Cleaning · Crew · Singer · Vibrating shuttle

A new girl joins the club – restoration complete

It’s a 1908 Singer 27K. Found her on eBay, won for 99p… plus £15 postage… The seller wrote: “Got it out of an old garage, took it off the treadle because the wooden table was rotten, don’t want to throw it out”. I mean, what would you do?

Skip to Day 1 update.
Skip to Day 2 update.
Skip to Day 3 update.
Skip to Day 4 update.
Skip to Day 5 update.
Skip to The final result.

As you can see, she’s pretty rusty. But complete! Even got the shuttle with a bobbin.

Unfortunately the needle bar got broken off in transit because it could not go down due to the presser bar being currently stuck. But that’s ok, I’ve got a replacement needle bar in my box-o’-bits.

So we start with an oil bath. I covered everything with a generous layer of 3-in-1, it is excellent for cleaning – it removes dirt, dissolves hardened oil and lifts off rust. I never use it for lubrication because it itself solidifies after some time, but as a cleaner it is fantastic. And odour-free, and does not harm your skin.

I am now leaving it to soak. Such things are best not rushed, a few days will be needed. As there is quite a lot of rust here, I shall wipe it off tomorrow and re-apply the oil. It won’t clean off deep seated rust, you need a rust eater for that, but it will do enough to clear the mechanism and get that presser bar unstuck.

Plan of action

After wiping off the oil, I should get a much better looking machine already. The first thing to do will be to sort out the presser and needle bar, and I don’t expect it to be a big job. The mechanism is not stuck anywhere else, so the machine should be able to sew then. I’ll do a quick test and we’ll see. Any hidden problems with the mechanism will become apparent then.

The next important thing to do is to remove remaining rust from badly rusted parts like the balance wheel, and in particular from the mechanism as well as from the slide plates (or it will catch on the material as you sew).

This will require some rust eater and a lot of elbow grease – it’s not complicated but you don’t need to go to the gym after a polishing job like that!

And finally it’s cosmetic details. The original shellac has gone flaky, it does not typically survive 100 years. This means that the waterslide decals underneath got rubbed off with use, most notably on the bed of the machine.

The 3-in-1 oil will remove loose flakes, and I might give it a hand with some white spirit. The important question here is what to do about the decals. I don’t like the kind of restoration that makes an antique machine look new, I find it erases its character. So I don’t want to strip all the varnish and decals and apply a new set (yes, you can buy them again). And unfortunately I cannot buy just the one decal for the bed, it’s sold by the set which is expensive (£60 plus import tax). Rather defeats the point.

So the options are, I suppose: 1) leave it as is – half a sphinx; 2) erase the bed decal completely and possibly replace with something else; or 3) be creative and add the bottom half to the sphinx somehow. Hmmm… I cannot recreate that bottom half as it was, I don’t think… Suggestions?

Once the decals are restored or redone, the machine needs varnishing. It is not just for the purpose of protecting the decals from rubbing off, it is also for preventing any further rust, so it’s quite important.​

And then there’s the question of power: what will drive the machine? I like mine motorised, so I’ll be fitting a motor to it. And putting it into a plastic case to go into the cut-out in my sewing table.

Progress updates to follow!

Day 1: cleaning up

After a day of oil bathing, it was time to wipe it off and see what we are left with.

The under-belly is certainly looking better! It’s clean and is moving freely.

The presser bar got unstuck, and I removed it, along with the needle bar. Something very bad must have happened to the machine at some point, because the pressure adjuster got all bent! May be this was also when the needle bar got broken off, rather than in transit.​

Clearly, I shall be replacing both bars as well as the adjuster. The rest of the mechanism is unscathed though. 🙂

A few things are still quite rusty, so I’ll treat them with some rust eater next.

​A few screws are still stuck, notably the stitch length regulator. So I treated it with creeping oil, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

Day 2: fighting rust

One of the two hinges is stuck in its socket (holding screw stuck), so I can’t put the machine into a case because I need that hinge socket free! 😛 Also the stitch length screw is still stuck! It’s so frustrating.


As you can see, it’s a mighty long screw, so I expect it will take good few days and many refills until the oil manages to penetrate the whole length of the spiral. I put the machine front down on the table so that the screw points downwards. Enlisting gravity to help! 🙂

On a happier note, my fight with rust was successful!

These have been treated with Hammerite Rust Remover repeatedly until the iron rust was gone, then with 3-in-1 oil with fine sand paper grade 3000 and 5000, and finally with Peek polishing paste for shine.​

The black spots you see on the nickel-plated panels, are not rust (iron oxide), and neither are they plain nickel tarnishing (nickel oxide), but the result of some combined reaction, and none of my usual remedies can shift them fast enough. So I declare them done. 🙂 They can always be replaced later. Most importantly, the slide plate is now smooth, so can be used for sewing.

The balance wheel is not nickel-coated on this machine, that’s why it got so rusty. But I think it cleaned up quite well, and I rather like this industrial look. 🙂

Day 3: sewing!

Technically, it’s day 4 since I started, but I haven’t done anything yesterday, so it doesn’t count. It’s day 3 of action. 🙂

The stitch length regulator is finally unstuck! All that was needed was a gentle tug with one of these:

Ok, may be not so gentle, may be it was rather a lot of brute force, but anyhow – it’s unstuck, hurray! 😀

The screw was not actually rusted in, it was just dirty. Solidified oil became as hard as plastic sealing the thread and preventing penetrating oil to get anywhere. But once the seal was broken with that gentle tug of the crocodile jaws (“mole grips”, apparently), the oil could get in and all was done literally in minutes. The screw is as light as could be now.​

There you see that not all that is orange, is actually rust.

I fitted a new presser bar and a new needle bar, put everything in place, cleaned the shuttle (it was still threaded with a bobbin inside, thread turned to stone under the spring). I replaced the same bobbin with its old thread, threaded the top, and… my heart leapt… will she sew?

She did! Unsteady at first, skipped a few stitches, pulled a few, but then she found her rhythm – she was doing it again! And with a very decent stitch, too.​

And that is viscose jersey, by the way, not just cotton poplin.

The quality of stitching will be much improved with future adjustments, but the essential test succeded: the machine forms stitches reliably and under different tensions (I tried some variations), which means it will accept adjustments and not start throwing tantrums at the first change of thread (like some other machines we know).

This is a critical point: is it worth while to proceed? Will this be a sewing machine or a sewing machine ornament?

This will be a sewing machine, so I proceed with further cleaning, adjustments and cosmetic work.

I had ordered some Evaporust following Leila’s tip from the comments, it arrived today. I put some stuff in.

After 7 hours of soaking the orange rust is all but gone, but the hard black rust is still resisting. But the label said to soak for 24 to 48 hours, so we’ll just have to be patient, I guess.

Day 4: results from Evaporust

After 26 hours of soaking in Evaporust, everything turned black. I think it removed so much rust from the parts, that the solution became too saturated with it. I considered pouring it out and refilling with fresh one, but then I tried Peek polishing paste on the blackened bits, and the tarnishing cleaned off very easily. So I went with that.​

Unfortunately, it does not recreate the nickel coating where it had been destroyed by corrosion. 😉

Day 5: touching up the sphinx and varnishing

The half-sphinx on the bed needed something doing to it. I used acrylic metallic paints to touch it up a bit, as far as the half-dissolved shellac and slippery paint underneath would allow.

So, after clearing shellac debries, this is what we started with:

Touched up, it looks like this:

And varnished it comes out like this:

Some of the metallic pigment refused to stay put, but I hope it’s still an improvement overall.

The final result

The machine is finished! It’s working well, the rust is gone and it’s been varnished to seal it against further corrosion and to preserve the remaining decals, of course.

The decals on the back deteriorated quite a bit more than on the front, so I decided not to touch them up since I could not recreate them properly. Besides, they are on the back. 😉

The varnish will still take a couple of weeks to cure and fully harden. It is water-based polyurethane, so it can always be polished up for that extra gloss and shine. 🙂

I am also still going to fine-tune the stitch quality and make sure that this machine produces that low tension flexible stitch good enough to stretch with jersey.

The next model

But then I’ll be selling the 27K on for someone else to enjoy because look what arrived today:

It’s the next model – a 1914 Singer 127K. All this one needs is a coat of varnish because here too the shellac is crumbling under your fingers. Both machines sew equally well, but who can resist those decals… :-)​

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15 thoughts on “A new girl joins the club – restoration complete

      1. It is going to work, I want to use it! I’ve just updated the post with an action plan, since you asked. 🙂 I expect it will be a couple of weeks in all. Unless I decide to do something awfully artistically complicated with that bed decal, that is. 🙂


  1. I think the black stuff is a hard, stable iron oxide. There are many kinds of iron oxides, and usually we only call the brown or orange types rust. Not all rust removers will get rid of the black iron oxide you tend to get on antique sewing machines under the brown rust, but an overnight soak in Evaporust will dissolve it completely. I’m a huge fan of Evaporust now that I finally got some. It takes time, but it is safe and does not damage the metal. I don’t think it will hurt anything to just leave the black oxide in place, though, since it seems to be stable, unlike orange rust.


    1. Yes, it is stable and doesn’t proliferate like orange rust. I had it on another machine before, it only seems to appear on surfaces coated with nickel, never on plain steel. Like, there is none of that on the balance wheel. I shall look into getting Evaporust though! 🙂


    1. Congratulations! 😀 It is a beautiful machine, and yes, if the database says the serial number was assigned in 1910, then it will have been manufactured within six months of that date. The 66 was a very popular model, and with good reason. Don’t worry about the missing bobbin cover – you can get it on eBay, there are lots of them. It’s the same as for Singer 99. As for the manual, I have a collection of Singer 66 manuals under the downloads section of my blog. 🙂
      Looks like you got the bug now!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful!! So exciting to read through this process from start to finish! I love the Sphinx decals, but sadly in my area people are stuck on the notion that any machine with Sphinx (or any other beautiful or elaborate) decals is automatically worth hundreds of dollars, even in the worst possible shape – and there is just no telling them otherwise! (I’ve tried to no avail.) I love that you brought this old girl back to life!


    1. Yes, that one was a journey. 🙂 As for monetary value of any item, it mostly depends on exactly what the locals think. You could buy a lovely Singer from Europe for next to nothing, but add the shipping to America, and there you have your $100.

      Liked by 1 person

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