Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Servicing your 201K part 2 - cleaning

This is really quite easy to do. There are two things to remember when oiling your old domestic machine:
1. Clean first, then oil
2. Only one drop per oiling point, except the presser bar wick
If you want to do it properly, you should remove the hook mechanism, which may never have been done. Here's how to do it:
pull slide plate out
angle it so it comes out, avoid damaging the enamel
remove needle, foot and bobbin
Clean out the dirt. Most will be really filthy
nylon brushes are excellent
This is removed next. It's going to be hard. If you can't, clean around it
remove feed dog screws
prise these two lugs outwards a little
lugs out, wedge a screwdriver so hook comes off when wheel turned
lugs have moved, hook is ready to lift off

clean everything so it's at least this shiny
to reassemble, the screwdriver will be on the other side, wheel turned opposite way
Now, put the screw back in and tighten it. I mean it has to be pretty tight. Put a single drop of oil where the hook rotates (metal against metal - general rule of oiling, as is the single drop on each oiling point).
Replace the bobbin and slide plate. Again, careful not to damage the enamel and put it in at an angle.
Well, now we have that over, move on to the end plate. Remove it and notice that every piece of moving steel has a small oil hole. If it doesn't or you can't find it, oil it anyway.
Take note of how stiff the hand wheel is before oiling this then compare it again afterwards. It's my experience that this area contributes most to a machine's stiffness, so you'll be doing the most good here.
turn the hand wheel, oil every joint and the needle bar
Here are just two points. Exactly one drop each.
Also soak the brown wick at the top of the presser bar. Might take 5 or so drops, but don't overdo it or oil will ruin your sewing for months. You can see in that last picture that the top arrow points to a hole, the bottom is pointing at the needle bar. Exactly one drop each is a very simple rule.
Now, tip the machine back. I rested mine on the lid turned sideways. Turn the hand wheel to see what moves and oil it. Remove the two black metal covers and oil in there too (marked with arrows), or vaseline would be better for this, since it will stay a lot longer. Vaseline closely matches Singer's gear and motor grease, which isn't available any more.
If aluminium, the serial number is stamped underneath

At this point, if you're used to modern machines you might be wondering why on Earth you have to do all this when you don't on the modern plastics. Here's why: Plastics have oil included in the plastic and when it runs out, if your machine lasts that long, you are expected to throw the machine away and buy a new one. When your 201K was made, this would have been unthinkable. I developed the habit of cleaning and oiling after every eight hours of sewing and be happy that my machine sews a perfect stitch and will last forever. At the same time, replace your sewing needle. 
Just a few places that need a drop
There are actually quite a number of places that need oil underneath, so make sure you spend some time on this. The manual has quite good instructions too. Yes Singer intended for the user to service their own machine! How about that?
Several oil points on the top
Finally, remove the plate at the back
someone has greased it
It appears that someone has applied a bit of grease to the gears. Singer recommends oil, and oil on the mechanism on the left (which usually gets oil from the oiling hole on the top). If there's heavy grease on the gears it will noticeably slow the motor and you should clean it off. This grease doesn't seem to have affected my machine so I left it alone.

Now, the other things are to look at the drive belt. If it needs a new one, do not buy a round rubber belt: Those belts cause the motor to strain. Get a fibre belt like the machine is supposed to use and adjust the motor so this belt is loose. It is not like a car's fan belt, where tight is good. If you over tighten the drive belt on a sewing machine it will slow the motor and wear the bushings out very quickly. It will also give you poor control over the speed, so keep it as loose as possible without slippage.
The original bulbs were 25W and were extremely good. When I buy a machine it normally has the original Singer bulb or a 1960s 25W replacement that still works. Really, they made things that well a long time ago. Still, they get very hot and you might be better off with a 15W replacement. They produce the same amount of light but the burn you sustain when you touch it is only second degree instead of third. Saves on hospital bills and skin grafts. I buy Riva bulbs which are exactly the same size as the original and they're still made in Germany.

The exterior

If the exterior is a bit dirty, clean it with a cloth and some sewing machine oil. It's the only substance guaranteed not to damage the finish. Only down side is that it's so gentle you might be there a while. Pure car wax works nicely if you want a deep sheen. The later ones were painted with enamel (earlier were Japanned) so you can use car paint products on keeping it beautiful.

Remember: Important

201s have the needle flat to the left and thread right to left


  1. These guides have been invaluable to me these last couple of weeks as I have serviced my machine. Thank you for making it so clear and easy! Best guide I found

    1. Thanks Larrie. I've cleaned, oiled and re-wired quite a few and still enjoy doing it.

  2. Hello Mike, your guides are very helpful! I have been reading in preparation for rewiring a beige/brown 201K I recently rescued. It is my first attempt. In the above article you mention to not replace the motor belt with the round rubber one - where do you find a non-rubber belt? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Laurel. Cyndy Kitt is in NSW and will send one to you. She knows about vintage machines and will sell you the right one. You'll only need one, since they last many years.

  3. Thank you, Mike! That is where I have ordered from. :)