Between 1965 and 1977 Emco of Austria produced the venerable SL mini lathe/mill and they have quite the following among collectors and hobbyists who want or need a lathe that excels at making small precise parts.
It is only 16 inches wide and the maximum capacity for parts is three inches in diameter, with a bed that will handle nothing over 5 inches… my small Atlas will handle 6 inch parts with 18 inches on the bed. It has a motor that is the same size as a sewing machine (1 amp) while my main lathe has a 1/2 hp motor.
It can also be set up to be used as a small mill, and there were also other attachments like a table saw that could have been ordered.
The first thing I made was a locknut for a pair of Gingher scissors I found at an antique mall, modifying an 8/32 locknut and turning it down to better match the profile of the original.
It does a beautiful job turning brass and aluminium as it was designed for softer metals, but handles the steel locknut just fine, as I did upgrade the tooling to carbide.
With my vintage Atlas (1977) and my drill / mill set up I made a carriage stop for the wee lathe.
Starting another run of “Ultimate” thread stands and after giving the lathe a through cleaning and oiling we start by prepping the brass rod by turning it down to size before it gets cut into sections.
Once upon a time I cut all these little slugs by hand but the addition of a metal band saw makes the work easier and faster.
After cutting, the brass gets centre drilled for further machining and turned down and squared off as the dimension of the base has to be pretty exact. I made the dial indicator holder on my little mill to measure these cuts accurately.
The holes for the thread arm and lower set screw get drilled on the press, the drilling of the longitudinal holes will get done on the lathe since they are just that more accurate.
The Singer 191 was made in a number of countries with a few variations in colour and drive options, the J model was made in Canada and just like the 15-91 (on which it was based) it uses a direct drive potted motor.
Mechanically it is a Singer 15 under the bed, while the upper casting is almost the same as the later aluminium 201 Mk2 and 15-75, with a front mounted tension control and a feed dog control under the bed mounted spool pin.
Just like a Singer 15, these machines are built like tanks, are nearly indestructible, weigh a ton (they are cast iron), and will sew pretty much anything you can get under the foot.
The stitch quality is also exemplary whether you are sewing quilting cotton, or heavier materials like denim or canvas.
Whenever I hear people say working on vintage sewing machines is easy, I ask them if they have ever worked on any of the Pfaff Automatics.
Removing the cam module on the 230/332 is fairly straightforward (unlike a Pfaff 1222) and this should be done for cleaning and lubrication as you cannot access the lower assemblies with this in place.
It is not difficult to remove the cam module as all you need to do is to remove the spring assembly (2 screws) and then remove the 4 big screws that hold the cam module in place. With that done you can clean the cam module with kerosene and then re-lubricate it with sewing oil.
Before removal make sure that you set the cam module to position 1, and do not engage the cam driver while it is out of the machine as you could throw out the cam positioning.
The rest of the moving assemblies should then be cleaned with kerosene and then re-lubricated with sewing oil, while adjustment to the needle position and zig zag are much more complicated and should be referred to a professional, unless you have very good mechanical skills and a service manual.
All in all, it is a superbly designed machine, the modular cam drive is genius, and I think I prefer working on cranky Pfaffs more than I like working on cranky Berninas.
If the machine is running well and just needs cleaning and lubrication it is a user friendly kind of job, this 230 runs like a top but the zig zag and needle position settings were all bit off.
My “mint” 332 recently had a similar over haul as the zig zag control was completely frozen and it required a lot of disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly before it would run and operate properly.
This is the heart of a 230/332 automatic and where all the magic happens, the cam module is driven by an eccentric roller on the main shaft whereas other companies like Singer, Bernina, Elna, and Husqvarna used gear driven cams.
Those Germans were always thinking out of the box and this system was used well into the seventies with the Pfaff 1222, although that cam module is much more complex and difficult to remove.
My recently acquired Pfaff 332 Automatic is almost “mint” but had been put away for 30 years, and the zig zag control was completely frozen, this should never be forced as you could break or dislodge the dial.
A full disassembly and service was done on this machine and now it is running perfectly, these are such a fast and smooth running machine and they make absolutely perfect stitches.
The Pfaff 1222e is a far more complex machine and also utilizes more electronics, this is a machine that is not for the faint of heart when it comes to servicing but again… it is a brilliantly designed machine.
Pfaff is a very old sewing machine company founded in 1862 by Georg Michael Pfaff who was an instrument maker, and by 1910 they had already sold a million machines, not many relative to Singer but still quite a milestone.
By 1950 they hade produced 5 million machines and were producing the venerable model 130 and in the mid 1950’s they introduced the 260 flat bed, and it’s sister, the free arm model 332 are mechanical marvels. These models added built in stitch capability far beyond what the 130 could do with it’s external embroidery attachment and were competing head to head with companies like Bernina, Husqvarna and Elna. these companies had also introduced multi stitch models with the Bernina 530 also having built in stitch capability.
The finish is the same as Pfaff’s industrial models and is quite durable, the white dials can crack if the machine is stored poorly or abused but rarely fail.
Open the hood on a 260 or a 332 and you will think you are looking at a clock, or an automobile engine as these are extremely complex machines internally, but from a users standpoint a very straightforward machine to use, save for needing a Rosetta stone, or a stitch wheel to set the machine up for it’s range if utility and embroidery stitches.
These are extremely powerful machines that will sew anything you can get under the foot, and have a presser foot system designed to sew heavy fabrics, while being able to sew the finest silks and cottons.
They are also very fast, being capable of sewing 2500 stitches a minute with nary a vibration.
The stitch quality of these machines is perfect whether you are straight stitching, zig zagging, or using one of the many decorative or utility stitches, a drop feed allows you to do free motion and the vertical rotary hook is well suited for this kind of work.
Although this model is now almost 70 years old, they are still highly sought after, primarily by people who sew more than those who collect machines for display… if they are used regularly and kept oiled they work flawlessly day in and day out.
They rarely have any mechanical issues no matter how hard they have been used, but can be quite a bit of work to free up if they have been left to sit for long periods of time.
Like the Husqvarna 21, the Pfaff 260 and 332 set the template and a standard for Pfaff machines well into the 1970’s with models like the 360 and 1222 which are also outstanding in their own right.
I am somewhat partial to the pure mechanical machines like the 332 that have no extra electronics like needle position sensors, or automatic needle lifts, and because they were the first of their kind.
In 1955 Husqvarna introduced the model 21 which remained in production until 1966 and it is widely considered by many sewists and people in the industry, as one of the greatest machines ever designed.
While many will focus on the 21’s capabilities (which we will get to), what strikes most people first is the beautiful design and the colour ; the free arm is rather small for a full size machine, the harp has that lovely curve, and the entire machine has an almost art deco look, despite being made in the 1950’s.
There isn’t a square corner anywhere on this machine and the green simply sparkles…
When we get under the hood we find a lovely rotary hook design, a powerful motor, some rather complex internal parts, and a transmission !
This is not a simple machine but the build quality of the 21 is so good, they rarely have any issues except being sticky from dis-use.
Unlike machines that have an electric speed reducer, the model 21 has a physical transmission to provide a much lower gear for sewing heavy materials, and I have often said these machines will sew a bumper on a Volvo.
Multiple stitches are available via the use of 4 cams, that provide a total of 20 stitches and the stitch quality of the 21 is absolutely perfect. with a drop feed the 21 is also capable of some excellent free motion work, which is something a vertical rotary hook machine excels at.
The Husqvarna 21 was such a great design that this served as the template for Husqvarna machines for the next 20 years and beyond, it was superseded by the 2000 series in the mid sixties which is a very similar machine that has a different body shell, and utilized color-matic cams and colour coded dials.
Much of the DNA of the 21 lives in the 2000 series, the Bakelite controls were replaced by more modern plastics and they came in many other colours like orange and deep red. The earlier 2000 series were also all metal machines while later versions started using more plastics in the internal assemblies. This was done to reduce the need for lubrication and to make an already quiet machine, even quieter.
In Canada these machines were sold as Husqvarna as Viking was a name already trade marked by Eaton’s Canada for their appliance line, in the United States they were sold as Viking machines.
These days you can pop down to x-mart and pick up a new Singer HD machine for just under $300.00 and for a time, this machine will likely do what you paid for, and sew pretty much anything you put under the foot. It has a sold medal chassis that is surrounded by a plastic shell and plastic parts and from experience in servicing these Chinese made machines, they really aren’t made for the long haul.
They use a similar drop in bobbin system like the earlier Brazilian made machines which are also known for having issues because the assembly isn’t metal and often breaks. The hook gear and bobbin winder assembly are also plastic and we have seen countless failures in these, and similar machines. replacement parts are available and they can be a little spendy.
Rewind the clock back the the 1960’s and you will find machines like this 1963 Singer 500A that originally sold for around 400.00 in Canada (4000.00 in 2023) that were built to an exceptional standard, with no plastic in the critical drive parts, with a precision made steel bobbin case, and a completely (metal) gear driven drive.
The 500A is a wee bit more fragile than the 401A that preceded it, namely in the top cover and nose plate that can be damaged if you mishandle them but with proper care (it is a precision tool) there should not be any issues.
An old Singer guy once told me that these machines were so much better than many of the new commercial machines and we have customers who use these machines day in and day out to do commercial work with no issues.
The Singer 500A and Singer 401A… just a few examples of mid century machines that will still sew circles around most modern machines. It is rare that any come to us needing anything more than cleaning and lubrication.
There are many more variants of the Singer 4xx series like the 403 and 404 and then there are the German versions of the 4 series that are truly exceptional like the 411G (flat bed) and 431G (free arm), just to name a few.
If there is one lesser known and completely under rated Singer machine the 206k should top that list.
These were the earliest zig zag models that Singer offered in the late 1930’s and the second generation of these machines appeared after World War 2, eventually evolving into the 306, 319, and 320 models. The model is very German looking as they were designed there originally, as a competitor to Pfaff and other European marques.
These machines use a cleated belt drive which makes them exceptionally quiet and light running, and have a vertical rotary hook which gives them a smoothness of operation, a nigh perfect stitch, and they are absolutely wonderful for free motion work.
The 206k is not as commonly encountered as the 306, as it would seem they had lower production numbers, probably because Singer moved to producing the 306 which is the same mechanically, but adds cam capability in some variants, and has a more modern looking casting.
The Singer 306k, in black… another awesome machine. Some variants did not have cam capability and were virtually identical to the 206k save for the bodywork.
A stitch test… and one of the best designed zag zag feet ever.
When Singer introduced the 301 in 1951 it was a revolutionary machine for it’s time, taking the rotary hook system from the 221 and combining it with the direct gear drive system of the venerable 201.
The machine was cast aluminium and is light enough to carry with one hand, is full sized, and capable if running at 1600 stitches a minute with nary a vibration.
They cost the equivalent of $3200.00 cad when they were new (275.00 in 1951) so were a significant purchase, and preceded the later slant needle models like the 403 and 500 which added multi stitch capabilities. These later models used a drop in class 66 bobbin instead of the vertical rotary hook.
These are a favourite among quilters and many of our customers who have discovered the 301 / 301A have found their Singer 221 Featherwights don’t see nearly as much use. the 301 is not much heavier and much more capable due to a more powerful motor and full size harp space.
We currently have quite a few of these wonderful machines available for purchase and if you are local we are always happy to arrange a test drive.
The Singer VS machines were produced from the 1880’s until the late 1950’s and saw small changes in the placement of the bobbin winder, an addition of a shuttle ejector, as well as a change in the casting as the early machines had a cast plate that exposed the back of the machine instead of a plate.
The 28 and 128 were the smaller version of the model 27 and 128 and sold in massive numbers as they were one of the least expensive machines Singer offered, were dead reliable, and made an outstanding stitch. They could also sew through pretty much anything you could get under the foot.
The model 28 had a heavier hand wheel and a lower placed bobbin winder save for the case of the 28-9 which was a transitional model, that had a high placed winder and a handwheel that was a little heavier than the 128’s.
The 128 shown here is a 1951 Centennial model with an M.R. decal, this stood for Marca Registrada and was placed their for export to Spanish speaking countries. It has Celtic decals which were unique to Canadian made machines and the hand crank is a replacement for the original electric motor.
These machines were always best as hand cranks as they were not designed to run at the speeds an electric motor provided, and turning one of these machines over by hand is a zen like experience. It does of course provide excellent stitch control and the stitching of a VS machine is beautiful, and as close to a hand stitch as any machine could make.
Any collector of vintage Singer machines should have at least one, as they were so significant and successful for almost 60 years of production.