Singer model 66 treadle

by gorthx

And now for something completely different…several months back I picked up a 1912 Singer model 66 “Redeye” off of Craigslist. I was looking for a completely different machine, but I’ve wanted a treadle for a long time, and from the photos it looked in ok shape. One thing led to another and I found myself driving a ways east of town on a reasonably nice day that I otherwise would have spent biking, to check out this machine.

IMAG0251

The good:
– the treadle pedal & drive wheel moved freely
– it has a metal pitman; the wood ones are prone to drying out, cracking, and often end up missing
– the (oak) cabinet’s ornamentation is intact; sometimes the wood carvings come off, or drawers are missing, etc
– the handwheel on the machine head1 moved
– the decals on the head were in pretty good shape overall; they tend to get rubbed off with use. This machine is over 100 years old, after all.

The bad:
– layer of grime on everything
– paint splatters all over the cabinet; it was going to need stripping completely.
– no belt so I couldn’t actually test it

I’ve since decided that one should examine these things in daylight and not in a warehouse. As an alternative, flash photos will highlight problem areas better than you can see them with your eyeballs. And next time, I’ll bring a belt with me so I can determine whether the machine runs or not. That said, I’m glad I bought it because fixing it up was a good experience and I now have a machine that sews better than my formerly TOTL European machine :koff:Bernina2:koff: for much less money.

And yes, these things are “heavier than a dead preacher”3 so come prepared with additional muscle or tools to tear it down so you can take it home easily. Or both.

There are 4 projects here:
– cabinet refurb
– treadle refurb
– head external refurb
– head internal refurb

All of these took significantly more time than I expected; I really didn’t know what I was getting into. To keep posts to a reasonable length, I’ll talk about the cabinet & head outside first, and the treadle and head internals separately.

A full photo set is on flickr.

The head – outside
As I mentioned, this machine’s decals were in pretty nice shape. I was interested in keeping them that way, so cleaning the outside of the head basically just involved rubbing them very very gently with oil in order to remove the grime. My BF actually volunteered to do this, but then, he used to detail cars, and has the patience for this kind of thing. This is probably anathema to some people, but I didn’t want to look at the “patina” (read: yucky old brown finish), so off it came with some rubbing alcohol. A coat of carnauba wax made it shine again. Metal polish took most of the rust off of the chrome pieces, and that was that.

The cabinet
In addition to the layer of grime, this machine appeared to have been left uncovered while someone nearby spraypainted. The treadle pedal was almost solid white and the cabinet was speckled all over; there was even a handprint on the back.

I broke the cabinet down into its component pieces and used Citristrip to remove the old finish. Citristrip does a much better job indoors at temps over 60*F than in a 40*F garage. This was my first time stripping carved wood, and I don’t intend to repeat the experience.

My method:
– glop on the citristrip & wait until it’s ready. If it’s starting to get clear & a little dry, like it’s “setting up”, it’s getting close.
– with a plastic scraper, remove as much of the stripper & old finish as you possibly can. Old credit cards work great for this, if you are too cheap to go buy something you are just going to throw away anyway.
– around the carved wood, I used a brass brush to get rid of the stripper. This is not recommended for soft woods, and probably wasn’t advisable for oak – IOW, don’t do this. A stiff nylon brush would have been easier on the wood, but didn’t do jack about removing the crud.
– remove remaining stripper with 00 steel wool soaked in mineral spirits (odorless will work fine for this.)
– remove more remaining stripper with a rag soaked in mineral spirits
– remove still more remaining stripper with another rag soaked in mineral spirits (this stuff was hard to get rid of)

The PNW is a very humid environment, and the veneer had buckled and pulled away from the core over the years. Just few small chips were missing, so I opted to re-glue the loose veneer. I only own a couple of clamps, so this step took several days.

Once the wood was dry, I filled the screw holes, sanded that down, and then all that was left was a quick buff with 0000 steel wool (which I’m told is too fine for oak, but it made a palpable difference), a swipe with tack cloth, and it was ready for finish. I use Tried & True Danish oil on almost all of my wood furniture; it’s not as protective as polyurethane, but it’s a lot easier to apply and I love the way it looks. And smells. I put two coats on for now, and then reassembled the cabinet.

Next up: head internals.


1 – The head is the part that actually does the sewing.
2 – Alternate title: “Nothing sews like a Bernina… except this Singer I have from 1912.”
3 – http://www.granny-miller.com/treadle-sewing-machine-advice/

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