Antique wooden item. How to clean it up??


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Old 07-09-24, 10:23 PM
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Antique wooden item. How to clean it up??

I'm restoring an antique railroad telegraph sounder from 1870's and part of the wooden base was covered up and you can see how the original finish was. The rest of it was exposed to the soot from steam locomotives and is darkened. I'd like to make it look a little better but don't want to ruin it. I think it's walnut but don't know what the original finish was. Any ideas how to clean it up?



See photos.
 

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07-10-24, 04:39 AM
Pilot Dane
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Me, I would not attempt to restore it. Part of it's charm is the patina. Clean it up and it will look like a Chinese reproduction.
 
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Old 07-09-24, 11:25 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

A nice piece of history there.
 
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Old 07-10-24, 04:30 AM
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This is not advice, as one can never be sure about tinkering with antiques, BUT, if it was MINE, I would try a mild stripper and an abrasive pad. My stripper of choice is Citri-strip, the orange stuff. Follow that with the special stripper cleaner before refinishing. I've done this on several old family heirloom furniture pieces.

What Pete said, nice piece.







 
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Old 07-10-24, 04:39 AM
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Me, I would not attempt to restore it. Part of it's charm is the patina. Clean it up and it will look like a Chinese reproduction.
 
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Old 07-10-24, 05:42 AM
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I'm with Pilot Dane, I would leave it the way it is. But if you are going to clean it, try simple stuff first. A little dish detergent, water and a paper towel. Work on a very small spot first to see how it goes. I've also heard that ammonia and linseed oil work well, but don't have any experience with that. Good luck and go slow.
 
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Old 07-15-24, 08:34 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions, gents.

I decided to go minimalist, and simply gently clean it up, and reassemble. I think the darkened wood was partly from soot from being around coal-fired steam engines in a railroad setting. The brass was originally lacquered, which was entirely gone except in the protected parts that were uncovered when it was disassembled. I decided it would look fake if I tried to make it look new again.

It was missing the spring mechanism but I had the missing parts except for one part that a machinist made for me. There was also an old electrical repair that had failed again, which I repaired with a dab of solder. I was able to date it more accurately to having been made in 1865, based on a catalog I had in my files (see catalog engraving ), and the address on the instrument (LG Tillotson Co. 8 Dey St. NYC). The initial resistance was way too high, but I found the culprit: the joint where the two coils were connected, which I burnished with a circular wire Dremel and a dab of solder. Any solder repairs were disguised with a black or brown Sharpie so nothing silver or shiny was showing.

And the resistance of the device (4 ohms) is just what you would expect for a 'local' sounder used in short-distance work.

See final result (photo).

See it in action:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/100_...MidEi74zU/view

For a minute I thought it was 1865 again.

From the LG Tillotson Catalog in an 1865 publication "Smith's Manual of Telegraphy"

 
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Old 07-15-24, 02:41 PM
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That is way cool, MG. Suddenly remembered I have the other end that was my Dad's in my knick-knack case. This one's 20th Century, though:



 
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Old 07-15-24, 04:32 PM
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Nice straight key! It's hard to read the inscription but it looks like a J.H. Bunnell key typical of what would have been used in a railroad depot. The knob is called a "Navy knob' and is a later addition. The little knob on the shorting switch looks brown, as in gutta percha (hard rubber) and would be an earlier item. The 8-32 screws in the binding posts are replacements.

This is considered a 'short leg' key and was probably removed from a telegraph set that included a sounder on a wooden board called a KOB ("Key On Board").

Nice item!
 
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Old 07-16-24, 05:36 AM
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Dad was a Ham x 45 years; not sure where this would have come from. Never saw him use a straight key, I don't think; used a 60s vintage key I had to look up what to call - "semi-automatic or bug key".
 
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Old 07-16-24, 09:31 PM
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Ah yes, bugs. Heard of them. Just kidding. I've got like ~180 of them here and it's my favorite aspect of telegraph history. Most likely your Dad would have had a Vibroplex similar to the one in the photo. They had multiple different models but the one depicted is one many hams liked and was the least expensive. They're still in business today but the company changed hands a couple times since the 1960's.


 
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Old Yesterday, 04:37 AM
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Similar. I remember that on his, the long central vibrating member was a round rod, vice the flat metal pictured, and the speed adjustment weight was circular as well. Good memories.
 
 

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