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  1. #1
    Rat's Avatar
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    Sewing Machine Maintenance

    Winter is coming, time for making gear in earnest for many of us, so I thought I would post a full maintenance tutorial on my machine. I hope this helps someone who has been reluctant to perform their own maintenance.

    First, a Primer.
    If small parts or complicated systems make you crazy this may not be a task for you.
    If you are a consummate DIYer and can generally put things back together once you have them apart; then is is definitely up your alley.
    There are no secrets; sewing machines are generally well engineered for maintenance and are easily accessed to the point where full maintenance can be performed. However, further teardown can result in hours of frustration and eventual self destruction; be warned.

    Tools: Screwdrivers in as many flavors as you may need; generally the only two are phillips and slotted but you may need torx, star or others. Our goal is to remove the dust covers for maintenance, not take apart any of the mechanisms inside which usually require the specialized drivers.
    Canned air: Not compressed air (which is usually very wet)
    Grease: White Lithium works well, but any good grease will do. I use white wheel bearing grease.
    Solvent: I like Hoppes No.9 for cleaning; it has the added benefit of making my sewing machine smell like my firearms. If your machine has plastic parts, and most do, make sure the solvent you use will not damage them.
    Machine oil: Again, I like the Hoppes machine oil, but 3 in 1 or any other good lubricating machine oil will work.
    Small brush: A good brass brush works well, but so does a repurposed toothbrush if it has pretty stiff bristles.
    Patches or cotton swabs: A good wash rag will work and the cotton swabs work to get into tight spots; just be careful not to leave bits of the swab tip in the mechanisms.
    Steel Wool: For polishing the shuttle hook.
    Picks: You can use a seam ripper, small awls or the like; just be aware that a very sharp point could gouge or damage plastic parts.
    Light: A good light is mandatory, I use my headlamp.
    Pliers: Small needle nose may be all you need, but a good set of hemostats could also come in handy.
    Time: Two hours or more for the first time, less for subsequent tasks.
    Work space: Clean, level, comfortable.
    Digital camera: Snap a shot before you disassemble something as a reference for reassembly.
    Owner's manual: If you have one it is a great resource for oiling points and other information.

    I am opening up my Kenmore machine (her name is Rosie); I have owned this machine for four years but she is considerably older than that (early 70's). I am the second owner of this machine and I should have done this when I bought her; it has been four years and she is a little rough now.
    A few reasons why:
    I noticed a distinct 'clacking' that wasn't there before.
    I had also noticed she was a little jumpy at slower speeds and tended to need more power/RPMs than I thought for detail work.
    Lastly, she would sometimes fray the top thread especially when using heavier weight thread.

    Notice that timing, binding or balance are not any of the things I am having trouble with. If I suspected any of these I would have taken her to a repair shop or, if I had found these to be the cause after I opened her up I would have taken her in.

    Okay, getting inside!
    Most modern machines (yes early 70's is modern) only require a one side tear down. What this means is you only need to remove one side of the machine to gain access to the internal mechanisms. This allows us to perform routine maintenance without needing to take apart anything that would need to be retimed when we reassemble.

    Take your time and find all the screws; they will be accessible but may be hidden behind aesthetic plugs or may only be accessible after the knobs have been removed. DO NOT try to force anything apart!
    Unplug the machine, remove the knobs/sliders; generally you do not need to remove the pully.

    Once all the dust covers have been removed you will have full access to the mechanisms. The major parts are:
    The head
    The upper arm
    The motor and/or pully
    The lower arm
    The bobbin/shuttle
    Again, there is no need to take any of this apart, we are just going to clean and lube.

    I found what was causing the binding in my girl; you can see in this image that the needle bar bearing had a pretty good wad of thread wrapped around it. It was easy enough to remove the C-clip on the upper shaft, remove the connecting rod, clear the thread, lube and reinstall.
    A word here: When you remove a component like this only do one at a time! It is easy to get parts confused and reassembled in the wrong place, take pictures for reference.



    The original grease had become very hard so I removed this as well and added new grease.

    I also added grease to the main drive gear after giving it alight cleaning. Oil and grease go a long way, no need to over do it. Add about the same amount as what was there originally. If you put too much it will be slung off into parts where it may cause trouble; this is especially true around the shuttle/bobbin area where excess grease will foul the thread.



    It's a good idea to snap a few images of the belt(s) model number as well (or write them down).





    You can see the needle bar, presser foot bar and offset are in pretty good shape; just a light clean and drop of oil is all that was required.



    The shuttle hook was causing the problems with frayed thread; it had a small burr and was in need of polishing. I used 00 steel wool to remove the burr and polish the hook to a nice finish. No need to break out the dremel, a little oil and steel wool will do the job!





    The shuttle race was disassembled cleaned and checked for burrs and nicks; none found.



    The shuttle drive was cleaned and greased.



    The bobbin stop, which guides the thread carrier, was also removed, cleaned and greased. The small rectangles in this are actually greases wells, I filled them with white grease, cleaned the thread carrier and reassembled.



    Thread carrier.



    The shuttle drive is attached to the lower arm; there may be several cams in this area that drive multiple components (feed dog etc). Carefully remove any residue that may be present (metal powder, plastic duct etc) and the old grease prior to adding the new grease.



    Along the way remember this: Don't attempt to move components by way of pushing or pulling; it is much better to spin the pulley to get things to move where you need them.

    Reinstall the dust covers and give her a good long trial; slow, fast, zig-zag etc. Make sure the thread tension is correct; sometimes the thread tensioner gets bound when reinstalling the cover (if it is on the cover). If you are sucking the top thread all the way under the stitch with the bobbin thread flat, you probably have an upper tension problem. Don't attempt to adjust the bobbin tension, find out why the upper thread tension isn't working; especially if it was working before the tear down!

    Congratulations, your machine is ready for another five years of hard work!
    "I aim to misbehave." - Capt. Mal Reynolds
    Mind of a Rat Youtube Channel

  2. #2
    New Member brotherjohn's Avatar
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    wow some great macro shots what kinda camera ya got?
    nail your shoes to the kitchen floor lace 'em up and bar the door and thank the lucky stars for the roof over you

  3. #3
    Rat's Avatar
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    Canon, is there another brand?
    "I aim to misbehave." - Capt. Mal Reynolds
    Mind of a Rat Youtube Channel

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    Wow Rat, this was inspiring. I've never opened my 7 year old machine and the thread tension is definitely not what it used to be. But, I've been hesitating due to apprehension.

    Thanks! You've pushed me over the hump now: I'm going in!
    Mike
    "Life is a Project!"

  5. #5
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    One of the things i don't like about my machine is all the electronic gobildy gook. I'm still terrified to open it up for real upkeep. I do open it up enough for lint/thread/dust bunny removal. When I first got it I had major tension problems until I found the giant dust bunny in the bobbin compartment.

  6. #6
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    Some really nice in-depth looks. A few of these tutorials and I might be on my way!
    The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering. - St. Augustine

    Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.
    - Bob Marley

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigevilgrape View Post
    One of the things i don't like about my machine is all the electronic gobildy gook. I'm still terrified to open it up for real upkeep. I do open it up enough for lint/thread/dust bunny removal. When I first got it I had major tension problems until I found the giant dust bunny in the bobbin compartment.
    Don't be scared, people do it all the time. In fact my wife's machines are all micro-electronic and I clean them regularly. I think they need more frequent cleaning than the mechanical machines; especially the sergers!

    Unplug everything and cycle power switches several times; this will discharge the capacitors on the boards.
    Use 'electronic safe' canned air. Most canned air is a type of refrigerant (usually R-134A) so it is in liquid phase in the can and exits as a vapor once you press the trigger. Never invert the can as this will eject a liquid with a boiling point of about -15 that will freeze any exposed skin on contact and may damage sensitive electronics.
    As an alternative you can use a hand pump; it looks like a one of those blue snot suckers we use on infants but it is bigger and mine is black. You just pump it to loosen the debris. This works best if you use a small vacuum cleaner with an electronics tip attached. You can blow the debris free with the hand pump and then the vacuum extracts it nicely. Small brushes, like stiff bristled paint brushes (think water color brushes) will also help clean the boards of debris. My brushes are natural fiber, not synthetic, which are supposed to not generate static electricity when used. But, I know guys that use synthetic brushes with no problems; just stay grounded...

    Keep solvents, oils and grease away from the boards.

    Again, the object is just to clean, not repair.
    You can do it!
    "I aim to misbehave." - Capt. Mal Reynolds
    Mind of a Rat Youtube Channel

  8. #8
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    I have a bulb air squeeze thing for cleaning my lenses, it sounds like thats what you are talking about. Maybe this will be a good project for the weekend. I have been wanting to take it in for a tune up/clean out since I inherited it 2 years ago, but its so expensive and the machine has been running fine.

  9. #9
    New Member brotherjohn's Avatar
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    I have a vintage Singer 99 that has little holes for lubrication points that my little bottle of 3-in-1 oil fits into very nicely
    nail your shoes to the kitchen floor lace 'em up and bar the door and thank the lucky stars for the roof over you

  10. #10
    Ramblinrev's Avatar
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    I do not advocate the use of 3-in-1 oil for use in sewing machines. This is a mixture of several different "lubricants" some of which dry rather than lubricate. I know it says it can be used on sewing machines and was widely used in the past. But I think a very light machine oil is a much better product to use. The 3-in-1 can is a very useful tool for getting drops of oil. But a pin point oiler is far superior imo. OYOM Oil your own machine
    I may be slow... But I sure am gimpy.

    "Bless you child, when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t'other way."
    Mrs. Loftus to Huck Finn

    We Don't Sew... We Make Gear! video series

    Important thread injector guidelines especially for Newbies

    Bobbin Tension - A Personal Viewpoint

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