Inspecting Electrical Wires on a Classic, Vintage Sewing Machine

Better safe than sorry…This is an especially great motto when it comes to electrical stuff.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people that have an old sewing machine that they picked up “attic fresh” don’t have bad wires on their machine.  For a while, I thought that I must just have incredibly bad luck and all of the machines with deteriorated wires just magically end up crossing my path.  But, now I know the real reason for the discrepancy. They aren’t looking closely enough at the wires.

 

  In order to inspect the wires, you have to get a really good look at them, all the way from one end to the other. 

On the potted motor machines like the 15-91 and 201-2, this means removing the junction block at the back of the machine and removing the thumb nuts that hold the connectors.  The wires coming from the motor have a black outer coating on them, but down behind the terminal, you can get a look at the actual wires underneath. If there is cracking, flaking, or stiffness to the wires, then the insulating material has broken down and I replace the wires. If I see any cracking of the black outer coating, I peel it off to look at the wires underneath. Almost always, they are cracking too.

See the wire to the left? It is off of a Signer 201-2.  It's the neutral wire that comes off the coil and goes to the junction box at the back of the machine.  I replaced it.  No,  the insulation wasn't crumbling, but it is was cracking. 

Here are some closeups:

 


Personally, I replace wires with cracking, crumbling, stiff, split, gummy, gooey, brittle, flaking, damaged or taped insulation.  These old machines have metal bodies and can easy become "live" with electrical current when the wiring is sub par.  This makes bad wiring a significant safety hazard on these machines.

Be sure to look at the wires for the lamp as well. On the 201-2’s they are usually fine, But the 15-91’s  and others often require new wiring to the light fixture as well. These, I HATE doing. Getting many of these fixtures apart and back together again is a royal pain. You can buy after market light fixtures, or you can remove the fixture altogether and use auxiliary lighting from another source.

Now, some folks will just stick heat shrink tubing over the bad wires, or patch up spots with electrical tape.  That’s their prerogative. When it comes to matters of safety like this, I replace the wires. Better safe than sorry…..besides, my hair is curly enough.

Please visit my website Sew-Classic.com
 

 
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  • Saturday, February 21. 2009 catherine wrote:
    Thanks so much for this post and your site as a whole! I hadn't realized I could rewire my machine on my own, which I will definitely be doing now. Where do you get supplies for rewiring? I have a 201-2 and I know the power & footpedal cords are not in good condition because I always have to jiggle the connection to get the machine to work. :/ That is not good.
    1. Saturday, February 21. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Catherine,

      One would need some basic wiring and soldering skills and  the required tools and equipment  in order to rewire a sewing machine.  The power cord and foot controller are only a small portion of the wires that need to be inspected and probably replaced .  The absolute vast majority of 201-2's that cross my bench have deteriorated wiring to the motor as well.

      Since you are unaware that the supplies for this type of project are readily available at your local hardware store, I assume that you have not done any electrical wiring in the past.  It would be important to have at least some basic knowledge and skill about electrical  wiring, connections, soldering, etc.. BEFORE attempting to rewire a sewing machine.

      There is a video on soldering on this page of my blog. Your local library will have books on basic wiring theory along with "how-to's".

      Out of concern that someone wouldn't understand the information, and then hurt themselves or worse,  I do NOT offer any tutorials on how to re-wire a sewing machine.
  • Saturday, April 04. 2009 Stephanie wrote:
    I'm sure glad I found your website. I just bought a 15-91 at an estate sale. I was doubtful about the wiring and you confirmed my fears!
    1. Saturday, April 04. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      IMHO, it's worth it to either rewire it or have it rewired.  These are high quality machines and once they are rewired and refurbished, they will provide many more decades of reliable service.  Truly an heirloom quality machine!
  • Monday, May 11. 2009 Tools UK wrote:
    Thanks for your great article.I would like to tell thanks for your effort.
  • Monday, July 20. 2009 Electrical Rewiring wrote:
    Thanks for this post
  • Tuesday, August 25. 2009 Joey wrote:
    Very good topic on the 15-91 and also the other machines you have reviewed as well. I think you have missed something in the electrical section that is very important. Those very old capacitors that are sometimes found inside the controller box or on the machine itself are or will fail soon. When they fail, the machine will run all by itself either slowly or at full speed. They are simply interference filters for radio and are not needed today. Singer themselves knew of this problem and advised unplugging the machine when not in use. Capacitors of this vintage are not reliable and must be replaced or disconnected! That is my thought on the matter.
    1. Tuesday, August 25. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Thanks for the tip Joey.  The original Singer Button controllers found on the 15-91 do not contain those capacitors/suppressors. .  Some earlier models, especially those sold in Europe may have them.  And you are correct, it is best to just remove them as they short out over time. And, yes these were intended to eliminate/ or reduce interference with radio signals of the day, and no longer serve any useful purpose.
  • Friday, August 28. 2009 Boise Electrician wrote:
    This post should be an eye opener for those with sewing machines. Usually women are the owners of sewing machines and I know for a fact that most women aren't crazy about fixing electrical wires so I am guessing most women know about the problem but they think they can't fix it alone and delay fixing until an electrician comes by. What do you think? Is my supposition right?
    1. Friday, August 28. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:

      I would say that if one has the knowledge, experience and desire to make the required electrical repairs themselves, then they should.  If not, then it's best to seek out some else who can do it safely. 


      1. Friday, September 25. 2009 Mo wrote:
        Instead of rewiring, which I am not knowledgeable enough to attempt or rich enough to have someone else do for me, is it safe to just use the machine plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter? Or is this not a good idea? Thanks, and I love your site.
        1. Friday, September 25. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
          A GFI outlet will not make deteriorated wiring safe. 
  • Friday, October 02. 2009 Make Money Online wrote:
    Great overview. Your style of writing is really a joy to read.
  • Saturday, November 28. 2009 Steve wrote:
    I'm in the process of rewiring an old 15-91. It it practicle to resolder new power wires directly to the field core/coils or is it best left alone and spliced. Original wires are showing their age.
  • Saturday, November 28. 2009 Steve wrote:
    I'm in the process of rewiring a 15-91. Is it practical to resolder the power wires at the field core/coils or better to splice the existing wire? Original wires are showing their age.
    1. Monday, November 30. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Steve,

      I open up the motor and solder new wires in place.  Since it's your project, you'll have to find what works best for you.
  • Wednesday, January 20. 2010 meilleur casino en ligne wrote:
    I have a wonderful Singer vintage machine that I use for my backup. It really hesitates when I push the petal button. Does anyone know if that is a motor problem or a petal problem? The stitching is wonderful! It sew like new in that respect. Thanks for any help you may be able to offer!
  • Saturday, January 23. 2010 utah electrician wrote:
    Appreciate the info, it’s good to know.
  • Thursday, January 28. 2010 holland blinds wrote:
    I’m impressed, you know what you’re talking about
  • Tuesday, February 09. 2010 registry cleaner reviews wrote:
    Fantastic post I thought it was extremely well executed and it helped me out a lot thanks again.
  • Monday, February 22. 2010 Sarah wrote:
    I have a singer 258. It was breaking the thread each time I'd sew so I researched, called a repairman and asked him to fix the top tension so he did & did a tune-up. The machine hardley sews a zig zag & won't do decorative stitches (using my cams). The repairman told me I need a new hook & that he'd have to take it to do that. He's charging $35 for it. Is that job simple & do you think it would fix the problem? Also, the machine sometimes makes like a purr before it starts up, is that an issue or is it normal? I'm just getting into machines & I must tell you I'm in love! Your site is amazing!! Thank you so much!!
    1. Tuesday, February 23. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Honestly, I don't tinker much with the Singer 258.   Without seeing the problem and seeing the machine  I can't really tellly you what will or won't solve the problem.

      Yes, the motors tpically make some noise as you begin to sew, especialy if you arre trying to go very slowly.   Having the machine as clean and well lubricated as possible makes the start up easiest on the motor. 
  • Saturday, March 06. 2010 Fridge wrote:
    Fascinating blog. Scary to think that people are taking these machines home with no real understanding of the dangers that could be lurking beneath those wires. Definitely think it is better to be on the safe side with anything electrical, if it’s second hand better get it checked by the experts before plugging it in.
  • Thursday, March 25. 2010 air conditioners wrote:
    Oof! These wires sure need some replacement! I'm happy to know that you can still get pieces for these sewing machines. I've been looking to tune up my mom's old machine so I can start making my own clothes. Thanks for the inspection tips!
  • Saturday, April 03. 2010 electrician wrote:
    Thanks for these tips! There are still a lot of these older sewing machines around, they are very well-built and last a long time, contrary to the new ones that break after a few years. Checking the wires is indeed very important as these pieces decay faster than the rest of the machine, usually.
  • Tuesday, April 06. 2010 Fridge wrote:
    Fascinating blog. Scary to think that people are taking these machines home with no real understanding of the dangers that could be lurking beneath those wires. Definitely think it is better to be on the safe side with anything electrical, if it’s second hand better get it checked by the experts before plugging it in.
  • Thursday, April 15. 2010 electrician wrote:
    Thanks for these tips! There are still a lot of these older sewing machines around, they are very well-built and last a long time, contrary to the new ones that break after a few years. Checking the wires is indeed very important as these pieces decay faster than the rest of the machine, usually.
  • Wednesday, May 26. 2010 Vern Townsend wrote:
    I agree with the other comments about the wiring. Nothing worse than bad wiring. Some years ago, and I do mean quite a few years ago, it was possible to find Teflon coated wiring w/silver conductors. It wasn't cheap, but you could count on it to last forever.~!
  • Monday, May 31. 2010 Margot wrote:
    vintage machines look always very nice but watch out though. Electrics could cause heat and with burnable stuff around such as
    goedkoopste lening could cause fire. You do not want the place to go up in fire of course.

    regards
    Carla
  • Friday, September 03. 2010 Donald wrote:
    Wow! That doesn't sound good at all! My finacee has a really old sewing machine, she got it from her grandmother! I wanna get it checked out now. Would you rcommend having an electrician check it out? Or should i look for a Sewing machine repair place?
    1. Wednesday, September 08. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Either should be able to check out the wires for you.
  • Tuesday, December 21. 2010 Zorba wrote:
    I'm looking for a round, 2 pin electrical connector as used on an old National. Do you have any sources? I'm told it was called a "Chicago Connector". I have an inquiry in with Belden - the maker of the connector - but hold out little hope...
    1. Friday, December 24. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      For parts queries, your best bet is to contact me directly.  I get SO many spammers trying to post to the blog that I can't keep up with it.  That part will only be available from a donor machine - NLA otherwise.

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