The Foster Typewriter: Royal KHM

Typewriters may come and typewriters may go, but I’d like to keep my standing in-house collection under double digits.  We’re a family of many hobbies and collections and our home is already bursting with fun stuff. I could use a barn.

Also, I’m not really into amassing a huge collection of typewriters – I’m not looking to acquire a Corona Four in every color. And I really like junkers – I like to clean and make them functional.  It’s very satisfying.  For the most part, once they are working, they start to lose their grip on me.

Last week I saw a very dirty, nonfunctional Royal KHM at my favorite neighborhood junk shop.  I found it utterly COMPELLING:


It was really dirty – gunk inside and out and dried mud on the top cover.  She wasn’t typing at all. The draw band was off and wrapped under the carriage. All the keys were frozen in time. So bad.  So very bad.

The shop owner saw me staring at it longingly and told me I could have it for $25.  I told her that I didn’t want to own it, I just wanted to clean it up.  She told me I could take it home, clean it and bring it back if that’s what made me happy. Yes, that’s what makes me happy.

1938 Royal KHM (Kinda Hardly Moving)

I brought the typewriter home and pulled out my handy-dandy air blower thing and blew out layers of dust and cobwebs, being careful to work in a semi-enclosed area outside in case I blew out a loose part.  As I examined my foster child a little more my closely, my heart sank when I realized that not only was her drawband off, but her mainspring moved very reluctantly.  That’s why her intact drawband had fallen off.  The drum wasn’t moving.  No zip.  It turned as if it were moving through dried gum and did not bounce back.  I doused the mainspring drum with PB Blaster penetrating lubricant and hoped for the best.

I removed the drawband since it was tangled up under the carriage and cleaned and lubricated the rails. I was flummoxed when I got to the the top cover.  It didn’t pop up like my other typewriters.  I had to remove four screws to remove the top cover – one inside each spool container and one at each back corner of the cover. Rob Bowker has an excellent post on accessing the insides of a Royal KHM that I unfortunately found after all was done.


Everything under the cover was very rusty and gummy.  I doused the segment, spooling mechanism, ribbon vibrator with PB Blaster and started scrubbing the typebars with a very fine Scotch-Brite pad:


I started working the keys, loosening things up and flushing the segment with denatured alcohol.

The keys looked better after just a clean with a Q-tip:


I tested the mainspring and HURRAY!  It was loosening up after PB Blaster treatment and was winding and zipping with some authority.  I re-attached the drawband and off we went. The carriage was a little grudging at first, but moving it back and forth repeatedly freed it to move smoothly. What a great feeling.

Hooked up and spinning aagin

Hooked up and spinning again

I washed the outside case with warm soapy water first to get the worst of the mud off. I then used Scrubbing Bubbles to remove the residual grime, being very careful to avoid the decals (which were already very faded).

I rejuvenated the old, ripped ribbon with WD-40 and carefully rewound the ribbon. I put the top cover back on temporarily and tested the typing.


The type seemed a little dirty, so I scrubbed the type with denatured alcohol. I was very careful to drape the painted surfaces of the typewriter since the denatured alcohol will eat into the paint.

The margin release and the tab system use shared parts and neither system was working. From what I could see, everything was in an advanced state of gumminess.  I cleaned and lubed all the moving parts of the margin release and tab system and worked them with my hands.  Slowly the tabs began to work and the margin release was pulling back properly.


The Royal KHM is typing like a champ right now.   No letter piling. When I first put paper in her, she had a couple lines with an erratic left margin, but that disappeared and I have typed out two full pages single-spaced without margin issues or letter piling. It makes me think that I should re-visit my Royal Aristocrat with margin issues and give her a second deep cleaning.

I felt bad about the ratty WD-40ed ribbon – it was printing OK, but it was sort of rotten and holey.


I had just ordered some ribbons from Amazon so I threw in a new red and black one.  Classy!


I had some auto wax and spiffed up the outer case.  Here are some glamor shots I took before I returned her to the junk shop:

Moe at the junk shop was thrilled to see the transformed KHM. I took a page from TypetheClouds’ book and sent the Royal KHM back out into the world with care and feeding instructions. In the future, Moe will gladly let me take junker typewriters home for clean up.


I was reluctant to let this Royal KHM go.  She went from congealed paralysis to being my fastest, snappiest and springiest typer. What a bright, happy typewriter!  I have read about the Royal’s quick and snappy touch.  It lives.

I think this new system of catch, clean and release may really work out for me. I get to experience new and exciting typewriters regularly without typewriter accumulation and the world gets functional typewriters. Typewriter fostering is a win-win in my book!

16 thoughts on “The Foster Typewriter: Royal KHM

  1. Wow! That is one lucky “junk” shop owner.

    There is certainly a lot of satisfaction in bringing a typewriter back to life—no monetary recompense required. I’m essentially doing the same thing for the Urban Legend Institute, here.


      • You could try contacting 826 Valencia in SF. They are the model for WordPlay Cincy / The Urban Legend Institute as well as other similar places around the country. I don’t know whether they use any typewriters or sell any, but they should!


      • I may contact 826 Valencia. If they don’t currently use typewriters, they may want to consider their use.

        I see that they run the Pirate Supply Store – we’ve bought supplies (flags and such) there before. Quirky fun.


  2. I’ve done this before for a few machines, it’s a great way to have the fun of putting a deserving machine back into active circulation, and I don’t know any shop owner who’d turn down a free refurb.😀

    Excellent job!


  3. Very lucky shop! Quite a transformation, it looks stunning now!
    (Can understand how that is very rewarding to do. Feels good to fix and get something working again🙂


    • It’s a great way to experience different types of typewriters – I’d love to clean up an old Underwood Standard next. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of knowing an Underwood.


  4. Excellent clean-up, well done. My KHM came as a gift from a friend who had used it a lot for fanzine artwork back in the 80s. The leathercloth cover had done a great job of keeping the dust out but as it was decomposing, there was a fine tilth of crumbs to remove. I admire your resolve at letting this one go. I wouldn’t part with mine for any amount – it is such a joy to use and has that ‘serious’ typewriter look about it. Like you, I’d like to get my hands on an Underwood 5 or something like it. I’m sure one will come my way eventually!


    • I may end up going back to the shop and retrieving it in the end. I was just amazed at what a lively typer the KHM was after clean up.

      I celebrated Typewriter Day by bringing home a lovely rusty 1922 LC Smith No. 8 – not an Underwood 5, but close.


  5. Wonderful article. The Royal KHM is my favorite typewriter, due in no small part to it being the model I used when I first started writing seriously (back in 1976). I lost that typewriter when burglars burned my home down, and have always missed it. Even chose my pen name, Manuel Royal, in memory of that beautiful, sturdy machine.


    • That’s a heartbreaking story about your KHM. I think about my foster KHM regularly – it may have been one of the best typewriters I have ever typed on. I may have to bring another one home to clean up.


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