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Thread: What to do with an extra Singer 401A

  1. #1
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    What to do with an extra Singer 401A

    I acquired a Singer 401A a few months ago, and recently found a nice cabinet for her. What really sold me on the cabinet was that it had ANOTHER Singer 401A in it. The handwheel wouldn't turn at first, but with some gentle persuasion and a little machine oil it's moving now. There's no apparent rust, feed dogs and needle move appropriately, but she's missing the slide plate (an easy thing to replace). The problem is that she's 'growly' and while the handwheel turns, it doesn't turn as easily as it should. I'd considered keeping her for parts, but now I'm wondering if I should see about fixing her.

    I do have a repair manual, and one person on another site suggested that the bobbin assembly might need a good cleaning. Others suggested using a hair dryer to heat her up to get the grease moving a bit, and also greasing the gears.

    Anyone have any input to share? I know it's a fantastic machine, and I suspect that the second machine has better feed dog function than the first one I got. Tension on the first machine is great, but I don't know how it is on the second one.

  2. #2
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    There are numerous threads on this site that tell you how to clean and lubricate a 401 (or 501). The machines were close to the last really good sewing machines made by Singer. However, they are 60 or so years old at this point. In that 60 years, the old oil and grease has dried up, especially on those machines that have not been used. That old grease becomes like glue after all this time.

    The 401 was built to really close tolerances, so that "glue" keeps the machine from moving quietly and quickly (or at all) like it should. You just have to clean, oil, clean, oil and clean and oil again. It's not hard, just time consuming.

    I love 401s, so would definitely not suggest you part it out. If you part it out, you will still have to clean it and de-grease the parts. You can probably get more for the machine in working order than from the parts. Not much breaks on a 401, so I wouldn't think the demand is really high.

    Here's the thread from when I worked on my first 401. There are numerous links in this thread. They almost all lead to expert help.

    Good luck.

    bkay

  3. #3
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    401s are notorious for being slow, sticky and gummed up, at least straight from long term storage. I would clean, oil and grease your second 401, they very often need a bit of tentative TLC, repetitive oiling and cleaning will get you far. Tension is all about cleaning and adjusting too, both of your 401s should be the same; if not it's usually about fine tuning and sorting things out.

  4. #4
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    Thanks, bkay, that was a fascinating read. I cleaned up the bobbin case area, removing a couple of thread bits that were stuck down there. No change. I took off the top cover plate and looked for anything that was obviously broken, but all seems good. I oiled things up top again, and while she will work, she doesn't sound happy about it. I'm going to put her in front of the heat register overnight and try her again in the morning.
    There's a special place in my heart for the 401A. I'd hate to give up on one of these beauties.

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    I'm sure you are onto it but; there is a recommedation to use one or two drops of Triflow or slightly heavier oil down the shaft under the worm gear. The same for the worm gear itself, a drop or two of teflon oil can silence the growl on these. You can take the cam stack out when cleaning, it's a bit easier to check the oil points and move parts up and down manually when they are out. Another thing is the area behind the face plate where the needle bar moves up and down, if it's gummed up it can take a bit of effort to flush things out and to get things moving freely again. I like Archaic Arcanes posts on these, they are very good. There's a few others worth searching up. As I know you know, it's that one spot we have missed or that need a bit of extra attention and it's hard to pin point exactly where. A good way about it is to have the machine out on a table in a heated room, go over all the points the next few days, work a bit on it now and then. The problem spot will show it self sooner rather than later.

  6. #6
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    [QUOTE=Mickey2;8196695You can take the cam stack out when cleaning, it's a bit easier to check the oil points and move parts up and down manually when they are out. Another thing is the area behind the face plate where the needle bar moves up and down, if it's gummed up it can take a bit of effort to flush things out and to get things moving freely again. A good way about it is to have the machine out on a table in a heated room, go over all the points the next few days, work a bit on it now and then. The problem spot will show it self sooner rather than later.[/QUOTE]

    I've got her in front of the heat register to see about loosening up some of the old grease. I don't know if my mechanical ability is up to the task of disassembly and reassembly. I took off the top and my eyes got big. I know the 401 is a serious machine with lots of stitch capability, but seeing that was intimidating. I did just find several YouTube videos on servicing the 401, so that may give me the boost in confidence I need to tackle the job.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orson View Post
    I've got her in front of the heat register to see about loosening up some of the old grease. I don't know if my mechanical ability is up to the task of disassembly and reassembly. I took off the top and my eyes got big. I know the 401 is a serious machine with lots of stitch capability, but seeing that was intimidating. I did just find several YouTube videos on servicing the 401, so that may give me the boost in confidence I need to tackle the job.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence.
    If I can do it, you can. If you will notice, Joe Miller said take out the cam stack. Miriam said not to. I went the cowards way and didn't take it out. After I read the service manual (you can get a copy of copy here), I think I could have replaced it, but have not really had any problems with it.

    I really did buy a bottle of 90% rubbing alcohol at Walmart and used that on the second or third time cleaning it. Don't get it on the red stitch width selector, it will take the paint off. I put a piece of paper towel under the area I was trying to clean to catch the drips of alcohol. I used a toothbrush, q-tips, cotton balls, toothpicks and strips of t-shirt material to clean the machine (depending on what I thought would work best at the time and place).

    You can do it. It's not hard, just time consuming. You may have to clean it 6 or 7 times before you find all the sticky places, but you'll also learn a lot about how the machine works while you do it.

    bkay

    Second thought - Kerosene will take the dried oil off and won't remove the paint on the stitch selector. It takes longer and more work, though. I bought mine sold as lamp oil at Walmart.
    Last edited by bkay; 01-21-2019 at 08:37 AM. Reason: second thought

  8. #8
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    I have used spray can oil when I have seen lots of grime and hardened grease, it can speed things up, but the basic oil will get the job done. I like the teflon oils like Triflow and Finish Line Ceramic, they are the only two I have found to have any advatage on the basic oil. Sewing machine oil is fine though, the most important thing is to clean, apply, run the machine and repeat frequently the next week or two. Flushing out sticky grime can take time, and be a bit cumbersome, some machines are cleaner and quicker to get back into shape. It varies from case to case, on some machine I think I have oiled and cleaned more than enough, and after a few days of use and more old grime and oil appear. I pays off to be a bit stubborn and persistant on the initial clean up. Here's a video on how to take the cams out, I would recommend oil, but I see some have found a grease that they like. I think the original manual called for oil every where, except for the meshing gears.

  9. #9
    Super Member sewNso's Avatar
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    how much does a feather weight singer go for? i've seen them , and i soooo would like one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sewNso View Post
    how much does a feather weight singer go for? i've seen them , and i soooo would like one.
    It depends on which model it is, what kind of condition it's in, whether the seller knows it's value or how much the seller needs immediate money. I would suggest you start another thread if you want more specific information. This thread is about the 401.

    bkay

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bkay View Post
    If I can do it, you can. If you will notice, Joe Miller said take out the cam stack. Miriam said not to. I went the cowards way and didn't take it out. After I read the service manual (you can get a copy of copy here), I think I could have replaced it, but have not really had any problems with it.
    You can do it. It's not hard, just time consuming. You may have to clean it 6 or 7 times before you find all the sticky places, but you'll also learn a lot about how the machine works while you do it.
    Again, thanks. I already have a copy of the service manual, so I'm not totally in the dark. Thanks also for the tips on what to use and where not to apply it. I'd hate to remove any paint. Our current plan is to watch the video tutorials and then set them up side-by-side to get both running at the same time, or almost at the same time. I'm thinking that a second pair of eyes wouldn't be a bad thing in this case.

    I've noticed that the feed dogs on the first machine don't seem to travel as well as they should, i.e., a long stitch doesn't seem to be as long as it should be, and tiny stitches are almost piled on top of each other. Any tips for addressing that, or is that something that could work itself out with proper cleaning and lubrication?

  12. #12
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    I have a 401A and have taken it apart for a good "spa treatment' including the cam stack. The different references are great for cleaning. My friend was given one that sat in a barn for years in its cabinet. Her husband removed the machine and between the three of us we got it cleaned and running like a new machine. husband had some grease solvent to remove the hardened grease. After ordering a couple replacement parts it now sews and sounds no louder than a sleepy kitten. She still uses it and I believe more than her new one. The cabinet itself was not salvageable but the hardware was including the lift for the machine and the knee pedal. He just made a new cabinet for her out of an old executive size desk. Stunning. Cost total was maybe $100. It was a labor of love and to think it was one of their granddaughters who saw it. they were about to tear the barn down.

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    Holy cow. You all aren't going to believe this.

    Yesterday morning I posted on Facebook about the two 401As I had acquired and about my plans to refurbish them. I had an appointment yesterday afternoon, and took a route to it that, while not out of my way, is one I don't use as often as others. While on that street I was stuck behind a very slow moving vehicle, and that gave me the opportunity to glance around a bit more than I usually do. I saw something very familiar looking in someone's trash bin and made a note to check it out on my return trip.

    I went to my appointment, then ran some errands. On my way back from my errands a friend messaged me, saying she had the same machine in her attic that she'd seen in my Facebook post, and it was mine if I wanted it. Well, duh! Of course I wanted it! I didn't really expect it to be a 401A, though, since people who aren't familiar with sewing machines often can't tell them apart from one another. To my utter delight it was definitely a 401A. I now have 3 of these lined up on my dining room table, and I'm just waiting for my TriFlow and contact cleaner to arrive from Amazon.

    Oh, that thing I saw in the trash bin? It was exactly what I thought it was: a vintage Singer sewing bench. It needs a little TLC, but I've already got the fabric picked out for reupholstering it. I've even got a buyer lined up for one of the machines, if we get them cleaned up and running well. I'm kind of over the moon about this turn of events.

  14. #14
    Super Member SusieQOH's Avatar
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    I'm so mad! I got rid of my Mom's 401 in a beautiful maple cabinet. Why? Because I didn't know anything about vintage machines. It was around the time I got my Bernina. Every time I hear of or see one I could kick myself.

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    I'm learning that these are much more prevalent than I had imagined. At least three of my other friends have the same machine. There are plenty out there, just waiting for the right homes.

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