Should You Resurface?
Some perspectives on cases where it is (and is not) worth the hassle to get your platen recovered.
As they say, "nothing gold can stay" - though perhaps in this example it is the gold and other metals which will long outlast anything else. When we look at how well our typewriters have (generally) survived the ages, it's easy to forget just how many parts are actually consumable and require replacing. Not unlike the tires on a car, it’s a part which has a maintenance schedule that most owners don't understand, typically gets done only in great need (flat tires or flat feed rollers), and is an expensive upsell that isn't always needed.
In this meandering post I'll talk about some of the logistics behind replacing the rubber on a platen as well as some cases where it has (and hasn't) been a good choice. If you've gotten this far, odds are good that you understand the anatomy of a typewriter, however it doesn't hurt to recap why we might care. The platen and the feed rollers support and control your paper, giving a soft surface for your typeslugs to leave a clean impression. On old machines which have been left with feed rollers pressed against the platen you can oft find flat rollers, which can give a bumpy ride as you feed paper through the machine.
Here you can see a flat side on a feed roller and an accumulation of melted rubber from a Corona 4 platen. This all but prevented you from using this machine.
In less extreme cases however, you might still find that the rubber doesn’t give much and leaves you with an exceptionally noisy machine. Some in particular are known for their loud and snappy sound of hardened rubber like on the Olympia SM series. Ditto on this Torpedo 18b below.
Lastly, old platens can detract aesthetically from your typewriter. The age-old "corncob” platen with repeated divots are quite unsightly, however it has been my experience that these often still perform just fine; I've had a few platens replaced which I thought would get better print quality afterwards, however it seems that if they were typing well beforehand, they will look roughly the same after replacement. This does assume that you are using a backing sheet of course! The top platen in the image below is from a Corona Junior which had some serious corn-cobbing before it got sent out.
Some aesthetic issues can look very troubling, for example this Hermes Media 3 here has some hairline cracks all along the platen. From a distance they can be hard to see, but up close they look like the entire thing just might unravel itself if you type too fast! Despite the concerning appearance however, these seem to hold up fine. Notice the hairline cracks on the Hermes 3000 platen above, which was later sent out.
If your machine isn't feeding correctly on account of bad rubber, getting it replaced is a rather straightforward proposition. I na few cases you can eke a little more life out by sanding down high spots on flattened feed rollers or getting a little texture on the platen, but in most cases there needs to be fresh rubber.
In the example above the rubber had been taken down a little too aggressively and it was almost impossible to feed paper through the machine without it slipping and sliding. Adding three or four sheets of backing paper helped, but would often make it difficult to adjust alignment.
Here we come to the fuzzier area though, what if my machine feeds ok but either looks rough or sounds loud? Will new rubber make my typewriter Silent like a ninja?
No, the answer is that it will not. Fresh e most certainly a bit quieter, but backing sheets can really level the playing field and a few dB's of reduction may not be worth the substantial cost (usually somewhere in the neighborhood of about $100).
At this point I've switched over to writing on the Hermes 3000 which has gotten a new platen. Both this and the Media 3 have a similar sound and feel, however one of them is decidedly less noisy.
No matter whether your machines are out— right chatterboxes or the quietest of the noiseless, I hope that you're able to enjoy your typing experience!