Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Treadle Irons. NOT a tutorial, just looks like one.

Restoration Field Notes
 All of us who are interested in bringing the old machines back to life have read a lot of contradictory information on the boards about what to do and how to do it.  The most accurate advice (and plenty of others have said this also) is "there is no one way to do things."  Chemicals that do a beautiful job on one machine destroy the finish on another machine.

I'm planning a series of blogs with "field notes" in which I will tell you what I did, why I did it, what else you might consider doing, what I screwed up, what I did to fix it, and the truly astonishing revelation of how long it took to do it.  These may look like tutorials, but that would assume that I know what I am doing.  Usually I don't. 

This is a really long post and it is ONLY about treadle irons, so read on ONLY if that topic fascinates you.  Tune in next week for more cute pictures of Heather and her adorable children and what they have been creating with their people-powered sewing machines.  

A Tale of Two Treadle Irons
Treadle on the left:  Before.                       Treadle on the right:  After.

Two set of treadle irons recently passed through my hands that had very different characteristics. 
Side by side before restoration they appeared to be an almost identical dirty brown.  One had layers of greasy dust and the other one had dust and light rust.

My only experience is with Singer treadles, so that's what I am talking about here.

Remove the cabinet from the irons

This is easier and less intimidating than you might think.  There are four screws that hold the cabinet on to the top of the irons, and there may be additional brackets holding them on to the legs .  Peek under there and you will see them.  Take them out.  Lift the cabinet off.  It isn't heavy and one person might be able to do it, but it is bulky so if you have an extra person around, grab them for a minute.  Literally, a minute.

You can skip this step, but it really is simple and quick to do and it makes cleaning the treadle irons much, much easier.

It's also possible to disassemble the treadle base but I never have.  If the treadle is operating (pedal moves the pitman rod that moves the wheel), that's good enough for me.  And if it is not operating, I would not have bought it in the first place.  There are too many decent treadles out there at decent prices for me to bother with a broken one or one with rust or missing pieces.

Total time required:  less than 5 minutes

Repair or replace parts

I would only do this if I had inherited a family treadle that needed repair.  Objects with family history are in a special category that transcends economic considerations. 

If you have acquired a non-family non-working treadle, you will probably find it cheaper to  buy another treadle than to buy parts to fix it. Of course, a sudden onset of VSMAD often results from the initial treadle acquisition, so you may just consider that first treadle as a parts machine for your future treadles.

VSMAD:  Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder

Remove any rust

Extensive rust would also deter me from buying a treadle, but you may spot an otherwise decent, functioning treadle with a few spots of rust.

Someone else will need to chime in on rust removal.  See below on what I tried that did not work.

Clean the irons

Here is a project where you don't have to be obsessively careful about cleaning products.  I have used a variety of kitchen cleaners (PineSol, Mr. Clean and the cheapo orangey stuff)

Slosh the cleaner on a section of the irons with a brush or a cloth, scrub.  Use a toothbrush to get in the crevices.  Wipe it off.  Repeat.  Repeat,  Repeat.  Repeat.  Turn it upside down.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  You get the drift.

Greasy, furry logo before cleaning

There's a good chance that it has not been cleaned in 100 years.  The first one I cleaned had greasy grunge that actually looked like brown fur.  Just keep scrubbing and cleaning until it is gone.  Your goal is to get all of the dirt off.  Once you begin to get down to the actual paint you should be able to distinguish between an area that is tolerably clean and one that still needs further scrubbing. 

Don't worry about rinsing at the end.  There is one more step to go that will remove any residue from the cleaner.

If possible, do this outdoors.  First, the horrible brown stuff that will flow down off the treadle base has to go somewhere, and outside is a better place for it than your floors.  Next, there are so many nooks and crannies on a treadle base that even in the best interior lighting you will not be able to see all of the dirty bits easily.  Full sunlight is the way to go. 

Some of the paint may have chipped off, and some may be loose and will come off with the cleaning.  If it is loose enough to do this, I want it to come off now. 

Approximate time will vary according to the degree of filth.  The brown furry greasy one took about 2 hours to clean.  

Dusty rusty one on left, before cleaning
One of my treadles had light rust under the dust, and I thought some 0000 steel wool might take the bloom of rust off.  I was wrong about that, but on the upside it did not remove or scratch the remaining paint and it did a dandy job on the few spots of grease (under the oiling points) that were on these irons. 

I dunked the steel wool in the cleaner, let most of it drip off, and then gave the whole thing a scrub down.  I went lightly over the gold logos, and again the steel wool did not appear to do any harm.  After scrubbing each section of the machine I wiped it down with a cloth dampened in the cleaner.  

I might try steel wool again, cautiously, on a greasy one.  Remember, just because it didn't scratch the paint on this one does not mean that it wouldn't on another one.

I was somewhat concerned that all this liquid would merely promote more rust, but it evaporated quickly.  It was a crisp day with low humidity, around 50 F.

The lack of decades of grease meant that this cleaning went much more quickly.
Time for the steel wool wipe down:  just under 30 minutes.

Comparing the two led me to wonder about their histories.  Perhaps the greasy one sat in a kitchen, and the rusty one was in a parlor.  Sitting in a parlor in the humid South for decades before the age of air conditioning could have led to the rust.  And the layers of grease undoubtedly protected the kitchen irons from rust.

Pause to evaluate

I imagine it is easy to repaint a treadle base.  A spray can of black Rustoleum should do it.  The question is, do you really want to do this?  This is just another one of those personal preferences.

Logo after cleaning.
My own preference is for machines that look good but show some age.  If the chipped paint reveals gray iron, I leave it alone.  The gray softens the look.  If you paint it glossy black it will probably look terrific, but may not appear in harmony with your vintage cabinet and machine.  Think of a wrinkly old lady you have seen with dyed jet black hair.  No matter how good the dye job, it's never going to look right.

After cleaning, were you astonished to discover gold paint on the Singer logos?  If that paint is worn, you can ponder whether to touch it up or not.  I did, and lived to regret it.  I should have stopped at this point.  See above about age-appropriate beauty treatments.



Brightly painted logo.  Too brightly.


Painting the gold trim

I touched up the gold paint on the formerly-greasy irons, which I am keeping for myself.  I'm not entirely happy with the results.  It looks a bit garish to me.  Not garish enough for me to want to try to fix it, however.

You need a good small artist's paintbrush and a can of gold paint.  I used a Rustoleum American Accents gold satin paint, simply because I had a can of it sitting around.  And you need a steady hand.

I had the most trouble with the large oval surrounding the logos, and my paint job looks sloppy.  I did it first freehand, was not satisfied, went back and marked it off with blue painters tape and did it again.  It looks better but not great.  From a distance, however, it looks just fine.  And I'm not expecting anybody to get down on their hands and knees to examine the paint job.

Sharpie makes a marker with actual paint in it.  My new favorite thing for touching up chipped paint on a machine.  Or painting over mistakes in the gold paint.

The logos have raised images and lettering, and if your hand is steady enough and your brush is small enough it is a fairly simple matter just to lay some paint down.  If you are lucky the outlines of the old paint are still in place and you will only need to fill them in.

Approximate time:  This took me another two hours.

Oil the moving parts

Normal maintenance is a drop of oil at every point of movement.  We're not ready for that just yet.  The goal here is to flush out any cleaning fluid that sneaked into the joints, at the same time dissolving and flushing out old dried oil, dust and dirt.  This phase is also best done outdoors.

Use sewing machine oil.  There are a myriad of other products, all more expensive.  If you use them you will have to flush them out with sewing machine oil at the end, because they leave residue behind that will dry and harden.  So skip the expensive stuff and stick with the cheap stuff.  Any brand of sewing machine oil will do. 

Run oil into each point of movement until it starts to drip (it will only take a few drops).  Use either the treadle pedal or the flywheel to turn it several times,  More oil, more turning, more oil, more turning.  Is it moving more freely?  Keep going.  When it stops making improvements, sit at it and treadle it for a couple of minutes.  Oil it again, treadle it for another couple of minutes.  Keep going if you are still detecting improvements.  If the performance is smooth and consistent, leave it for a day.  Then oil 'er up again and treadle it for another couple of minutes.  Still smooth and consistent?  Then wipe off all that oil.

Time:  Depends on how gunky the joints are.


The final step in the cleaning process is to use an automobile cleaner/wax product.  I used Meguiar's, but I don't think the brand matters.

The bottle instructs you to wipe it on and polish it off.  I put much more effort into the front end of the process, and use it as a cleaner and rub it on.  More brown stuff may come off on the cloth. At the end of this vigorous wipe down, use a clean cloth to wipe on a coat of the cleaner/wax and let it dry thoroughly.  Then use a microfiber cloth to wipe off the wax and buff it to a shine.

Total work time (not including drying time):  One hour.

There is still brown stuff coming off.  Shouldn't we press on and clean it some more?  Happily, the answer is "no".  At some point you stop taking off the dirt and start removing the 100 year old paint.  The question is:  where is that point?  Since I can't tell, I just relax, admire my work and move on. 


Pop the cabinet back on top and put the screws back in.

Time:  less than 5 minutes.

Again, the disclaimer:  read the blogs and boards, but in the end you have to make all of the decisions and you will be the one stuck with the results.  Whatever you decide  to do, test a small and inconspicuous area first.

Thanks to Nicholas Rain Noe of The Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Blog for suggesting some detailed restoration blogging. 

To anyone who read this far, hope you enjoyed it.  Leave a comment, like "more please" or "promise you will never do this again".

Monday, March 12, 2012

Notched Handwheel Gone Awry

Rumor has it that you can cut a notch in a Singer handwheel and attach a hand crank to it.  This should do two things:
  • save the extra bucks that the spoked handwheel costs
  • allow the bobbin winder to function (it won't with the spoked wheel)
Heather kindly volunteered her husband to cut the notches as part of a barter.  The notches are notches, can't see how anything could be wrong with them.  But the finger on the hand crank is just too short to seat securely in the notch.  It looks more or less OK until you go to use it, then it immediately slips out of place.

Singer 99 notched wheel and handcrank

In place

Out of place
 And yes, the notch is wider than the finger, but that should not matter.  By the way, he also cut a notch in a Singer 237 handwheel, which is thicker, and that works on the 237.  In that case also the notch is a bit wider than the finger.

Any ideas?

thanks in advance,