Tag Archives: Singer treadle sewing machine

How-To: Oiling a Singer Model 27

   This November, my Singer Model 27 turns 113 years old. Here’s how I’ve been keeping it running smoothly.

   After any restoration work, all a Model 27 really needs is continual oiling. It’s simple enough to oil yourself, and it’s all iron and steel, so you don’t have to worry about the oil reacting with plastic or electronic components. Hypothetically, if you dropped it in a huge vat of oil it would just smile.

   I use gun oil for my machines. I think it’s a good choice, because it’s meant for small machines that get dirty and work up heat. I’ve had no trouble with it. 

   Before you start, take out the needle, the shuttle and bobbin, and the felt disc on the spool pin. I’ve also taken my machine off the table, and removed the belt, one of the plates on the floor of the machine, and the bobbin winder: but you don’t need to do all that. 

When does my Model 27 need oiling?

    It needed oiling yesterday. And today, and tomorrow. And the day before yesterday and the day before that.

    No really. It will take a few drops a day if you’re using it, and more every so often. This machine will work ok without all this attention, but it’ll really work well if it’s been oiled. 


   The Model 27 has three oiling holes, all located in the top of the machine. Three or four drops in each hole are all that’s needed on a daily basis, for daily use. Spin the wheel as you’re adding oil. If the oil forms a bubble, poke it with a pin until it drains.


The first hole is located very close to the join between the machine body and the belt cover.


The second hole is right next to the spool pin, and should usually be covered by a little disc of felt or wool, to keep the spool from scratching the enamel.


The third hole is on the arm proper, right up by the head/face.

Other points to oil:

The spot at the top of the head where the foot post and needle post come out (visible in the photo directly above): oil these liberally and flip the foot lever/spin the wheel a few times so the oil gets down into the workings. 

Any adjustment screw or nut: a drop is more than enough, then wipe off the excess. If you can take the screw out without the machine popping apart, do that; oil the threads and put the screw back in. 

For the thread tension contraption, don’t go crazy on the oil. It needs oiling, but it’s difficult to wipe down, and any oil left will get on your sewing thread. 


The head of the machine with the faceplate removed.

   Inside the head of the machine is a good place to oil, especially if the machine will be sitting for a while. Take out the two screws and pop off the faceplate. All you need for this is a 1/4″ flat-blade screwdriver. This size works for most of the screws on a Model 27, so it’s nice to keep one handy. A 1/2″ flat-blade screwdriver fits the rest of the screws on the Model 27. 

   With the head open, drop the foot and spin the wheel. Whatever moves, oil the joint liberally and spin the wheel some more. Oil the upper part of a joint, then spin the wheel and let the oil work its way down.

   While you have the face plate off, you can take a small, stiff-bristled paintbrush and clean any lint out of the machine. The workings of the Model 27 are pretty enclosed and shouldn’t accumulate too much lint, but it’s nice to check anyway. 

   Notice that the body of the machine isn’t enameled where the faceplate joins the body; this area is bare metal which rusts easily and should be oiled a little before you put the plate back on. Wipe it down, and oil the screw threads too. You’ll be glad you did, next time you take the plate off.


Inside the body

    Above: the oil holes at the top should direct oil right to most of the hinges inside the body of the machine. To get oil into the rest of the hinge here, you ned to turn the machine on its side, or to use a dropper with a long nose. Again, spin the wheel for a while to get the oil worked in. 


Inside the head

    Above: this little door opens to show the end of the rotating inner arm, and the shoulder of the small arm that holds the thread. The hole in the top of the machine should direct oil to this spot, so all you really need to do is add a drop or two to the top of the shoulder of the little arm. 


The undercarriage

    Above: every so often, you’ll need to drop oil on every joint underneath and spin the wheel for a few minutes. 


    Now that you’ve oiled it, it’s probably going to seep oil for a little while. You have been warned.

    I wad paper towels up and pack the machine with the pads, and I set the whole thing on a rag or a few paper towels to catch any oil.

    When you’re ready to sew again, take care to wipe all the oil from the outside of the machine and wherever the thread winds. It’s a nice idea to sew a few lines on a scrap of cloth before starting your actual project, then wipe the machine down again, just in case there’s more oil working its way out.

How much is too much?

     There’s really no such thing as over-oiling. It’s just a little wasteful, and it means that you’ll have more work to do wiping off the extra oil when you want to use the machine again. 

     If I’m not using the machine daily, I give it a good oiling once a month or so, and spin the wheel every few days to keep it from rusting in place. If I’m using it daily it gets a few drops every day, then a thorough oiling when I’m done. 

     And that’s how to keep the Model 27 spinning! Happy sewing! : D


     A facsimile of the original Singer Model 27 manual, with instructions on how to oil the machine. 

     Another link to The Singer Sewing Machine Co. Manual for the Model 27 & 28. This version is newer and shows added motors on the machines. 

     The Wikipedia page on early Singer models.

     More info on Singer vibrating shuttle models.

Restoring a Singer Model 27: rust, treasure and a guinea pig.

I’ve never had much luck with sewing machines. They loop stitches, they bunch cloth, they act erratically … they frustrate the heck out of me. I’ve developed a good distaste for machines with more than two buttons, and don’t even mention computerized machines.

I figured I should try a treadle machine, just to see if I liked it better than a modern one. A year ago I bought a 1902 Singer model 27 with Sphinx decals to play around with and see if I could get to work. There was so much rust that the wheel wouldn’t spin more than an inch or two before it made a truly horrible crunching noise. At the least, I loved how it looked, even if it was destroyed. That’s the steampunk part of me talking. The steampunk part of me also named it Nigel.

The Singer, before I began cleaning.

The machine in its cabinet, before I began cleaning a year ago. Rust, rust, and more rust.

Well, it took a good 30 days, a quart of mineral oil (I used that because it’s nontoxic), ten packs of steel wool, and a lot of frustrated putzing, but now it works. I credit the genius of how the machine was made: the individual parts are very simple and if they’re not bent or cracked, and if they’re oiled, they should always work. This machine is still 50% rust (no really, it looks like the wreck of the Titanic inside, except no fish) and it works perfectly. For broken pieces, this model uses some parts that fit modern machines, like the foot and many screws and nuts. For the rest you can find either modern reproduction parts or scrap pieces online, so replacing pieces isn’t crazy difficult.

The 1902, looking a little shinier. The bobbin winder is taken off.

The machine today, looking a little shinier. I think a previous owner was a smoker; it was covered in grime. The bobbin winder is taken off here.

The technology in this thing is kind of astounding. The bobbin is oblong and fits into a complex little shuttle, which sits in a chassis that swings back and forth. It swings against a horizontal concavity shaped like a half-moon. The needle comes down through a hole in the middle of that half-moon, and this is where the magic happens. The needle ‘hiccups’, or makes a little down-up-down-up movement, and the thread (if it’s the right weight) loops around the moving shuttle. It slips in between the shuttle and the chassis, which swing right through the loop. This makes a twist that tightens and becomes the stitch.

The bobbin and the shuttle.

The bobbin and the shuttle.

The bobbin, in the shuttle, in the chassis, in the machine …

Another incredible thing: it’s almost silent, it just makes a snickety-snickety noise. I can listen to music, I can have a conversation while I sew. I don’t need electricity so I could literally sew anywhere I have a square foot of table. I just pick it up by the arm and haul it where I need.

Speaking of which, this thing is SOLID cast iron. If you drop it on your toe … oh boy.

I haven’t restored it fully, so it’s still missing pieces and I haven’t attached it into its cabinet or used it with the treadle yet. I use it by spinning the wheel by hand. When it’s oiled, I can spin the wheel once and just the weight of the machine itself makes it take 5-8 stitches before it looses inertia.

The hugely complicated system for regulating thread tension. It's a mess of screws and springs that, once put together correctly, uses a nut to squeeze two metal donuts together. the thread runs between the donuts and the pressure of the donuts controls tension. The thread also runs through an annoying little wire loop that gets caught on stuff way too easily.

The ridiculously complicated system for regulating needle thread tension. It’s a mess of screws and springs that, if put together correctly, uses a nut to squeeze two metal donuts together. The thread runs between the donuts and their pressure controls its tension. The thread also runs through that annoying little wire loop that gets caught on stuff way too easily.

Some of the awesome Art Noveau decals. The machine's so rusty that I was originally tempted to take all the paint off and repaint it, but then I cleaned off the cigarette scale and these beauties popped up. I'm leaving it the way it is!

Some of the awesome Art Nouveau decals. The machine’s so rusty that I was originally tempted to take all the paint off and repaint it, but then I cleaned off the cigarette scale and these beauties popped up. I’m leaving it the way it is!

For more on the model 27, check out the The Franklin Institute if you’re in the Philly area. Their entire exhibit on simple machines (“Amazing Machines”) uses a Singer model 27 as an example of almost every simple machine they cover. They also have an 1890 Singer toy sewing machine which is adorable. There’s not much info online, though.

Because the Internet can never have too many pictures of animals being cute, here is a guinea pig on a sewing machine. Her name is Zubi, and she thought it smelled funny.