Friday, August 21, 2015

Woodworking projects for my wife sewing machines collection

I said earlier that my wife started collecting sewing machines, all Singer.
So far she got 11. Well, down to 10, she gave one to a friend :-)

Singer model 99K, 3/4 size of No 66

These old workhorse are plentiful, and inexpensive. At one time pretty well every housewife in the US and Canada owned one, Singer dominated the market at about 75% until the late 50s early 60s which saw their market share down to 30% with the onslaught of cheaper machines from Japan (Sears, Montgomery Ward etc).

One of the last few good models, a Singer 185J.
Notice the fabric covered case? If you stripped it out, you MUST recover because the fabric is helping to keep the case joinery together!

These old girls were all cast iron with steel gears, cleaned and oiled they still purr like the day they were made. Practically indestructible and bomb proof :-)

Talking of which, when I was a young kid during the Cuban missile crisis, being near an Airforce base (St-Hubert) and near a major city (Montreal) we used to practice the Duck and Cover drill every morning in school. We sang Oh Canada, then practiced hiding under our school desk then pray. Never understood that logic. Figured if we were to pray first, we wouldn't had to hide under our nuclear blast proof school desk :-)

Never realized before how sturdy wooden desks could be :-)

Since Singer made machines by the bazillions, they were also at one time one of the biggest cabinet makers in the country (Canada, US and UK).
They produced all kinds of cabinets and portable case out of wood. And yes, in the later years they switched to termite barf wood look alike to cut cost...

They made bentwood case and veneers cabinets.

Case on left is for full size machine No 15-90, on right 3/4 size No 99K.

Case for 15-90 need a handle like this one.

Severely damaged bentwood case saw at a recent auction, 
machine a No 128 went for $25... No we did not got it, 
but in hindsight should have for the handle!

Solid side panels are glued in place and re-inforced by glue blocks

BTW NEVER carry a machine by the case handle alone, support the bottom....
Remember that these machine are cast iron, not very lightweight...
If you want a truly portable machine, get a Feather weight No 221, but be prepared to pay big bucks for it.. $300 and up! Yes, they are very popular with quilters.

So in preparations for fixing some of her finds, I have been slowly getting into veneering tools.

Vacuum press, glue injectors, veneer saw, tapes, glycerin 
and a large selection of veneers.

I have pretty well everything I need by now, so one of my first project would be to redo the top of a drop leaf. Many older cabinets got used as plant stands with the resulting water damages....please don't do that! Clean, oil and use the machine instead!

She gave me practically free rein to do whatever I want to try on this top, so... :-)
Some sort of veneer pattern is what I want to do! Possibly duplicate the pattern on the doors?

Top with water damages...and some peeling veneer piece. 

This is the missing top's cabinet for it. Currently housing a 15-91 in it.
Very similar to the 15-90 except the motor is potted (direct drive) versus a belt driven one like on the 15-90

Inside of cabinet

Singer Model 15-90, belt driven

I also have the bottom of one of her bentwood case (15-90) that need some works, the corner blocks holding the machine are loose, and the bottom feel flimsy.

bottom case has some minor veneer damages to attended to also.

Showing the joinery used. Dado and rabbet corners

Found this online tutorial for making new case, want to try that.

Yesterday, I picked up two cabinets and a Sears machine, that a friend want to switch from a particle board cabinet to a solid wood one, except that the hole and the position of the mounting pins are different, so that would required some surgery.

So the next little while I would be involved in those repairs and will try to document those for your reading enjoyment (you must be starved for my dribbles by now :-)

And finally, I would have to set up a sewing room somewhere in the house. Build an extension? :-)

Bob, who apparently is an enabler when it comes to collecting stuff.
Wonder where she got this idea? Oh yeah, my shop? :-)


  1. You really should have bought that for the handle. Who knows what else you could have gotten off of it. Maybe you could have used the sewing machine as trading fodder or another handle or......

  2. Yah, I know, except that the time of the auction, we had no need for that handle.
    There was a white 221 also in the auction, but a friend was interested in it so she let her had it. Went for $185, which is low, but needed some work and had some minor parts missing.

  3. Hi Bob,
    interesting to read although I'm not very familiar with sewing machines.
    But it is astonishing how much sewing has to do with woodworking.


  4. I was surprised at first too, but then when you realized just how many sewing machines were made, it made sense. Every one of them sold had a portable case and/or a cabinet. That is a lot of wood used indeed. They also used a lot of veneers (book match etc) to embellish their cabinets,
    BTW I was not very familiar with sewing machines neither until she start collecting :-)


  5. Singer did not make the covers or cabinets. They were manufactured under licence in each country by major plywood/woodworking companies.