I'd happily spend the weekend tearing a machine down, but that's not everyone's cup of tea. An experienced sewist friend told me "Most sewers don't care or want know anything about the mechanics [of the machine]. They just want to sew." I get that. But I still want to use this blog to illustrate some simple things you can do to keep your machine in top condition.
Experienced wrenchers may find my tutorials too dumbed-down. There's a reason for that. A lot of people tried their best to help me in the beginning, but because they were already experienced, they'd say things like "take your screwdriver," or "get a soldering gun and some solder;" they already knew in their head exactly what kind of screwdriver or tool, and they'd assume I did too. So I'd go to the store to buy a soldering gun and find out there's four different kinds, each of them different wattages. And five types of solder, "lead-free," "rosin core," "60/40," "63/37" and I wouldn't know what to buy. I'd guess anyway and usually buy the wrong thing.
When I'm learning something new I need everything spelled out for me, because I'm a little thick that way. So I'm going to write the exact kind of tutorials I wish I had read when I started out. I also hope to reach the greatest amount of people, including the tool-challenged and the clumsy, so I'll err on the side of overexplaining.
Before we can get to making some common adjustments and fixes for your machines, I'll need to talk tools a bit. I'll start with screwdrivers.
There are two types of screwdriver blades: Wedge-shaped and hollow-ground.
|Wedge-shaped / no good|
|Hollow-ground / good|
A stripped screw is a real pain and you want to avoid it at all costs. It has to be drilled out to be removed, and then you need to buy a replacement screw. Since Singer used custom screws, you can't just run down to the hardware store to get another one; some companies make replica screws, but if you can't get one of those you'll need to get one off a parts machine. (See bottom of this entry for resources.)
Here's a faceplate screw on a 15-91. See how the slot is pretty square in cross-section?
When you put in the correct-size hollow-ground screwdriver, it fits perfectly and does not jiggle at all.
If you put a wedge-shaped screwdriver in, it does not fit properly. Look at all of the room left between the blade and the slot. This is a recipe for a stripped screw.
If I put in a thinner wedge-shaped screwdriver, it reaches the bottom of the slot okay, but there is still way too much space between the blade and the slot. Not good.
When you select a screwdriver bit, it must fit perfectly in the slot not only in the narrow dimension, but in the wide dimension. If it only fits well in one dimension, you can still strip the screw.
Another thing to watch out for is angles. Whenever you remove a screw, you always want the driver to be going straight into the screw, not off at an angle.
Something you will be doing a lot of, if you have a lot of machines and want to keep them running clean, is removing the needle plate and feed dogs. If you use a straight screwdriver to do this, you can see that the position of the machine's arm prevents you from getting the bit straight into the screw:
Zooming in, we can see that the bit is not seated properly in the screw. Not good.
Please do not try to remove screws from an angle like this, because if you're clumsy, as I can be, there's a good chance you'll strip it.
I'll show you a few different ways to get those tricky screws out in the next entry, and I'll also review several different brands of screwdrivers and bits, as well as cover where you can get them, and what you should or shouldn't buy depending on your needs.
Some Resources for Replacement Screws
There are two places I use myself:
Jenny from Sew-Classic sells replica screws (and more, which I'll cover later) that are commonly missing or damaged on old Singers: Needle plate screws, feed dogs screws, the presser foot knob-type screws, even the set screws that go into the hinges underneath the machine when it's in a case or cabinet. Since Singer's screws were custom I worried about replicas not fitting perfectly, but every type of screw I've ordered from Sew-Classic fit dead-on.
If you need original Singer screws and/or screws that Jenny doesn't have, Duane over at Singer Original Vintage Products has everything. They're more expensive because these are genuine parts; he has a huge collection of Singer parts machines and can find just about anything you need.
Go on to Screwdrivers, Part 2: Removing Your Needle Plate and Feed Dogs