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Cleaning and Restoring Charlotte “the Free”

January 22, 2014 - 2:38 pm

I wish I had gotten “before” pictures of Charlotte, the “Free Sewing Machine Co” treadle powered machine I picked up a couple weeks ago. This is about the best I have: 

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Her lines are lovely and the stencils are very pretty, but hidden beneath a century of grime and corrosion. Her Japanned finish was matte, and her brightwork was so corroded I couldn’t tell if it had been brass or chrome. 

I thought to get pics of the back side before cleaning it, and took photos of the whole process. So here are the before shots of the back:

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Closer, look at the grime around the screws and oil ports: 

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Even closer: 

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Ew. 

I started with the recommended method of rubbing with lubricating oil, but that wasn’t really getting very far. It removed some of the dirt, but was doing nothing to get through the grime or oxidization.

I decided I could find a polish for the brightwork at least, and after consulting with my favorite local hardware store guy I took home a product called “Flitz:”

71AduP4L79L SL1500

 It did a spectacular job on the brightwork. It is odorless, doesn’t seem to irritate my persnickety princess skin, left no scratches, and removed the corrosion admirably.

I kept reading on the bottle: “Restores paint too.” and thinking hmm. hmm.

I had noticed on ebay someone was selling a drive band cover identical to the one on my machine with better paint for $12. I felt like this left me very little to lose. I took it off, and tested on the underside first. One gentle rub and the Japanning brightened right up. I very carefully worked over the stencils, and they gleamed with no sign of damage. 

I cleaned up carefully and did some research. It seems there are a number of products folks successfully use to do this job, including TR-3. I haven’t tried it and don’t much care for the materials data sheet, but the existence of polishes that would safely clean up sewing machines without damage bolstered my confidence. I worked over the machine, and was thrilled with the result. 

This was my set-up:

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I started with tri-flow and a rag to get as much loose as I could:

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then switched to the Flitz polish with an extra soft natural bristle toothbrush:

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Working an area small enough to let me remove it before it dried, as per the instructions: 

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Then wiped off:

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Buffed and stropped: 

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Carefully cleaned out the polish left behind in crevices: 

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Then went back to touch-up stubborn areas with more Flitz on a cloth with my finger:

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I rubbed carefully, wiping away occasionally to see progress: 

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The result was amazing. Here are the dirty rags and shiny machine: 

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… and the corroded faceplate. That’s next! First Flitz:

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It found some shiny parts, but just wasn’t getting through the worst. When I was visiting The Captain he recommended polishing paper or fine 0000 steel wool for cleaning tension disks, and I decided to try something similar. I had some “Norton Soft Touch Mico-Fine Sanding Sponges,” so I decided to try them:

Nor soft touch sponges 26190 1347663082 1280 1280

Note these were 1200 – 1500 grit. The result was spectacular: 

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That’s the same plate, and the corrosion from it on the sanding sheet. Which is thankfully washable, so that sheet is the one I used on the whole machine, with some cleanings.

The sanding sponge left a bit of a haze, so I used another round of Flitz? 

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And, wow. What a difference:

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It’s hard to capture shininess, but notice the table is now casting a reflection from the column and the needle bar. And that filthy spot from the beginning of the post is now clean: 

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Cleaner than the picture, actually. I hadn’t seen the splotch of goop between the leaf and stem on the head until I post-processed the images. That’s gone now, too, as is the little bit of remaining oil stain under the oil port.

Next up: waxing. I want to add some protection to the stencils, and I’m hoping to get a little bit of fill into the scrapes on the table.

I’m thrilled with the progress, and have been sewing with her. VS machines do NOT like free motion work. At all. but she makes beautiful stitches quietly and smoothly. 

The Free Sewing Machine Company

January 15, 2014 - 12:00 pm

Another treadle machine followed me home. I couldn’t help it. She’s beautiful, and her cabinet is probably the nicest piece of furniture in the house. Beauty pics later; this is sort of a drive-by post. For now I’ll post the craigslist photos:

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I have a lot of work ahead of me to fully restore this machine. She’s in by far the worst shape of the machines I’ve acquired so far, but oh, my. This machine is a whole nuther level of engineering up from the Singers. Wow. 

Everything is lubed up and moving freely now, so I can start evaluating. The only thing stuck is the throat plate screw, which I worked around for lubrication purposes. I doused it liberally with WD-40 and I’m hoping that will remind it what the purpose of a screw is. 

With just a little oil on its ball bearings the treadle spins 50 times from one kick before reversing directions, and then will sit there oscillating indefinitely. 50. My other irons go about 12, and I thought that was nice. I’m used to the momentum of spinning wheels, not these monster iron things. 

Which, by the way, I have the bruise to prove. I was working on the drive band and pinched my thumb in the works. OW.

Awesomized

On the machine side of the engineering, I’m impressed by how finely pitched all the adjustment screws are. No need to turn the knobs 1/10th of a turn on this beauty. A full turn will barely make a perceptible difference in tension settings. The machine will also go a sizable number of stitches with one spin of the hand wheel. I didn’t count, but at least a dozen. Will C. Free appears to have been a big fan of ball bearings. All the major junction points have bearings that let the machine just glide. Quietly. Check out this YouTube video:

It’s even better in person. 

There is a lot of corrosion and some pitting on the formerly shiny parts, and I haven’t gotten all the dead spiders out of the cabinet yet, but not too much rust all things considered. All of the functional parts are brightening up now that they’re moving.

And she makes stitches:

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Pretty stitches, once I frobbed the shuttle a bit so the top thread could glide past without catching things got much nicer. Things are a bit lumpy in the background, but that last line of stitching is perfect. Flawless. Just what I would expect from this level of engineering.

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I also noticed the stitch quality seemed to improve when I pushed the bobbin winder into play enough to tighten the drive band up, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. And two footed treadling was definitely better; I can’t keep my treading smooth when I one-foot this beast.

I’m naming her Charlotte after my granny, who got me started with textiles. She had me knitting and sewing at 4, though even she couldn’t teach me to crochet. 🙂 Granny always appreciated the finest things in life. She lived modestly, but well. I believe she would have liked this machine.

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