Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Frozen Kenmore?

Last Saturday another machine found it's way onto the workbench. - Thanks Greg.

This Maruzen/Jaguar machine was manufactured in 1965 and has the Kenmore identification number of 158.160 or, if you wish: a first-year Kenmore Model 16. The outside shape is similar in design to the earlier model 87.

It should straight stitch, back tack, zigzag and there is a set of cams... but it wasn't anywhere near ready for that yet. When it arrived, it wasn't ready for anything at all, maybe life as a bookend, or a doorstop, or holding a small boat in place in a lake. The machine wouldn't turn at all - and what I mean by this is that the hand wheel would not turn. This would be what some people might call frozen.

The entire process of: oil, wait, wiggle and oil again began in earnest. It's always helpful to have the manual and to be able to check instructions and illustrations for all the routine maintenance oiling points. I should say, however, that when a machine is frozen, the 'normal maintenance' procedure is only a primer for me, usually I get a bit more expansive.

Here's photos showing the the atypical little round holes that is often the maintenance guide spots for oiling when a machine is up and running. More often than not these spots ask for one drop of oil.  When a machine as locked up as this one... it should expect a little more from me than one drop of oil in those designed points.

What I look for when trying to free up a frozen vintage machine is any place at all where one piece of metal links with another piece of metal... or one metal bit is surrounded by another. Linkages are always a concern esp if there is any oxidation or rust around the unions. A little extra oil never seems to bother the metal parts at all, but it's not good for vinyl or plastic parts - over oiling can cause serious damage to non-metal materials: parts like cam stacks, worm gears and timing belts. I've seen these parts cracked, broken, and stained with over oiling.

There's usually a lot of spots where one metal bit meets another. Sometimes it's the end of a metal arm that connects one piece to another, and sometimes it's where a round piece of metal passes through a solid piece.

Exactly which lubricating product is best to use when trying to free up an old machine is a subject of great debate. Some people advise using only time and sewing machine oil. Others confess to soaking machines down with kerosene, or thinned sewing machine oil. Some suggest more modern products: like the spray can of Triflow that I like to use. Other products such as Wd40, PB Blaster, or Kroil Penetrating Oil are also frequently mentioned. No matter what initial product I use to loosen a machine, it seems as though everyone agrees that sewing machine oil must be used after the machine has become free.


The first thing I do with a machine as stuck as this one, is to check the bobbin area. I'll make a note of the mounting direction of the needle, and remove it. Then the slide plate comes off. There's often a trick to getting slide plates on and off but the one on this model 16 was easy to remove. It pops off and pops right back on.

Next on my list was to remove the bobbin carrier and bobbin. The bobbin carrier on this machine gave resistance and worse yet, everything had a light coating of oxidation - meaning it was beginning to rust. The assembly did not want to come out.  I was going to need a clean replacement bobbin if this machine came back to life. The light rust also meant time spent with emery paper and/or super fine grit sand paper (320 or higher) and sometimes a little 0000 steel wool. I removed all the oxidation from the inside and outside of the bobbin parts. - Wish I'd taken a 'before' shot here, it looked awful and after I finished, it looked nearly new.

My purpose in removing all the bobbin bits is to check the entire area for stray thread or material that might hinder movement while making sure all the parts are clean enough to function correctly. When I finished cleaning off the oxidation, I went over the surfaces with a drop of sewing machine oil on a cotton cloth.

It took two days before I could coax this machine into a full revolution by hand. As usual the hand wheel finally moved a tiny bit and I kept working it until it finally made a rotation, I went back and lubricated it again when the wheel was in the stiffest place. When the hand wheel finally went all the way around with little effort, it was time to check the wiring.

Every inch of the outside wiring was checked, and checked again. Typically I'll visually inspect the wire as I run my fingers across the surface, looking and feeling for any breaks in the insulation. The exterior wiring on this machine was intact, but very hard. Sometimes this stiffness will ease out of the wire when I clean it with a rag and mineral oil... sometimes it takes several swipes before the old coatings begin to soften. On this machine... I'll probably replace the exterior pedal and plug wires. The insulation layer is so hard that I'm afraid it's going to crack under any duress.

The next step before testing the motor was to inspect the inside wiring. Again, I rolled the machine carefully onto its side being careful not to damage anything on the back (spool pins, connectors, etc) and made a visual inspection of all the internal wires making sure the insulation had not been compromised and that bare wire wasn't showing. On this model, it was also a chance to consider the condition of the belt.

The wiring didn't have any breaks so I carefully plugged it into my fused power strip. I've learned to not replace the needle or bobbin assembly on a first test in case there's an issue with timing. This habit keeps me from breaking needles. When I tried out this machine, the mechanics turned, and it did spin, but the motor made a horrible noise.

I checked my parts stash and found that I had an extra Kenmore motor with the same mounting bracket.  Perhaps I was slightly impatient and wanted the machine to run so that I could continue to diagnose potential problems.  Usually I'd make every attempt to get the original motor working, but this time I had an extra and just swapped them out. I will see what ails the old motor later.

The mounting/adjustment bolt had to be removed, the belt had to be slipped from the pulley, and two screws holding the wiring junction box were removed. Oddly, it's also a great time to see the condition of the internal wires.

This much was easy.

The more complicated part was identifying the motor wires inside the junction box, removing the correct screws and wires, and then replacing the old with the leads of the replacement motor. Once that was finished it was time to  reassemble everything. Then there was the issue of belt position and tension. The entire process took slightly over an hour before the machine could be flipped back up and plugged in again for a second test. The time spent doing all this was worth it because the machine ran without any howling noises. Actually, the machine ran quietly and the pedal was responsive. 

At this time I reassembled the bobbin area. Placed a new needle in the machine and did a rotation by hand to make sure the needle would go up and down without striking anything.


I hadn't spent any time at all making the machine any more attractive. All my efforts had centered on the mechanical parts. With the wires checked, the machine running, and the needle going up and down as it should... I wiped down the sewing area, slipped the top cover back on, found a good bobbin and a spool of new thread for the top and began the threading process. At this point I wanted the machine to sew, and if it didn't... then there would be more work to do on the mechanics.

It sewed a simple straight stitch on the very first try. The stitch length lever was working, and so was the reverse.  Since I was there, I tried the feed dog drop... and it didn't move at all. So much success... and still more to go.

The feed dog drop on many of the machines of this era is a knob on the deck that turns. This turning motion moves an arm underneath which is connects to a metal pin that moves in and out of the feed dog movement assembly. When the pin is in the out position, half of the assembly should move and the other half should not. When the pin is inserted the entire assembly should move. That's how it's supposed to work, but in this case the pin didn't move. The rounded tip of this pin is in the circle above.

I unplugged the machine, removed the pedal and power cord connections, de-threaded the machine and set the top cover off to the side. Carefully, and with props, I stood the machine on its hand wheel. Once I knew it wasn't going to fall over... I sprayed more lubricant at the tip of the pin allowing the liquid to drip down into the casing. I oiled the knob assembly as well. That's all I could do, and allowed it to stand over night.


The next day, the pin wasn't any looser than it was the day before so I found a long bolt that was thinner in diameter than the pin, and set it on the tip of the pin and rapped it once with a light weight hammer. That was all it took. The pin went loose, and the knob would turn as it should.

I've freed up a half dozen of these and that's usually all I ever needed to do. This one is stubborn. The pin will move in and out like it's supposed to, but the two assemblies appear to be slightly stuck together and the one half isn't moving freely from the other. The feed dogs are not dropping. It's going to take more oil and cleaning.

I set the machine back up on its feet, put it things together and tried a straight stitch again - and it still sewed. I went to attempt the zigzag. On this Kenmore it meant slipping in the No. 1 disc. Some machines will zigzag without a cam, but this one needs a cam. The zigzag cam was still installed when it arrived.

The first attempt gave no zigzag. The needle bar assembly was not moving back and forth. I took the cam out, removed the lid, and put the cam back in to watch what was going on. I tried adjusting the zigzag width by the dial to no avail, it wasn't moving.

Usually the lower half of the needle bar assembly would sway back and forth, but this one was stuck in a right hand position and not swaying.  I rotated the mechanics by hand until the needle had cleared the foot and then I reached over to see if it would move at all. When I put little side pressure on the needle bar I heard a rather unusual crunching noise and suddenly the needle bar swung to the left hand side. It was rather disconcerting...

I tried the hand wheel again and the needle bar began the swaying zig-zag motion as it was supposed to do. I peaked in the top and couldn't see anything broken, then rocked the machine back to look underneath and found this:

It's a first. Apparently this nearly whole acorn had been hidden somewhere in the insides and had just enough surface tension to stop the needle bar sway motion by rubbing against a connecting arm. My moving the needle bar by hand was too much for its dried condition!

This is as far as I have come with this Kenmore Model 16 after a week of tinkering every night. Once the feed dog drop assembly behaves I'll replace the wiring. I have begun to clean the exterior and it appears a whole lot better than it did.  The machine is running quietly and it's very smooth. There's still one thing I plan on taking apart and cleaning and that's the upper tension dial. It just looks like it needs a good cleaning.

So this machine is really close to performing the way it should. It has a few dings and chips and blemishes, but over all it looks pretty nice. I like the unusual styling and hopefully, someday soon, I'll find it a new home and some one will sew with it again. That's the goal.

One machine at a time. =)

Friday, November 16, 2018

An Ebb and Flow

This really is a hobby for me. I suppose that there may be a way to make money doing this, but I have yet to figure out how. What seems more important to me than anything else is getting a working machine to a person that needs one, so I try to donate machines as often as I can.

The Bamm-Bamm table and chair with a working Kenmore and attachments and cams 
was sent off to a local church sale.
The strange thing is that every time I get rid of a machine, 
another floats in to take it's place:

Morse Fotomatic II 4300.

I went to drop off a Singer 301a to another vintage sewing machine fan and messed up my timing and missed her.  She called me and since I was there in her driveway, she asked that I set the machine under the carport where it would be protected from the weather.

"Next to the white Morse?" I asked.
"You can have that if you want it." she said.
"I dunno if I have room." I kidded.

After setting the 301a and all it's associated bits in the carport, on my way out I reached over and playfully tapped the hand wheel of the Morse. It didn't budge. I stopped, grabbed the base with one hand and the hand wheel with the other and tried to turn it and it still didn't budge. Like a sad-eyed puppy in a pet shop window, I was hooked. It had to come home. It's like some sort of addiction. I can't turn my back on a viable machine in need.

The Morse was not difficult. It took about three hours of oiling and cleaning and cleaning and oiling, and wiggling and jiggling and then it finally freed up and then that loosened more and after a couple of good runs I threaded it up and it began sewing. The rescue process gets a lot shorter when there isn't any rewiring needed.

One machine drifts out, another drifts in.

I wasn't getting anywhere when it came to thinning the herd.

*     *     *

Among the many in the garage was a short row of modern plastic machines. All three had drifted in at no almost cost to me... and all three went out at once!  Given away to for missionary work in Central America. (Thank you Dawn!)

Those three machines out gave the work shop some open space, but not a whole lot. I didn't help myself when I found an ad for 1891 Singer VS2 fiddle base with an asking price of 25 dollars. Sure, it's way out of my wheel house, but learning something new is always good, right?  Yes, it needs a little help and it's not the prettiest or ugliest machine to grace the workshop... but it's a challenge.

The VS2 was cleaned and serviced and even though I can't find the new treadle belt that I know I have somewhere in the garage... I managed to find some aquarium tubing that worked as a belt. There seems to be some sort of presser foot issue (besides my own foot's inability to keep the treadle moving steady). There's an adjustment that is off because the machine keeps puckering the material. It sews for a few stitches and then puckers to a stop. One of these days I'll figure out what's wrong. It's close though, really close to working.

The weird thing (?) is that the machine came with the needle, shuttle and foot that was on it and that was it. So, I went looking through the shop at all the odd bits I've picked up over the years.  On a shelf, gathering dust, was a Singer puzzle box. It's not complete, but it appears to be made for an Improved Family machine which means everything should work on the VS2. It's the only puzzle box I have, and it came completely by accident;  hiding in the bottom drawer of the Kenmore Lady 89 cabinet.

Call it a bizarre coincidence if you like... but I have a lot of those.

Last Saturday Sis and I left before it was light again. I stood in the cold waiting for a 730am estate sale and after checking the packed sewing room, I didn't see a thing we could live without. We moved on to a sale near Avalon.

My interest had been peeked by a photo of a Pfaff 130, a workhorse even at sixty years old. The only weakness on these is the timing belt. If it's degraded, then they just aren't worth fooling with - since no one makes a replacement. Even if someone did make a replacement timing belt... it would take hours to replace.

The 130 was still there and the timing belt looked good, but it was priced a tad more than I had in mind. There was also a Singer 127 with Memphis decals in a treadle. I was checking it out when a sale worker and I began talking about sewing machines.  I mentioned my likeness for the forlorn machine, and how I redo them and end up giving so many away.  The sales person's eyebrows lifted and she yelled upstairs to see if they still had that old machine in a cardboard box...

Everything in the box was covered in a layer of dust. Here's a photo of the attachment case and just how much cleaning I had to do. The pedal was there and so was the manual and all the cords and even more important than all that... the front and top doors still had viable hinges:

This brown box Singer 500a made me work. I cleaned and oiled and it still wouldn't make a full turn. I removed the motor, checked the electrics, greased the gears...  hours ticked by and the hand wheel refused to turn 360 degrees. I was about to give up when one of my cohorts in vintage sewing machines stopped by for the first time in months, and we talked and traded machines.

Greg finally got his two Singer model 66's back, and I noticed how empty the back of his truck appeared and saw an opportunity... I slipped in a Singer 15-88, and then another 66 with reverse... and a complete 328k package and then gave him the 111w151 industrial. (Six machines out!) He noticed the 500a on the workbench and I confessed that I was a little stumped. He pointed out how to remove the bobbin carrier and it wouldn't come out.

It was stuck.

"Oh," he said, "you'll need a special tool for that."

"Special tool?"

"Yeah, a hair dryer."

There had been hints: small globs of dried oil and gear grease that had turned into hard yellow chunks that looked a lot like broken plastic bits laying inside. He left with that advise... and a nearly dead Kenmore 158.161. (Two machines in.)

Here's the key to removing the bobbin carrier on a slant needle machine:

 The black colored metal brace lifts slightly and slides back into the deck.


Then the carrier will slip out with a wiggle or two.

When Greg left, I ran upstairs for a hair drier. I turned it on low and carefully warmed the 500's bobbin carrier and within minutes it popped right out (btw, it was quite warm). Then I extracted several strands of thread wound tight under the carrier before aiming the hair drier to the cam stack. I could sit and watch the hard yellow plastic grease chunks slowly melt and drip away - and that's exactly what this machine needed.

When I turned the hair drier off, the hand wheel turned all the way around. After several minutes of back and forth and around and around, I felt comfortable trying the motor and it ran! By then it was late and I planned to return to the machine in the morning.

Except for one major interruption...

The lady from the estate sale on Saturday insisted I take a business card and to drop her a line when I got home.  I had sent her an email before working on the 500a.  She wrote back Saturday night saying they didn't sell either of the other two machines on Saturday and was wondering if I'd like to have them. Two sad, lonely, unwanted machines... I'm such a sucker for a machine in need. So, as well as I had done with Greg taking six and leaving one... I'd brought the 500a in all on my own... and now two more!

The first is a Singer 127-3. This is a shuttle machine made in 1930. The cabinet needs help but the bones are all there. I may have to finally purchase a sheet or two of veneer and the woodwork is going to take days. The second machine was the 1950 Pfaff 130. Overall it was in pretty good shape. The hand wheel turned, the wires appeared to be in good shape. The mechanics looked okay. I pulled it from the cabinet and set it on the bench for a test and a good cleaning. The light came on and the motor ran and after looking up the threading, it also sewed.

The cabinet needs lots of little touches on the outside. Spots of varnish have peeled away from the drawer edges. Some of the runners need glued back on. The harder part will be the sewing area. The screw mounts are nearly stripped and there's an occasional scratch that I should be able to color so that it fades into the rest. I like to leave the wear where I can, but the sewing area still needs to be smooth, and a forty pound machine must be well anchored.

The cardboard-O-matic below took a lot more cleaning and oil and a new needle and new thread and two days after coming home the 500a finally laid down a very nice straight stitch.

After reading the manual and slipping in the correct disc, the zigzag came to life as well.  I will need to repair the brittle plastic wiring harness that's too loose for my liking in the base.

The 130 is getting the detail cleaning treatment as well, and I've gone over the 127-3 with the oil cloth. The two electrics are looking pretty good. The cabinets are going to take more time - and I still have too many machines. Looks like maybe this weekend I'll give my favorite non-profit a call and see if Yvonne has room for five or six machines.

A special thanks to Kim at Reclaimed Memories LLC

Thanks also to The Machine Lady,

Greg for having an empty truck,

and all the amazing people at the Victorian Sweatshop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Small World Mira

 "I like that sticker on the back of your car." I said to the two ladies standing in the garage.
"The WVU sticker?" the one asked.
"Yes, that's where I went to school."
"Me too." she said.
"What part of town did you live in?" I asked.
"Pineview Apartments," she said.
"Now way, I lived in Pineview, right when you pulled in to the office, third floor."
"You couldn't have, because that's where I lived."

Once we sorted it all out we realized that the summer she graduated and moved out...  my two roommates and I moved into the very same apartment. Now that's just weird. Especially when it's thirty some odd years later and I'm standing in a nearly empty garage way across a city that I haven't lived in for two decades. We were all looking down on an old sewing machine that I really didn't need. I'd been saying to myself for quite some time that it might  be nice to stumble upon a Mira... but I wasn't actively looking.

The ad went up on one of the local online classified services and showed several photos of a cabinet and only hints of the green machine within.  The seller's description centered on the unusual furniture design and the many possible repurposes for a mid-century modern, blonde-colored, wooden desk and matching chair that became a part of the desk when not in use. I was excited about the cabinet, the possibility of the machine being a Mira only added intrigue. I called the number. The ad had been online for about seventeen minutes. When a voice answered I asked the dumbest question ever...

Do you still have the sewing machine? (hehe)

I sat on the edge of my seat all the way across town through rush hour traffic. The rational part of me seriously wondered: what in the world was I doing? This was not a machine I needed. I was going to have to find a way to get the cabinet in the house. Furniture would have to be rearranged. This was not going to be easy. I was making a ton of work for myself... all because of a 'collector's' mentality? Seriously?

Readers of this blog might know already that I have this wonderful little Necchi BU that sews up a storm. It's the machine that took well over a week to bring back to life and it has returned the favor by being my best behaving machine.  I took a pretty big chance bringing it home...

That experience encouraged the hunt for a Nova... which I did find. The Nova needed assistance as well, but it became useful in the sewing room. With both of these machines up and running and easily accessible... there really wasn't any practical reason to find a third.  Except that's how they were introduced: first the BU in '48, then the Nova in '53, then the Mira in '54, and after that a major face lift happened across most of the Necchi line. With the exception of the Espiria and Miranda, all the other machines were sleek and curvy.

Practicality had nothing to do with my interests.

It was more about that thing.  Perhaps it was a 'finishing the set' thing and maybe it was the cabinet thing: a Dutch influenced design made to save on space and a little desk when not in use.  As far as I know there is no specific term that identifies this piece.

This design was not exactly new or specific to Necchi. A cabinet very similar in shape was offered by Montgomery Wards in the 1940's and Kenmore had it's own version in the 50's, even Pfaff offered what seems to be the exact same piece as the one shown above.

Montgomery Ward

Mid 50's Kenmore

One can also see the design influences from the 1930's
when 'parlor' treadle cabinets became equally compact.

*     *     *

There had been a down pour that forced us all into the garage
and there before me was this beautiful little cabinet
and inside (because I just had to look) was the bonus... a light green Mira. 
It was a two-for, a buy one get one free.
I know right? But I have to rationalize it somehow...

The machine itself was in excellent condition. It wasn't covered in oil or dirt. 
It looked well loved, the hand wheel turned, the needle went up and down.... 
and yet it had a story to tell as well.

It had 'that' plate. Not all Mira's come with it. This motor mount plate was reserved for the Mira machines that were ordered with the Wonder Wheel. If I found a wheel, it would bolt right on!

 The other tell-tale signs of Wonder Wheel are the holes in the zigzag levers.
These are needed for the arms of the wheel to connect.

And yet, with all of this aside and exciting and just about as perfect as it could get...  it was still a vintage sewing machine. To be more specific... it was still a vintage Necchi sewing machine which usually means one thing: check every millimeter of wiring.  Since all the wiring I could see was still green... I knew it was all original.

Below the deck there's a connection that runs from the junction box to the knee control. It's an ingenious two piece affair with a plug on one end so that the machine can be removed from the cabinet without having to disassemble anything. After chasing down all the wires, this was the only piece I found that looked worrisome


The insulation had cracked beyond repair. That gentle curve and sixty plus years of bending every time the machine was rolled up or down had taken its toll. It's the only 'high stress' piece of wire on the entire set up, and even though the pair of wires underneath all that mint green were individually wrapped, it still had to be redone. Not redoing it would have been irresponsible.

 One end of this section was easy to find and unplug inside the cabinet but
the other had to be chased into the motor cover and the junction box underneath.

In just the act of moving the motor assembly to gain access... 
bits of insulation crumbled every which way.
Of course I like to think the timing was perfect, and that this machine
found its way into my shop right when it needed to be fixed.
In truth, it probably could have gone for awhile longer, maybe...

With the contact ends loose... the wires had to be slipped between the deck 
and then unplugged at the other end.

The plug itself was in great shape and it is the kind that can be reused.

It only took a few minutes to cut a correct length of new wire, strip the ends,
crimp on prongs, add a little shrink wrap and then re-attach it all.
The hardest part... was making a little drawing so that I put
all the wires back in the correct order.

And then I reassembled the motor cage and restored it to the deck.

The last minor little issue was some old masking tape and adhesive.

This all slide off pretty quick with little effort and some sewing machine oil.

Now I'd like to tell you that the story is over, but it may just be the beginning?

The Mira is clean, oiled, the questionable wiring has been replaced and I've gone so far as to go over the cabinet with two coats of furniture wax. The machine runs, sews, the light works, the two speed switch works... 
what else is there to write about?

How about an email a month later from the seller
saying they just found the box of bits... if I'm interested.
- and this is the picture they sent.

So now I wait for the opportunity to pick up the Wonder Wheel. 
(white box lower right corner)
At this rate I may have to give up vintage sewing machines, 
because I can't imagine a scenario getting any better than this.

 Maybe the lesson I need to take from it is that
I should toss 'practical' out the window a little more often
and just enjoy the adventure.  =)