I am currently tinkering with typewriters and two things striked me when I started to read about their maintenance:

  1. They are supposed to run almost completely dry, except for a very tiny amount of lubricant at very specific points;
  2. Gummy or sticky gunk buildup - usually due to over-oiling + dust buildup + passage of time - is one of the main causes of typewriter malfunctioning.

As an avid cyclist I am, I have already noticed some oils have a tencency to get sticky as they dry out and mix with dust (e.g. gearbox oil), while others seem to be very stable and somewhat "repel" dust, mostly automatic transmission fluid - ATF, power steering fluid, or suspension oil. I believe these are somewhat intended to remain fluid and to actively repel dust, which seems to "fall out of the way" instead of get increasingly mixed with the oil and the working surfaces.

I know a lot of typewriter folks use sewing machine oil (Singer, mostly), but I wonder if its characteristics are suitable for this need of not getting gunky as the years pass.

So que questions are:

  1. Given the considerations above, would some type of oil or non-oily lubricant be more adequate than sewing-machine oil?
  2. Is the hydraulic fluids hypothesis a good one?
  3. Any other relevant consideration?

1 Answer 1


The best option would probably be "clock oil" which is intended to be long lasting, non-acidic, and (importantly) non-spreading. If you apply it in small enough quantities, it will stay where you put it, and not move around through capillary action.

Sewing machine oil is probably a reasonable alternative, but the fact that it is formulated not to mark or damage any fabric or thread that it comes in contact with is probably irrelevant. Also it was not meant to be long-lasting. Singer used to recommend that their sewing machines should be oiled daily if they were in continuous use (i.e. in a factory.)

Clock repairers sometimes use transmission fluid to lubricate clock springs (if only because of the expense of using clock oil on big rusty springs in a low-quality clock!) but not for lubricating bearings and pivots.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know these existed, thanks for your answer!! For the interested, products named "Liquid Bearings" and "Liberty Oil" are widely available at Amazon. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:01

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