Why am I posting this before I finish the timing series, you ask? Well, this is what distracted me from it, and put me behind. 🙂 I’m also feeling less technical than I need to in order to finish that article today, but wanted to present you something to read. It’s a terribly long post. I apologize for that, but I’m very happy with how it turned out, I think you might be pleased as well.
I traded emails with a lady who had posted in Kijiji that they were having an estate sale that included 4 sewing machines and a bona fide stash of fabric, patterns and other craft items.
As you may have guessed, I was most interested in the sewing machines. I found out that the machines were: 3 Singers, and a new Brother. I’d seen photos of 3 of the machines and knew I was only interested in one but not at the price they’d listed it at, and possibly the “unseen” one.
The interesting one that I’d seen was a Singer 401A. The photos showed it to be in fairly rough shape though, making the $100 asking price a little high. It had the usual grime on it from oiling, but the slide plate had “something” on it that was tan and white. Corrosion? Sewage accident?
Oh I couldn’t have been closer.
The first day of the estate sale rolled around and I was one of the first in the door. I snooped around til I found the machines. I saw the Brother, the newer Singer, and spotted a Singer 404 in the corner. Ok, so that was the mysterious 4th machine. While it’s an interesting machine, I didn’t want it, cabinet and all, for the asking price. No, I was looking for the 401, if nothing else, curiousity had made me show up to see what the deal was on the machine. Why somehow through a picture it had conveyed how forlorn it was, and asked me to rescue it.
I grabbed one of the gals holding the sale, and she helped me out. I’d originally thought that it was in the other sewing cabinet, but it was sitting hidden on a lower shelf of a bookcase. Weird. She pulled it out and placed it on top of the cabinet so I could look it over.
Sure enough, the “piggy snout” – stitch selector was frozen solid. That didn’t scare me at all, I’ve freed those up before and know it can be done. I borrowed a screw driver and took the top off the machine to see if it looked like everything was intact though. The whole time I was telling her what I was doing, the expected result and what an unexpected result meant. What put me off the machine in the end was the fact that the handwheel turned but the horizontal shaft didn’t. Uh oh. I couldn’t turn anything by hand.
Looking closer at the machine, the slide plate did have a spot of rust on it and it looked a little different than in the photo I’d seen, so maybe it had been wiped a little before the sale started. The throat plate was covered in rust. Neither of them budged a bit when I tried to move them. I’d noticed the tan colored corrosion inside the top of the machine when I removed the lid. What had happened to this machine? It’s so rare to be able to ask any questions about a machine, I had to know. I asked if the machine had been stored in a garage or outside at some point. No, always inside, but there was a fire at one point and the machine would have been in the house when it was waiting to be rebuilt.
That explains the moisture problem, and further cemented my decision to leave it there. I reassembled the machine, and thanked her for her help. I wandered out of the room and went to look at fabric and patterns. I brought some home. Some will go to making quilts, and the flannel left over after I make a design wall will go for cat and dog beds I hope to donate to the vet, likewise the fleece I found.
So why am I writing about it, you ask? And what does this have to do with sewage? Yeah, uhm, well. I left it there overnight.
I thought about it that evening and decided that the motor might be salvageable, possibly other parts as well. I was pretty sure that it would likely never run again, but maybe it could resurrect a couple of other machines down the road. We were headed into the city the next day for some errands anyway, and one of them took me pretty close to the house again. I went to the door and they greeted me by name. Wow. I mentioned what I’d been thinking about the machine and would they be willing to sell it for parts. They asked what I wanted to pay, and I said it was only worth about $10 – 15 to me. The lady I’d been talking to via email previously said $15 would be fine. They’d realised it was only good as a “prop” after what I’d shown them the day before.
I thanked them and left with the machine. In the truck, Ryan, in his best Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters) voice said, “what do you think would happen if you gave it some oil?” This is as good a test of the TriFlow that we all use for sewing machines these days as I could think of.
When we got it home I figured it would be interesting, but my hopes weren’t high, after all, the main shaft was seized. Well, imagine my surprise when we started knocking problems off the list.
Initially, I’d known about the seized shaft, the slide plate and throat plate, and the piggy snout.
- The slide plate fell off in the box on the way home. That’s one hurdle cleared.
- I took the top panel off when we got home and oiled like crazy in there. More oil than I would ever recommend that a person use under normal circumstances, but this was far from a normal situation. 5 minutes later the pig snout was moving freely. Wow.
- I removed the handwheel with the goal of oiling everything back there too. On a lark, after a few drops of oil, I decided to reassemble without the handwheel, but with the clutch disk and knob and see what would happen. My intent was to watch it and see if anything was or wasn’t moving when I turned it by hand. The main shaft started turning immediately when I tried to turn it. Holy crap!
I reassembled the handwheel and plugged the machine in to see if I could run in the oil we’d applied. It ran very quickly and quite quietly for the amount of maintenance it had seen in recent years.
Of course we quickly began to find other problems now that it was running. The elevator throat plate didn’t budge, and the machine didn’t zig zag at all. Copious amounts of oil later, and things still weren’t loosening up. Additionally, the presser foot adjustment was seized.
A pair of fabric covered pliers loosened the presser foot adjustment. We then removed that screw and the shaft inside altogether and doused the area in oil. Slowly the zig zag mechanism started to free up. It was very sluggish at first, but it could be moved with a fairly significant amount of hand pressure. We added more oil and decided to leave it over night.
First thing I looked in on when I woke up the next morning was the 401. 🙂 Ryan does say I’m a bit obsessive. I’m not sure where he gets that idea.
The zig zag mechanism was completely free. The only outstanding issue was the throat plate. Ryan was sure it would go. I asked how sure, and he claimed 100% surety, so I figured it was a good time to clean up the machine. I stripped off everything that could be reasonably removed and soaked it in OxyClean. While that was soaking, I cleaned the body. I used a rag and dipped it in the tub that the parts were soaking in. Rinses though were in the other sink, to avoid sullying the water too badly.
Then it hit me like a brick wall. The moment my cloth touched the area around the stitch length selector and the throat plate lever and the power plug. Cat urine. Gag. There was no scent until I added water. It must have been extremely old. It also explains why the cats and dog all were so interested in the cardboard box it came home in.
A quick look on the Internet yielded a recipe to rid the machine of its unwelcome scent: 1 cup Peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and a tiny bit of hand soap. We mixed it up and put it into a spray bottle, sprayed it on and let it dry then wiped it away. The smell seems to be gone now, but I haven’t done a kitty sniff test yet.
Once the machine was dry and clean, I reassembled it, which left only the throat plate issue.
Eventually the left side freed up, I suspect because I’d levered it up and down a few times which had let the fluid film and oil cocktail work its way in.
The right side pin was still being stubborn though. We tried heat. We tried cold. We tried fluid film. By the end of the second night, we decided to get a little rough with it. Turning the machine upside down so the hook mechanism was face up, I hit the pin with a rubber mallet and a screwdriver. Ryan hit the pin from below with the side of a pair of pliers. We went back and forth like that until the pin worked completely free of the machine.
Once it was out, we cleaned up the pin, and the “bore” it fits inside. A liberal oiling later and reassembly and the throat plate moves again as Singer intended.
The 401 has had a completely successful restoration to usability. I didn’t think it was possible, but it just goes to show what these machines are capable of when you give them a little of the TLC they need. I test sewed it later that night, and it works as well as the 411Gs I have here which seem to have never been neglected.
In fact, this 401 is the machine I’ve been using for the timing series.
I’d sure love to hear about successful and even unsuccessful restorations you’ve taken on, and the best ways you’ve found to clean multi-decade old grime from these machines. Go ahead and post below. I answer all post questions and love to hear from you.