Stuck in the Middle – Frozen Slant-O-Matics

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.

Rocketeer with Accessories
Rocketeer 503J with Accessories

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.

Singer 431G
Singer 431G
Singer 411G

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.

Cam Stack to your right in this photo, looking at the machine from the front.
Cam Stack to your right in this photo, looking at the machine from the front.

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.

Front Stitch Selector – As seen from the front of 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.

Spots to oil on the Needlebar and Swing Mechanism. Includes 2 spots I didn’t show in the video. Video? What video? – Read further 😉
This is a piston that moves left to right. Put a couple of drops of oil on a here for a reluctant machine. Note: This piston exists on many zig zag machines, not just Slants and not just Singers. it’s a good spot to evaluate if your machine is only Zigging and not Zagging. Or if It only Ziiiii’s 😉

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.

Here’s a link to the post about the machine I mentioned in the video

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-!


94 thoughts on “Stuck in the Middle – Frozen Slant-O-Matics”

  1. Hello, my flywheel won’t twist loose to wind bobbins. I can still sew, just can’t thread a new bobbin. I was just given a Singer 500J sewing machine, and I oiled it as the instructions told me just awhile ago.. Honestly, I think I tightened the wheel too much the last time I threaded a bobbin, and this time turning it the wrong way to try and loosen it probably made it tighter. Maybe I’m wrong.. My husband couldn’t get it loose either it’s so stuck. Well now I don’t know how to get the wheel to twist. I opened it up by unscrewing the lid, and I’m not sure how to remedy the issue besides throwing more oil into it.. I even tried to unscrew and pull off the wheel, but it won’t budge.. What should I do? Is the only thing left to do is get it serviced?

    1. There are 2 things that I find can help in these situations:
      There’s a screw in the middle of the handwheel – look from the right – loosen it, it doesn’t typically need to be removed just loosened a few good turns. Now try to loosen the handwheel. If that doesn’t work, see if you or hubby can get a strap wrench to hold the handwheel and turn with that. –

  2. I was looking for a singer 401A had picked one up in a cabinet for $25 at a garage sale. Seller was surprised when we were loading it into my SUV when all these spare parts started falling out. Her and I didn’t realize the hidden drawer as full of treasures! Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
    Then put an ad on kijiji looking for another 401 for spare parts – I got a reply from Purdue, Saskatchewan that I could have sewing machine sitting in a garage. Her husband had bought it in a garage sale and it had sat for years. 411g with a loosy goosy bobbin casing. YouTubed a fix – nothing frozen and it sews. Need to clean and oil but oh so happy. It only came with a manual no extra parts but free is SWEET.

  3. Hello you little angel. I was just about to give up on my singer 401 that I had lent out to a friend for a couple of years. When it came back it was frozen and wouldn’t zigzag, but then I found your video on the Internet and did everything you said and now I have a fantastic sewing machine that works brilliant and it’s all down to you. A great big thankyou my love

  4. Thanks for your informational videos! I recently found a 401a, and that piston at the bottom of the cam stack kept sticking, so I only got half a zigzag. I would get it loosened up, and it would stick again when I put the cover back on! I took off the stack and cleaned it thoroughly, and also had a better angle to put Tri-flow on it. Works like a charm now! I have watched several of your videos on YouTube. They are great.

  5. Hi, I bought my first SINGER 401G ( I’m from the Continent). Your post works inspiring! I read that some of the ‘Though and Throw -machine Cams fit the 401G. I’m eager to find out. I like your pictures, they’ll be of great help.

  6. I read in one of the other post about a long spring from the flapper to the nose area. I think that is what this is but you don’t show it in the video or tell how it goes in please help me!!!

    1. If it’s the spring I think you’re having trouble with – photos 9 and 10 on this post will show you where the spring goes. You can see one end in photo 9 and one in photo 10.

      I received all 4 of your communications but I’m only going to approve this one since they’re all about the same thing. This is a blog – not a forum – most work is done by one person and my response time is typically 10 days as mentioned on the contact page.

  7. Thanks So Much for this video! I was able to free up my 403 Special that halfway froze after sitting idle for 8 years. You rule!🤘❤🔥

  8. hi guys,i’m new here,i also have a singer 600.the model 400 and 500 have a parts similar to 600 that’s why I’ve learned a lot in this forum.

    Thanks for the ideas.

  9. Thanks so much for your videos and instructions! I just brought my late dad’s 500A home and it hadn’t been used in years. I already got it unfrozen and am now working on the cam stack, etc. with your help! Your videos are so clear (and calm) they make me feel confident! Thanks again.

      1. Tammi – I had to follow up. I finished restoring Dad’s Rocketeer. Using your instructions, I cleaned, oiled (where appropriate 🙂 and greased every spot I needed to. I cleaned the outside with Blue Magic’s TR3 Resin glaze. It looks fabulous and runs beautifully. I have all the accessories, including the blind hem attachment and a buttonholer. How thrilling to be able to use my dad’s machine to sew. Thank you again for the info you provide!! <3 Katharine

  10. Tammi, thank you so, so much for posting this and the video! I recently acquired a 600e, and the upper K-Special lever was frozen. Not any more! I had already oiled the front collar several times and used a bit of heat (with no effect), but you demonstrated a few more spots that I hadn’t thought to oil (like the piston underneath the cam stack). With some gentle persistence the mechanism released. I literally jumped into the air with a “Yahoo!”

  11. Hi Tammi,

    I got my 500A machine from seized up to sewing about a year ago. However, I’ve only gotten it to sew a straight stitch with the needle stuck all the way over on the left. Nothing seems to be stuck near the cams, it seems like the left right motions aren’t transferring to the needle bar. Do you have any ideas on what I should fiddle with to fix that?

    Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise!


    1. Hey Lindsay, If the needlebar moves back and forth like in the video (8:20) , then I’d concentrate on making sure the followers (the paddle sort of pieces) are moving well. If the needlebar doesn’t move back and forth very well, then you need to concentrate your effort there. Unfortunately, this issue (stuck in the middle) isn’t a quick fix and sometimes takes a lot of time and oil even once part of the mechanism is up and running. Also make sure that the long spring that goes from the top of machine near the flappers to the nose area is still present.

  12. This has helped me a lot with my 411g and I have posted your links on some Facebook Vintage Sewing Machine groups. Many people have been helped and appreciate your blog and videos. Thank you for doing such a thorough job.

  13. Purchased my second 401a but, oh boy, it was frozen. Thankfully I watched your you tube video and came to your site. Much patience and a lot of tri flow oil we are moving along beautifully. Cam stack has been removed and is soaking in oil, after the success we have been having for the past few days, I know it shouldn’t be too many more days before we have everything apart, cleaned, oiled and put back together. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge.

  14. Thanks so much for this…I know I’m a little late to the game, but I was wondering if you could tell me the number of the motor that’s in your 411G…I have a 431G I need to put a 110V motor in, and the motor from my 401A is not quite the right size. I put a 500A motor (PA10-8) in my last one, but I can’t find one of those right now. Do you know if a PA17-8 would work?

    1. Hi Lydia, I finally got a chance to pull my 411G out and look at the motor. It’s not good news. The 110V motor in the 411G is also a PA10-8. That said, I’ve seen 2 different motors in the 411G – I don’t know the number of the other one – I just remember having 2 machines side by side and seeing that the motors were different.

      I couldn’t say off the top of my head if the 600 series motors would work or not. You’d likely have to find someone with both motors who could compare the 2.

        1. Ha! I wish I could have given you more. I will make a point of snooping from now on when I get one in for service.

      1. I just changed out one of the original motors in my 411g. Had another motor laying around from a 400,500,600 series machine ???. It worked just fine but, you must change out and use the original worm gear. Stuck motors can be tapped out from the top using a mallet and wood dowel rod.

        1. Thanks, Dan. I have discovered that a 401 motor won’t fit without switching out the worm gear (how do you do that? Is it difficult?), but a 600 series one will fit perfectly without swapping it out…although I’m not 100% sure *every* 600 series motor would fit. I found out the hard way that even identical-looking nine spoke hand wheels from the same model 66 red eyes aren’t always interchangeable. Grrr!

  15. I just recently inherited this machine from my grandmother and have never worked with it before. I did all this last night because many of the gears were stuck. I still cannot get the needle to move up and down. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Hillary,

      Usually when a machine is that stuck, it will take multiple applications of oil and some time. Lots of patience too. Unfortunately, when a sewing machine is neglected and seizes up, it sometimes takes a fair bit of time for it to come loose too. Keep oiling everywhere in that linkage and every spot where metal rubs on metal and give the hand wheel a gentle wiggle whenever you walk past it. Tri-Flow will help here too – it’s got a solvent in it that will help dissolve the old oil that may be gumming up the works. Don’t rush it – that’s when things get bent.

  16. Hi!

    I’m in Alberta, and have my grandmothers 401G that she brought over from when they were stationed in Germany. While i have owned it since she died over a decade ago. I haven’t used it since she was alive, but unpacked it today as I hope to use it for sewing leather (my modern machine is too wimpy). It seems to be in great shape but needs a good cleaning/maintenance, so I really am happy you posted this. I have the original manual too, which is super helpful!


    1. I’m glad it helped you out! Make sure you don’t do heavy leather on this machine. It’s not designed for that either but clothing weight leather should be fine. 🙂

  17. You mention removing the motor. Service manual is quite clear of how to do it. Mine won’t budge! Any secrets here?

    1. Try taking the handwheel off, then see if the motor will let you jiggle it loose. The problem with service manuals is that they’re written at the same time the machine is built and don’t take into account 50+ years of parts staying in place. 🙂

      Good Luck! Let me know how you make out?

  18. You mention removing the motor. Service manual is quite clear on explanation of how to do it. My motor won’t budge after plate is removed. What’s the secret to getting it out?

  19. Thank you for posting this. I bought a pristine 1961 Singer 403A from the original owner last month, & the handwheel would rotate maybe a half-inch in each direction initially. I was concerned that I’d bought a dud.

    After greasing & oiling extensively, I finally got the gears moving. (One stubborn problem proved to be that the feed dogs were siezed up, & that turned out to be due to the bobbin case and spring not being positioned correctly.) But I felt much more confident digging into the guts of this machine after watching your thoughtful video.

    1. Hi Dennis! I’m glad this post and video helped you!

      It’s rare for a 403 to be a dud – for 2 reasons – 1. they’re really well built and 2. this far out, it would have either been fixed or crushed for the metal. 😉 It’s usually user introduced problems that the new owner (or the person servicing for the new owner, as in my case a lot of the time) has to sort out.

  20. Does anyone know the #’s of the throat plate for the Singer 431G for chainstitching? Is it 503599 or 503602 or something different?

    1. The plates on the 431G are completely different than the plates on the 411G. The chain stitch plate part number (503599) that you quoted is for the flatbed machines – I don’t recall the part number for the plate on the 431G but I’ll try to remember to check the next time I’m at my cousin’s. She has my old 431G. 503602 is for the bobbin case and if memory serves – that is the same case for all of the 4×1 machines that chain.

        1. Thanks for that information Diane! My cousin’s since moved several hours from me and I didn’t have a chance to intercept the machine to check!

  21. Thanks for this article and video! I have two 401A’s, and I am considering buying a 500A, simply because I want a Rockateer (-;. It has a frozen throat plate adjustment lever. Is that an easy fix?

    1. It’s a fairly easy fix – time, heat, tri-flow. Not really any more difficult than the stitch selectors. It’s on my list of videos I need to shoot because I seem to get about an email a month about it. I really need to set aside another day to shoot video. Soon I hope. 🙂

  22. If anyone has a source where I could download a manual for the Singer 403a…sure would appreciate! Just bought one from a resale and have been working on cleaning it up! Can’t wait to get my hands back on it having seen this amazing video! =)

    1. Hey Jean,
      I’m glad the video helped you out and got your interest up. 🙂

      I’m assuming you mean a service manual? The 401 manual should be close enough and I know that one of the yahoo groups – Singer Slant maybe? – has one. Also, Google this: 306W25.pdf I think I’ve seen it somewhere outside of the yahoo groups too.

  23. I recently purchased a 503A that is frozen. Someone tried to force the stitch width lever and snapped it off where it attaches to the cam stack! I can purchase a new lever from a gentleman on Etsy, but I have never tackled rehabbing a machine before! I am very handy and detail oriented, but this might be a bit much for a first project. The machine is still intact in my craft room: I’m afraid to open it, but afraid a repair shop will charge so much it won’t be worth it. What do you suggest? Any videos or posts I should check out? Thanks!

    1. Hey Dana,

      I’m not currently aware of any posts or videos on the subject. I took a look at my 411G here but it’s not the same as the 503A. It’s more like the 500A in build. Which part number is snapped off? There’s a parts diagram on this page: – I’m linking to the main page because I think it’s unkind to link directly to someone else’s site for a pdf. I think likely it’s doable because these machines are not especially complex – and the lever should just screw on, no timing to worry about or anything. That said, without it in front of me, I’m speculating.

      1. Thanks for your reply! I also commented under your post on “What a Difference a Day Makes”. I’m not as concerned about the part that has broken off at this point. I’m pretty sure it is part #172316 and I have a vendor on Etsy who can sell me one. The bigger problem with the machine is how all the gears are frozen. The zig-zag mechanism that makes the needle rock back and forth, the flapper and the stitch width thing are loosened up, but the rest of the machine doesn’t move, gear wise. The bobbin winder works (if I get a new rubber tire), but the horizontal shaft doesn’t move once the hand wheel is engaged. I’m kind of feeling like this might be too much for me as a novice. I tried to oil everything and clean what looks like dirty sand off the gears, but I think the last owners left it out in the garage to collect dirt and ick everywhere.

        1. The first two things I would do in that case is remove the bobbin case and see if anything moves, then remove the motor. You want to find out what’s jammed and removing those two may just point you in the right direction. The whole thing has to move as a whole and if one thing is jammed, the whole thing stops. The 2 easiest to resolve are the ones I mention. The sand is hardened grease. It’s nasty, I know but it does come off. With patience, you can probably resolve it but it won’t be fast.

  24. Great video on freeing up the Slant-o-Matic cam stack!

    I have a 401A, 403A, two 500A’s, and a host of other vintage Singers, Kenmores, and 2 clones. I guess I am a confirmed sm addict! I had figured out how to unstick the cam stack on my own but had missed the piston under the cam stack, so your video was very helpful.

    Re: TR3, be careful not to ‘overpolish’ with it. I cleaned down too far to a dark bronzy-looking layer on some corners trying to clean up and shine a super-grungy black 301 I got for $20 at a local ‘country’ auction. On the areas where I took my time and used minimal pressure, and let it dry before buffing, TR3 did fine and left a nice shine. A damp cloth with a bit liquid soap followed with a light coat of sewing machine oil probably would have done just as well at a lower risk of finish damage. I think the warning about not using it with clear coat finishes signifies that there are mild abrasives present that can compromise clear finishes.

    Thanks again for the advice!

    John Thomas
    High Point, NC

    1. Hey John! I’m really glad the video and post helped you.

      Thanks for the information on TR3! I find that wax alone is frustrating me – I don’t get the shine that most people seem to and like you mentioned – sm oil after a good cleaning seems to do as well or better in my case than the wax, so this was likely going to be my next step. Still, I’d like to learn what others are doing that I’m not.

      As for the mild abrasives, a lot of “polishes” have a little abrasive in them but don’t say this. Perhaps they’re being more cautious, or they have “more” abrasives? I do know that it’s easier to get scratches in the finish (for me at least) by hand than with a power polisher. I can get some really nice results with a power polisher but obviously that’s not a possibility for a sewing machine.

  25. Hi!

    I’ve recently gotten a 431G which is turning into a bit of a problem child… Initially, I lubed it before I tried doing much other than manually cranking the handwheel. And the needle would not sink low enough to penetrate the fabric surface. SO I used the 306W25 slant needle service manual and adjusted the needlebar. It now stitches but I think maybe timing isn’t right. That manual said to line up the timing mark with the bottom of the machine housing where the bar comes out, and use two needles to make sure the hook was right between the needles. but I Could not get both needles to make a pass of the hook without one of them even so slightly brushing as the hook went around, AND have the timing marks in the position
    the bobbin case is 172082, which actually goes to a 401A…. I’m hoping to get it chain stitching but I’m not convinced I have the right parts. I read on a Yahoo Slant group that the bobbin case should be 503602. What bobbin case number is in yours? is there a service manual out there for this machine specific to the freearm difference?

    1. You know, I haven’t yet had my hands on a 431G that wasn’t a little problematic at the beginning. They seem to be odd that way.

      When you used the 306W2s manual, did you use the part for the 306 or for the 401? The setting of hook timing for a 401 doesn’t involve 2 needles. The 306 instructions shouldn’t be used because they are “timed” a little differently to begin with. They use a 206X1 needle and a 15×1 will strike the bobbin case. If a 306 is timed to use 15×1 needles, it won’t be timed according to the instructions in the 306 section of that manual.

      Both of the 431Gs I’ve had have required timing and timed just fine using the same measurement as the 401A.

      The one drawback of the German version of these machines is the lack of information on them. The 306W25 manual is excellent though if you make sure you’re using the proper instructions which can be tough because they make you go back and forth sometimes between the beginning and the end of the book. Time from the back of the book – the 401 section – and you should be fine. The other things I’d pay attention to – considering your clearance issues – is centering the needlebar and the needle to hook clearance sections. Other than a couple of oddities because of the open arm – getting the hook out altogether is one of them – the 431G is pretty much the same animal as its American flatbed cousin. It’s possible it’s my post on the slant group that you read. Yes, any of the chaining 400 series machines use a different bobbin case – part 503602 – it has a little “finger” that helps the chaining. The rest of the parts required for chaining are the hook beside the take-up lever and the AK3 plate with the movable finger on the back of it. I don’t remember the number of it right off though. We talked about it at length though on the Quiltingboard. I bet if you put 503602 into their search box, it would spit out the two threads in the vintage and antique machine enthusiasts section that I’m thinking of. I actually sold both of my 431Gs and kept one of the 411Gs. I don’t really need an(other) open arm and I liked the sound of the 411G and the lack of finickiness better.

  26. Your video really helped!
    This has happened twice now – I start to hear a rattling sound while sewing. Then the machine throws the collar completely off the pillar. If I remove the cover farthest left, I can see that collar piece sitting at the bottom of the case, stopping the handwheel from turning completely. I can just take the machine apart and put it back on, but why does this keep happening? How can I prevent it?

    1. Hey Carolyn! I’m glad the video helped you. I think the problem you’re describing is addressed by a video I published last month or so but haven’t blogged about yet: How to fix – Slant-O-Matic Stitch Selectors that slip out of place –

      Try that out and let me know if it takes care of the problem?

    1. Hey Deborah! Which province are you in? In Alberta, I get it at Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Some bike shops carry it, but it’s pricy. Some will tell you their “finish line” is the same thing but I have no confirmation of that so I don’t buy it. It’s also possible an industrial supply place (in Edmonton, that’s Gregg Distributors for instance) may carry it. In my case, GD only carries the aerosol and I can’t see me and an aerosol being good for any sewing machine… or my sewing room!

  27. Great tips and video! I’m looking for a little help here. I have my grandmother’s 403A Special. So far I’m only needing it for straight stitching, but I’m still having trouble with the whole thing ‘sticking’ at one point in each stitch. All the ‘trouble spots’ flagged here seem to relate to stitches involving the interchangeable cams, but that whole mechanism doesn’t get engaged during straight stitching. Any ideas on what the culprit could be? Many thanks for any tips!

    1. Hi Jay! Thanks for checking in! I’m glad they helped. The problem you’re describing is less related to this blog post than to just a general lubrication problem. Pop the bottom cover off, you probably already have the top off, open the nose piece and put a drop of oil absolutely everywhere metal rubs on metal. I find that what you’re describing is usually related to something sort of “eccentric” or lobed, not a simple revolution. I had a 31-15 stuck up the same way and a Pfaff 130 – Neither of which have cams. While you’re in there though get all of that zig zag linkage moving. You may want it one day and it can slow the whole thing down as well.

      1. Thanks Tammi! I’ll give it a shot. I’m mid-way through a few Christmas projects and need to keep going with them, but as soon as they’re done I’ll try getting at the underside of the machine. Thanks again!


        1. Boy! I hear that! I’m weeks behind on email because I was trying to catch up on projects too! I got all of them done, now it’s just trying to clean up the mess of everything else that fell while I was taking care of all of that. 🙂 Please do let me know how you make out though?

  28. Hi Tammi & thanks for the video! It helped me get my 503 going. At first the hand wheel wouldn’t turn all the way. Now it turns pretty freely, but I can’t turn what I think you’d call the “clutch wheel” …the little wheel you have to turn in order to wind a bobbin. Any tips on how to unfreeze that? It’s like the two wheels are frozen or fused together. Thanks!

    1. Hey Jane!

      Those wheels can be pretty tough to separate. There are a couple of things to do:

      1. Make sure that you’ve removed the set screw on the knob. Especially if it’s mis-assembled, that will stop it from turning for sure.
      2. I’ve given the small wheel a tap with a rubber mallet. This just helps the old hardened grease break loose. It’s not punishment, just an attitude correction. 😉
      3. A strap wrench. Remember Righty Tighty, Leftie Loosey.

      Let me know how you make out?

  29. Great post & video! A product I’ve used quite successfully, though it is a bit pricy, for thinning out old petroleum products, is Clean Streak. Professional labor being what it is, Clean Streak is commonly used in bike shops for quick on bike cleaning of nasty derailleurs, chains, etc. Dries with zero residue. I can’t obtain a Material Safety Data Sheet for it, so I use it in a well ventilated area!

    I’ve also used Liquid Wrench as an easy to come by thinner. Don’t use WD (water displacement formula) 40. It’s designed to leave a residue that will become sticky! Liquid Wrench will also leave a residue, so depending on how much I had to use where is what drives how much secondary cleaning to be done.

    1. Hey Ron! Thanks for the info about the Clean Streak. I may see if I can find some to try out. I would assume it’s like the liquid Wrench and other products – be VERY careful not to get it on the finish of the machine? A friend of mine uses feminine pads stuffed in everywhere inside the machine to soak up over spray and leaks. LOL! It works though.

      I don’t think I’ve used Liquid Wrench on any machines, but I’ve used Fluid Film and it comes with the same warnings – it will leave a residue (and the scent of it gives me a headache) – so more work will be needed.

      WD also has the distinction of silvering any decals that are perhaps a little shellac compromised, so it’s always a no no. I make sure I mention that when I teach classes too.

      1. On Clean Streak: ” . . .it is not intended to clean the frame, handlebars, seat and/or tires.” So do manage any over spray. I’ve not had a problem, and at the bike co-op where I volunteer, it gets sprayed everywhere, but I’d hate to be blamed for someone else’s terror event . . .

        My old fall back is kerosene or cheap paint thinner if I need to go through several re-applications. Singer used Varsol for decades, I can’t understand why some people get so wrapped on what to clean with yet have never looked at the old Singer manuals . . . I’ve seen debates rage all over the place on message boards. Even if the clear coat is gone, necessary for the decals to silver, kerosene/paint thinner is unlikely to do any damage.

        I do use a lot of caution around the decals until I have personally got some wax or other finish over them. I’m partial to TR3 but the can I got two weeks ago has a red band on the top with the words “Do not use on clear coats.” Humm . . . and it there is no clear coat left? Or the clear coat is shellac vs. an enamel? I’ve seen TR3t used over decals that give the appearance of having zero clear coat left with dead paint between leffers and it came out looking like it had just left the factory floor..
        I’ve never had a problem with Simple Green either. In fact to save some $, if time is available, I’ll do a couple of pre-soaks with Simple Green and follow it up with Clean Streak to displace any remaining water. Opinions, opinions, opinions . . .

        1. Hey Ron,

          I completely agree about the terror event! Some people get away with things that others can total a machine over. Heck, I routinely take all removable parts off a sewing machine (The “jewellery”, bobbin cases, etc) and throw them in a bucket of dawn, oxyclean and water to soak while I clean the body. Of course afterward, everything is dried properly and oiled before reassembly so nothing rusts. I’ve had people on messageboards infer that I’m insane for letting water near a sewing machine ever!

          I gave a class in April and I said 2 times at the beginning of class that rubbing alcohol could be used for certain things (breaking up and removing old oil on the brightwork,etc) but never never on the shellac, unless you liked the steampunk look of bare metal. An overstatement of course, but usually quite effective. At one point in the class, I turned around after helping one of the gals on the other side of the room to find another had taken my bottle of alcohol and was sponge bathing her machine in it. It was really that slow motion scene like in the movies “Nooooooooooo!” 😉

          I used to use an OSMG who talked about dunking machines in varsol. I’ve wanted to do it for ages now that we have a dunk tank in the garage but I haven’t had a machine that bad here that I’ve wanted to go to the effort. That said, I suppose I might have saved hours of work by now if I’d just gone ahead and done it. Ryan swears by Kerosene and paint thinner. It creeps me out but that’s more because we had one of our kitties get some dumped on her and it made her sick.

          I will see if I can source any TR3 here. I keep hearing about it, and I see to be shine challenged for some machines. I can shine the heck out of a car or bike but a sewing machine?? I’ll let you know if the cans here have the same red band on them.

          Simple Green is an excellent product. We use it on the bikes from time to time as well with the really grimy stuff.

          1. Well, a metal machine isn’t sensitive kittyfur . . .

            When I lived in an apt. I would use a Dollar Store turkey pan in a construction trash bag. Just kept splashing it on from the pan with a cheap china brush. When I was done I’d pour in cheap clay litter and then it was no longer HAZMAT and I’d just pitch the bag. I guess you can tell I was working on the cheap . . .

            LOL, Amazon’s my friend. Any more I hate spending time running around, so unless it’s a crisis, rare, I can wait for it to get here. O’Relly and Pep Boys carry it, Advance Autoparts doesn’t. I assume you’ve seen Mcenna’s blog?

            1. True, I guess I just have a bit of a mental block about it. 😉

              The problem with Amazon for me is that most things don’t ship to Canada, and if they do, the cost to ship is so prohibitive that it’s not worth it. I’m not sure if TR3 could even come across the border. None of the stores you mentioned are in Canada, or at least not the part of Canada I’m in. I Have a neighbor who works or Napa though, he might be able to get it.

              Which Mcenna?

                1. No worries on the location. 😉 In theory though, that location is to everyone’s benefit this time of year. I’ll have more time to blog as I try to avoid setting foot outside for the next 6 months! I’ll see what my neighbor has access to. I think that’s likely to be the best source. He’s a clean and shine freak too, so he’ll have heard of some of it.

                  It’s possible I’ve seen McKenna in passing then on the Yahoo groups. I’m not very active on them, but I poke around from time to time. I respond when I can, and I do have a couple of digests that I get and read when time permits.

      2. Yes, your teaching is extremely helpful! What’s your advice on cleaning years worth of old oil and grease that’s gummed up and blackened? Looks like more and more was added over the years without cleaning first.

        1. Hi Madeline! I guess my question would be where the oil and grease is that you’re trying to remove. There are things we use internally that we don’t externally because it can damage the finish. If you let me know that, I might have some suggestions. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and for the nice words.

  30. Tammi,
    I have (4) 401A’s that I bought over the last 12 months. I can’t help myself when I see these poor things in disrepair! I have been able to get them all in running order, but one in particular has grease glommed throughout the camstack. I am sure someone thought that would keep it running, lol. Anyway…what do I do with that? I would love to get that all cleaned off but….1. Is it necessary if the machine runs ok and 2. Does that mean I would have to take the stack apart? That’s not something I have done or want to do unless I have to.

    1. Hi Mo! In a perfect world, we would have no stray oil or grease on a machine. Especially when grease can harden and cause the exact opposite effect of what it’s designed for.

      That said, the amount of labor involved in removing the grease from a hidden area for purely cosmetic reasons is sometimes not worth the effort. Now, if you’re an insomniac like I am, it may serve dual purpose in making you drowsy enough to sleep 😉 but otherwise I’d rather see the machines used than cleaned of such things.

      Any of the grease that could potentially harden again and cause the machine to bind up again though, I would remove. Taking the cam stack apart – I wouldn’t recommend it if it’s not 100% necessary. You’d also have to time it (the camstack) after removal, cleaning and replacement. Sewing Machine Nut has a post on the process I mention here:

  31. I was afraid to drop oil into that hole in the motor. I don’t have triflow on hand, I have Singer oil and good ole Vaseline. I cleaned everything well with PB Blast, a step up from WD-40, wiped and brushed and scrubbed with towels and q tips, then oiled and greased. It would zig but not zag for the longest time and then it started to almost drift over to the right after every zig if I paused. I ran it like hell applying pressure to the top of the swinging bar, and soon it was free at last! Had to raise the pressure bar, someone had lowered it, I think in an attempt to use a low shank foot that was on the machine when I brought it home. It now does everything it is supposed to do and does it well. How exciting. I wish I could be your camera girl. The video was helpful but the focus was pretty bad. Maybe use a manicure stick or something pointier than your finger next time? Still, I made out better with it than without. The online manuals are pretty hard to identify anything from. Thank You!!

    1. Regular old sewing machine oil is fine for dropping below the worm gear. It’s just a little thin.

      I find that “running it like hell” is one of the best tools in the arsenal with neglected machines. It works oil in faster than waiting as long as nothing is seized. 🙂

      I wish you could be my camera girl too! It’s pretty challenging to do this stuff sometimes without the ability to move and stabilize the camera at the same time! Still, I know that sometimes a video with bad focus is better than no video.

      I suppose I could try to plan ahead and make sure that I do videos on days when Ryan can help out. Of course, most of my articles and videos are so stream of consciousness and off the cuff, it’s not likely to happen that way any time soon.

  32. Fabulous!!!!! I have a 401A that’s been sitting in a semi-froze state since I brought it home last spring, waiting until I felt like messing some more with it. Last night started thinking about it and this morning I found your video and this post. I think it will show what’s left to do. I do wonder though where that one drop of oil is supposed to go on the motor part- into the little hole or on that post looking thing behind it. Mind, the machine is upstairs and I’m still downstairs at the desktop computer. It may be clearer when I get upstairs and remove the cover on the machine. It came without a slant foot too but I’ve since bought one and am a little excited to get back to it. It will be my 5th restoration after two kenmores and 2 older singers!

    1. Barbara, I’m so glad this post helped you! What you’re trying to do is help “liquify” the old grease that’s hardened up a little in the round bearing that’s at the top of the motor. If you were to drip a couple of drops of triflow right where the bottom of the worm gear enters the top of the motor housing you’d get it exactly where it needs to be. One of these days I will take a few photos of that and make a post about it.

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