Sunday, July 14, 2013
A Singer 401a and Greasy Terminal Prongs
Hi everyone, I know, long time no talk. I recently got to meet Elizabeth from My Sewing Machine Obsession and that was pretty cool. She mentioned that I hadn't written in a while. Over a year!
I've been busy with work and fixing sewing machines on the side, even making housecalls in Manhattan. If you need repair work done on your machine, are in NYC and/or can bring your machine to me in lower Manhattan, drop a line.
Anyways, a customer brought this Singer 401a to me. She came my way from Peter Lappin's sewing blog. The customer had just purchased the machine from a "reputable" seller online, and the machine had been damaged in shipping, with one spool pin broken off. She asked if I could fix it, I said no problem.
When she arrived with the machine, she mentioned that after five minutes of sewing, the machine would begin to emit a smell. I told her I'd check it out.
Well, never mind the spool pin, I was appalled to see the condition of the machine. So much so that I subsequently looked up the seller. I will not mention him by name, but based on his reputation and self-description, any of us would probably buy a machine from this guy in a heartbeat. He has been working on machines for longer than I've been alive, so I cannot understand how he let these things go.
The first thing I went to do is plug her machine in to uncover the source of the smell, but I stopped dead in my tracks. Check it out:
See that green stuff? Old Singer lubricant (grease) turns that shade of green after many years, I've seen it inside plenty a machine. And here it is on the terminal prongs--not good. Even worse, there was more on the cable:
Folks if you ever see this, do NOT plug your machine in. Electricity should never mix with oil, grease, or any kind of lubricant. The woman who brought me the machine is lucky that the machine didn't start a fire.
It's not difficult to clean old grease off of metal, you just go at it with Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. So I'm really surprised the seller was so careless. Here's the terminal after I cleaned it:
However, I was not able to get the grease out of the power cable. There's no way I can see inside, so there's no way I can ensure I've removed every last bit of grease. I told the customer her cheapest option was to order a replacement cable from Sew-Classic. Since it's only $6.99, it really bothered me that the original seller didn't supply one rather than the grease-soaked one.
The rest of the machine wasn't much better. There was an antique-looking piece of thread jammed under the hook assembly, providing friction:
It took me a little time, since it was wound around the shaft, but I fished the thing out. I estimated it was 8 inches long, but I measured it just now out of curiosity and it was a foot.
And the rest of the machine was just filthy. I don't mean the body of the machine, which almost doesn't matter--that's basically cosmetic--but the working parts of the machine, like the tension assembly. I stripped every part that needed it to give it a thorough cleaning. Here are the before-and-after shots:
I saved the spool pin for last. I'm sorry I don't have photos of this part, but I'll explain how to do it in case one of you needs to. With a 401, you have to take the lid holding the spool pins off. I futzed around with the hinges for a while trying to figure out how to remove it without breaking it, then finally realized you just keep moving the lid in the open direction, gently, until it pops off. (This is only the second slant-needle machine I've worked on, I'm usually doing older cast-iron models.)
Then I was going to hammer out the spool pin using a hammer and a blunt nail, which is how I've gotten broken spool pins out of the base of a 201-2 and 15-91 (where you place the spool for bobbin winding). But after clamping the lid upside down to my workbench, I worried that hammering it out might bend the lid.
So instead I drilled the spool pin out, since it was plastic. What you do is start with a 1/16th" bit and drill through the center of the broken spool pin. (Try to get it as dead-center as you can, because you don't want to hit the metal part of the lid and potentially ruin the hole.) Then you just drill through the hole with progressively larger drill bits, and eventually the spool pin fragments just disintegrate and fall out of the hole.
That's the tricky part. Replacing a plastic spoon pin is easy, you just wedge it in there manually, you don't have to tap it in with a hammer like you do with a metal spool pin.
Using one of my own grease-free cords, I spent twenty minutes stitching the machine in and running it full-tilt. No burning smell, and a nice, strong-running motor in this machine.
There's a couple of things I want to say. While I cleaned the customer's machine for a few hours, I didn't give it what I call the "Million-Dollar Treatment," where I slave over a machine for weeks or even months as a time-consuming hobby. Because I think no customer is going to pay for what I'd have to charge them for that kind of time. So I didn't get into every last nook and cranny but instead cleaned up the most offensive and function-affecting areas.
Secondly, to be fair, I do not know what condition the original seller received the machine in. Maybe it was a total train wreck and he brought it back from the dead, and maybe I oughtn't malign him?
Then again, there's no excuse for neglecting basic safety. Yeah, that settles it. Far as I'm concerned the grease on the power cable is a damning indictment. Can you imagine if this poor woman had burned her house down over a sewing machine? Folks, if you're ever going to buy a used machine, please do inspect the terminal and power cable carefully to be sure they're not covered in grease.
I don't mean to be sensationalist or self-promoting. I have never, ever heard of someone burning their house down in a fire caused by a sewing machine. But common sense dictates that any sewing machine repairperson ought to do their best to minimize those risks. It took me less than fifteen minutes to get the grease off of the prongs, and ordering a new cable takes less time than that. Those things should have been done during the initial refurbishment.
If you see that green grease on your terminal prongs, clean it off with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol, then give it plenty of time to dry off before you plug it back in. And if your power cable has grease in the ports, recycle it and buy a new one--$6.99 is a small price to pay for peace of mind.