Saturday, October 12, 2013

Domestic Refurb: The Irons

For quite I while I was on the lookout for a cheap treadle that I could experiment on.  But I have some standards, even when it comes to cheap thrills, and it took a while.

This Domestic High Arm Fiddle Base was only $35, in the minimum condition I would consider buying.

Yes, the irons had a bit of surface rust, but all the parts were solid and it was moving properly, if very sluggishly. 

Yes, the wood cabinet and bonnet had stains and some separation anxieties, but nothing that my lovely collection of clamps and some wood glue could not tackle. 

 Last years rolling splurge was on clamps--on every trip to the hardware store a few more of them followed me home.

Yes, the machine head is bereft of decals and bare of paint in places, but the bobbin and shuttle are there as are the leaf tensioner and the bobbin winder.  Not to mention BOTH bobbin covers (see photo above).  Replacing any one of these would immediately take this one out of the "cheap" category.

Stripped down for cleaning.  Paint is just gone in big patches

There are no "before" pictures of the irons, but when I tell you that it took me ten hours to clean them, you can develop your own "before" pictures.

I've written about cleaning irons before, but the basic story is Formula 409 and steel wool.  Over and over and over again.  This will also remove flaking paint and maybe even a bit of the rust.   Not recommended for beautiful and rare treadles.  Proceed at your own risk and don't blame me.

It got repeated doses of sewing machine oil in all the moving parts throughout the cleaning process, and I ran the treadle each time.  The oil replaces any Formula 409 that has snuck into the joints of the thing.  The repeated movement helps them loosen up.  Exactly like my own knees.

With all the filth removed I could see what I had.  The irons were in decent shape, although with a lot of paint gone.  The gold letters were chipped and were sloppily painted.  The foot pedal was rusty.  Not rusted through, just lightly rusty.

First experiment:  painting the irons 

Not an earth-shaking experiment, just something I had never done before.  I painted the irons with black hammered Rustoleum.  Two coats.  A fairly tedious job, btw.  Used a paintbrush and took care not to get it into the moving parts, which meant not moving the paintbrush right up to the edges of the joints.  You can get away with this in a black-over-black paint job!

I wish I could take photographs that would show the beauty of sewing machines.  But then I would have to be obsessed with photography instead of (or in addition to) sewing machines.  Sadly these photos do not do this paint job justice.  It just GLEAMS, and not a single one of the photos even begins to convey this.

I signed and dated the paint job on the top of the support beam, where it will never be seen again until someone disassembles it
Hammered paint goes on like regular paint, then some kind of chemical magic happens and the surface becomes attractively mottled in appearance and texture.  Honestly, this did not come out very hammer-y.  Could it be because that can of paint had been sitting on the shelf unopened for maybe 10 years?  Maybe more?  I did stir it thoroughly.  Oh well, it is a gorgeous gun-metal gray, a color more in harmony with an antique machine than glossy black.

If you try the hammered paint, don't forget to pick up the xylol while you are at the hardware store.  Nothing else will thin it, clean your brushes OR keep it manageable while you are using it--it drys and gets thick fast and needs the occasional splash of xylol to keep the brush from ossifying.  (This is also true of Rustoleum that is NOT already ten years old ).

I used a Sharpie gold metallic oil paint pen (not a regular metallic sharpie) on the letters.  Its a dull rather than bright gold and I think it looks just right.  I've got a big collection of gold pens of all types and this one hands down was the best for this task.

The "Domestic" on the foot pedal did not originally have gold paint on it.  But it was crying out to be gold, don't you think?

Artists (including photographers) see the world differently than I do.  They actually "see" the world.  I just stumble through it in my fuzzy slippers.  If I had an artist's DNA I would have spotted the shadow effect immediately and could have really done something with it.  Oh, well. 


  1. I just painted my irons today, but with Rustoleum spray. You can see the befores and afters on my blog,
    I did not touch the good paint, although weathered. I am just going to leave it. I found that the GooGone Foam spray for outdoor grills liquified and dissolved most of the stuff and then just needed a light sanding. Need a 237 to put into it. The Lotus that came with it is sorry looking.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I will definitely try the GooGone foam spray next time. Thanks for the tip!

    2. Thanks for the GooGone Foam Spray tip!

  2. Gorgeous! A lot of work, but worth it!

  3. I'm positive this post will come in very handy for me at some future point! Thank you!

  4. I love it! I also love that you are "rescuing" old sewing machines! Who Knew?

    1. dogs, sewing machines. same thing, really! some are mutts, some are bitches, some are greyhounds!

      and I have NOT broken my no cussing rule. talking about dogs now, lol.

    2. and a ps to all my other readers: check out my SIL's brand new blog about pet rescuing and fostering, follow the link above.

  5. Really nice job! I have a treadle that needs a little gold.....hmmm sharpie? Will go find one. Laura

  6. The first set of irons that I cleaned were grey with dirt and dust. After lots of cleaning, including a wire brush, I found the gold letters on the Singer section. Those irons are lovely now. It's surprising what a little cleaning and some beeswax can do.


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