The Sewing Place

Cleaning a Vintage Machine


Cleaning a Vintage Machine
« on: March 10, 2017, 10:04:27 AM »
Equipment I use:
Cotton buds
Baby wipes (currently tesco's Ultra soft, but have a look for some that have ingredients ending in 'ol's and have parabens.)
A pack of electronic screw drivers,
Some normal screwdrivers
A pair of old tooth brushes.
Preferred Sewing machine oil and lube,
A torch or mobile phone with torch function.

Do not start by plugging it in and running it hard!
Don't oil the motor or the electrical sockets.

I like to start by cleaning the case with babywipes and elbow grease. They get rid of all the grime, and any sticky they can even lift paint splatters, and oil.
Inside and outside, this is usually a place where a big difference can be made quickly.

Then it's the same treatment for the machine, with less elbow grease that the case. This is to get rid of any looser grime, and dust and the like. Baby wipes can even clear the heavily dried on grease on the exterior. Don't be too firm or scrub it, several lighter passes over a period of time will often do the trick and less damage to your paint work :)

Then it's interior time... all machines are different but here are a few steps.

Work out the maintenance panels, flat bed machines usually flip off or unscrew from the base for the under side, free arms usually have a door for the bobbin area, and you can open the free arm too either by clips or screws. You can often get access to behind the front plate by a screw, and the top in more recent machines the whole top comes off, in older machines it may be via access panels these are usually decorated and silver! You can also remove the needle or throat plate (under the needle bar). I also wipe down and inspect any cabling. I'm looking for damage or splits bare metal is bad! Look to replace or get replaced any damaged wires, before plugging it in. Also if your machine is pre-WW2 or if you have any doubt at all, get the electrics professionally checked!

Trying to provide instructions for cleaning every machine would be nigh on impossible so here are the general steps I follow,

1) clean out as much dust and grot as possible! Key areas: the feed dogs, the bobbin area, the bottom of the case or inside the free arm.
I found some red fluff jammed beside the race of my machine? Leave it be and check that early versions of your machine didn't have an oil wick to lubricate the race.
I found a screw or a screwhole that appears to be full of off white/beige felt or compacted fluff? Again check and make sure these aren't important oil wicks.

To get rid of the dust and fluff I start with cotton buds, an swab, probe, and examine as many nooks and crannies as possible looking for dry debris, fluff, compressed fluff, thread knots pins, ends of needles, that sort of thing, this stage can actually unjam a stuck machine, both bernina's that I've worked on had thread knots in the race, and the 48k had pins, trapped threads and hadn't been oiled in forever!

Then it's oily/sticky grot key areas for this are where 2 metal clogs meet. I use a toothbrush between the clog teeth, or a electronics flat head screw driver as they're around 1mm. Scrape it out not too firmly.

Next it's baby wipe time again...
I use them across the interior to remove dust, dried on grease, and old lubricant. Here are the techniques I use:
1) wrapping it around a finger tip and using a nail edge for stubborn but easier access dust/grot.
2) wrapped around a screw driver, for poking into small tight spaces or as a first step for 3 or for cushioning a cautious scrape.
3) flossing, passing a wipe through a space and either wiggling it through, or as far as it'll go and pulling it back or for grot covered bars pulling it back and forth along the length.
4) + toothbrush, putting a wipe over the head of a toothbrush, great for between clog teeth, or feed dog teeth, I have a clean brush and an oily one, the clean one is used for dial grooves and similar. The other is for oily things. These do an amazing job of cleaning build up out of grooves and narrow gaps.
4) tooth brush for cleaning out the teeth in cogs, remember to wipe it regularly.

Once you're happy it's clean it's time to oil and lube, the manual makes this much easier because you can just follow that, if you don't have a manual here are some rules of thumb:
1) never oil or lube the motor, or the electrical plugs/sockets.
2) never oil or lube anything plastic
3) use the balance wheel to turn the machine through to the highest timing point, this is generally when the needle bar and the thread arm are both at the highest point in their rotation
4) use sewing machine oil, or finish line gold for bike gears.
5) oil metal on metal and metal cams
6) lube points are generally fewer than oil points and tend to be where 2 of the circular parts that have teeth meet, they're cogs or gears.
7) don't forget to clean up the excess oil and lube!

When I'm oiling I like to watch the motion because sometime that will expose new oil points, and also you can experience the smoothness increasing as the oil gets between the metal.

After all this I usually try hand turning a few stitches to check there's nothing up with the timing and tension. If the stitches are forming well and there's no sound of metal on metal or needles snapping, and the cord all looks ok! Then it might be time to give it a go, I'd recommend a safety plug like the one you use for a lawnmower to protect you if you run th cable over. Plug it in make sure all the plugs go in fully and tentatively give it a try.

Really hope you enjoy this tutorial and it helps you get into the hobby of grot/scudge extraction from sewing machines!

Any comments or bits I missed please let me know!
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132


Re: Cleaning a Vintage Machine
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2017, 11:01:15 AM »
Thank you Roger :vintage:
"The only place where housework comes before needlework is in the dictionary." ~Mary Kurtz


Re: Cleaning a Vintage Machine
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2017, 11:52:08 AM »
Thank you for reading it! And not adding a  |O at the end ;)
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Madame Cholet

Re: Cleaning a Vintage Machine
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2017, 11:57:24 AM »
Thank you so much for posting that Roger  8)
Cleaning the innards of sewing machines is one of my absolutely most favourite pasttimes, the hours just float by, I love love love it. In fact since I discovered tinkering the sewing has taken a back seat  :|

I find long handled artists' paint brushes useful for defluffing hard-to-reach places.
And I find that an offset ratchet screwdriver

(... like one of these: ...)

comes in handy too, especially for removing those hard-to-grab screws on old Singer needle plates and bobbin covers.

Also some tight screws on old machines cannot be forced as they may be seized solid *. I have a 1914 Singer 66 treadle and it took a fortnight of daily drops of oil for the needle plate screws to eventually loosen - I wiped each screw clean, tested gently with screwdriver, then oiled again every day until they finally turned.

Edit to add:
* and you might destroy the slot.
Ask me how I know this  :[

« Last Edit: March 10, 2017, 12:01:34 PM by Madame Cholet »


Re: Cleaning a Vintage Machine
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2017, 18:13:40 PM »
Just what I needed to kick me into having a go with my Necchi Lydia this weekend that's been untouched for about 20 years. :| Not rocket science I know but it's given me a clear order of work and although I doubt I'll encounter oiling wicks it's all info to bank for the future.

Thank you!  :D
Aka Jacky F in a former life...