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Posted in: Developing Perspectives (August 2015)

Vintage Repair

By Bryan Bergeron

Back to the Singer, there’s always more involved in a vintage repair than meets the eye. These old sewing machines require regular lubricating and cleaning like any other fine metal equipment. I’ve tried just about every grease on the market, and have come to rely on Tri-Flo clear grease. It’s a synthetic grease that’s fairly odorless, relatively inexpensive, and easy to come by. Just make certain you remove all of the old organic grease before you apply the Tri-Flo. The combination of old and new grease doesn’t perform well.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of lighted appliances from the middle of the last century is that they relied on inefficient 110V incandescent bulbs. The Singer uses a miniature 15W bulb that gets extremely hot — hot enough to blister the paint on the bulb holder. I’ve solved that problem by replacing the incandescent with a more efficient, much cooler LED version. An unanticipated advantage of moving to LED lighting is that the light is nearly pure white as opposed to yellow. You can find LED bulbs at Amazon, 100bulbs.com, and, of course, homedepot.com.

Replacing frayed power cords can be a challenge — especially when the appliance is designed for a non-polarized two-pronged connection to the mains. Arbitrarily connecting a three-pronged plug can be a hazard — especially on an appliance with a metal chassis. Unless you’re familiar with electrical code — as well as how your house is wired — I’d stick with the original wiring diagram. Do replace the brittle plastic cord with modern flexible cord. I’ve had good luck with non-polarized cords from both Amazon and Walmart.

Switches — especially power switches — are the most problematic components in a vintage repair. It’s usually easy enough to replace a toggle switch with a garden variety version, but it’s at the cost of destroying the “vintage” feel of the appliance. Take the Singer sewing machine switch. The toggle is a distinctive white Bakelite, and the mechanical aspect of the switch is almost two inches long. I was lucky enough to find a new old stock (NOS) replacement on eBay. Otherwise, I would have been forced to substitute a miniature toggle switch for the classic Bakelite toggle. I’ve found a great source of old fashioned switches is guitar supply houses and local music stores — especially stores that cater to the tube amp crowd.

So, next time you walk past a yard sale, check out the vintage electrical items. There’s always something to learn from a teardown, even if you have no need for the actual item. NV

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