This restoration is for a Singer 66 Red Eye. I’ve been looking to do one of these for a while, but I needed a machine that had decent decals. If you look at the closely at decorative and complex colorful decals, you will see what I mean. There is a lot of detail in the decals on the bed, and decal loss is very noticeable. Although I see many red eye decals, many have significant wear on the leading edge, sewing arm, and on the bed. This is not surprising since the last red eye’s were made 95 years ago. This machine shows some wear, but for 95 years old, the decals are in very good condition, They look a little bit smudgy on the main bed decals, but the pattern is intact and the colors are still very well maintained. Due to it’s age alone, the machine is due for a total restoration. Because my goal is to always keep the original finish intact to the greatest extent possible, I will touch up the decals were practical. The machine will be treated to a new layer of shellac to stabilize and protect the decals from any additional wear. When the restoration is completed, it is going to look great and sew like new.
I suspect that this machine spent it’s entire life as a treadle machine. I got it with no motor or light. I will need to “upgrade” the machine with a motor to make it more convenient to use by today’s standards. The machine has some nickel loss on the needle plate and the cover and needle clamp screws, and the balance wheel rim has dulled with age. I suspect that with sufficient time on the polishing wheel, the appropriate patina can be restored. Bear in mind, I always want to keep the machine original as possible so I will focus on polishing these parts rather than replacing them. The gold decal loss will be corrected where the detail is not so fine that it is impractical for me to fix it. I will not attempt any aggressive polishing on the finish for fear of harming the decals. This will require applying multiple layers of shellac to stabilize the finish for long lasting durability. Still, this machine is in very good condition for it’s age, and I will focus on bringing it to it’s best without putting any stress on the decals. I will balance this out by removing any stress on the sewing mechanisms, these will be completely disassembled and restored to like new condition.
This vintage model 66 is a very simple machine. The stitch length is adjusted by a knob. There is no indicator to index a stitch length. I actually like this, it relieves our dependence on a “number”. You turn the dial until the stitch “looks right” for your project. There is no back tack. Folks locked the stitch by holding the fabric at the end of a seam to overcome the feed dogs, or lifted the foot, backed the fabric up, and sewed over the stitch to the end. The tension dial is also a very simple affair, again there are no numbers to rely on. Like the stitch length, without relying on a number on a dial, you turn it until the tension is perfect. I think that these “lack of features” has a benefit in focusing the user on the effect of making adjustments, rather than relying on a number on a dial… it provides a natural and “infinite” adjustment range.
I love restoring machines of this vintage because their construction is made with thick heavy parts that in my opinion are over built. It seems to me the machine was made to last forever. The build quality of this vintage 66 is second to none. It amazes me that the precision of machining is so high. All it needs is lubrication and occasional cleaning to keep the machine sewing smoothly. There are really no parts that should ever need replacement. These machines are engineered with adjustment for all parts that may wear. Occasionally, a spring will need to be replaced on the tension take-up or rge spring on a bobbin winder might wear out, but these parts are still available and will be for a long time to come. The action of these machines is something you need to feel to appreciate. Despite all of the rocking and oscillating parts that comprise the drive mechanism, turning the balance wheel by hand is effortless and smooth… amazing. Properly tuned, this machine will produce a straight stitch that will rival any machine made today… or then. So, lets begin the restoration.
Starting the restoration, I like to document the process for a before and after comparison. Here is the machine before restoration…
It’s got it’s share of dirt, but the potential shines through. I have decided to disassemble the machine before I attempt to address the cosmetic condition. This starts with the assembly in the sewing machine head.
Next the feed dogs, thread clearance mechanism, and the hook race is removed.
But wait… If you look at the picture above, you will see the thread clearance mechanism. It is to the right of the bobbin case. This is an important part so I want to spend some time and talk about this mechanism. Lets look closer at the mechanism… There are two things I want to discuss. First, notice the small piece of red felt, it is at the 11 o’clock position above the small round button tab, This is often removed in error or worn away. Because many machines I see do not have it, I will show you how this is restored. But before we get into that, look at the screw in the center of the mechanism. I will refer to this as “THE SCREW THAT SHALL NOT BE TURNED”. In short, do NOT attempt to disassemble the assembly further or disturb this screw. Do not loosen it. This screw holds the thread clearance adjustment. The mechanism is spring loaded. If the screw is loosened, this clearance will be lost and it is very difficult to re-establish. In short, leave this screw alone. Of course, if it is necessary for proper adjustment, I may turn this screw, but I have the proper gages and know how to make the proper adjustment. You can adequately clean the assembly with acetone and then add a drop of oil in the mechanism. This is all the cleaning it needs, and the sewing performance and stitch quality depends on proper adjustment… That’s all I’ll say about that. The red felt is a different story, we do want to fix that so lets look at how this is done.
The felt is actually held in a “spring screw”… yep, that spring it fits in is actually screwed into the assembly for servicing… brilliant. Only one problem though, you can’t get a replacement felt anywhere I know of. Fortunately, I have a felt in good condition that I can use as a pattern. The felt is supposed to look like this. I got it from an old parts machine. I am not going to use it to replace the felt in this machine, but I am going to use it as a template to make a suitable replacement. I have already removed the old felt and you can see the felt holder spring from this machine in the picture.
The felt is not difficult to make and I am going to show the steps I use in a series of pictures. Dimensions are approximate and I will caption the pictures step wise.
Then t he felt is oiled… that’s its purpose, to oil the top and bottom of the bobbin race rim The felt should look like this when the parts are reassembled.
Now that we have gone to all that trouble, I need to tell you that later 66’s omitted this felt entirely. Did they decide that it wasn’t necessary? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a cost saving measure? I don’t know. Did we just waste a ginormous amount of time? I don’t know… you decide. I figure if it is there, it belongs there for a reason, and in a complete restoration, if it is missing it needs to be replaced. To be honest with you though, it does provide a film of oil that is listed in the later models as a maintenance oiling point, so I do think it is worth restoring it.
Moving on to the disassembly, the sewing mechanism under the bed is removed. This includes the stitch length fork and the feed dog rocker shaft.
The stitch length adjustment screw, and feed dog shaft are in the pillar and they are removed and the parts shown below.
With all of the parts removed from under the bed, it is a good time to retore and repaint the underside of the bed. The paint I use is made from a home brew recipe of lamp black, alcohol, and shellac. It is the closest match I have found yet… which reminds me, black is not just black. The color of black on a Singer sewing machine is deep black. Every commercial color of black I’ve tried has a gray color in contrast to the color of black on these machines. This includes Krylon, Rustoleum, Testor’s, Grumbacher, Duplicolor, yada, yada, yada. Thus, they are not suitable for paint matching. This paint formula is. First, the bed is cleaned and then repainted.
Moving on, the top arm shaft assembly is removed. Word of caution here… Do not attempt to drive the shaft out of the machine without first removing the balance wheel bushing. You may damage something and may just ruin the precision of a wonderful sewing machine. A gear puller is needed here. Some machines hold the bushing to the shaft with a screw, others use a roll pin. If you encounter a roll pin and are unable to remove it, don’t worry too much. You probably don’t NEED to remove it. The arm shaft rides on two rather large bushings and it generally turns smooth with just a few drops of oil. Only sometimes is removal necessary.
This is all of the disassembly possible for a restoration. All parts are removed. The parts are laid out for cleaning.
Again, the reason we are doing this is to return all these parts to clean, shiny, like new condition… the way they were when the machine was assembled 95 years ago. All of the oil varnish you see here hampers the smoothness this machine is capable of. I want it to run as close to new as possible and this is the only way I know to do it.
The parts are ultrasonically cleaned, wire brushed, and the needle bar, presser foot bar, arm shaft, and hook shaft are polished to a finish as smooth as glass. Likewise, all of the bushing bores are cleaned with a brass wire brush and cleaned. In addition, every bolt, every screw, and every nut will be cleaned and wire brushed before reassembly.
Here are the parts cleaned and polished… notice the difference.
These are set aside for reassembly later. Now the tension mechanism is disassembled and cleaned. As you can see, it is in need of it.
Tip of the day:
To disassemble the mechanism completely, there is a trick to remove the take up spring. The spring is captured by the tension shaft against the housing. The tension shaft screws into the housing. Do not try to use a screwdriver in the shaft slot to unscrew the shaft. This will pry the slot apart and the tension screw nut will not thread properly when you reassemble it. The way to prevent this is to screw the tension screw not onto the shaft far enough that it will form a captured slot just large enough for the screw driver to fit. You can now use a screw driver in the slot to use as a lever and unscrew the shaft.
After cleaning, it is re-assembled and set aside. The next step is the bobbin winder.
The bobbin winder uses a fine tooth worm gear that turns a gear. on the back of the gear is an eccentric cam. the bobbin thread guide “finger” rides on the cam and moves back and forth to provide a tight wind of thread on the bobbin. It’s really a fun thing to watch! But care needs to be taken in disassembly, there are multiple springs and the gear or worm shaft can be damaged. disassembling this one is desperately needed, it is stiff and sticky from old oil varnish.
After cleaning, the varnish is removed, and the parts are wire brushed. It is ready to re-assemble.
Now all of the mechanical parts have been cleaned and restored, the cosmetic work can begin. As I mentioned before I started the restoration, red eye’s have ornate and intricate decals. I do not want to clean them aggressively. I’m going to use GoJo and apply it with my finger to clean the surface. I do not plan to do any aggressive polishing on this machine, so it will retain it’s vintage surface prior to being stabilized with a new shellac layer.
The brightness of the decals is restored after cleaning. Years of dirt and oil buildup can dull or even obscure the decals. Simply cleaning the machine makes a huge difference. Since I am going to do some decal touch up, I apply a light coat of linseed oil over the finish on the machine. I think it looks great!
The next step is to paint match chips on the edge of the machine.
Looking at the decals, there are a few gold touch ups needed.
Now, there are other places I touched up, but I’ll let you find them… if you can.
Because the red eye decals are so profuse and detailed, they are very prone to damage. These decals show some wear but are essentially intact. To protect the decal repairs and the decals over the rest of the machine. The machine is prepped for a new coat of shellac. Simply done, the machine is coated with a light coat of linseed oil, allowed to cure for 48 hours, then any remaining residue is wiped off. Then and the machine is sprayed with four coats of new shellac. Following another 48 hours for the shellac to cure, the machine is wet sanded in stages with successively fine grits of sand paper. Linseed oil is used as the liquid sanding medium. The machine is sanded with 1000,1500, 2000, and then 2500 grit paper. The final finish is achieved by glaze polishing. The final result is a smooth deep finish and a durable shellac finish that will protect the machine for years.
Now the plates and little bits are polished…
The machine is assembled…
Next, the machine is fitted with a new sewing machine motor. I chose is a 0.9 amp 6000 rpm motor and an electronic controller. For a smooth running straight stitch machine, this is ample power and just right amount for a model 66.
The restoration of this model 66 “Red Eye” is complete. It looks great and it sews great. In short, it is a fine example of what a should be… Rugged, durable, powerful, quiet, smooth, it sews a great stitch, and it has a beautiful and durable finish. What else is there?
For comparison, here is the machine before restoration…
And the machine after restoration…
If you like what you see please visit our Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/pungoliving, and see this Singer Model 66 and all of our other restored fine quality vintage sewing machines. If you have any questions, please contact Lee at Pungoliving@gmail.com.
Tell me what you think!