
detail such as markings are to be retained.
Thanks to Rick Havyatt I eventually found the name of the
manufacturers of N-STRIP 165S and that they had a chemical
manufacturing plant outside London. Contact was made with them
to ask if they might give the name of some plating houses they
supply with this stripper but was told it is now seldom used and my
best hope would be some plater holding stock, so try
After many, many phone calls I was back to the manufacturer,
could they please help, a very kind gentleman eventually agreed they
would make up a small quantity. One can imagine the 'thorn in
the side' someone like me is to a major company like this who are
more used to dealing with orders of 50/100kg and upward. The
outcome was my order would be treated as a sample, it would cost me
nothing. I was in London around that time and collected my
bargain N-STRIP - but getting it home was another story, they
refused to take it on the plane.
All the other chemicals, etc. needed were bought from a
Laboratory Supplies' business. This is the only but most expensive
source as the 'Platers Supplies' people don't want to know unless
you are ordering by the 'ton'.
The product of these purchases was given some trial runs. At
first scrap pieces of nickelled brass were stripped, polished,
buffed, cleaned and plated with varying results but eventually I
became a 'dab-hand' at plating. I have now also done some zinc and
must say it is a laborious process especially the donkey work of
polishing. It is also quite demanding as most stages of the
process, especially towards the end, must be completed within a
reasonably short time span. You cannot do all the preparatory
stages over a long period and then leave them to one side until the
day you get around to plating. If parts are totally prepared and
then put to one side they will oxidise after a period in the air, so
you must go through the cleaning stages again prior to plating.
Therefore all the stages must be carried out as close to each other
As previously said, I became quite adept at the plating
business and being someone who is told is hard to please, am very
satisfied with the finish achieved. This finish is not as
bright or cold as the commercial mirror finish but I think is more
pleasing being somewhat softer and actually looks better on a
restored phone. The commercial finish looks just too
must add that cost has not been counted, for if it was it would
probably be cheaper to personally bring the item to the distant
plater, stay for the duration in a hotel, supervise the process and
return with the plated parts. But then there is nothing more
satisfying than seeing the results of your own labour.
Home plating is to be recommended.
CIRCUIT DIAGRAMS FROM
When restoring and/or repairing Bakelite telephones there is sometimes the need to remove the diagram from inside
This is often necessary
when the diagram is damaged and you need to repair the paper.
A request for this information was
published in the January 1999 ATCS newsletter following a request from a
collector in the USA via email.
The following was sent to the ATCS by Ray
White who is our expert on Bakelite repair.
Try it and let us know how it
'With reference to the article
regarding the removal of circuit diagrams from Bakelite telephone cases.
I always dismantle Bakelite phones completely as I have found that this
is the only way to prepare the case for
After removing all parts from
the case, I bath (soak) the case in a container of water with PALMOLIVE
dishwashing liquid added - just enough to make the water soapy, and
leave soaking for about 24 hours. The main purpose for this is to get
all the grime off the Bakelite which makes polishing and buffing easy.
As a consequence of the soaking, the circuit diagrams are to be found in
the bottom of the container.
Not once has this method of
cleaning the Bakelite cases failed to remove the
(Unfortunately, there is no
quick way to remove these diagrams) Ray White
Handle the wet diagram with
care as it will be very fragile and if you can, photocopy it so
you will have copy to work with for another phone.
RESTORING CIRCUIT DIAGRAMS
Many times when restoring telephones,
the circuit label inside the phone will be found to be damaged,
discoloured, marked or faded. These can be replaced by photocopying the
original and repairing any damage as follows.
1. For a dirty and damaged
diagram. Copy the label with the photocopier set to light, then copy the
copy again but make sure you turn it around in the machine (this is to
keep the image square as most machines do not copy
2. Now copy the second copy
(still on Light) but set the machine to enlarge (double size is A4 - A3
or 1.41%) Now copy again turning the image around..
3. Carefully white out any marks
etc. from this copy using Liquid Paper or similar. I usually thin the
Liquid Paper so that it doesn't build up too high. If there is
large areas between the lines which are very dirty, these can be
carefully cut out close to the lines and then copied
4. Allow to dry thoroughly then
using a fine black pen , carefully draw in any damaged line and
lettering. Try hard to match the thickness of the lines etc. I use a Unipen 0.3 fine line pen with waterproof, pigmented ink as this ink
does not run or soak into the paper.
5. Now photocopy down to the
original size (A3 - A4 or 71%) using the normal setting of the machine.
Check the size against the original label. It should now look as clean
and neat as an original.
6. The paper can be given an
aged look by dipping the paper in a weak tea solution.
All of the above depends on the
photocopy machine used and some experimentation will be found
This is the method I have used
to restore many diagrams in all sorts of condition.
With a little care, a very neat
and tidy label can be made which will finish your restoration job
Remember to made a couple of extra copies to
use on other phones, this will save some work next time.
Since the above was written,
another way has come to light due to the use of computers and
can scan the label into a suitable graphics editor (such as Paintshop
Pro) and the editing can be done on screen. This does take a little
practice to get right. Make sure, when you do the work this way,
that you don't use an inkjet printer to print the label as the ink
used in these machines is usually water based and not waterproof, a
laser is much better.
When your restoration is almost complete, the
final touch is to fit it's decorative transfers.
TAKE CARE ! ! They are designed to add beauty to
THEY ARE FRAGILE SO HANDLE WITH CARE.
So. . . . .
- Immerse your transfer (one at a time) in slightly warm
water. Slightly dampen the
item where the transfer is to go.
- Hold the
transfer flat while in the water or it will curl and possibly
- After about
30 seconds, carefully lift the entire transfer, with the
paper base and slide the transfer
onto the prepared surface.
- Make sure
the transfer is in the correct place and gently wipe any
bubbles from under the transfer.
- Gently wipe
off any remaining gum and excess water with a damp
sponge. Make sure the
transfer does not move, one way to do this is to use
the backing paper over the top
of the transfer and gently wipe.
- Allow to
dry before touching.
need a clear coating to make them less fragile when
handled. You will need to experiment
to find a suitable coating, try this on a sample piece of transfer, as the
wrong type of coating can interact with the transfer and totally
destroy your work.
A quick and easy way to clean up your Bakelite phone is to remove the
grime with white spirit and then polish lightly with T Cut paint cutting compound.
Only do the Bakelite parts and not the metal.
If the phone is a dull brown colour, with what looks like white flecks
under the skin, I doubt whether the above method will work. Be
careful because the flecks is the wood chip filler showing through!
If the forks smell and are flaky, with white deposits then remove as
soon as possible. They will leach into the phone and cause damage.
Click here for in depth cleaning instructions
DIRTY CURLY CORDS
Plastic cords on phones from the 1960's onwards tend to suffer
from grease and grime, which has a nasty stickyness. The instructions
below advise of a safe way to remove such grime.
- Find a plastic container, insert cord.
- Fill to the rim with cold water.
- Add a small quantity of biological washing powder or liquid (as used on
clothes). It must be the biological type that 'eats' dirt.
- Stir well and leave over night.
- Next morning drain off water, which will look revolting.
- Rinse well.
The same method can be used for cleaning the grime off lever key handles from
- Put them in a jam jar of detergent overnight.
- Wash with clean water.
- Place in airing cupboard to dry.
More tips from Andrew in Australia
The easiest cleaning solution I have found for plastic cords, old or new, is
spray-on whiteboard cleaner (in the finger pump bottles not the aerosol cans)
with a bit of old cotton rag. This seems to lift most muck off cords,
dries quickly and does no damage. (It is also good for cleaning computer
monitors, mice and keyboards.)
For paint spots or sticky tape/label residue on cords and bakelite/plastic
cases, I use eucalyptus oil on a bit of old cotton rag. Allow the oil to soak
into the muck for about 30 seconds and it should then rub off easily. Once
the muck is off, wipe with another rag to remove the eucalyptus oil and allow to
dry. Then use another rag with a drop of warm soapy water to clear off any
eucalyptus oil residue. The cord/case will be clean and the phone will
have a pleasant Australian bushland smell.
You can also use eucalyptus oil to clean muck off nickel/chrome plated parts
or stainless steel but make sure that you don't get any oil on metal contacts or
internal parts as it can be corrosive.
Do NOT use eucalyptus oil on woodwork or paint/varnish finishes as it
will damage paint and stain wood.
GETTING THE KINKS OUT OF PLASTIC
Coiled cords often develop a kink and will not lie 'straight' (well, evenly
- Find plastic container, insert cord.
- Boil a kettle of water and pour over the cord.
- Ten minutes later drain off water and carefully retrieve cord.
- Rinse under cold water and with luck the kink will have disappeared.
Heat causes the so-called memory effect, temporarily softening the neoprene
and allowing the cord to 'remember' its original shape.
Textile cords as fitted to to 100/200/300 type telephones need to be treated
with care and caution.
If the cords are in good condition then they can be treated with RGB carpet
cleaner or similar. Test a small piece first.
Discoloured cords can be re-dyed and dark brown Dylon dye does a good