Greetings,

This tip will address the question: Should I oil and grease my sewing machine? The short answer is: Yes, no, maybe and sometimes.

If you own one of the classic cast iron machines of bygone days, the answer is yes. You should oil these machines whenever they start to sound dry and noisy. They usually have oil holes in the casting for you to place a drop of oil in. No more then a drop or two is required. Anything more then that is excess oil which will just start to puddle up in the machine. You should also rotate the handwheel by hand and place a drop of oil wherever moving parts come in contact with each other. Rotating parts and sliding parts. However, even these machines do not require oiling that often. Too much oil is never a good thing. In fact, if you look at the pictures below, you'll see a good example of what kind of damage over oiling can do. Especially when using the wrong kind of oil.

A sticky gummy mess   It is a LOT worse then it looks in this picture

These (normally) shiny metal parts are stained brown with what used to be lubrication. It has turned into a gummy, sticky substance which is preventing the parts from moving freely. I'm not quite sure what type of oil was used on this machine, but it was not good sewing machine oil. Sew, this is probably a good time to explain what type of oil you should use. Sewing machine oil has the consistency of water. It is also completly clear and odorless. Oil also has a shelf life. If it has turned yellow, it is old and should not be used. If it has an odor, it is not the correct oil to use. I've been doing this long enough to know that some will have a preference for some type or another of speciality oil. Use at your own risk. I stick with plain old sewing machine oil.

Gears, on the other hand, require grease. Of course, not just any kind of grease, but sewing machine grease. Singer offers a very good light grease available in a small squeeze tube called (what else?) Singer Lubricant. I highly recommend it. But only for steel gears. Plastic gears do not, and should not, require lubrication.

Which brings me to a most horrifying video that I watched recently on the Internet. It was actually posted on a sewing machine parts supply website (which shall remain nameless) as a service (?!) to their customers. It is titled "How To Replace Your Sewing Machine's Gears". It shows how "easy" it is to replace the plastic gears in an older Singer Stylist, a popular machine design from the 1970's. Back then the Space Age material was a plastic called Lexan®. Singer used a form of this type of plastic (I was told carbon impregnated Lexan®) for the gears used in many of their different models. Unfortunately, grease and oil would cause this type of plastic to decompose and loose it's strength. It would literally fall apart. Anyone in the sewing machine service trade has replaced their fair share of gears. Anyway, getting back to this video, besides the mistakes being shown (at one point they are shown installing THE WRONG GEAR!), and not mentioning the timing marks used on this machine that are required for correct hook and feed timing (Very Important), at the end they break out a Tub 'O Grease and start slathering it on the gears. And I do mean packing it on. I have to admit, by this point I think I was drooling on myself with disbelief. Those Lexan® gears don't stand a chance. Not to mention, what do you think happens to all that grease when those gears start to spin at high speeds. That's right, GREASE EVERYWHERE! Unbelievable. The Internet. Sometimes it's the misinformation superhighway. This site being an exception, of course!

Getting back to oiling, if you have a newer machine, you are not required, or able, to oil it. There are no oil holes and sometimes the covers require an act of Congress and a two day pass to be able to remove them. I don't recommend even trying to get into these machines. Leave it to the experts. There are, however, a couple of places that will require regular attention.

Please note that the purpose of any lubrication is to form a thin protective barrier between (usually) metal parts. The key word here is 'thin'. A little goes a long way. The parts that make up a sewing machine usually fit together with very close tolerances. The oil's job is twofold: One is to form that barrier to prevent premature wear and tear, and the other is to keep the machine running quiet. IT WILL NOT REPAIR STITCHING PROBLEMS! Sorry for yelling there, but too many times I have seen a machine oiled to death (see pictures above). If your machine isn't sewing properly, all the oil in the Gulf will not correct it. There are no hydraulic systems in household sewing machines. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Below are some images of the areas that would benefit from regular attention.

Classic 6000 series Viking machine   Typical 15 Class hook system

A thin film of oil on the center post of the hook where the bobbin case is riding will keep the bobbin case from rattling. I place a drop of oil on my finger and wipe it on the post. You could use a cotton swab. The next picture shows a rotary style hook used by Pfaff as well as some other brands. On this type of hook the bobbin case base, the part that the bobbin case rides in, is held stationary while the hook rotates around it. Keeping this area clean and lightly lubricated will go a long way towards preventing problems down the road.

Keep this area clean and lightly lubricated

The next set of pictures shows a very common drop in bobbin system used on a wide variaty of machines. Removing the plastic bobbin case and cleaning out the lint and debris is all you are required to do here. Since the bobbin case is plastic, no lubrication is necessary. If you do have the urge to oil the race that the bobbin case is riding on, do so sparingly. The plastic used for these bobbin cases will eventually start to expand from soaking up the oil. This will require replacing the bobbin case. Oil at your own risk. I don't recommend it.

   A very common drop in bobbin system   With the bobbin case removed

How it should look after cleaning

For those with a standard 15 Class hook system, it is also a good idea to remove the hook and clean the race (the part the hook is riding in). A tooth pick or sharp pointed tweezers will get into the groove where debris can really get packed into. A lint free cloth will wipe away additional residue that has accumulated. A small drop of oil placed on the outside edge of the hook can be spread over the surface with a cotton swab (I use my finger) before replacing it into the race. If you have read my last month's Tip Of The Month you would know that the needle bar AND the thread take up lever must be in their highest position to remove or install the hook easily.

Clean the race with a toothpick or tweezers   A small drop of oil

Wipe off excess oil

The only other part of a sewing machine that could benefit from a routine oiling would be the needle bar where it is riding in it's bushings and the upper looper bar of a serger (or overlock) machine. These parts travel quite a bit of distance in their operation, and running them dry will cause bushings to wear out, causing a loose, sloppy fit. It takes quite a bit of use for this to happen, but we are discussing oiling here, so I thought I would bring it up.

One drop here   And one drop here

A drop here   And a drop here

Basically, if you feel the need to oil your machine, at least do it sparingly. Unless your machine is totally locked up due to lack of lubrication (highly unlikely), you should spend your time using and enjoying your sewing machine instead of servicing it. My best advice is, if you use it a lot, then an annual maintenance program would be beneficial. Ask you local sewing machine store if they offer a discount, or have special pricing, for an annual visit. If you only use your machine occasionally, then let the machine tell you when it needs attention. When it starts sounding noisier than usual or starts stitching erratically, then it's a good time to seek out a professional.

And instead of ending this Tip Of The Month in my usual way, by leading up to why you should purchase The Universal Thread Holder (you really should), I'm just going to share an e-mail I recently received from a very nice Customer.

I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the two wonderful products: the easy winder and the universal thread holder. Both will make my sewing MUCH easier, plus save money on large/different cones of thread and wear and tear on my machine! The engineering design of both products is extremely clever yet practical. I am glad to see that you have had the designs patented (pending?) ( FYI - my husband is a patent attorney in Wisconsin). Shipping was lightening fast, and the whole transaction was painless! I will be recommending these two specific products to all my sewing associates. Regarding the easy winder, price is extremely competitive, but the quality is far better than the winders available in the fabric stores; the same holds for the universal thread holder and the design is smarter than other thread holders out in the market.
Thank you again for two great products (and the two thread cutters, they are cute!) and a great transaction! Please feel free to use any or all of my "testimonial" on your web site.
Terry A

I've got to be honest with you. If I get many more like this, I'm going to need a bigger hat!

Happy Sewing,

John

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RJS Designs Inc.   Saint Petersburg, Florida USA