Refurbishing a Vintage Sewing Machine- What's That?

There is often some misunderstanding about what is involved in refurbishing a classic sewing machine the Sew-Classic way. This process goes beyond  what your local shop does when you take a machine in for a tune-up.  The Sew-Classic refurbishing process is a much more inclusive, in depth and comprehensive procedure.  I've taken a few photos that help illustrate this process on a  Singer 15-91.

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With experience, I've determined what parts are beneficial and necessary to remove to properly service, clean and refurbish the machine.  In this first photo, you will see some of the parts that I remove and disassemble. These parts have already been cleaned and are ready to be put back on the machine and adjusted as required. I have actually partially reassemble a few items for fear of loosing or damaging the teeny tiny or delicate parts.

I don't remove every single component from the machine.  That would be, simply put, stupid.  A good mechanic doesn't attempt to fix what ain't broke.  
click to enlarge

Then there are the electrical components.  It was necessary to partially reassemble the motor in order to place it in the photograph and not risk damaging it, but I still think the photo conveys the concept that i it needs to be taken apart for proper servicing and re-wiring.  The absolute, vast majority of potted motor machines (15-91 and 201-2) that cross my bench require re-wiring.  How do you know if a machine needs to be re-wired? This article explains how to inspect the wiring. 

You can see that the light fixture is only partially disassembled.  In order to rewire these, I must take apart and clean up the switch as well.  The switch is put back together for the photo.  These parts have also been cleaned and serviced and are ready for reassembly.

The EASY way to repair or re-wire the light fixture.

(click to enlarge)

Above,  there are some before and after photos of the motor/ worm gear on a potted motor Singer.  See all that dirty, nasty, old grease?  That is what was  supposedly lubricating the motor bearings before the machine was refurbished. - yuck! 
Products to Oil & Lubricate a Sewing Machine

Then, there is the head.  It looks weird all "naked", huh? 

This one has been cleaned and the finish has been waxed and polished.  It's all ready for reassembly as well, and it is going to be stunning when it's all back together.  Yes, that is a centennial badge.


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All back together!  What a STUNNING machine!   And it will sew and function just as nice as it looks.  After all, it's Sew-Classic!
More info on an INSTANT marked needle plate for any vintage machine!

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  • Saturday, February 07. 2009 BB wrote:
    What solvents do you use to clean the parts? Anything you've learned to avoid?
    1. Saturday, February 07. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      It depends on the part and whether or not it is on or off the machine. Kerosene works to dissolve old oil and goo and generally won't harm the finish, but must not come into contact with the electrical components.  Chrome/metal parts can be polished with a metal polish once they are removed from the machine.
      1. Saturday, March 20. 2010 Gus Webster wrote:
        Yo Jenny:
        What about "Goof Off -- The Ultimate Remover"? It smells vile (windows wide open!) and is stated to damage certain finishes, but it really cleans, and leaves no residue. It is supposed to remove just about any kind of crud, grease, etc. I've had good results with in on a variety of projects requiring old grease or oil removal.
        1. Saturday, March 20. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
          Yo Jenny:
          What about "Goof Off -- The Ultimate Remover"? It smells vile (windows wide open!) and is stated to damage certain finishes, but it really cleans, and leaves no residue. It is supposed to remove just about any kind of crud, grease, etc. I've had good results with in on a variety of projects requiring old grease or oil removal.

          I wouldn't advise using it on any painted or japaned surface of a machine.
  • Thursday, March 12. 2009 pat wrote:
    what type of polish or cleaner do you use on the Japan finish? What should you never use?
    1. Thursday, March 12. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      A non-abrasive, carnauba wax should be safe, but you always want to test any product on an inconspicuous spot first.  Many household cleaners and some polishes can damage the finish or silver the decals.
  • Sunday, March 22. 2009 JT wrote:
    I was wondering if using WD-40 as a cleaner is recommended? Some guides I've come across regarding cleaning vintage machines, state that WD-40, like kerosene is a good grease/oil remover, although not a good lubricant itself. Is this true?
    1. Sunday, March 22. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      I don't use WD-40 at all. 
  • Saturday, May 16. 2009 Deb wrote:
    What kind of grease do you use on a 15-91? Mine is running kind of slowly, so I imagine it needs to be cleaned?
    1. Sunday, May 17. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Products to Oil & Lubricate a Sewing Machine
      1. Saturday, September 26. 2009 cliff wrote:
        The article recommends grease for wick-pot lubrication. What do I replace the wick with? It is very old, I assume not worth trying to work with.
  • Monday, June 01. 2009 Caroline wrote:
    Hello, I just purchased a singer 66-16 at a thrift store and it's so beautiful! It needs some love but I thought to ask, other than dusting and oiling, is there anything else that might make the engine slower?

    While pressing evenly on the pedal it will make a couple stitches at a normal speed, then slow way down for a couple stitches, then speed back up. Do you think I need a new motor? New wiring?

    Any links to a step by step breakdown of cleaning the machine?

    Thanks so so much, this site has been very helpful!
    1. Monday, June 01. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      There could be a problem with the motor, or the machine may just be gummed up or bindingh somewhere.  Hard to tell from here.

      Inspecting Electrical Wires on a Vintage Sewing Machine

      Resources for DIY Sewing Machine Repair & Maintenance- see the Sewing machine maitenance pdf
  • Wednesday, June 17. 2009 Melissa wrote:
    I recently got a 201 and the paint is peeling. Is there anything I can do about it?
  • Friday, June 26. 2009 rpn wrote:
    Thanks very much. My wife just scored a 15-91 on a nice little table with bench. I'll be cleaning it up for her and was worried about solvents, cleaners, polishes. Also really appreciate the recommendations on wiring evaluation. I probably would have brushed past that. Great website. Please keep it up.
  • Wednesday, July 15. 2009 Liz wrote:
    I have recently purchased a 15-91 and I am stuck as to how to remove the old (I don't know what to call it but it dulls the body of the machine)dirt/grease on the body of the machine. Mild soap and water just bead and don't remove it. I am afraid to use anything strong lest it remove the finish. A picture you have of the motor/worm gear above show what I am talking about. It is a dullness gunk. Any advice?
  • Saturday, July 25. 2009 NandH wrote:
    We think we have a 1941 15-91 blackside. We are having a difficult time backing out the screw that is on the outside of the balance wheel. The manual says to hold the balance wheel and to loosen the stop motion screw. The problem we are having is that the needle bar continues to move as we turn the screw. Is there a cluthch assembly that could be problem and is this screw reverse thread? Thank you for any help or information.
  • Thursday, July 30. 2009 Deb in AZ wrote:
    So glad I stumbled across your blog. I also have a 15-91 centennial badged machine like yours. It was shipped to me in AZ from PA by a fellow who sold it to me on ebay, he even shipped the cabinet and bench to me. The machine was purchased new by his mom and she used it to sew her clothing, pillows and curtains and even sewed his Halloween costumes when he was little. (I was so happy to have the history on this 15-91). I have not used the machine yet, I want to clean it first and will follow your instructions to do that. Thank you for freely sharing your knowledge about these great vintage lovelies.
  • Tuesday, August 04. 2009 crystal wrote:
    hi, please can you tell me how to thread the upper thread on this type of machine i was given one (it's pink, says it's a western 101 de luxe), but it has the same head set up with the tension on the side rather than the front. i cant find any info on it anywhere.
    1. Wednesday, August 05. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      You can download a manual for free at the bottom of this page:

      It Looks Just Like an Old Singer.. Sort of... Review of The HA-1, Class 15 “Clone”

  • Friday, August 14. 2009 Cheryl Robar wrote:
    My friends dropped off a Singer 66-18 they found on the side of the road. It has rust everywhere it is suppose to look silver. The machine runs even though the belt is gone. Is there a point when it just isn't worth the time or money to restore? Machine is missing part of the tension dial things too.
    1. Saturday, August 15. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      The singer 66 is an excellent quality machine- better build than any new machine on the market at any price.  How much time, money,  energy or other resources  you are willing to invest in a machine is something that only you can dertermine.

      As far as determining the value of a particular machine, I can offer this article:

      How Much is a Sewing Machine Worth

      Jenny from Sew-Classic
  • Sunday, September 06. 2009 Judith wrote:
    Thank you for this great article and website. I've just moved my late MIL's 15-91 from storage to start refurbing it, and this information is wonderful.

    It's a centennial, it has the badge! I had no idea what that was about until I came here...

    This machine, I hope, will be replacing my Brother Pacesetter whose little electronic control surface died after only a few years of use. I bet this one will sew better too.
  • Wednesday, April 07. 2010 Richelle wrote:
    I purchase a 1928 singer and need an manuel. Any idea on how to find one?
    1. Thursday, April 08. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      First you will need to know what model it is.  You can look up the serial number at the Singer site, or you can download and browse through this book and see if you can find a machine that matches what you have.  Then, once you know the model number, you can see if the Singer site has a manual available for free download.

  • Friday, April 23. 2010 kimberley wrote:
    I have ordered the zig zag attachement with the cams and the buttonholer attachement but it just dawned on me that the throat plate has a small hole so how do the attachments work? do they come with a differnet throat plate?
    1. Friday, April 23. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      The attachment can't and doesn't casue the needle to swing, so the straight stitch throat plate would still be used.  Read the manual for your attachment and you'll see how it's used and how it works.
  • Friday, April 23. 2010 kimberley wrote:
    Thank you, I don't actually have the attachment yet, i ordered it AND then thought about the throat plate issue so you gave me some reassurance that the money won't be wasted.
  • Wednesday, June 09. 2010 lorene wrote:
    Hello, I would like to know why,,it is so hard to find helpful information on machine repair. It seems to me ,most information is blocked to the general public ...except for you site
    and a few others.. I can find all kinds of info for most other repair or re adjusting. thanks for all your help..
    1. Wednesday, June 09. 2010 Basil wrote:
      There's actually a lot of information out there. This site has a great deal (as you already point out), and there are numerous groups at Yahoo Groups devoted to various kinds of vintage machines, most of them with many help files and documents (plus member guidance) available. Then there's ISMACS, Needle Bar, Stitchers Guild, and Pattern Review.
  • Thursday, June 10. 2010 lorene wrote:
    Maby I was unclear about "My" problem..I want to be able to repair my machines from a manual designed for the repair of [my] of machines..I cannot buy a service manual from the company of the manfactuer.. I would also like to be able to learn how to repair other machines and give some compatition to some of these people who over charge and still do not get it right..
  • Tuesday, June 22. 2010 Monika wrote:
    I have a Singer G750605 could anyone tell me where I could get a manual or where I could find out more about this maschien?
    1. Tuesday, June 22. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
  • Monday, August 16. 2010 Joan B. wrote:
    I use to have an older machine similar to this one. It worked perfect, but didn't look quite as nice as yours. My husband is an EMT and I use to have to patch his EMT Pants for him at least once a month. The machine worked like a charm!
  • Tuesday, December 21. 2010 Tom Nelson wrote:
    I'm refurbing a 201-2 and had a few questions on what you're using to clean the metal? I saw no WD-40 as a lube, but what are you using as a degreaser that isn't hurting the paint? I saw the motor shaft on yours and it looks a lot better than the one in mine. Not sure what you did to clean that one out. Mine works fine, but it's rather ugly and the wiring in there is getting a little old and flakey, still works fine but since I have it apart I figure I'll replace everything I can.

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