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Where do YOU start when YOU clean an old machine?

Where do YOU start when YOU clean an old machine?

Old 09-13-2013, 05:14 PM
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Cool Where do YOU start when YOU clean an old machine?

When YOU buy an old sewing machine where do YOU start? Do you sew with it or clean it first? Why? What do you clean first? What is your system?

Are you willing to buy a used machine someone has already cleaned up? If so what do you expect to pay? If you do clean one up what do you think is a fair price to charge? You can answer any way you like. I'm just curious.
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Old 09-13-2013, 06:44 PM
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I at least try to sew with it first, if for no other reason than to figure out if it needs anything other than a cleaning, and if it's worth the effort.

After that, I start taking it apart. All of it. Some parts will just get a wipe down, others scrubbed/polished. I'll take the motor off and at least peek inside - remove lint, dust or "whatever" might lurk in there, if it needs more attention (haven't had one yet) I'll tackle that as well (I have a friend that has a business rebuilding elec motors - he's been a great help teaching me "stuff"). Ditto for the foot pedal, take it apart, clean. As I'm disassembling I assess each part to see if it needs to be replaced/repaired or just cleaned/polished. Replace wiring if needed. I keep all the parts in marked baggies and I take a lot of photo's so I know how to put it all back together.

Once I have the machine stripped of parts that can be stripped, I then go to work on the japan of the machine.

If old dirt/oil is on it I'll scrub with an old t-shirt and sewing machine oil. If it's really bad, I might use a bit of detergent (after testing) but I'm always careful to rinse with clean water then rub with sewing machine oil when I'm done with that area. Once I'm happy with removal of dirt/oil from the machine I'll buff off all extra oil using a clean dry old t-shirt. Last step is to apply a carnuba wax polish. After that ... reassemble and give it a test drive. If all is well it goes into it's cabinet!!

I haven't (yet) needed to do the "french polish" method on any of the machines that I've worked on. I have two that will need it ... just haven't gotten to them yet.

I also haven't yet tackled a crinkle finish ... I have one but I've not touched it yet. I suspect (but will investigate first) that I will be using a different method ... soap vs sewing machine oil is my suspicion.

I have purchased one machine that someone else had cleaned and finished, my W&W 8. Now that I know a little more, I would say I paid too much, but at the time I was happy with the deal and I don't regret getting it. I'll be a little wiser if I ever purchase a 'finished' machine again, but it will have to be a pretty special machine.

As for selling ... I like working on the machines, it's fun. I only expect to get what I paid for them including any parts I had to purchase, and shipping and packaging that I might have to do (averaging them all out - I paid ninety nine cents for one machine, and up to $100 for another ... so average them both to $50). I work on machines only when I have the time and feel inclined to work on them ... so really not all that often. I don't want to be known as "the lady that fixes and sells sewing machines". I kinda just want to have fun and be able to get back the $$ I spent (not counting supplies, I consider those as part of my hobby expense).

I also concentrate on certain types of machines. I don't like the zig-zag machines and I don't like machines that have a 'modern' shape to them like Rocketeers, 301's, etc. I like the "Singer swoop" silhouette ... it appeals to me, as well as some of the older funkier shapes ... like an old Wilcox & Gibbs, or a Grover & Baker.
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Old 09-13-2013, 07:09 PM
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Lets see .... when I get a new to me machine I usually turn it over by hand to see it will sew that way.
Then I'll Tri-Flow it so it can start soaking. I also oil the motor if possible.
Then I check the wiring. Good wiring makes me happy ... less work to do.
Then if the machine looks like it will sew I'll thread it up, put some fabric under the foot and see what happens.

After that I pull off everything that can come off. I clean with oil, Hoppe's or denatured alcohol the mechanical things which needs cleaning.
I usually start under the top if it will come off, then go to the needle bar area, then under neath.
Then when done, I'll go back to the top and do it again.
The bed and arm will get cleaned only with oil and cotton pads or flannel if the machine is old enough to be Japaned and decaled. If it's a newer machine with real paint I'll use Simple Green sprayed on a cloth or paper towell to clean the surface.

I don't always remove the top tension. If the machine sews and the tension is good, I'll run a strip of dental floss, or thick thread or a very thin strip of fabric soaked in oil or solvent between the disks then dry it.
If the tension will not cooperate, or there is lots of gunk or rust I take it apart and clean it.

Will I buy a machine someone else has cleaned? Sure, but I'm usually disappointed cos I like to tinker with them. I almost always find something that needs fixed, adjusted or replaced; even on the best of them. It's rare to find a machine that needs nothing. But I have.

What do I charge when I sell them? Depends on how much I have in them. Usually I set the price then my wife jacks it up higher and so far we've sold 'em all. I really don't have a set formula to go by.


Last edited by J Miller; 09-13-2013 at 07:12 PM.
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Old 09-14-2013, 05:38 AM
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Operating by hand is first in assessing new used machines. If there is no needle to bobbin problems I proceed. if there is a timing problem, it is contended with. If it is fixable, I fix it, if not it's set aside as a parts machine. The top is removed and all metal to metal parts oiled. I am using up a quantity of Zoom Spout oil and will switch to TriFlo eventually (by all recommendations from posters). Then the metal to metal parts of the nose are oiled. I proceed to the under carriage and oil and verify intact properly adjusted rods, feed dogs, etc. If there is a lint and/or thread buildup, I take it outside and air pressure the begeesees out of it. This also will remove most excess oil. Only then do I attempt sewing. Upper thread tension is left alone for the time being. If it sews within normal parameters I tinker with the tensions with opposite colored threads in upper and lower tensions. The different colored threads show up improper adjustments more readily. If the tensions need work, I start with the upper. If in range I leave the bobbin case alone. To get a tight stitch I will adjust the bobbin case tension along with upper tension, but rarely have to do this for normal thread usage.

Once the machine is sewing properly, I clean the outer case with flannel and oil. For sticky stuff I use alcohol on non-Japaned machines. The Japaned machines I clean only with oil. Silvered decals ruin the machine for me. No volatile solvent is used on the Japaned machines.

My original intentions were to recondition and resell machines. So far I've sold one, my mothers Riccar ZZ. I offered a recondition Elna Supermatic in pristine condition on eBay for what I had in it and never got a bid. So, this has become a collecting hobby for me and history predicts I will eventually move on to another hobby and have a bunch of nice machines adorning shelves. Anyone want to see my gun collection, camera collection, or watch collection? My dear wife made me dispose of my car collection - took up too much room. She may have input into my sewing machine collection soon😀.

Last edited by Vridar; 09-14-2013 at 05:40 AM.
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Old 09-14-2013, 07:13 AM
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I am very new to vintage machines. I bought three recently, The only thing I looked at was motor size and if I liked the overall look. One of them I got in the cabinet I wanted. I didn't want the machine but after finding this forum I think I will keep it because it is a desirable model of Pfaff. I started by downloading free manuals and had to purchase one on ebay. Yesterday I started reading the manual for the Elna Supermatic. Then I cleaned it up. Then I oiled it according to the manual and from everything I learned on this forum. Fired it up and it purred and ran perfectly. The Pfaff unfortunately needs to be stripped of all paint and repainted before I can do much else because of the severe flaking of the original paint and many bare spots on it. The White needs all new electrical cords before I start on it. So each machine is different but basically I will do the needed major repairs, then clean, oil and test. Some I plan to repaint in fun colors if I like restoring these vintage machines. So far I love it.
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Old 09-14-2013, 08:47 AM
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Have any of you used acetone to clean up the gunk?
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Old 09-14-2013, 09:53 AM
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I'm a wimp. I clean it first, then make repairs that were obvious from cleaning, then try to sew with it followed by needed repairs that were discovered by trying to sew. Any electrical (rewiring) I send to my OSMG.

If a machine is too filthy I'll pass on it (unless its cheap and a model I've hunting).
If it's missing key parts that are hard to replace, I'll pass on it.
If it uses hard to find needles, I'll pass on it.
If it looks like its going to take a lot of work to get up and going and is a common machine, I'll pass.

Would I be willing to buy a machine someone has already worked on? If the price was reasonable you bet! I enjoy using the old machines more than rehabing them. In my area it's hard to find rehabbed machines at a decent price. Example: last summer when I was in my OSMGs business he had 6 featherweights. 2 white others black, ok to good condition, only one had the case, 2 had original manuals and some of the accessories. They were just common, ordinary featherweights, he was wanting $450 to $650 for them. (He still has 4 featherweigts- dont know if they're the same ones or different ones.) I have found a guy wih reasonable prices and good machines but he's about 4 1/2 hrs away.
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Old 09-14-2013, 10:39 AM
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I have three new antiques and hope to start cleaning them up one at a time this weekend. Great thread with lost of good ideas!
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Old 09-14-2013, 11:40 AM
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Today I lubricated, adjusted and cleaned a 403a. The process went as described above, but the upper thread broke often and a clicking sound presented itself. Change of needle remedied the click, but upper thread still snapped often. I work under the impression if not broke don't fix it, but the last remedy available had to be the tension. Unassembly revealed a rust spot on all thee disks. Cleaning remedied the problem. I did have to lower the bobbin tension along with the upper tension to get a consistent stitch.

Earlier, I neglected to mention I rewire or purchase controllers if needed. I also didn't answer if I'd purchase from a reconditioner. I probably would not as I believe I can recondition a machine as well as the next person.
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Old 09-14-2013, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by miriam View Post
When YOU buy an old sewing machine where do YOU start? Do you sew with it or clean it first? Why? What do you clean first? What is your system?

Are you willing to buy a used machine someone has already cleaned up? If so what do you expect to pay? If you do clean one up what do you think is a fair price to charge? You can answer any way you like. I'm just curious.
It's changed over the time I've been collecting, but now I'll:
1. Turn by hand. If it's seized, lubricate, otherwise...
2. If it has a motor and the wiring looks OK, undo the stop motion screw and check if it works. Check for sparks inside the motor, and make sure the speed controller works (foot or knee).
3. Tighten the stop motion screw and again try the motor.
4. Remove everything around the sewing plate and clean the mess from the feed dogs (there's always masses of fluffy dust and thread).
5. Clean all loose dust and dirt, including the tensioner (I use a thin piece of fabric folded over - not cotton) and cross it over around the thread path. The end plate gets cleaned too.
6. Lubricate the whole machine.
7. Lubricate the motor
8. Clean the machine with sewing machine oil. This usually takes a while.
9. If there's a treadle involved, clean and oil.
10. Clean and polish the cabinet.

If anything is wrong such as in the wiring, motor brushes or foot controller it gets attended to before going to the next stage, because I'm likely to forget to complete the task if it isn't finished. It's an evolving system of course, but one that may not work for someone else.
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