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Before and After: Featherweight

I'll preface this with a subtitle: All Paint Jobs Are Not Created Equal. I fully support do-it-yourself'ers, encourage the spirited go-getters, and appreciate anyone willing to put effort into preserving these historical gems. But if you're paying someone to refurbish and paint your machine, there are important considerations.

As I show you this process, be aware that not everyone charging for restoration services takes it to this level. Know what you're paying for and ask questions before choosing a provider. If you attempt a paint restoration on your own, research it intently, thoroughly, and consider Mindy's FW Sewing Machine Restorers Group. If you're considering hiring a professional, read our info - even if you don't hire us, you'll learn what questions to ask.

An excessively deteriorated Featherweight isn't for everyone as it might require resurfacing, and that process will be either time-intensive or costly. The do-it-yourself'er can pick up a cheap Featherweight requiring surgery against aluminum corrosion and even successfully meet the need to their own satisfaction, even if the final finish might be a little less than "professional." In the end, the owner's enjoyment is what matters.

But for someone considering the cost of a paint job (nothing to "shake a stick at," as they say!), a really rough Featherweight that at least has the majority of her parts can make sense. In the mid-Atlantic region, a decent Featherweight trends currently at about $400 with case and accessories, perhaps $250 - 300 when she's lacking her accouterments. If you know you want to paint a Featherweight, snagging a rough one at a bargain price could mean savings to be applied to the paint job you seek.

A client had been wanting a painted Featherweight. Knowing she would take on the cost of the paint project, she didn't hesitate to snatch up this $90 Featherweight. Her motor ran strong.

Her hook assembly was in pieces and thus an initial mystery. With no understanding of why it had been dissected, it could mean missing parts to an untrained eye, or the possibility of something being warped to those understanding the necessary parts for reassembly. Considering that a hook assembly could cost as much as $80, the machine was now at a potential investment of $170 just to be functional - still not terrible for a rough machine that the client knew was destined for her desired paint job.

As it turned out, nothing was warped or damaged beyond fixable corrosion. She needed only a $6 screw. The bobbin case was heavily corroded as shown above, and her sliding latch wouldn't budge. We removed the latch to clean well underneath (the latch is the second item in the photo above). Everything cleaned up nicely with no unusual warping.

So what about all that aluminum "rot?" That was eradicated with a combination of removing surface oxidation and the deeper corrosion with both grinding and chemicals. I get a lot of questions from folks about removing the aluminum rot. I don't mind offering general help, but there have lately been some amateur painters offering to paint machines for hundreds of dollars, and I've seen the poor results - even marginal at best. I would consider it a bit irresponsible to share detailed information on working aluminum properly, and it isn't even about an aversion to training "competition" - we offer premium service and the queue is long. What I worry about is more hobbyists charging hundreds for marginal work to clients who think they are paying for expertise. Plus, those photos get out and are fawned over, while an astute observer should notice the lack of mirror finish, the poor masking, other issues and think, "Well, I don't want that on my precious Featherweight!" - leaving them with a distaste for the idea of a painted machine.

Our service stems from professional experience in the auto industry as well as actual training on working aluminum. My advice to the do-it-yourselfer is to research working aluminum in the boating or aircraft industry. That sort of equipment requires substrates and finishes that face the elements and water submersion. If you can grasp that and execute the measures required to cope with aluminum corrosion on a boat, you'll likely do fine with your sewing machine.

Here's a significant area we had to work properly. Notice the deep pitting, and there are actually two holes in the metal, plus that chunk missing from the edge:

Corrosion extended to the underside of the machine:

Great care was taken to resolve the underside's misfortune:

Another thing I'll mention that might freak out some folks. We use a multi-stage deep clean process that utilizes - wait for it - water infused solutions. You'll see plenty of information about soaking machines in kerosene and such, and that's fine. But we don't want any petroleum or paint-resistant solvents anywhere near this machine (and certainly not bleeding out of deep crevices unexpectedly) when we ultimately spray her with paint. I don't recommend this to a hobbyist, but you could wash your sewing machine (sans electrical components) in your bathtub if you know what you're doing. It's all about the processes that follow, and the timing of the steps. Did you ever hear the story of the Polish immigrant whose machine had been hidden from the Nazi looters for months submerged in a pond, and was restored to perfect functionality? Granted, that machine required cleaning and it's hardly advisable. Nonetheless, yeah... you can bathe cats and sewing machines, each with their own brand of special care. :)

Super clean:

Here's something I would like to mention for the do-it-yourself'ers. Notice to the right of that photo above that we've removed the thread guide from it's small hole - the one that from the side is directly above and close to the tensioner. Please take great care if you attempt to remove that thread guide. If it doesn't want to budge with just a gentle effort, stop, unless you're prepared to get into some considerable machining to tap out the broken piece. As Dave Werther once pointed out to an unfortunate soul who broke this thread guide: You've screwed the pooch. Otherwise, it's not worth it. You can mask that thread guide, paint the body, and still manage to polish your fresh paint behind that thread guide. If you do break this thread guide, you can also try to epoxy it back into place. It can work; it just requires a little finesse to keep it in position while the epoxy cures. I should probably do a tutorial on that sometime.

Notice the larger red circled area above where we've removed the needle bar bushing. For the hobbyist, if you choose to remove that bushing, again, please use tremendous caution. There are three considerations: 1) the bushing can be very stuck at times, and if you start tapping - then banging - on her, be aware that yes, aluminum can crack and most certainly bend. By compromising either the bushing or the machine's body, you can take the reassembled needle bar travel path out of alignment and possibly ruin your Featherweight. 2) When you reinsert the bushing after working on your Featherweight, you might not position it perfectly and that does matter. Take a precise measurement of its position, and notice that there is a front and back to that bushing, again a matter of reasonable precision. 3) If you wish to paint your machine and you don't remove that bushing, you can either mask the top of the bushing that has a polished "ring" appearance on top of the nose, or paint it, the latter of which is sort of unfortunate, really. If you mask it, leave a hair of the polished nickel peeking where the bushing meets the painted surface. You can more easily clean that hairline of paint away from the bushing than you can deal with the paint pulling off the nose when you remove the masking.

Here's what you should expect from a professional. Notice the two white-circled areas:

And remember that thread guide? Notice the reflective gloss behind it:

Even if you cautiously opt to not remove the thread guide shown above, you can polish that area with diligence using a cotton swab, an appropriate light compound and determination. Or you might do well enough with your gloss coat that it shines adequately. Take care not to let the thread guide jam into your finger when polishing vigorously, especially the cuticle area or under the fingernail! Ouch!

One of the Big Questions: Rocker Bushings?!

Rocker bushings (second only to the needle bar bushing) are the most challenging and risky parts to remove for someone without experience or a certain level of aptitude and bravery. Rockers can crack and break if you don't know what your doing, and then the bushings themselves can even take a good hard knock to remove. Do it yourself'ers should probably leave them alone and allow the rocker bushing tips to receive color. And I cannot recommend taping them unless you are really good at masking them and you use magnification; but even then, it can be difficult to get a clean edge when you pull your tape, even with a razor. Then after all is said and done, you have to position the replaced rocker bushings properly as you "tune" the machine for proper sewing.

The rocker bushing question was enough that initially we would charge a premium for it - it requires considerably more time to execute than just painting the bushing tips. Most recently we have been including bushing removal on all jobs as we wish to differentiate ourselves from other painters, both amateur and professions.

So there you have a few tips for the do-it-yourself'er, as well as some points to hopefully offer understanding as to why there are only a handful of true professionals doing this work in the U.S., and why quality indeed equals expense.

There are many hours required with high attention to detail. And consider this: if I paint an automobile, I'm then reassembling the chrome emblems, trim, etc. across large, mostly flat panels with plenty of elbow room to work. When reassembling a sewing machine with the contours of a Featherweight, there are numerous opportunities to scuff and gouge the surface. If you only do one of these in your life (or maybe two or three), go easy on yourself for any minor issues, and remember that you can wet sand and polish small errors to near invisibility should you unfortunately scuff your surface. Lastly, bear in mind that your professional is also going to have to address the mechanical reassembly and any issues that arise there. Again, if I paint an auto, I'm not also tuning the engine or performing a front-end alignment for free. Mechanical equivalencies on your Featherweight require time. Someone charging you considerably for this service is taking on a lot of responsibility. There is a reason that most qualified sewing machine repair shops charge $70/hour and up. No one I know is getting rich off of this stuff, plain and simple; nonetheless, before you contract a job, ask questions and understand what you are getting for your money. If you do it yourself and have issues, you can PM us at Still Stitching or contact us via email. Advice is always free and happily provided!


Dorothy Rogers said...

I noticed how extremely clean my recently painted purple machine was behind the face plate. Now I understand why. The time and effort you put into preparing and repainting my machine was so obvious. Thanks again for a job well done. ����

Scotia said...

Great article! And from my recent experience painting a boat anchor (not now, LOL), I cringe to think about painting a FW. I have wondered about all these folks whose social media presence have exploded overnight with FW painting. Glad I know a PRO!

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