Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paint Along. 2. Removing Bits and Pieces

I've created a post titled Paint Along.  How It Works.  Check it out for details of how the paint along will operate.  I plan to update it as I think of things.  It will be useful for anyone joining us as we go along, so I will link back to it in each post.

PLEASE NOTE that the feedburner "follow by email" gadget is back at the top of the page now.  I had deleted it after some people told me it was not working for them, but I can't find a better alternative.  If you were following by email before, please add your email AGAIN.  Sorry for the inconvenience, and even sorrier for the people I have now lost and may not see again.  Web site building is not my thing.  Vintage sewing machines are my thing.

On to the sewing machines

You do know that 80% to 90% of any paint job is the preparation, right?  I know that some of you are eager to dive in (I am too) but I am going to limit each post to one topic because I think that it will make the most useful tutorial that way.

So today we will be removing all the removables from the machine.  This will make the machine and its parts easier to clean, and will create a much more professional looking paint job when you are finished.

You will need basic tools.  I am working on the assumption that if you have the guts to paint a machine, you already know how to do basic maintenance on them and you have a basic set of tools.  If am wrong about this, let me know in the comments section below.

I have invested in some good tools, and believe me good tools ARE an investment.  But two of my favorite items were in the under $10 price range.

The red handle holds screwdriver bits, and it holds the super cheap bits just as well as it holds the very expensive bits.  It gives you leverage and extra torque.  The screwdriver with right angle ends allows you to get into tight spaces.

By the way, below you will hear me blithely say "remove the screw".  If you have not done this before, you might be surprised to discover that this can be the hardest part of the whole project.  Oil and the heat from a blow dryer may help, and you may have to repeat this for a while.  I'm not going to dwell on this here, but feel free to report progress/frustration/murderous rage in the comments section.

Before you begin make sure you have a place to store the bits and pieces that will be coming off.

I prefer a clear plastic box so that I don't forget what is inside.  And I ALWAYS label it--at least I do now, because I have learned this the hard way

I've been working on machines for a long time now, and feel confident that I will be able to figure out what screws go where when I put it back together.  So I throw all the small screws and pieces into a pill bottle.  If you are not this foolish confident you may wish to put each screw into a separate bottle and label it.  Or you can get tiny ziploc bags at a craft store and label those.

Update:  A Facebook poster suggests taping the small screws to a strip of paper, on which you can label where the screw goes.

I'm working on a very simple Singer 99, and your machines may have other features.  I hope you will share photos with all of us so that we can see how to tackle those features.

The first thing to tell you is

What Not To Remove:  Stitch Length Knob and Singer Logo

I have been told that the stitch length lever is a bear to re-assemble, and having peered inside the pillar I find this easy to believe.  And the logo would also be difficult to reinstall and does not need to come off.

Face Plate

Two screws hold this in place

Remove the bottom screw

Loosen the top screw and the plate slides off.  I do remove this screw too because I will be painting the front of this opening.

Presser Foot, Needle and Needle Holder

Take the needle out.  You really did not need to be told that, did you?

If you loosen up this screw enough the needle holder will also come off.  (Other models may have an additional screw.)  It won't really be in the way while you are painting, but I like to get all of the metal bits clean and shiny.  To me that is an important part of the paint job.  We will cover metal-shining in a future post.

Pressure Regulator

I remove the presser foot pressure regulator.  These are often really glued in with old dried up sewing machine oil.  Taking them out and cleaning them (and their screw threads inside the machine) means that your machine will function properly when you put it back together.

You can see that this needs to be cleaned and the machine will be happier for it.

Update:  Eleanor had trouble removing the pressure regulator and ended up using pliers and a piece of rubberized grippy cloth.  If you also need to use pliers follow her method and use something to protect the regulator because you don't want the pliers to damage the screw threads.

photo by Eleanor

photo by Eleanor

Bobbin slide cover(s)

On the Singer 99 you have to slide the bobbin cover towards the needle area to get it off the springs that hold it in place.

Needle plate

The right angle screwdriver is helpful in getting these screws loose.

Once they are loose, a short stubby screwdriver is easier to use to remove them completely.

class 66 bobbin system

All naked now.

Update: Eleanor's Husqvarna uses a class 15 bobbin system

photo by Eleanor

Access port cover(s)

The little Singer 99 does not have access port covers--those metal covers which remove easily so that you can oil the innards of the machine.  If your machine has them, take them off.  And send in photos!

Clutch knob and hand wheel

These are removable on Singers and many other machines.  You can paint the machine and wheel without removing it, but it is a heck of a lot easier if it comes off (and it gives you the chance to clean behind it, which will improve performance.

HOWEVER the first machine I painted was a Domestic fiddlebase and I never did figure out how to get the hand wheel off.  If you have something other than a Singer and the wheel is not coming off PLEASE CHECK with someone who knows about that brand.  I have read that there are brands where it is a very bad idea to even think about taking it off.  Most vintage sewing machine brands have excellent Yahoo groups/bulletin boards.

First, remove the small screw from the clutch knob.  On this machine I was able to leave the screw securely in the clutch knob, meaning that I did not have to drop it into the pill bottle of miscellaneous screws.

There is a washer behind the clutch knob, and that comes off too.  (not shown in photo)

This photo shows the hand wheel completely off and leaning up against the machine.

Bobbin winder

There are many different configurations of bobbin winders.  This is the one for the Singer 99.

I first looked at removing it while it was on the machine but that did not work.  I could not get the screwdriver lined up with the screw.  Photo below.

I revisited the bobbin winder once the clutch knob and hand wheel were off.  Next step will be to remove the hand wheel guard/bobbin winder.

There is a screw on the top of the hand wheel guard.  The next photo will show the screwdriver sitting on top of it.

Wheel guard off.  Flip it over the to back side and you can see the ends of the two screws that are holding the bobbin winder on it (above and to the sides of the "99" that I wrote with silver marker).

Right side up.  Next step is to remove the screws that hold the bobbin winder on.

Voila, bobbin winder and wheel guard separated.

Spool pin (if removable)

Some of them screw in, and therefore can be screwed out.  Some of them get whacked in with a hammer.  Sometimes you can wiggle these out again.  It is easier to paint the top of the machine if the spool pin is not in the way.  You can decide for yourself whether it is worth it or not to attempt to remove it.  Whatever you do, don't break it off.


This machine did not have a light, and although a light can be added to the back of a Singer 99, I do not plan to do so.  Lights on the back of machines are pretty worthless IMHO.  I prefer the flexible IKEA Janso lamp which puts a bright light exactly where you need it.  (Any volunteers to try painting one of these too?  I have been contemplating it.)

If your machine has a light, I recommend removing it for cleaning and painting, but not disassembling the whole thing.  Some of the Singer lights have the reputation of being bears to reassemble.


Many people are terrified of tensioners.  You should overcome this fear because of the terrific sense of empowerment it will give you, and because many machines will perform much better with a little maintenance on the tensioner.

However I am not qualified to act as your therapist, so if you are really, truly, too scared to touch it, you don't have to.  We can paint around it later.

Update:  Eleanor reports that she is relatively experienced with this type of cleaning and was not afraid to remove the tensioner on her Husqvarna which definitely needs to be cleaned.

photo by Eleanor

They really aren't that hard.  Just take photos as you take each piece off and lay them out in a line and then take a photo of that.  Reassemble in the opposite order.

I chose to stop here and not remove the spring.  It will be easy to paint around, and I know it is aligned correctly.

And now I have a stripped down machine all ready for cleaning.

Your machines will be different and we all want to see pictures of them, especially pictures of features not found on the Singer 99 shown here.  Send them in and I will either add them to this post or (if there are LOTS of them, whoo hoo!) create an additional post featuring them.


  1. Thank you again Cheryl, for doing this paintalong. My machine might have sat another 12 months without this nudge to get it done. Its bits are all off now and stored separately. I've started the cleaning process on everything I've taken off and taken loads of pictures to help me put it back together. Looking forward to your next post.

  2. I really want to join you all but I cannot start this project until after Thanksgiving. So I'll be watching and taking notes as you go along. Any idea how many weeks the process will be taking?

  3. Another vote for the little Ziploc bags from the craft store- if they have a white space for labeling all the better. If not, slip a piece of paper inside the bag with the part description.

  4. I am starting to follow along as I attempt to restore an old Featherweight in truly awful shape. I have to confess, I'm happy with not having to remove the Singer badge, but worried about painting around it. How hard will it be to avoid getting paint on the badge itself?

    1. Thanks for your interest in the blog project.

      there were two different types of badges on Featherweights: the traditional metal ones and later paper decal ones. I don't have any suggestions for protecting the paper ones. The metal ones are easy to protect: cover it with blue painter's tape and carefully trim around the outside edge with a razor blade.

      I'm not going to tell anyone what to do with their own machines, but I do feel compelled to tell you that the painting technique I will be showing will NOT produce a smooth glossy finish, but will instead produce a textured glossy finish. Featherweights are more valuable that your ordinary vintage machines and have good resale value. The painting technique I will be showing will NOT enhance (or even maintain) the resale value of your machine.

      However it is your machine, and you may never plan to resell it. So I have done my job in warning you, and you are free to do whatever you choose.

      and again, thanks for your interest.


    2. Hi Cheryl! It's perfectly fine if this doesn't create a smooth finish. I'm planning to not put decals on it either. I saw a FW recently that had all its decals worn away -- I mean ALL the decals -- and I loved the simplicity of it. A textured glossy finish is fine. This machine is in wretched shape, honestly, and it won't run at all right now, completely frozen up, so I really don't care if I can ever resell it. I just love, love, love tinkering with them! If this machine sews some day and has no rust or weird blotches on the paint, I will be incredibly happy. Really looking forward to the project!

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