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-   -   Cleaning and repairing the Shellac clear coat on Vintage sewing machine heads (https://www.quiltingboard.com/vintage-antique-machine-enthusiasts-f22/cleaning-repairing-shellac-clear-coat-vintage-sewing-machine-heads-t193635.html)

ArchaicArcane 01-12-2015 08:00 PM

I probably wouldn't do it outside - if that's why you're waiting til spring. Right now, every time the furnace comes on, I have to pick lint out of my wet shellac. I don't know if I'm just lucky or if the furnace is out to get me but it seems as soon as I start a new coat the furnace kicks in! I would think a breeze would do worse with the dust outside. Of course if you're just thinking so you can open a window - that's not a terrible idea - my studio reeks of linseed oil right now. ;)

It's far colder here at the moment and I'm considering bringing the machine I'm working on upstairs into the living room with the wood stove between coats because when I'm not in the studio, the heater's not on and it gets a little chilly in there.

Hey Glenn? I've been reading on some of the guitar building forums that some people think old (as in shelf life) pre-mixed shellac doesn't cure properly and stays a little soft. Have you noticed this? It seems like this machine is still softer than I'd like (can leave fingerprints in it after a day or two of drying) but I also think temperature and the lack of humidity in the house may be contributing - At one point this winter I hit 19% humidity and I hover around 30% in the studio. With 2 humidifiers - plus the one on the furnace - and a water fountain I got it up to 40% today for the first time in many weeks.

Glenn 01-13-2015 05:42 PM

Tammi, I Used shellac flakes for many years in furniture restoration and yes if it is fresh will cure faster. I have been using the pre-mixed shellac on the old sewing machines and their cabinets with no problems. I just make sure the can is fresh when I pick it up from one of the big box stores. I do let it cure for a few days to make sure it gets hard. The key with fresh shellac canned or flakes is to apply thinly let cure a day and repeat. Three coats is all that is needed on wood. Let cure a week or two before waxing to protect the finish. The pre-mixed shellac shelf life is only about a year. I usually use up a qt can in about three months so never had to worry. Shellac does not like humidity. The lower the better for curing if to high the shellac will develope a white haze and will not cure properly.

ArchaicArcane 01-13-2015 06:39 PM

Thanks for the clarification Glenn!

So I need to go and see if I can figure out how fresh the can is that I got from Home Depot. I looked briefly but only saw a lot number.

I know shellac likes a temperate environment - is the 60 degrees I found the studio at yesterday before I started warming it up going to extend the cure time, do you think? Too high humidity wise is never going to be a problem in this house in the winter. ;) The humidistat I have has a "happy face" in the comfort zone - 68F and 40% humidity is the bottom end and I haven't seen a happy face in a couple of months - always humidity too low. Is there a scenario where the humidity can be so low as to cause problems? I know there are some chemicals that don't like to dry or flash off too fast - automotive paint for instance.

Once I reach the letting it sit for a week or two stage, I can reassemble the machine then let it sit, right? I figure that way if I nick something, I can touch it up then and everything cures at the same time and rate.

Glenn 01-13-2015 07:21 PM

You will not have to worry about humidity being to low and no need to worry about temps either. If you comfortable temp wise the shellac will be to.. In the 1700 they french polished and shellaced some very nice furniture you see in museums today and they did not have any AC or humidifiers and they did just fine. They did not however apply shellac when raining or very high humidity. Shellac does funny things when humity is high or moisture gets in the way. It will turn milky white and will have to be redone. Water on cured shellac will damage the finish in a very short time. You are doing it in the house so you should have no problems at all. Don't sit your drink glass or coffee on the cabinet or use the cabinet as a plant stand we know what happens to the finish then. We see it all the time. Waxing will help protect the finish. Yes after it as cured for a week or two you can put it togther and if you nick it then you can repair it with no problem. Same applies to the machine head when repairing the clear coat.

ArchaicArcane 01-14-2015 06:48 PM

Well, I wouldn't say I'm comfortable at 60F ;) but I get what you mean. I'm going to let the machine sit for a bit and see how the shellac feels. Yes, I've spent a lot of time and effort dealing with cup and plant rings on furniture, I wouldn't do that to any furniture after seeing that. Mug Rugs and coaster aplenty in our house. :)

Ellpea 01-16-2015 12:18 PM

I haven't seen Glenn around here lately, so hope everything is OK!

I do have a question about the finish on a machine. I have a somewhat abused W&W9, or Singer W9. I started to clean away several decades of dirt and dust (using SMO and a lot of care since I've been told that the W&W decals are notoriously fragile. I was hoping to experiment with Glenn's shellac restoring treatment.

Now I discover that the front of the bed was at some point hit with some kind of paint over-spray, leaving one droplet of paint (the size of a split pea) and the rest of the front of the bed sort of lightly fogged over. :(

I would still like to practice on this one, but definitely don't wish to put in the time and effort to blast the finish and repaint. Is it possibly possible to remove this paint without completely destroying whatever finish & decals are underneath?

TIA -- breathlessly awaiting informed and sensible input!
(also, apologies for cross-posting if there are any FB VSMrs here!)

Glenn 01-16-2015 12:58 PM

Paint spatter can be hard to remove. Try placing a drop of alcohol on the top of the drop to soften the paint then scrape gently with something like a credit card. The rest can be removed with a rag on the finger with alcohol and drop of linseed oil to keep the rag from sticking to the finish. Go round and round over the foggy area. If this does not work then you will have to go with finger nail polish remover(acetone). Keep away from the decals. Sometimes the paint drops can be removed with a finger nail. Go slowly with this and you should be fine.

Ellpea 01-16-2015 01:42 PM

Thank you! I'll give this a try IMMEDIATELY. I'm guessing that by alcohol we're speaking of the denatured alcohol, right?

Glenn 01-16-2015 02:19 PM

Yes denatured alcohol.

Windblown 03-02-2015 10:19 AM

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Glenn, I was so very lucky that my Aunt gave me this wonderful little machine last week. Her kids have no no interest in it what so ever. As you can see someone (cleaned ) it and removed most of the bed decals and silvered the rest:( The bed needs some care following you instructions on here.
I would like to know your thoughts on replacing the decals. If so would you do it after the cleaning and before starting the French polish? Or after that, and just give the shellac coat?
Any ideas would be wonderful.
Thank You


Glenn 03-02-2015 11:04 AM

You need to remove the old decals by using denatured alcohol, Then french polish the machine making everything smooth. Use naptha to wipe the machine down to remove any oil that is left on the machine. Apply decals and let dry good for a day or two. Then use spray shellac as a clear coat to protect them. You can by the clear shellac in a spray can from Lowes or Home Depot After wiping down with naptha the surface will appear dry this is normal. After the decals are coated with spray shellac let cure for a day then french polish again for a nice finish. Let this cure for a week then you can wax the whole to bring out the shine and protect the finish. Any missing paint can be touch up with gloss enamel paint pin. I use high gloss testors paint pin. Of course you will hace to apply several coats and smooth them down before french polishing . You only need the naptha once after the first polish and before the decals are applied.

Windblown 03-02-2015 11:29 AM

Thank You Glenn for everything you do to help us on QB.

Glenn 03-02-2015 11:54 AM

Originally Posted by Windblown (Post 7112165)
Thank You Glenn for everything you do to help us on QB.

You are most welcome.

Jeanette Frantz 03-02-2015 12:36 PM


I may have posed this question to you once before -- my stupid mind just isn't functioning as it should be these days! LOL! The machines I have (there are 3 of them) are: (1) National Two Spool; (2) Minnesota Model A (very old); and a Singer 201-2. None of them have deep scratches or bare metal spots so they are in very good shape. The shellac, however, is beginning to crack and that is really going to make the machines look like very bad! We have already cleaned and worked on all the "crud" in the internal portion of each machine, cleaned the rust, old dried oil, lint, etc. I have purchased all of the materials, except the Evaporust, which i really do not need at this point. Amazingly, there was very little rust, but the presser foot bar and needle bar on the Minnesota were totally stuck, but I've lubricated, lubricated again and used gentle heat and my son was able to loosen these items. The presser foot bar was also frozen on the 201-2, but it is stuck no longer. The decals are not so delicate that they are flaking off, but I can foresee that, in time, this could happen unless they are protected. From everything I have read and studied on your tutorial (which is GREAT) this method would probably serve as the best protection for these wonderful old machines. Do you agree?


Glenn 03-02-2015 12:42 PM

Hi Jeanette, What I would do is french polish and let the shellac fill in the crazing. You will have to do this several times until it is smooth again. This application of french polsih will protect the decals. Once you have the french polish on the machine the way you like let cure for a week and then wax and ayou should be fine.

Jeanette Frantz 03-02-2015 12:49 PM

Thanks a million. I truly hope I haven't pestered you with this before -- I'm having some medical issues which are close to driving me up the wall right now. I need to work on something else so my thoughts are more constructive!

The tutorial is wonderful. Thank you again very much.


Glenn 03-02-2015 12:54 PM

Originally Posted by Jeanette Frantz (Post 7112258)
Thanks a million. I truly hope I haven't pestered you with this before -- I'm having some medical issues which are close to driving me up the wall right now. I need to work on something else so my thoughts are more constructive!

The tutorial is wonderful. Thank you again very much.


You are very welcome and don't worry you can pester me all you want.

LilRedRocker 03-12-2015 06:59 PM

I just bought a FW and want to clean it up without messing it up. I have read this thread and made my shopping list. I am currently out of sewing machine oil, so I stopped by the little fabric shop in my small town today. They are out. I do not feel like driving 50 miles one way to get a bottle of oil. I do have some Liquid Wrench Super Oil. Will that work, or should I just wait until I can make the trip?

ArchaicArcane 03-12-2015 10:19 PM

Hi LRR, welcome to the board.
I would wait until you have the chemicals that Glenn recommends. Liquid wrench and sewing machine oil are NOT the same chemical make up.

Why mess with success? Glenn's process works. I see no reason to modify it other than when chemicals are banned from sale like they were in my case. Alberta, Canada has banned the sale of denatured alcohol so I had to make a substitution but it was an equivalent substitution that Glenn agreed with.

Also, Glenn recommends and I heartily agree that it's best to start with a machine you have no emotional investment in at all. Featherweights - in my experience - don't occupy that niche for very long. ;) If you can get your hands on a $15 head that you can practice on first and get the hang of the chemicals, I think your FW would thank you for it.

LilRedRocker 03-13-2015 02:44 AM

Originally Posted by ArchaicArcane (Post 7125609)
Hi LRR, welcome to the board.
I would wait until you have the chemicals that Glenn recommends. Liquid wrench and sewing machine oil are NOT the same chemical make up.

If you can get your hands on a $15 head that you can practice on first and get the hang of the chemicals, I think your FW would thank you for it.

Thank you. I will wait till I have a scheduled trip next week. I do have a practice head. I was just getting anxious. :)

miriam 03-13-2015 08:43 AM

I've done a few machines - French polishing is an ART don't forget.

ArchaicArcane 03-13-2015 09:35 PM

It is and so easy to need to redo if you get it a little wrong. I've spent as much time leveling from a bad day applying as building up but it's starting to look pretty good now. I think one or two more well applied coats and she'll be ready for her close up. :)

lolthom 03-16-2015 08:21 AM

what is french polishing?

Windblown 03-16-2015 09:25 AM

lolthom You need to read the first 8 posts of this thread, Glenn has explained it very well.

Ellpea 03-20-2015 08:46 PM

I see how Glenn restored the gold lettering on his Franklin using a gold pen. It looks just stunning!

I've been looking at the decals on my White FR and wondering if I could touch up the color spots in the same way? The decals are in very good condition, but there are little spots where the colors have faded (reds and blues, I think).

Would a pen work, and if so, what kind should I use?

Glenn 03-21-2015 04:16 AM

Pamela I used a testor's gold paint pen but I applied the lettering with a small artist brush. I was lucky and the shadow of the decal was my guide.

Ellpea 03-21-2015 09:06 PM

Glenn, what would you recommend I use to touch up the colored areas in the decals? I could use a brush or a pen, just not sure what kind of paint or pen to use.

Glenn 03-22-2015 04:48 AM

I use artist oil paints mixed with a tiny pit of linseed oil to make them flow easy. Let the paint cure a week and coat with a light coat of thin shellac, then french polish to a nice finish.

greywuuf 04-19-2015 02:05 PM

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so I am attempting to save this old girl? think this method will work ?[ATTACH=CONFIG]517405[/ATTACH]

Jeanette Frantz 04-19-2015 08:02 PM

She's beautiful! Well done! (That's the Jones, I think, the one that's 117 years old)!


tuckyquilter 04-29-2015 06:45 PM

Thank you so much for this tutorial. Do you also have a youtube channel showing videos of your methods? I just bought a 1925 Singer Treadle (per my sewing machine repair guy) But he doesn't clean the finishes. This will help me a bunch.

tjbosley 06-01-2015 06:58 AM

Ok, looking thru this thread, what is the Naphtha used for??

Glenn 06-01-2015 02:45 PM

Naptha is used to clean the oil off the machine without hurting the decals. Used as a prep before the french polish.

thepolyparrot 06-13-2015 07:52 PM

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Thank you for this tutorial! You gave me the courage to try to protect three gorgeous machines before time can take a further toll on them.

The first one is looking pretty good. After getting it as clean as I dared, I had to apply spray shellac rather heavily just to get some protection over the decals. In this heat, the spray resulted in a pebbled surface, which had to be sanded and melted down with alcohol, and I guess I've applied eight or ten coats of French polishing over that.

I've been letting it rest for two or three days, polishing twice and letting it sit, again. The surface is either greasy feeling (after cool days) or sticky (after hot days) - if it's sticky and I try to polish, the rag just peels up the previous coat.

Is the linseed oil supposed to harden as when oil painting? Or am I supposed to be wiping it away with naphtha whenever I'm ready to give it a couple more coats of polishing?

Should I be waiting longer between polishing? Or should I be piling on the polishing coats several times a day until it's super shiny and then let it sit for a week or so?

The other day, I propped up the dry side of the arm on top of a giant Tums bottle, so that I could see the underarm area better, and when I righted it, the plastic bottle had left deep impressions in the black japanning. I slowly massaged those areas smooth with an oiled finger, but the japanning shouldn't be that soft after sitting for two or three days, should it?

I'm using Zinsser clear bullseye premixed shellac, fresh and newly opened, with only a tiny bit of boiled linseed oil. The polishing looks glossy and beautiful when is first done, but dulls gradually over a couple of days.

What do you think might be going wrong?

This is how it looks, a few hours after two polishing coats

I have an album in my profile with the progress on this - the other pictures are much smaller than this.

Thanks again! :)

Glenn 06-14-2015 06:29 AM

The dull look is nothing more than the linseed oil coming to the surface of the shellac coat. This is normal. Let the shellac cure for a week or so then wipe down with the naphtha to remove any left over oil. Then apply a good wax to shine it up and to keep it looking nice. Now when you wipe is with naphtha just a light swipe will do and it will look a little cloudy after this. This is also normal the waxing will take care of this. Don't worry about the cloudy linseed oil until you are thru with the french polishing. The surface looks fine and you are doing it correctly you just need to do some more. The machine looks good.

thepolyparrot 06-14-2015 08:21 AM

Okay, so I can stop worrying! :D

Thank you so much - I have really loved this process; reading the thread several times, ordering the stuff, reading the thread, again... ;)

The cleaning part was almost miraculous - this 66 felt like 80 grit sandpaper, it was so covered in oil and lint. It was amazing to watch a shiny clean machine emerge from under it.

Thanks to your excellent method, I was able to save almost all of the decals. :) And the cleaning of the working parts is just as beautiful - love, love, LOVE it! Thank you!

sews 06-14-2015 01:42 PM

Hi thepolyparrot, I looked at your album and the transformation is incredible. Great job!

HelenAnn 06-14-2015 04:48 PM

Great photos and job. I'm working on a Davis that needs a little more work than yours. I am encouraged.

thepolyparrot 06-14-2015 07:24 PM

Thank you, Sabine - it's been a lot of work, but I've wanted a red eye for years - never saw one I could afford until a couple months ago and it's worth every bit of money and elbow grease I've put into it. :)

HelenAnn, these three machines have all been through some ugly stages, but I knew from this thread that I shouldn't panic - the only thing that really threw me was the japanning going soft. And too, I wasn't sure how long I'm supposed to keep this up! :D

I was serious about re-reading this thread several times, though. :thumbup:

SteveH 06-18-2015 10:22 AM

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Since I do not collect sewing machines with plastic parts, I had not tried Glenn's #1 solution on anything other than old wood cabinets, but I was having a hard time finding a plastic cleaning product for my 65 Corvair that I am restoring, and lo and behold the #1 solution is FANTASTIC on old plastic. It's been sitting for a couple days and it has not "reverted" to dried out yet!

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