Note: This post is some of what we’ll be going through in the class I’m giving in William’s Lake next month.
The 401A, 403A, 411G, and 431Gs along with the 500A and the 503A (or the J version) are possibly some of my favorite Singer machines. There are a few more in this series as well, like the 401G and the 421G but I’ve honestly never laid hands on either of those models. These machines are all fundamentally the same with some small differences. They are all “Slant-O-Matics”, meaning that the whole stitching mechanism is tilted a little and angled toward the user to make the needle more visible.
Today, I’m going to talk a little about the differences and also about the one thing that makes some people shy away from these machines – the cam stack and stitch selectors are frozen. It’s typically easy to fix, so I want you all to know how to take care of it.
The 401A and the 500A are the same machine but with cosmetic updates on the 500A. In fact, it’s those cosmetic updates that lead to it being called the “Rocketeer”.
The same is true of the 403A and the 503A (or as in the case of the 503 I have here – the 503J). The same machine but for the cosmetic differences.
The main difference between the 401A and the 403A (or the 500A and the 503A) is that the 401A/500A has a built-in cam stack. This means that it does stitches without the use of fashion cams. The 403A and the 503A both need cams to stitch out anything other than a straight stitch.
This makes the x03 machines somewhat easier to maintain, and that’s part of the reason that a lot of people, even sewing techie type people, including me, like them a little better than the machines with the built in cam stacks. They’re simpler and tend to get gummed up less often.
That being said, with a little care you should never have to worry about a cam stack and its various linkages gumming up, so the machines with the built-in cam stacks are excellent machines to grab if you find them for sale.
The German Singer machines – the 401G, 411G, 421G, 431G machines are a little harder to find in North America. The 411Gs do seem to pop up a fair bit here in Alberta, the 431Gs from time to time, but the other 2 I’ve seen only in photos.
For the purposes of the rest of this article, we’ll consider them to be pretty much identical to the 401A. Again, they’re cosmetically a little different. Additionally, the 411G and the 431G can chainstitch as well as lockstitch. The 401G and the 411G are treadle ready. The 421G and the 431G are both open arm machines. As for non-cosmetic parts that they don’t share with the “regular” 401A type machines: Any of the chainstitching parts, the spool pins and the 421G and the 431G use throat plates and slide plates that share with a different model of Singer other than the 401A.
If you want to learn more about the German machines, there’s a conversation here on the QuiltingBoard
Now, let’s get greasy!!
We’re not going to cover basic oiling here. Today’s post is about remedial work. The work and oiling we’re doing here is over and above the regular maintenance and oiling. So before you all shout: “You missed a spot!!” I didn’t. I just didn’t need to talk about it in the context of thawing these machines. 😉
One thing that holds true for regular maintenance or for remedial work though is:
G for G – Grease for gears (and Singer motor grease tubes), oil for everything else.
I also heartily recommend Tri-Flow oil as being the lubricant of choice here. Sewing machine oil has never done for me what Tri-Flow does with a sorely neglected cam machine.
Today’s victim is a 411G sorely in need of a good cleaning, but in perfect working order.
1. There’s a sort of “piston” almost under the cam stack right at the bottom . It’s to the left at about 9 o’clock if you’re looking directly down into the top of the machine. You’ll see that it “compresses” left to right. Many people miss this one altogether, and its possibly the biggest offender.
2. The “flappers” – technical term 😉 – pressing against the cam stack are a couple of “followers” that look like fingers. These push the “flapper” back and forth to make the needlebar move side to side. All of these parts freeze up with lack of use. Liberal oiling (a couple of drops instead of one) at the pivot points helps immensely here. After oiling, I gently touch the flapper and see if it wants to move a little. If it does (and it may depend on the stitch pattern the machine is set to), I work it back and forth – no more than it wants to go – but this helps the oil work its way in a little faster.
3. The “pillars” – another technical term 😉 – You’ll see 2 upright columns with “collars” around them – also near the cam stack. These get gummed up and then when you push or pull the stitch selector buttons, they can’t move up or down regularly. A couple of drops of Tri-Flow at the tops of the pillars so it drips down between the pillar and the collar, and a drop to each joint of the linkages that are attached to the collars does wonders for the machine.
4. The needlebar – At the top of the needlebar there’s a “joint” that pivots the needlebar side to side when the flapper is pushed by the followers that are pushed by the cams. When this freezes up, the whole thing sort of grinds to a halt. Additionally, the needlebar also has a “piston” that requires attention.
And for your viewing pleasure, I’ve put together a video of all of this. Be warned though:
- It’s 10 minutes long, so that means it’s big.
- my phone didn’t want to give the best focus
- I don’t have a tripod to fit the phone, so it’s a little wobbly.
I do hope it helps make some of this as clear as possible though, shaky hands and all. I hope to figure out a tripod solution soon to take care of the last 2 problems. The first one,… well you know me. I ramble. 😉
As a bonus for watching the video, there’s a tip for growling motors as well.
Please let me know below how you made out with this, if the video made you motion sick, if you want to see more of this, etc. 🙂
(No, the video didn’t make me motion sick and I have a pretty tender tummy that way. 😉 )
Today’s post brought to you by Stuck in the Middle – Originally by Steeler’s Wheel, and covered by the late Jeff Healey
Jeff Healey was a Canadian Musician, blind since he was less than a year old. He had some hits of his own and did some great covers as well. One of my favorite covers is Run through the Jungle It’s completely re-imagined from the original, and in a good way, not that the original was bad. Possibly my favorite original is See the light I really don’t think I ever heard a song from him that I thought “I wonder what he was thinking recording -that-!