Sometimes recycling, upcycling, etc., is RESTORING something to its original functionality. Here is my 1918 model 43-5 Singer Industrial Sewing Machine that I had to do a lot of work on to bring back to working order. The sewing machine head was being used to hold a door open. The treadle base was going to be split apart and turned into an old sewing machine table. I have no issue with people upcycling treadle bases into other things, but I found out this machine is RARE. Less than 1,000 of this model was manufactured! It would be a shame to destroy a piece of functional history.
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PLEASE RESEARCH FIRST! There are many excellent sewing groups on Facebook, and they’re always willing to help you with information before you separate a sewer and base. You can upcycle the sewing head unit by donating or selling it for a few bucks to the vintage or antique groups for parts, if nothing else! The Singer Manufacturing Company is an American company that began to dominate the sewing machine industry in the late 1800s and is currently a leader. I don’t have any new Singer sewers, but their old machines were workhorses! The engines came equipped with all-metal gears, gorgeous cast-metal treadle bases, artistic foiling, and durable paint coatings that survive 100+ years! Don’t get me wrong; other sewing machine companies are great too, and I collect and restore many brands, but Singer’s hold on the market makes their products easy to maintain to this day, even on my 128-year-old machine.
Here’s the machine in the as-received condition. The current owner didn’t know how to adjust it or get it running correctly. I found that it was quite stiff and dry inside and dirty and had a lot of lint in the hook assembly.
You can see the rust, dirt, and peeling paint everywhere.
For those of you in the know, look at the size of this hook assembly. The soda can next to the hook assembly/bobbin unit is full-sized! I recently used this 99-year-old machine to repair my motorcycle gloves, and it worked perfectly!
My machine came to me with some issues that I discovered. The first one was that the treadle base had two fractures that required repair. The only way to repair them is to strip the paint and braise the iron. I sandblasted the treadle base after disassembling it all. Next, I braised the fractures and found that it was challenging. I had to add extra material because as it cooled (despite keeping it hot with the torch), they’d re-crack when I tried to add minimal solder. Next, I used a Dremel and various jewelry grinding bits to slowly sand down the braised areas until the shapes matched the iron curves. I decided to clean up the forming defects along the edges. It made the treadle very shiny-looking.
First, I repaired the fractures. The upper gold-colored joints are my repairs; the lower ones towards the bottom of the treadle leg are original from the factory. Next, I decided to clean up the forming errors and used a Dremel with a jewelry bit to clean in along the lettering/logo, and then ground down the excess and overflowed metal until the edges are smooth.
Here is the repaired leg after I cleaned up the logo and removed original casting sand, FOUR layers of repaints over the 99 years this machine has been in existence, and messy edges.
This piece is just after sandblasting. The Singer Industrial Sewing Machine frame was sloppy from the factory. It was not as critical to have an entirely smooth machine for industrial use as a home consumer. I ground down all these extra bits, blobs, and sloppy edges.
There are several options to repaint, and it’s up to your personal choice. The original “Japaning” paint was very durable. The parts were dipped into a thick coating process. Obviously, “Japaning” isn’t a home process. Many use automotive enamels. I read up on a Ford Model A & T board that many of them use appliance epoxy spray paint because it requires no primer, is very durable and moisture resistant, and the black is a true black. It also doesn’t “orange peel” as much as traditional enamels. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for prepping the surface and personal protective equipment recommendations. The challenging part about appliance epoxy is that it takes a week to cure fully, but for the ease of use, and no clear coating required, it was a satisfying choice.
Here’s the tabletop portion of the treadle base. It is dry to touch but still tender, so I let it cure for a week. I didn’t change the lightly pebbled texture that sand casting creates because that is part of these vintage and antique machines’ charm. I used almost two cans of appliance epoxy total, but it came out beautifully with one coat. It looks better than the automotive enamels, in my opinion.
A close up of the logo on one of the treadle legs. It came out very shiny, and the details are very discernible. :D
The classic treadle wheel. I had to do some masking around the holes and the bearing in the arm of this wheel portion, but I used standard blue masking tape.
Initially, many treadles had a standard gold paint over the logo on the treadle leg’s side. I decided to do that logo in three colors using gold, silver, and copper foiling paint. After it had dried, I masked around the logo shape and operated an automotive enamel to clear coat over the foiling paint, as it is easy to scratch off without a coating.
There are many YouTube videos on simple ways to clean vintage and antique sewing machines (VSMs). One of the best methods is to use the original Gojo hand cleaner WITHOUT PUMICE. That is CRITICAL, or you’ll destroy your machine’s finish. Learn this cleaning method by watching Ray Elkins in his YouTube video. I’ve included the video here for your convenience since he’s willing to share the information with the masses. :) I polished the bare metal surfaces with Simichrome Polish and a Dremel with a buffing tip, as well as a small wire wheel on the Dremel to remove rust. I always use TriFlow synthetic sewing machine oil to lubricate all the critical points and then original Singer Sewing Machine Oil to wipe down the body after cleaning it.