Last year I became absolutely fascinated with vintage sewing machines, particularly the heavy duty solid metal singers. I knew we had no room for a treadle, so I wanted a “modern” powered one, and Elsie, my lovely Singer 201K popped up on Gumtree, condition doubtful, for $30. The owner had never tried to use it, had never plugged her in or anything, despite being a sewist herself. Elsie, to her, was purely decorative.
She was absolutely amazed when I pulled out some thread and fabric, threaded her up and off she flew! At $30, what a bargain. Sold!
I brought her home, carefully cleaned her up and oiled her, gave her a fresh needle and ordered some new bobbins, as she came with basically no accessories at all, just the one bobbin, a terribly blunt needle, her knee lever and power cord.
All went beautifully on our first night sewing together until I got up to make a cup of tea. DS2, who was sitting at the kitchen table with me, asked why the machine was making so much noise, and there was a distinct smell of burning. She was running on full power, despite not being used. The only way to stop her was to unplug her, and as soon as she was plugged back in, off she went again! Disaster. Calamity. They don’t mention how to fix this in the manual!
The next day, I started poking around in the motor and other parts… I’m not sure of the technical names so please bear with me. We first decided that the problem wasn’t with the motor, because it was obviously running just fine, so troubleshooting mode led us to the unassuming black box to the left of the machine which houses the throttle assembly – how much power is applied and when.
Many screws later, we had this out…. but still no idea what we were looking at.
But never fear, this story has a happy ending. Googling the parts that we could see here (the silver things that look like batteries), led us to similar problems in Singer pedal machines. We learnt that these are capacitors, which store the power and mete it out to the machine as the lever is pressed. One or both of them had failed (hence the burning smell), leading to the machine having no control over the power coming through it.
I took this assembly carefully out, and went into the local electronics repair shop for some help. They were sure that they could fix it, however it would need “special parts” and the person to look at it wouldn’t be back in until after Christmas, so come back in January. Of course, life and a puppy got in the way and I made my way back to the shop on Monday. The special person took a look at it, pulled away from his lunch, regretfully told me that the problem was in the big white ceramic part, that there was no way to replace it, and they could wire a pedal onto my power cord for me for the sum of $80 thankyou very much.
Seething, I left, and hit the internet again…. searching for the parts number led me to this site… Vintage Radio Repairs which led me to a parts list. When googling the equivalent part number, I ended up on this site… RS Delivers spending the princely sum of $6.18 for 5 replacement capacitors (they only came in packs of 5)… not to mention that for some reason they gave me free next day delivery. By courier. To my door. What amazing service!
So, here comes all the photographs for the tutorial on how to replace the blown capacitors and bring Elsie back to life again.
Firstly, we want to examine the leads on the capacitors. One end of each one is connected to one contact on the ceramic part, which my reading suggests is called a rheostat. Apparently they are very fragile and on no account should you fiddle around with them.
Unscrewing the two top screws, and unclipping the capacitors will allow you to take the whole capacitor circuit gently out.
Then I simply used wire cutters to cut the capacitors out of the circuit, as close to the ends as possible.
As you can see, the replacement capacitors, which are matching in capacitance and voltage, are considerably smaller in size. They are axial, or through hole, so they have a lead at each end. There was no marking as to positive or negative ends, so I just fitted them into the circuit as they were.
Because the plastic covering the leads was old and pliable, I simply securely inserted the leads of the capacitors a couple of centimetres up inside the wire coating. I’m sure this isn’t best practice, but it held well and they were obviously in tight contact with the circuit.
I then wrapped them up carefully in electrical tape, my other big purchase for this experiment, so that there was no possibility of the bare wires contacting anything inside the throttle assembly, and they would stay in place.
It took a little bending and consulting the original diagram to make it fold back into place, and again I used some electrical tape to hold the capacitors because they obviously wouldn’t clip back in.
Now to put it all back together in the machine! Follow these steps backwards to remove if you ever need to.
Firstly, we need to attach the power leads back to the machine. This whole assembly sits inside a little bakelite box, hidden on the right of your machine.
Those two leads attach to the contacts I had already made with the capacitor circuit. There is also another screw type clip for holding them securely in place.
Next, the box top needs to be attached to cover this mechanism. It is held in place with 2 screws, shown next, top right and bottom left. Leave the gold coloured screw holes, they attach through the bottom of the box.
Next we need to re-attach the actual knee lever part back to the throttle.
The silver peg on the right slots neatly through a corresponding hole on part that sticks out of the box. To achieve this, the whole knee lever part needs to come out of the wooden case. It is held in by two screws at the top.
After you have connected the two, you can loosely put the screws back in. Wait until after the next step to tighten them.
All of this is held tightly in place by 5 screws through the bottom of the case – be very careful to support your machine when tipping it over to get to these. You may need to nudge the throttle or knee lever parts to line them all up correctly. Then go back and tighten the knee lever screws.
Finally cover it all back up with the metal plate, held in place by the single screw underneath the power plug.
Plug her in, and you are back in business!!
Although the wooden case needs some refinishing, she is still beautiful to me. I hope this tutorial may be of some use to someone, as I could find very little information on how to fix this problem when it happened. Meanwhile I am so proud of my self reliance and the fact that this beautifully crafted, solid piece of engineering, recommended as one of THE best sewing machines ever made, has a new life for another 60 years or so.
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