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Handy restoration tips and tricks of the trade. Do you know a better way to do it, or have you discovered a new technique that solves an old problem? Please share it with us via the Postbox or email the Archive.



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Cleaning-up Mechanisms

A solution for rusty mechanics

If you are lucky enough to find a machine at source (i.e. the damp cellar, the chicken shed or the leaky attic), the chances are it will have suffered the ravages of time. The initial euphoria of the "find" is quickly replaced by a sinking feeling as you contemplate the effort required to turn an unsightly tangle of woodworm, rust and broken glass into a fine, working antique amusement machine. Well, the glass (provided it wasn't once beautifully mirror-etched) and the wood (provided you know the original dimensions) shouldn't present too much of an obstacle. Missing or broken parts, damaged art work and seized mechanisms are the real headaches. Here, we offer a solution (quite literally) for the latter.Antikythera

There are various methods of cleaning mechanisms. Wire-wool and sore hands is the cheap and cheerless way, but this is only effective once the machine has been disassembled. Bead blasting with fine abrasives can produce clean surfaces with no significant loss of metal, but unless you have access to a blast cabinet, you'll be placing your precious bits in the hands of strangers (it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it). And although blasting will produce a clean-looking mechanism, it won't un-seize a single rusty nut. The common approach is to give all once-moving parts a liberal spray of freeing oil, leave a few days and repeat as required. If applied patiently over time, this will free all but the most corroded joints. It also leaves a nasty oily residue which will have to be cleaned-off with degreasing agents. So will the more thorough method of separating the mechanism from its case and other perishable parts and leaving it to soak in a toxic bath of solvents (nasty).

Collector John Husk suggests a sweeter solution for dealing with thoroughly rusted and seized machines: Remove the mechanism from its case and art work. To do this without causing damage requires a methodical, patient approach and can be a day's work in itself (see stubborn screws). Go to the pantry and get three bags of molasses sugar. Take one teaspoon as a reward for your hard work so far, and pour the remainder into a suitably large bowl of warm water, stirring until dissolved. Place the mechanism into the sugar solution and leave to stew for up to three weeks before washing off and drying.



Removing Stubborn Screws

Irksome screws unscrewed

gripping agent

Your first attempt is your best chance of a clean extraction, so make it a good one. As in all restoration work, a bit of preparation can save a lot of perspiration. The vital thing is to ensure the screwdriver doesn't slip and mangle the screw head as you try to turn it. The first thing is to clean the slot with a needle-ended file. You can apply a dab of gripping agent to the screwdriver tip (expensive stuff, but sometimes it just gives you the edge). Insert a tight-fitting screwdriver and whack the handle with a hammer a couple of times to bed it into the slot and help break the screw's grip.

penetrating oilPenetrating oil followed by heating the screw head with a soldering iron several times, causing the screw to expand and contract can break the grip of even the most stubborn rusty screw. However it has taken me an hour or two to free one screw! Patience is the restorer's greatest ally. Failing that, one can dig the rusty thread out, which often reveals little more than a stump, then drill out the hole and fill it with a plug of the same wood, matched as best you can with the grain orientated the correct way. Simon Parkes

impact driver

The impact driver is best used on heavier jobs. It allows you to apply maximum turning force to the screw head in one short sharp burst. It can be great for quickly releasing beefy bolts etc., but the downward force applied makes it unsuitable for more delicate work involving wood or fragile castings.

screw extractors

If a screw head offers no purchase, the screw extractor can sometimes come to the rescue. You drill a hole into the top of the screw, insert the extractor and twist. The extractors come in a range of sizes, but I've not had much luck using this method on small screws. There's just not enough metal in which to embed the extractor.



"Ageing" Brass

Where there's muck, there's brass

patinating fluid

How do you make a shiny new brass replacement part match the rest of the machine so that it doesn't stick out like the proverbial sore thumb? If it is highly polished, start by scrubbing with a medium grade wire wool to dull the surface slightly. This also removes any protective lacquer which would obstruct the chemical tarnishing treatment (a blowtorch will also burn off lacquer and can produce some tarnishing). Now clean the metal thoroughly (ideally, with an acid solution) to remove greasy fingerprints etc. which would spoil the results. Rinse well and apply a cold patinating fluid such as Liberon's Tourmaline Brown. Do this with a brush, cotton wool or dip the object in a 10% solution until the desired colour is achieved. Rinse again and apply jade oil as a fixative. You can fine-tune the effect with further applications if required and by polishing the highlights with 0000 gauge wire wool.



Removing Stains from Wood

Out, out, damn spot!

I have always found water, rust and other penetrating stains which are too deep to sand out a problem when refinishing slot machine cabinets. Trying to hide stains by darkening everything to match is the least satisfactory approach. The marks go even darker and the whole piece is spoiled by the heavy overall colour.
One product that is available for removing these blemishes is hydrogen peroxide wood bleach. This works well, but lightens the wood which must then be re stained. Because it removes more colour from the softer parts of the wood it can exaggerate the grain pattern - particularly with oak. This may be undesirable if you wish to maintain the original character of the wood. Conversely, it can leave the wood looking lifeless. Test it first, if you can find a part of the wood that is not going to be visible.Oxalic Acid
Wood BleachCheaper and easier to use is the milder oxalic acid bleach. You can buy it as a solution (e.g. 3M Wood Cleaner and Spot Remover) or make it up yourself by buying the acid in crystal form from the chemist. Make a small amount of wet paste, mixing hot water and oxalic acid crystals. Use a mixture of three parts oxalic acid to one part hot water. It removes stains and cleans the wood with less effect upon the natural colour. As with hydrogen peroxide, deep, dark stains require repeated applications. Neutralize the acid bleach by wiping the wood surface with diluted ammonia (1:1 with water) or baking soda solution (one tablespoon to a litre of water) using a clean sponge.
Complete removal of marks is not usually the object. The aim is not to make the wood look new, but to reduce the contrast of particularly strident and distracting blemishes.

Click here for detailed tutorials on the subject from



Re-Keying a Lock

Don't drill it! Pick it!

Frequently, when you acquire an old slot machine, it's locked with the keys missing. Anxious to examine what you've really got, you reach for the power drill and start grinding away. Don't do it! You're destroying part of your valuable antique. Just be thankful it has a lock. If it's original, it's older than the machine and chances are it'll be hard to replace. Original locks are a first sign to discerning collectors that a machine hasn't been "got at" or "messed with". Drilling is the last resort. Be patient. If you don't have a skilled safe-breaker in the family, try your local locksmith. A good locksmith should have little problem picking the lock and cutting a new set of keys - all for less than the price of a new lock.



Metal Refinishing from Chrome Plate to Powder Coat

Thanks to Stuart Dale for alerting me to Caswell, an amazing New York electroplating hobbyist website supplying a wealth of information, equipment and supplies for metal refinishing. Professional re-polishing and electroplating is becoming increasingly expensive and involves an element of risk as you entrust your valuable and often irreplaceable machine components to another party. There is the potentially cheaper and more satisfying alternative of doing it yourself. That way the results are dependent upon your own skills and diligence. The tools and chemicals required for excellent results are obtainable at reasonable cost and electroplating is no more a black art than French polishing or photographic home processing.

Caswell provide many guides and learning aids including videos, an online electroplating manual (registration required) and an Introduction to Buffing and Polishing (also available as a Free PDF Booklet). They also supply powder coating paints and equipment and other useful restoration materials and techniques including a section on British Tools & Fasteners.



Cleaning and Polishing Tips


Don't use domestic spray polishes that contain solvents and silicone (most of them). Although they bring up a quick shine and repel dust, they don't protect the wood and the gradual build up of silicone will damage the finish. Do use a small quantity of good quality furniture wax (consisting of beeswax and carnauba) applied in the old fashioned way with a rag or brush. I prefer a hard paste to liquid waxes (which are more dilute) such as Harrells, as used by the National Trust or Mylands as used by the Queen! Allow it to dry before buffing up thoroughly with a clean cotton cloth. Use a soft shoe brush for moldings etc. A good patina is achieved by dusting regularly with a dry or slightly damp cloth, then polishing with some elbow grease, but you shouldn't need to apply wax more than once or twice a year.

Wax the Perfect Protection for Furniture?

Use a wood reviver to remove a build up of dry wax and dirt on a neglected, grubby and dry wood finish.

A touch of Autosol followed by a good rag polish brings chrome to a high shine. Take the glass out if possible to clean in warm soapy water - with a drop of vinegar, if necessary, to get the grime off. Use old newspaper to make it nice and shiny - it's the graphite in the print.



Disassembling a Bandit Handle

Ouch! My knob's stuck!

How to remove the ball off the end of the one arm bandit handle when it doesn't want to budge? The hard plastic ball (usually red or black) is attached to the steel chrome-plated arm via a thick thread, so in theory it can be removed simply by unscrewing the ball in an anti-clockwise direction. In practice, this may not be possible using hand grip alone - otherwise it would be stolen by the first trophy-hunting punter disgrunted by losing too much pocket money. Probably some glue was placed on the thread when it was assembled. The only reason for removing the ball would be to replace it in case of damage or in order to re-chrome the steel arm. If it's the former, breaking it with a mallet might do the trick. If it's the latter, I would suggest not removing it. The electroplaters should have no problem polishing and plating the arm with the ball in place. The stripping and plating chemicals shouldn't effect the plastic, but quiz the platers about this to make sure. Ask them to protect the ball if they intend to bead blast the metal. Bandit handle

If you do need to remove it - here are some techniques suggested by members of the Forum:

To get it off I actually tightened it up further - there was a slight budge by fractions tightening up, then it undid easily going the other way. It's anti-clockwise to remove; clockwise to tighten. You could try hand-hottish water to expand the plastic slightly. Soak the ball end in a sink bowl; dry quickly and give it a go before it cools. Maybe a bottle top/jam jar lid removing tool could help. Place a rag around the ball arm so you don't damage the surface; grip the ball; turn anti-clockwise. (Jam jar removers have two half ovals on either side which shape to fit any size of article you wish to turn). markymal

Try removing the arm assembly, and sticking it in the freezer over night then upend it in a saucepan of boiling water just so the ball is submerged. That might break the seal and get it turning. Badpenny

Another option is to turn the arm upside down and try and let some WD40 or other wonderous chemical (there's all sorts around - try an auto shop) seep into the joint. Coin-op

The handles on Segas have a bend in them. Put the handle in a 6 inch or bigger vice at the bend; get a bit of rubber matting; wrap around the knob; get hold of a car oil filter remover and bingo! It will come off or the knob will crack... simple! Bandit_Doctor

Remember:- if you do take the ball off, make sure you mask the thread before chromium plating or you'll never get it back on again!


Beginners' Guide to Replacing Reel Strips

By Coppinpr

Fitting new strips sounds easy, and in fact it can be, if you prepare well and take a few precautions.

Many may disagree with my method, and they may be right, but this definitely works. This guide refers to a Mills mech but holds true for most standard mechs using paper/card strips. It assumes there are old strips on the mech. If they are not, you will need to align the jackpot payout holes then load the strips to that position or use the strip align hole on the payout discs to set all three reels in the correct position.

  • 1. Remove the money box coin shoot from the front to allow easier access to the third reel.
  • 2. Part cycle the mech stopping the fan with a cloth leaving the reels free to turn.
  • 3. Mark the start point of the first reel strip on the edges of the crimp tins.
  • 4. Using a thin screwdriver or knife, un-crimp the first reel strip making sure not to miss any crimped areas.
  • 5. Remove the first strip. The best way to do this is to simply ease it out, rather than sliding it round the reel. Rust and dirt will make it tear if you try to slide it out. Take care to keep the strip in one piece if possible and watch for added symbols coming adrift as you go. Not knowing where these came from can cause big problems later.
  • 6. Lay the old strip out next to the correct new one (they both should be numbered 1, 2, 3 or a, b, c). At this stage, check for any differences between the old and the new. Many machines, especially those used in the UK, will have had the payouts changed so the reel strips may well differ. The new set I'm using on this Mills machine came from Mr Slot in the USA and consisted of 4 strips, including an alternate reel 1 strip. This allowed me to cut symbols from the spare strip and make changes to the other three, bringing them in line with the old strips. Make any changes using double sided tape to attach any overlays. Cut the overlays very slightly smaller on the edge side so that the double thickness won't impede the new strip when you feed it into the channels on the reels. Make sure to put double sided tape on all four sides of the overlay so it doesn't come adrift during loading or use.

New and old strips

  • 7. Clean off any rust spots on the empty reel using sandpaper and wire wool. Doing this thoroughly at this stage will pay dividends when you come to load the new strip. Run a strip of sandpaper along the inside of the strip channel to make sure it's (a) open all round, (b) smooth and (c) clear of any pieces of the old strip.
Empty Reel
  • 8. Find the openings on the reel which act as the loading point for the new strip. Open the BOTTOM of the gap wider than the top, ready for the new strip.
Loading Gaps
  • 9. Slide the bottom of the new strip into the reel slots and slowly feed the strip into the reel, allowing it to slide round the reel. If you have prepared the reel correctly, it will slide effortlessly round until it reappears at the top and the blank extension tucks neatly under the top of the strip automatically.
  • Loading Strips
  • 10. IMPORTANT: Continue to advance the now fully loaded strip round the slot until the top of the strip lines up with the mark you made at the start to show where the top of the old strip was positioned.
  • 11. Lightly crimp the strip at this point, then remove the cloth stopping the fan and allow the mech to cycle through. Now check if the new strip lines up with the remaining old strips. Make any slight alignments and then crimp the new strip at several places round the reel, particularly where there is an overlay, at the start of the strip, and at the strip loading gaps. Note that the start of the strip is rarely at the point where the strip loading gaps are.
  • 12. Repeat the procedure for the other strips. Doing one at a time stops confusion of the strips and allows for better alignment.

    Note that new strips may well be a different length to the old ones. If too short, they can be stretched using steam and a slight stretch. If too long, they should tuck into the back of the strip.
    Footnote from Raj: If the new strips are overlong, by putting the old strips back in the tins, the diameter will be increased slightly. I've printed some that were a little long and used a layer of double sided tape to pad out the tins a little. If changing symbols, I always do it with the strip in place and try to pick a series of symbols, rather than just one, and crimp under the edges rather than stick. Adhesive always seems to dry out and the lemon or whatever ends up in the bottom of the mech. Finally, scan your new strips before fitting, then you have a set of symbols for your next machine, or make a full set for yourself on photo paper.

Strip Lengths


Finished reel strips