Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to convert a Singer 99 to a hand crank

With comments about its cousins, the Spartan 192 and the cute green 185

So here's the story.  I tried something that didn't work the way I expected it to.  Various bloggers and board members offered advice, but not all of the advice meshed together. At about the same time blogger Rain challenged those of us who restore vintage sewing machines to write more about the processes, hence the post about the treadle irons and this one.  I decided to investigate the whole hand-crank-conversion process and record what I discovered.  
Since I am a relative newbie to this hobby (3 years) I feel a bit of a fraud telling others how-to-do-it.  Am I just reinventing the wheel?  On the other hand, a newbie has a newbie's perspective, composed of part stupidity and part curiosity.

My approach will be to tell you what I have personally done to machines that I have had right in front of me. The 99 was produced over decades and some features changed over time so your mileage may differ. 
Singer 99

Singer 185

Singer 192, Spartan

Many vintage sewing machines can be converted to hand cranks, but the 99 and its cousins are ideal for conversion.  The small size makes it both appealing and more useable for children, whose reach is smaller than an adult’s.  It’s relatively lighter weight (30 pounds instead of 40 for a full size machine) makes it a bit more portable, at least if you have decent upper body strength.  You can take it out to your patio in fine weather, or take it along in your camper or motor home. 

Why hand crank?
You are in complete control of the speed—no runaway takeoffs from the foot pedal (more properly called the motor controller).  It's nice to have a people powered machine around, and if you have one with terrifying looking wiring, this is a good way to solve that problem.

Where to get the spoked wheel and hand crank?  See the links to Sew-Classic or Stitches in Time on the left hand side of this page.

Look for the yellow push pin icon in the photos below--they show you the part of the machine being discussed.

Remove the light.
The light fixture is bolted on to a bracket which is bolted on to the machine.  You have to take it off the bracket first.  The photo shows the bolt partially loosened so that you can see where it is.
The light fixture is wired to the motor.  Just lay it to one side for the next step.
If you need to clean the machine, remove the bracket from the machine.  If not, leave it on there.

Remove the motor.
One bolt is holding it on.  Look on the pillar on the right hand side of the machine.  Remove this bolt.  This one is silver colored, some are black. This one has a hexagonal shape, some are round.  If they have a hex shape to them, a wrench makes this job much easier.  If round, you are stuck with using a screwdriver.  If stuck, apply sewing machine oil and heat with a blow dryer until it loosens.
As the motor shifts, you will be able to remove the belt from the motor.  Slide it off past the bobbin winder. 

Tip:  put the motor bolt back in its hole so that you don’t misplace it. 

You are finished with the motor-controller-light assembly now, so put it away somewhere.  You can always reverse this process and reinstall it later if you want to.

Remove the hand wheel
Loosen the clutch screw.


Remove the clutch knob.


Remove the clutch washer.


Remove the hand wheel.

Before you install the hand crank, you have to replace or alter your original hand wheel to get a hand wheel that will fit the hand crank.

Option A:   Replace the original hand wheel with a spoked hand wheel

But before we do that, we have to pause for a moment to discuss how the 99, the 185 and the 192 Spartan differ in the relationship between a spoked wheel and the bobbin winder.

The 192 Spartan

The bobbin winder on the Spartan is a simple design.  It moves on a pivot point and does not latch into place.  You rotate it up into position until it comes into contact with the hand wheel.  It plays nicely with BOTH the spoked hand wheel and the notched hand wheel (discussed below). 

The 185
With the 185, you have to remove the hand wheel cover and bobbin winder in order to used a spoked hand wheel.

The bobbin winder mechanism  inside the hand wheel cover prevents the spoked wheel from making its rotation, so the machine will not operate.  Remove the two screws on either side of the hand wheel shaft and it comes right off. 

The 99

Once the spoked wheel is in place you will discover that the bobbin winder in the down or engaged position does not reach the spoked hand wheel, therefore it won’t turn.  There is no real reason to remove it, but at the same time there is no real reason to leave it on here either.  It is a simple matter to remove it, there is one screw on the top holding it in place.   

I think it looks cuter with the non-functional bobbin winder removed. 

If your bobbin winder is gone, what do you do if you need to wind a bobbin?
  • ·         Wind it on another class 66 bobbin machine
  • ·         Buy a Sidewinder (separate bobbin winder, available online, at Joanns and Walmart)
  • ·         Buy a package of pre-wound class 66 bobbins
Now, back to installing that spoked wheel...

Put a drop of sewing machine oil on the inner opening of the spoked hand wheel and smoosh it around in there.

Slide the hand wheel on to the hand wheel shaft.

Replace the clutch washer (bunny ears UP or towards you).

Put a drop of oil on the threads of the clutch knob screw.  Screwing it in will distribute the oil around, no need to smoosh.


Replace the clutch knob.  It helps to tilt the machine up so that gravity holds the clutch washer in place.

Replace the clutch knob screw.

TEST:   Spin the hand wheel and make sure that the needle is going up and down.


The hand crank has a hinged finger on it.  Flip this to the up postion (towards the handle of the hand crank).


Take the motor bolt back out (if you have been storing it in place) and use it to attach the hand crank to the machine.  

Tighten it most of the way and while it is still a bit loose, flip the finger down into one of the spaces between the spokes.   

Tighten it the rest of the way.


There are two oil holes on the hand crank.  Put a drop of oil in each one.

Everybody complains about the poor quality of these reproduction handcranks, but they seem to be the only game in town.  They are guaranteed to be the clunkiest part of your sewing machine.

Option 2:  Notched Hand wheel
don't do it this way
It’s possible to use the original hand wheel with a hand crank if you cut a notch in the wheel for the finger of the hand crank.  The advantage to doing this is that the bobbin winder will function.

Step One:  Remove the hand wheel as described above
Step Two:  Find someone to cut a notch in the hand wheel.

Metal work is beyond me.  Fortunately for me, student Heather’s husband Augustin is a welder, so we worked out a barter that included cutting notches in a bunch of hand wheels.  Neither Augustin nor I had the slightest idea what we were doing, so we ended up with the “Grand Canyon” of notches that you will see in the photos.  TreadleOn board members tell me that the notch only has to go through the rim of the hand wheel.

The problem that now has to be solved is that the finger of the hand crank is not long enough to fit securely into the notch in your hand wheel.  Even if you cut the notch correctly.  It slips out of the notch when you try to sew with it. So you will need to add a rigid collar around the hand crank finger to extend it.  It has to be the right size to fit on the finger and fit into the notch. It has to be flexible enough to be forced onto the finger but rigid enough to hold the finger in place in the notch.  There probably are many products that would do this, and here is one of them.

Step Three: 

Cut a 1/2” section of “Orbit (brand name) 1/2” riser flex pipe, designed to “connect additional sprinkler head to existing sprinkler lines”.  I found it at Home Depot, or, to be more accurate, a nice Home Depot lady found it for me. 

If you have another recommendation on a product that works for this, please leave a comment below and tell us the specifics and where you found it.

Remove the black rubber-band-material sleeve from the hand wheel finger.  Throw it away.

I used a bolt cutter to cut the 1/2" piece of pipe because a bolt cutter was what I had.  It created a smooth edge and had the additional benefit of pre-mooshing the edge of the pipe into the correct shape for forcing it on to the hand wheel finger.  I tapped it down into place with a small hammer.

Replace the hand wheel as described above.  Attach the hand crank with its new piece of pipe extender as described above.  The pipe extender should extend out to the end of the notch but not beyond.  If it sticks out too far it can interfere with the bobbin winder.
You now have a working hand crank sewing machine WITH a bobbin winder.  This works with the 99, the 185 and the 192.

I hope this post will be helpful to someone.  It's really easy if you know how (except for that notch-cutting part).  

Now to passing along Rain's challenge to other vintage sewing machine bloggers:  what have you mastered that you could share with the rest of us? 


  1. Mastered? Absolutely not! I've done it just once.
    I wrote about it here: http://doraquilts.blogspot.com/2010/04/picture-and-conversion.html
    I ordered a spoked wheel and the handcrank from Cindy at Stitches in Time. I needed the spoked wheel because my machine was from the late 1930's after the change to solid wheels had been made.
    The only shortcoming is that the crank does stick out so far that I can't completely close the carrying case--but that's why we have relatively short bungee cords, right? It's still great to use outside or when I piece with a group and electric outlets are in short supply.
    And I agree that for people who've not done it before, it's great to see how a relative newbie made the conversion. It took me 10 minutes.

  2. Very nicely done tutorial! Your clear explanations are to the point, and the photos are well done too.
    Thanks for taking the time to share with us!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial! I am pretty sure I have a 99 and I have wanted a hand crank. Now I need to find some time!

  4. There is no reason to feel like a fraud. You go into detail, and take the time to take good pics and explain. I love that you freely give. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your posts. You're not a fraud, your great.

  5. Bravo! This clearly took a good chunk out of your schedule to put together, but as the comments attest, it is (and will continue to be) greatly appreciated! The blog format and all the photos make such a world of difference in terms of explaining things so people instantly understand what you're discussing.

    I was going to ask if you're getting good at taking photos with your left hand yet, something that plagues me, but I can't tell if you're right- or left-handed, as your action hand varies in the photos.

    - Rain

  6. Well done. When I received the adapter for my New Home A, to turn it into a hand crank, he also sent a piece of clear plastic tubing, to extend the finger of the hand crank so that it would fit into the spoked hand wheel. The rubber part that came on the hand crank for my Spartan wore out shortly after I converted it. I just grabbed a scrap of fabric and a new rubber band and wrapped it around the finger. It has held so far, but, I may see if I can find that sprinkler tubing, or tubing like on the New Home. It would be prettier that way.

  7. This is really excellent! Thank you for the clear and easy to follow instructions. I have sent this link to a friend who was just asking about this procedure the other day. Kindest regards, Dianne B. in England

  8. Lovely! I have used black nail polish (the kids these days) to paint the notch in the hand wheel. This is an excellent reference!

  9. I converted my knee-bar operated 99 to a hand crank in Feb using a spoked hand wheel and a reproduction hand crank..but didn't sew on her until yesterday..I mentioned in the TreadleOn list that I was looking for something to put on the wheel to make it so the bobbin winder would work and Cindy replied back that if you take the upper screw out of the bobbin assembly, it will work if you hold it down with your finger when winding the bobbin..so I tried that this morning...and VOILA..it works!! I still may look for something to put onto the wheel, but its not an urgent need...

  10. Ha!, you beat me to it! I may still do mine though, because I had to ADD a 1/2" piece to the lever arm on the handcrank to flywheel connection.

  11. notr not all Singers will acept a handcrank as not all of them were meant to be handcranked.
    I have a couple of older singers that due to the motor mount being too high up it would simply not accept the handcrank.
    and rateher than drill into the machine and possibly ruin a machine I choose to do motor work instead

  12. I also would have left the bobbin winder and have heard of people also finding a way to extend the case .

  13. I wonder if this procedure will work on non-Singers. One of my enablers just brought me a White Rotary with no motor, no treadle, no obvious use of a belt - it already has a spoked wheel. I cleaned it up and got stitches by turning the wheel with my finger. Your work makes me think I can try the same thing. (Same thing happened when you did your non-tutorial on irons). Thanks!

    1. Lillian,
      the ONLY thing I know about Whites is that the hand wheel turns in the opposite direction to Singers. What this means with respect the the crank I have NO idea. But Jenny at Sew-Classic or Cindy at Stitches in Time sell the hand cranks and they would know.
      Thanks for posting!

    2. The only thing about that, the repro handcranks were made to only fit Singers. Furthermore, unless the machine has a motor boss (hole for the screw)on the side, a crank wouldn't fit on to it anyway.

  14. I love hand cranks. I have put hand cranks on a two Singer 99's, and a singer Red Eye 66, and am thinking about putting a crank on my 185J. My hubby says he would paint it to match the machine. That would be awesome!

  15. finally! a tutorial with clear pictures and understandable text!

  16. Not being sure what the sprinkler material is made of and not having a 99 or handcrank...but just looking at the great pics in the blog...maybe a piece of heavywall rubber reinforced fuel line that is available at any auto parts store could work for a replacement for the sprinkler material used. It is inexpensive and sold in various diameters and can be purchased and cut to any length too.

  17. I forgot to add in the above post, that a piece of wood dowel can be cut to the proper length and slipped into the open end of the rubber fuel line to add rigidity to this piece.

  18. I am converting a 185J to a handcrank. The bobbin winder does not make contact with the spoked wheel I ordered with the crank. Even a bigger bobbin tire will not help. DH will have remove a chunk from the lower part of the wheel guard to allow the bobbin winder to make contact. Did your bobbin winder make contact without radical measures?

  19. I am making the 185 handcrank for a 4-H Sew Green event. Please notify me when your answer the above question. Thanks!

  20. Those who converted the 185 to a hand crank shoud be given a fine lol. There are loads of hand cranks in good condition out there; you should have your old electical machine rewired!

  21. Please help me.. I want to convert my 99-13 to a spindled hand crank but I don't know which one works or which one to order

    1. Visit the sew-classic.com website. They sell the spoked wheel and hand cranks. The ones you will find at this site will fit your machine. http://shop.sew-classic.com/Hand-Crank-Treadle_c31.htm

      Good luck!

    2. The repro handcranks that are available were made to only fit Singers.

  22. I was playing around with the bobbin winder on my new Singer 99 that I converted to hand crank. The winder that came on the 99 has one of the silver levers on it has a slotted grove where the screw goes through to fasten it to the winder. By adjusting where the screw is on that slot I could get the winder wheel almost to the spoked hand wheel. By pushing down on the winder between where the bobbin goes on and the wheel with rubber on it I can get the winder to engage. I also wonder if a person can get the correct sized flat belt to go around the spoked wheel where the rubber on the winder hits ( to the right of the slot in the wheel that is for the belt used for the motor) You might be able to fix it so the 99 winder would work without holding it down against the wheel.

    I also took the older style of bobbin winder off my Singer 66 to try on the 99. This is the older style of bobbin winder with the thread feeder that goes back and forth the width of the bobbin to wind the thread on evenly. There is also a slotted silver lever on this type winder ( in a different spot than the 99 winder) If you loosen the screw that goes through the slotted lever you can adjust this style of winder to where it will engage the spoked wheel

  23. Great post, got 99-13 with bad wiring & no knee pedal, this looks easier than rewiring and cheaper than buying the knee pedal. Thanks, esp for showing how to keep the original hand wheel.

  24. I am looking for a power cord for my 99-13 portable. The cord has 2 separate round connectors that plug into the machine (not the 3 pronged plug like a lot of them have). With people converting these machines I would think someone would have this cord or at least the ends that go into the machine.

    I can't find this anywhere. HELP!

    I can't find these anywhere so far. HELP!

  25. I completely agree with Deborah Fraktman. I own a 1960 Spartan 192K and I didn't like the original bobbin winder, but have always liked the older style winder with the thread feeder and converted mine to one off of a 1927 99K. Now, I have just purchased a 9-spoked balance wheel from Scotland to give me the advantage to more easily stitch slowly by hand or control by foot from a old national foot controller, which by the way is very precise in controlling the speeds from just moving the needle very slowly or all the way up to high speeds. The older thread feeder does give you the option to have a bobbin winder which is what it should have any way. The older spoked wheel and bobbin winder also gives it some class. For those who own the 99K in the older bent wood case, once you install the spoke wheel and hand crank you won't be able to install the top unless you remove the hand crank.

  26. Hi Cheryl, I know it's several years out of date but wanted to say thank you for a great tutorial. I'm converting a 1934 15-88 and you aren't kidding about the poor quality of the repro cranks. I'm fighting the urge to fix the play in the handle hinge making it clunk. It works and I really should leave well enough alone, though.

    I did have a product idea as a tubing alternative -- Sugru moldable silicone. I'm not sure if a built up finger of it would hold up over time but it did come to mind. I've used it for other repairs and found more at Big Lots of all places the last time I needed to restock. I think Amazon also sells it.

  27. I just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your posts on sewing machines. I was always a bit wary of vintage sewing machines because I didn’t want to mess with the old electrical components. But after finding your post on hand crank conversions, I’m not afraid anymore! I’ve converted three vintage sewing machines to hand cranks: two Singer 99ks and one Singer 15. The 15 even had a spoked wheel, so I didn’t have to replace it or take off the bobbin winder! Thank you so much for sharing this information and helping me start my vintage sewing machine collection!

  28. OMG.....I have a Singer 99K and it is not my preferred sewer. The bobbin winder does not work well, despite my attempts to fix it and the reverse tab does not go back to the original stitch length with any accuracy. This conversion will enable me to take it in my RV!!!!!!!! Many thanks!

  29. quiero adquirir una manivela pero nadie dice donde ni como!! me gustaria que alguien me pudiera ayudar y saber los costos!!

  30. Mario Alberto Corral Rodriguez is asking where to buy the crank and how much it should cost. I think the answer to where is : Sew Classic blog or Stitches in Time.

  31. I was reading this thread because I want to do this! I just bought a used 99K without a belt from a church sale for $40. Comes in the bentwood case. I wish I could still use the case. I want it for my grandchildren to learn on.

    1. Well, the machine will still fit in the case if you are willing to take the hand crank off every time you put it away!


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