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Tickled by Nickel
(By Steve Brink - December 1998)

Before Restoration

I had obsessed for a couple of years on possessing a Stromberg-Carlson "oilcan". I would have settled for any of the versions but really wanted the earlier one with cast base and small transmitter. About two weeks before this year's Abilene show I received a call from a collector who was answering my newsletter want ad. He said he had an "oilcan" and would save it for me at his table in Abilene until I had a chance to look at it. I was very excited to find it to be the early version I had wanted but it did need lots of TLC (see before photo). I know that original nickel is best but when a phone is this far gone, a "makeover" is in order. It had very little nickel left and lots of brass corrosion. Since I am an artist by profession and pretty meticulous, I wouldn't trust just anyone to renickel it. I wanted to preserve all details like the knurled parts on the bolts, so I decided to take on the job myself. What follows are the steps I used to restore the phone. Bye the way, although this oilcan isn't my most valuable phone, it is my favorite.

  1. Take "before" pictures (I haven't always but when I do I am always glad).
  2. Take every thing apart and make notes if you might forget where contacts or little screws go.
  3. I use Ziplock bags to store each part in and include the notes with each piece to identify it.
  4. Clean each piece (I use Semi-Chrome) and remove any remaining nickel by sanding with 300 grit paper. (Small detailed thumb wheels or knurled nuts are best cleaned using a Dremal tool with the round brush attachment and the brown polishing compound that they sell.) You don't want to wear away those fine details.
  5. Sand any pits or dings with 220 paper until gone. (deep ones you may need to ignore.)
  6. Keep sanding the piece with finer emery paper going by hundreds till you get to 600. Sandpaper creates scratches that are then replaced by finer scratches from the next grit paper. You must continue moving up 100 grit increments until somewhere between 600 and 1000 before buffing. If you buff and still see scratches you will need to go back down to find the paper that takes out the deeper scratches.
  7. Buff on a buffing wheel with brown stick compound (I bought a mixed package at Sears that included the brown and a white that I sometimes use).
  8. It should have a near mirror polish by now. Do a final polish with SemiChrome and buff with a soft cloth (I use old soft cloth diapers).
  9. Bakelite can also be sanded to rid it of scratches. I usually begin with 400 or so and go to 600 and sometimes then jump to 1000. Buff also with the brown stick polish and a buffing wheel. Drop it and it will probably break. Pad any area around the wheel and be very gentle and careful. Finish Bakelite with Brasso (I get mine at the super market). Polish by hand with a soft cloth. It gleams! Brasso works well on plastic phones and painted phones too.
  10. Small brass parts will need to be worked on with a Dremal tool. I use the same grit papers with the Dremal on hard to reach areas. They sell a package with all the sand and polishing attachments for $10 or maybe a little more.

These Dremel tools are great for other stuff too.

After Restoration

Nickeling: To restore that stick nearly devoid of nickel, use an inexpensive Texas Platers Nickel Kit. This is available from Texas Platers Supply, 2453 W. Five Mile Parkway, SGN., Dallas, Texas 75233. Phone (214) 330-7168

The piece needs to be super shiny to get a shiny nickel job. It also needs to be clean! Wash the piece in a non-lotion soap and hot water. This works for me. They suggest using a solvent to make sure no oil is on the surface. I have used alcohol (an adult beverage on the table might be a good idea too). Read all instructions and safety items from the nickel plating kit. Hook up the D.C. voltage per instructions in the kit. Take the brush and brush on the solution. Try not to nick the piece with the metal part of the brush. It works great and is easier than painting. Wash the nickel paste off in the sink and admire your work. If it isn't as nice as you expected, you can remove the nickel with 600 grit and rebuff and try again.

Good Luck,
Steve

E-mail: stbrink@ties.k12.mn.us

Revised 03/11/01