Thursday, July 29, 2010

Singer 401/500/600 Stitch Selectors

I have seen a couple of postings on forums recently mentioning that the stitch selector controls on Singer models 401, 500, or 600 no longer function. These three popular vintage machines share a similar mechanical structure and this is a common problem with all three models. The good news is that the problem is easily remedied.

When you rotate the stitch select knobs on the 401/500 or move the stitch select levers on the 600, you are causing metal collars to slide up or down on metal posts to select the desired stitch on the camstack. When the collars are not sufficiently lubricated, they stick to the posts and will no longer slide. If the collars don't slide, the control knobs/levers will not move, either.






The cure is to remove the top cover and dribble a drop or two of sewing machine oil down the two posts. The result won't be instantaneous - you should let the machine sit overnight before attempting to move the stitch select controls. Even that may not be enough, you might have to repeat the oil & wait cycle several times. If, after 3 times of oiling and waiting overnight, the collars still will not slide smoothly, try directing some hot air from a hair dryer toward the collars, that should make the collars expand enough to break loose.

Once the collars begin to exhibit a slight bit of movement, exercise them to work the oil in all around the area between the post and collar. Whatever you do, DON'T FORCE THE CONTROLS! If you bend or break the linkage between the control and the collar, it is no longer a simple, low-cost, do-it-yourself repair job.

After you have the stitch selector controls operating smoothly, make the posts part of your regular oiling routine.

Ed

22 comments:

Jonathan said...

I want a Singer 500 just because I like the way they look. Haven't found one in my area for a reasonable price yet. My repair guy had one in his shop recently. I emailed him and offered a couple machines as a trade, but it had already sold.

Here is my question -
Do you have a favorite machine? Or a top five?

Jonathan

Ed Lamoureux said...

Singer slant needle machines were what I cut my teeth on. My first sewing machine was a 301 and my second a 401. I lost the 401 in a divorce and looked high and low for a replacement. I finally found one in a thrift shop in Alabama for $20, bought it and packed it in my suitcase. You should have seen the look on the Ticket Agent's face when she lifted that bag onto the conveyor belt! But I digress. I like machines that run smooth and quiet and give me a sense that they are well-made. Since I discovered the early Necchis, I have not found any other machine that gives me that feeling. The Necchi BU, Nova, Supernova, Lelia, and Lycia in my opinion are the best sewing machines ever made and I enjoy sewing on every one of them. The only other machine that even comes close is the Singer 201. - Ed

Jonathan said...

With the recent posts about Singers - I forgot you were a huge Necchi fan. They're nice looking machines.

The only Necchi I've found was a heavy pink straight stitch. I looked at pics online - I think it was a Lelia 510. I didn't buy it. The seller didn't have a price on it and I was holding out for a zig zag. I might go back and make an offer. Personally, I don't like to pay more than $25 or $30 for a straight stitch machine. If I buy it I'll let you know.
Jonathan

Quincunx said...

Thank you for this! My family's Singer 600E had never been quite comfortable with changing stitches, and it had given up entirely some time ago. Next trip home, I might be able to get that working again, after cleaning whatever damage might have been done by (tiny voice) some anonymous idiot (/tiny voice) applying WD-40 instead. . .

Heyjami said...

I'm in the middle of trying to unfreeze my 401's stitch selector.

I have tried sewing machine oil daily, with blow dryer assistance as well as penetrating oil. No luck yet. I did get the stitch length changer to work again. But those two posts are just glued shut.

Any other suggestions? I've been doing penetrating oil all week so I can go back to sewing oil next.

I laughed out loud when I read your collector post... so true. I'm looking for a nice machine to take to my friend to teach her how to sew. I want to spend more time quilting! But I do enjoy the machinery work here and there.

sewing machine repair said...

great picture as well nice keep it comming

Anonymous said...

For those who have not had much luck in getting the posts to free up and things still seem locked after using some penetrating oil, you might try PB Blaster. It's a catalyst type of spray for working items loose. It works 100% better than penetrating oil.

You can find it at Autozone, Advance Auto Parts and I've even seen it now at Lowe's in the tool section. They have variations of PB Blaster products, so ensure you get the right one - the catalyst version.

In automotive repair, we use this product quite frequently as it works to free some of the most rusted-on or frozen bolts loose.

Good luck! I have my 600E that I purchased this past Friday that I need to clean up a bit more and set it up to see what capabilities it has. Until then, I have my Baby Lock running on my light leather sewing operation.

I'm a 48 y.o. male who just started light leather sewing for a few projects that I wanted to start producing. I did see a Juki 5550 on my local Craigslist for $325 - and, I'm in complete awe. Though I like the Baby Lock and I'm sure I'll like the 600E, I also think about just making the leap to the Juki as all I want to do is straight stitching on light leather. I have Juki envy, though.

4H Stars said...

Have a Singer 834 that can't decide to zig zag or straight stitch.(Wanted zig zag, does fine on straight.) Settings: needle - center, width - widest, pattern selector - zig zag though not engaged length -7 Does about 2 zig zags and 2 straight. Does blind hem stitch fine though a bit stiff when patterns engaged.

kayaaa@aol.com said...

Have a Touch and Sew 630 that won't connect bobbin thread to top thread. I have oiled it but bobbin case is not moving. Any ideas before I take it to sewing repair shop???

Ed Lamoureux said...

Chances are 99% that you have a broken plastic gear. Remove the top and bottom covers and I bet you find chunks of plastic floating around one place or the other. Replacing a gear is not a job for the average homeowner but if you want to try it, google T and T Repair and they will give you the best price on a replacement gear along with instructions how to re-time tha machine after it's done. -Ed

Auri said...

I have a 401A that my mom gave me in 1961. It has run without fail all these years. A couple of years ago I bought another 401A just as a backup for spare parts but I probably will never use it for parts. It runs great, but I'm having a problem with the stitches not being consistent. It will sew a few stitches and then leave a long gap and then start stitching again, etc. Anyone have an idea of what the problem is. I keep both machines clean, oiled and greased. BTW. My grandmother gave me her Singer treadle table,circa 1910, the bracket pins lined up with my 401A and "Voila" a new old table in perfect condition. Isn't it amazing how the good old USA made stuff just keeps on giving.

jen said...

this is amazing. i just bought a 401 yesterday and this is exactly the problem i am having. the machine was completely dry but i managed to get everything moving after oil/lube, except for the stitch selectors. i'll keep at it, gently. thank you for your advice!

Anonymous said...

I have a 600. The stitch width selector doesn't work. The machine can still straight stitch & zig zag. Is this something I can fix? I'm pretty handy. Thx!

Ed Lamoureux said...

Since your machine will still zig zag (I don't see how with a frozen stitch width lever) that indicates that the mechanism that moves the needle left and right is okay. Remove the top lid and follow the mechanism from the lever to see if you can find a pivot point that is frozen. -Ed

Sandra said...

Hi, thank you for the above post. I just got a 401a that was sitting in a garage for 7 years. I cleaned it up the best I could (not a sewing macine guru) just a mom needling a solid machine. I oiled it, used gear lubricant on the gears and it sews fine. However it is still so gunky and grimy inside, like on the cam stack and places I can not reach. How do I clean those? The tension assembly is really icky, is there an instruction somewhere on how to take it apart and out it back together? Last but not least, someone told me about brushes in the motor to check. How do I do that. Thank you so very much and I hope I haven not driven you crazy with questions.

Ed Lamoureux said...

Sandra, Did you remove the top lid to clean and oil? Everything is out in the open and should be accessible to clean. Q-Tips help to reach places your fingers can't. The 16 mb Singer Swing Needle Service Manual is at http://parts.singerco.com/IPsvcManuals/306W25.pdf Covers zig zag models from 206 to 401. 401 Tension assembly begins on page 148. Don't worry about the motor brushes unless you are having motor problems. They are fully enclosed and require disassembling the motor to check. Not a job for an amateur. -Ed

Phil said...

I have been checking out my mums little used 401A. She had it from new, after Dad had to take a new but inferior machine back to the shop and get the Singer 401A!
I found that the stitch selectors were frozen solid so I used some carburettor cleaner from my workshop. It quickly dissolved the gummed up oil and I soon had both selectors moving and perfectly clean.
However, read the warnings on the label and use sparingly.
Now to find some top grade oil and lubricant.

AudraBark1 said...

For Auri who is having stitch consistency problems: I have noticed that older Singers do NOT like stretch fabric. Mine will work fine on wovens but they do what you said on stretch or knit fabrics. You might try a stretch needle, which seems to work better than ball point or sharp needles. I keep a newer Janome just for sewing on stretch.

isolde said...

Hi :)

My 401 stitch length control won't lock in properly. It jumps when I start sewing, and then creeps up, making the stitches increasingly small.

Any thoughts on what might be going on?

Thanks!

aileen

carrie said...

I just bought a singer 600 which had with it a work ticket indicating an overhaul of sorts. Everything seemed to work smoothly except that it won't stitch.
The threads don't tangle, the feeder moves the fabric, the needle is set properly. The repair shop, over the phone, said something is broken. Any quick fixes at home to suggest?

Ed Lamoureux said...

There are probably 50 things that can cause a sewing machine to not sew. Needle bar height, hook-to-needle clearance, hook-to-needle timing and improper threading are some common causes but there are others. A competent sewing machine technician should be able to tell you in 5 minutes the cause and cost to fix.

If you are a do-it-yourself type. Email me at my gmail address OldSewingMachines and I'll send you a link to a free service manual. -Ed

Richard Beman said...

I discovered ( on my Singer # 600 ), that you can easily sew knits..Surprise !!! I use the chain stitch
kit ( three pieces) and sew twice ( down in one
direction and back in the other ). I over-cast the edges with cam # 22 and the "overedge" foot and it seems to work quite well.. If the machine is well
timed, it will not skip stitches...
All the best, Richard Beman