Introduction to restoration
I find restoring old/degraded telephones to be an enjoyable and somewhat therapeutic activity. The following links provide an introduction to some of the restoration processes you will come across. I wish to thank and acknowledge Mr R. Freshwater for his excellent website http://www.britishtelephones.com/.
This page discusses a range of restoration techniques:
This page covers cleaning and polishing of bakelite telephone cases:
I have one reservation regarding the advice offered on cleaning Bakelite by soaking overnight in water and detergent. If the surface is compromised (e.g. rough, pitted or discoloured) it is possible water can soak through into the underlying filler, expand it and further damage the case.
A typical restoration (added 9 Feb. 2015)
The following images are of a restoration I undertook for "Woodloes", a local community museum in late 2014. The phone was originally a 1920s "British Ericsson" that had some non-standard modifications done to it, probably around WW2. The original transmitter and receiver were replaced with a Bakelite 164 handpiece and the transmitter holes covered with a plate. It doesn't look like a PMG refurbishment which lends support to the museum's belief that it was either a local Railways or a privately owned telephone. The woodwork was cracked, the note tray was missing, the handset was grimy and paint splattered and the whole unit had suffered an ignominious coat of mission brown paint.
Note: I've had a surprising number of enquiries about removing the crank handle from these and earlier Ericsson phones (the front cannot be opened until it is removed). The handle is simply threaded onto the generator shaft. Normal clockwise operation retains the handle's tightness on the shaft. To remove, rapidly rotate the handle anti-clockwise. If it is not corroded it should come off easily. If it's a bit stiff, a trick to "brake" the generator is to apply a short circuit across the line terminals (if accessible).
The process was as follows:
- A series of photographs were taken before starting as memory aids and to enable a before/after record.
- All external parts were removed and carefully stored.
- The mission brown paint proved difficult to remove by gentler means so was ultimately removed with paint stripper and then the case thoroughly wiped down with damp rags to remove any traces of the stripper.
- The case was then wiped down with methylated spirits to even out/remove the original shellac coating that remained in places.
- Cracks were patched with wood filler and colour matched and the whole case very lightly sanded with the aim of preserving as much of the original timber surface as possible.
- The case was given several coats of brushed shellac with a very light sanding between coats. This used the same mixture as French polish, but as the original units were probably brushed or sprayed, rather than polished, I tried to keep it as authentic as possible.
- A replacement writing shelf was purchased from an enthusiast in New Zealand who made excellent replica parts.
- The shelf was stained with spirit stain to (reasonably closely) match the original timber and then shellacked like the case. It was then fitted using slotted wood screws. Remember, the ubiquitous Phillips Head screw wasn't invented until the mid-1930s and didn't commonly appear in telephones until the 1970s. Purists don't like Phillips Head screws much!
- The handset was next. Bakelite parts were washed down with 0000 grade steel wool soaked in methylated spirit. This removed the grime and paint splatter with minimal effect on the surface. The handset was given a quick hand buff with "Greygate polishing paste No. 5", restoring the surface nicely.
- Bell gongs etc. were painted with a spraycan of satin (not matt) finish black. This finish closely matches the original appearance of the parts.
- Finally assembled, the phone was delivered to the museum and was on display as a bit of local history when it re-opened for the new season in 2015.