How to Repair a Western Electric 302


The Western Electric model 302 is considered the workhorse of an extensive art deco line of telephones manufactured between 1936 and 1954, during which more than 25 million 300-series units were produced. The series was the first by Western Electric to incorporate all the necessary components in the telephone’s base. Repairing vintage rotary-dial units can be an interesting hobby, and properly adapted phones can serve as everyday "land lines" on today's digital exchanges.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Graph paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Digital camera (optional)
  • Detergent
  • Compressed air
  • Degreasant
  • Metal cleaner
  • Contact cleaner
  • Suede cleaner
  • Disassemble the telephone. Start by removing the exterior case. The case screws are in the center of the front and just to right-of-center at the back, to the left of the hole designed for the connection cord as seen from the rear. Rotate the screws counterclockwise until they come free. (Keep all parts, including fasteners, safe throughout the restoration process, perhaps by placing them in plastic bags or jars.) Lift the exterior case away from the base.

  • Identify the internal components. The rotary dial mechanism is attached inside the exterior shell of the phone, immediately beneath the dial. The two bells -- properly called “gongs” -- are located at the front right of the baseplate beneath the rotary dial. To the left of the bells is the magnetic ringer with a small hammer attached. The hook switch is in the “deep” part of the case, immediately beneath where the two disconnect buttons are on the outside of the case, in the handset cradle. The induction coil, often called the “transformer” or the “network block,” is to the rear of the baseplate, behind the bell assembly.

  • Make a diagram of all wiring colors and routing before removing any components. Use graph paper and different-colored pencils or inks to create an easy-to-read schematic. If you have a digital camera available, take several close-up photographs of the internal layout, concentrating on the wiring and showing all the components.

  • Consult enthusiast websites and magazines to learn the proper wiring for your 302 if it does not have a complete and well-attached wiring harness. Because the 302 was produced in a number of variations -- including the 302-A, the 302-BW, the 302-CW, the 302-DW, the 302-E, the 302-EW, the 302-FW, the 302-GW, the 302-HW and the hybrid 5302 -- there is no universal wiring schematic.

  • Check the cords for loose connections, particularly at the transmitter end of the handset; loose connections and securing devices can cause staticlike crackling and poor reception. Rotate the face of the transmitter counterclockwise until it comes free, and tighten the captive screw in the center of the housing to resecure it in place if the cord has worked loose over the years.

  • Clean the Bakelite parts with a warm, sudsy mix of regular household dish detergent; first soak the parts, then rub with a nonabrasive cloth. Use the same mix and method to clean the metal baseplate after you've dismantled all the components.

  • Use compressed air to clean the gongs, followed by denatured alcohol or an all-purpose degreasant household cleaner, used according to instructions. You can clean brass gongs by boiling them for approximately 15 minutes in a solution of 50 percent water, 50 percent white vinegar. Polish the cleaned metal with a proprietary chrome or brass cleaner, as appropriate. Use metal cleaner to clean any unpainted metal parts, such as gears and screwheads.

  • Replace a damaged or worn card beneath the dialer by taking the original to a copy shop; ensure that the staff have sufficient expertise to bleach out stains while leaving the printed numbers crisp and legible. Retain the original card with the phone so that you can pass it on to a new owner if the unit eventually changes hands.

  • Use a non-lubricating electrical contact cleaner to clean the gears behind the dial mechanism. These cleaners are usually available from electrical hardware and hobby shops.

  • Look beneath the phone; in each of the four corners of the baseplate, a screw is driven into a receiver cast into the center of the foot. Remove the leather feet by retracting the screws that hold them in place from above the metal baseplate. Use a proprietary suede cleaner to clean the feet, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Tips & Warnings

  • A rotary telephone is a complex piece of machinery that an amateur should not try to fully disassemble. For example, the clockwork mechanisms behind the dial that click over the rack are small and intricate; if the dialer does not function, restoration is typically a job for experts.
  • Bakelite-cased phones have a tendency to crack in the corners. The Bakelite case shrinks over time and becomes over-tight around the metal base, which does not shrink. Take care when initially separating the case from the metal baseplate not to exacerbate any pre-existing cracks.
  • Do not separate the magnet from the coil in the ringer mechanism; this has an irreversible negative effect on performance.

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