Sunday, June 1, 2014

Stripping the Paint from a Singer 27

Every once in a while it is a good idea for me to remind my readers of what an expert I am NOT.

This is just a hobby and I do things just for fun.  Curiosity is fun, experimenting is fun.  Blogging is fun.  None of this makes me an expert.

There was a thread on one of the boards a while back about do it yourself decals.  I got curious, experimented, and Shield Maiden was born.  Or rather, had a facelift.

But I was still curious.  I want to paint sewing machines in other pretty colors.  I want to make beautiful colored decals.  And I want to experiment with black decals on black machines, with a bit of gold paint peaking out from underneath to mimic gold decals.

This particular project was originally intended to be black-on-black with gold underneath.   It began with a 1900 Singer 27 Sphinx, 25% of the decals silvered and another 25% completely gone.  I was going to just lightly sand off the old decals, touch up the paint chips and then proceed to the decals.   But the whole project took an unexpected turn.

First I spent hours cleaning the dratted thing.

This is a horribly messy smelly job.  After 114 years the layers of dirt and grime are always impressive.  If you have nicotine sensitivity this is not a job for you.  Here in the North Carolina tobacco was the backbone of the economy for most of those years, and people took pride in it and considered it their civic responsibility to smoke cigarettes.  Think I am kidding?  Think again.

Are all antique machines and treadles in Wisconsin coated in nicotine?  I really would like to know.

THE CLEANING METHOD DESCRIBED HERE DESTROY DECALS.  But since I was trying to take it down to the black paint anyway, that didn't matter.

I used Tuff Stuff, a spray on foam cleaner.  It sprays on as white foam, begins to melt and drip, and turns brown as it picks up dirt.

I scrub with an old toothbrush and then wipe a layer of dirt away.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. And then probably repeat some more.

 I do this in a metal pan and all the melted Tuff Stuff collects in the bottom and reeks of nicotine.  Lovely job, not for the fainthearted.

I usually only use Tuff Stuff on the underneath side of sewing machines, and take care to keep it off the decals.  It does a really great job of removing many decades of dirt and sewing machine oil.

So, I got it all clean and then started sanding off the old decals.

Whoops.  Here's where again I point out to you my lack of expertise.

I had recently sanded decals off of a black Singer 301 and replaced them.  That worked very well.  This didn't.   This machine was much older and had that thick japanned painted surface which was much softer.  I got down to bits of bare metal peeking though in just a few strokes.

Total change of plan.  I WAS going to just sand off the decals, touch up the paint chips with a black Sharpie paint marker and take it from there.  Not going to work.  The new plan: take all of the paint off.

This means that all of the hours I spent cleaning and toothbrush-scrubbing with the Tuff Stuff were wasted, btw.  But I also spent them catching up on Dr. Who, so not totally wasted.  That River Song---what a woman!

So I got out the Citra Solv.  My friend and fellow treadle addict Myra recommended it to me for furniture, and I used it recently to take the old finish off of a couple of cabinets.  It smells nice and makes some non-toxic claims, at the same time recommending that you wear chemical resistant gloves to apply it.  I used the thin medical latex gloves and had to keep replacing them as the fingers blew out.

You paint it on and then wait while it works--anywhere from an hour to 24 hours.  I let it sit overnight on the first pass.

I used a vintage trowel from my grandfather's tool box to scrape of the paint.  Two flat sides and a point, all useful.  Gooped it up again, scraped some more, then used a wire brush shaped kind of like a toothbrush.  More Dr. Who.  Now I know who River Song really is.  Wowzer.

And if the Tuff Stuff treatment was messy, removing the paint was horrendously messy.  In a kind of fun way.  There is also the added thrill of doing something that you just KNOW that some people will disapprove of.  There are flame wars going on over on Facebook over just this kind of thing.  I keep out of them.

After the final clean up to get all of the gunk off, I also sanded the surface with the 220 grit dry sandpaper.  It felt smooth to the touch after that.

Last step before the painting process is to tape over all of the openings.

The tiny holes are filled in with the stems from a wooden q-tip, wrapped with painters tape until they are the right size.  BTW,  they kept falling out and I had to be careful to replace them before each spray of paint.  You don't want paint in the screw threads!

The holes for the cabinet posts were larger, and some folded up pipe cleaners worked to block those openings.

Having gone to all this time and trouble to get the machine naked, there was NO WAY I was going to paint this puppy boring black.  Time to experiment with automotive spray paint in a jazzy color.  Out the window goes the original plan to recreate gold decals on a black machine.  I'll do that later though.  This year appears to be the year of painting experiments.

All of these experiments with stripping, painting, decals, clear coat have an ultimate goal.  I've got a Featherweight that is crying out for new paint job and I don't want to spend $500 and send it off to be painted.  I think $500 is a TOTALLY reasonable charge, btw, when you consider the labor involved.  For me the fun is in the experimenting.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment!


  1. Thanks for sharing your process. I'm looking forward to the next installment!

    Connie - Boise, ID

  2. I am impressed, but not enough to do the same thing. I love the patina on the body of the sewing machine. This is a crazy idea, but how about clear coating the body and painting just the base of it some great color? It would uniquely show the machine is not some hunk of plastic. I even think gold decals would show up. Just a thought. I had a messy quilt rescue last week, talk about old nicotine and brown junk, but I can't see myself taking a machine as far as you. I am still refinishing a treadle cabinet, (slow going), for a Singer 237 I have so I can treadle zig zag.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Did you mean just clear coat over the naked cast iron? I did think of that and it is not a crazy idea. In fact, I think I saw one done that way somewhere online. I think that would look really cool with gold steampunk type decals of gears and things. Hmmm, maybe the next one...

    2. I LOVE this idea! My husband and I are just starting to work on some of the machines that I've collected. I told him that I'd like to find a beater machine and work on it together.

      I've toyed with the idea of someday painting a machine, but the thought is rather daunting. Going "steampunk" as you said, would be a lot easier. Besides looking cool, I think it would be a great way to get our feet wet.

  3. I always enjoy reading about your experiments! Can't wait for the next chapter!

  4. I admire your persistence--and the finished machines. (The only nicotine coated machine I've acquired was the Featherweight from Georgia--took at least 20 years to get it all off--and there may be some left.) Another state where almost everyone perceived smoking was almost patriotic!

  5. Yeah. Go for the clear coat over the bare cast iron. But paint the bed a color. I am inspired. But I have NO TIME.

  6. I am always impressed by your ...pluck? and inventiveness in your machine rehabs. I am always in favor of bold genius.
    And lucky you to follow the River Song storyline in hours, vs waiting for it to unspool over a few years. Drove me crazy.

    Wowser indeed!

    1. I just finished Season 6 last night and Season 7 awaits me! Looking forward to Peter Capaldi too, whom I have enjoyed since Local Hero. And that makes me feel just about as old as I really am.

      thanks for writing.

  7. This has made me think of getting a beat up machine just to try the process - though will have to find what products match those you are using as I'm in UK! What are you actually going to use for 'clear coating' - a varnish or lacquer - or something else?

    1. My next post will give specific details about the paint and varnish. The clear coat is an acrylic lacquer. I went to an auto products store and talked to the manager, and will share what he told me. All the products I used came from that store. So even thought the brand names may be different in the UK, an auto products store is probably a good place to look.

      good luck!

  8. Fabulous, can't wait for the next installment! If a machine is that bad, I don't care what the purists say, do whatever it takes to bring the thing back to being beautiful. After all why is black superior to any other color? It's what fat old men (like Singer and Ford) painted their products back in the day. We don't have to live by their rules anymore, so I wish the flamers would get over themselves. Shield Maiden rocks!
    P.S. I have a non-electric 66 from about 1910, if I remember the year correctly, and the decals are absolute toast- I may just set it aside for the same experiment...

    1. Thanks, Carolyn. I did expect to draw some heat for this but it hasn't happened. One of the joys of being an old lady is that I no longer care if people disapprove of me. But I still love approval!

      Of course I would not do this to a rare, valuable or beautiful machine but I have four 27 or 127 Sphinxs with trashed decals and absolutely no resale value. I don't feel a bit guilty.

    2. Cleaning question- from what I've read a vat of kerosene is the answer to a really defiled, disgustingly dirty machine, just do it outside, so have you gone that route? I've always thought that is way hard core for a hobbyist.

  9. It really is thrilling. If you do it right it will never be turned into a lamp!!

  10. Just WOW! I love your commitment! This is the first time I've read your blog... knew you liked old sewing machines, but it's WAY more than that. Cannot wait the see the reveal. See you at guild tomorrow.

  11. Awesome, can't wait to see how she turns out.

  12. I have a couple of machines that half the paint is gone, as are most of the decals. I really need to try this one at least one of them. Gee, my $5 machine could look nice again (was black, after all the scraps and dings it came with, more metal than black). I did buy it to 'play' with. The fact that it sews is a plus. Looking forward to seeing what color you choose (me, I'm a flame red kinda girl)

  13. While I enjoy being a machine conservationist, it would not bother me at all to take one of the boat anchors I have in my shop and do a total repaint. Of course, I would only bother with that if I could get enough rust off to get the thing to actually run again. I have at least two that qualify at the moment. I will subscribe and read all of your steps. Really inspirational work. See you on TreadleOn.

  14. I have a new 1923 Singer 78-1 which is an upper feed only type machine like a Davis Vertical Feed.
    The deck is missing large areas of paint, and more seems very willing to pop off with a scrapper. It would seem like a smooth deck would promote smooth feeding.

    I think I will strip the deck down and spray with clear coat and maybe just do a quick godzilla style paint over for the upper machine.

    Of course if you read the instructions on a spray paint can you will find there are only a limited number of days with the proper temp and humidity in central florida.

    1. yes, I agree that a smooth deck is important. and we have the same temp/humidity problems in NC but for far fewer days. good luck!

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  16. Thanks for detailing your process. It's good to tinker. I've just started on the process of stripping back and repainting an 1894 Singer patching machine. The main trouble I'll have with this baby is that she's an open machine - all of her inner workings are exposed at the back and underneath. It's going to be lots of fun though!

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