Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cleaning a VS shuttle

Think your VS shuttle is broken?  Maybe it is just gunked up.  It is super easy to clean them.  I have never met one that did not need to be cleaned, btw.

dirty, crusty, slightly rusty shuttle

(Shown is a Singer VS shuttle.  The VS shuttles for the VSII, 27, 28, 127 and 128 are all similar.  There are earlier ones that may also be similar but these are the models I have had my hands on.  I have also cleaned shuttles from other brands and they were also similar).

shuttle cleaning kit
What you need:

  • a dirty shuttle
  • a very tiny screwdriver.  these were original equipment with your vintage sewing machine so you may have one.
  • a magnetic parts bowl (optional, but if you lose the tiny screw you are, well, screwed)
  • cotton swabs
  • alcohol (either rubbing alcohol from the drug store or denatured alcohol from the hardware store
  • 400 grit sandpaper
  • a small flashlight (or the flashlight on your phone)

The shuttle only has three parts:  the shuttle, the tiny screw, and the spring on the top.  Use the screwdriver to remove the screw.  Do this inside the magnetic parts bowl if you don't want to lose the screw.

Remove the screw.

And the spring lifts up and off. Two tiny tabs fit into two tiny slots at the top of the shuttle.  These will be shown in more detail below when we put it back together.

Here we have the two dirty, gunky and rough-ish parts.

Normally I would drop these into a pill bottle containing alcohol and let them soak overnight. Alcohol does a great job at dissolving old dried up sewing machine oil.  But today was a "do it quick and take pictures for the blog" day.

The screwdriver points to the main area of gunk build up.  

The gunk forms a pad of lint similar to that you find underneath the bobbin area of many sewing machines, or packed into the feed dogs.

I used both the cotton swabs dipped in alcohol and the tiny screwdriver to remove the gunk.

Use small pieces of the 400 grit sandpaper to remove rust and corrosion from the outside of the shuttle and from both sides of the spring.  400 grit is very fine.

The surface should feel very smooth to the touch when you are finished.  It is not necessary to sand it down until it is bright and shiny, just smooth.

Update:  Cindy Peters wrote to tell me:  "New springs are available for Singer shuttles and may work on others. A bit expensive at $8 but still cheaper than a whole new shuttle!!"

Cindy Peters, Stitches in Time
914 No High Street, Lake City, MN 55041

Roll up a piece of sandpaper to clean the inside of the shuttle.  A flashlight will show you what is going on in there.  This was the most time consuming part because I had to keep looking to see what remained to be done.

Smashing down the lower end of the paper will sand the bottom of tubular inside of the shuttle.

Also sand the groove that the thread goes through.  then turn the sandpaper and sand the other side of the groove.

This particular shuttle still looks funky but it is now nice and smooth.  Time to reassemble it.

The two tabs fit into the two tiny slots.

With the tabs in the slots, the spring will lie flat against the shuttle.

Replace the screw.

The screw also allows you to adjust the bobbin tension.

Fiddle with the shuttle tension until it feels just right:  not too loose, not too tight.  This is not rocket science.

Follow your owners manual or find a good YouTube video if you need help loading the shuttle.  I always think a certain amount of magic is involved.

This particular shuttle works beautifully now in the Singer 28 that you will probably see in the next blog post.

Do you regularly clean any shuttles that come your way?  Do you have any additional tips for us?


  1. Great, thanks. I've done very little with shuttles, because I don't really use my long shuttle machines (bad me). That may change in Sept/Oct, when I get to pickup the machine my SIL found for me (my inlaws have it now). It's a hand crank, and I love hand cranks the best.

  2. I have always been afraid of shuttle machines. I have had a chance to buy nice ones, but was intrepid. You did a great job explaining.

  3. Thank you for the post. I have four long bobbin machines and have never disassembled the shuttle. Does the screw on the shuttle control the shuttle-bobbin tension? If so, how do you get the right tension when you reassemble the shuttle? Is there a trick? or just trial and error?

    1. Yes, that screw controls the tension. And it is just trial and error but I find it easy to do by "feel" and usually get it right the first time. I think this means is that there is probably a pretty wide range where it is OK. when you pull the bobbin thread there should be some tension on it, not too tight, not too loose. and of course you can tell when you stitch on it whether you got it right or not. When the shuttle is in the machine the screw is easily accessible on the top and you can leave the shuttle in the machine while you fiddle with the tension. have fun!

  4. I pulled a shuttle apart and tried to clean it. I must have oiled it to much because now the screw shakes loose all of the time and ruins the tension. Should I pull it apart again and soak it in something?

    1. Hi, Kate
      If you literally "pulled" it apart rather than unscrewing the screw, my guess is that you stripped the threads of the screw. It does sound like the screw is not holding firm. If it were mine I would try plumbers tape, which is a super thin tape that plumbers use when they screw pipes together. Getting a tiny enough piece to wrap around that tiny screw before inserting it would be quite challenging though. It is just the only thing I can think of to suggest.

      If the machine is a Singer you could always just replace the shuttle. You can find them for Singers, other brands are harder to find.

      good luck!

    2. Sorry! That's my Aussie terms coming out. "Pulled apart" meaning "took it apart" yes I used a screwdriver. I think I just oiled it to much. The screw holds steady for a while but after sewing a bit the tension in the bobbin gets too loose again. It is a bebarfald bluebird machine (aussie machine from 20's-40's) but I use a singer shuttle. They fit.

    3. Sorry! That's my Aussie terms coming out. "Pulled apart" meaning "took it apart" yes I used a screwdriver. I think I just oiled it to much. The screw holds steady for a while but after sewing a bit the tension in the bobbin gets too loose again. It is a bebarfald bluebird machine (aussie machine from 20's-40's) but I use a singer shuttle. They fit.

  5. Thank you so very much!!! I have a vs.... Very early "Free" machine. would you consider doing a tutorial on cleaning the feed dogs??? Mine are not feeding so well, and I'd like to try a clean on them, but don't want to mess the machine up!!

    1. Karen,
      I am not familiar with the Free, but on Singers the feed dogs are held in by one screw. There is a bit of up-and-down play on the screw before it is tightened down and this allows you to adjust the height of the feed dogs.

      On Singers I just remove the feed dogs, wipe off the worst of the lint, and drop them into a pill bottle of alcohol and let them soak overnight. then i clean them with an old toothbrush and use an old sewing machine needle to pick all of the accumulated lint out of all of the teeth of the feed dogs. then put it back in. the feed dogs at their highest point in the stitch cycle should be the width of a dime above the needle plate.

      If the dogs on the Free don't come out that easily, you can just remove the needle plate. then use alcohol on a toothbrush on the dogs and the needle to pick out the lint BUT you have to be SUPER careful not to get alcohol on the finish of the machine or cabinet. Approach it as if it were major surgery and drape everything but the dogs.

      good idea to do a tutorial and I will try to remember the next time I have some really gunky feed dogs and take photos for the blog.

      good luck with your Free. The rotoscillo (?) is at the top of my wish list.

    2. should have said that the height of the feed dogs should be the THICKNESS of a dime above the needle plate, not the width of a dime. but I assume that would be obvious to everyone, lol!

    3. I'm gonna ask a silly question, but I am in UK. What thickness is a dime? :0)

    4. sorry for the delay in replying. I was planning to get out my digital calipers and measure one and then realized that the smart thing to do was to look it up at the US Mint's web site.

      a dime is 1.35 mm thick.

      and according to the Royal Mint, a 5p coin is 1.7 mm.

  6. Pretty close to a 5p coin, wouldn't you say, Cheryl?

  7. I watched your interview with Leah Day, and decided I needed treadle machine. I listened to your advice - seemed simple enough. My aunt had an extra treadle machine in her basement (yay!). Picked it up, and wouldn't you know - not only is it NOT a Singer, it is a "Unique" brand machine that, though it rotates, and will work, I fear this is one of the machines that takes a special needle 😬, AND, it's missing the shuttle bobbin!!! 😳 Should I try to find this beloved pet a new home, or try to locate the needles and bobbin?? And where do I start?
    THANK YOU in advance!

    1. Rachel,
      Your blogger settings are set to "no reply" so I was unable to email you.

      Lucky you, to inherit a family treadle! I would DEFINITELY try to find the parts for any family machine.

      Try Cindy Peters at stitches in time

      She sells original parts for antique machines. She travels quite a bit, so if you don;t hear back from her in a week, try again. and then again if needed. She is a really nice and honest person and very few people sell these parts, so it is worth it to try to get hold of her.

      and let me know how it goes!


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