The handwheel and the stop motion on a vintage Singer – part two


Following on from the last post, we’ll now look at how to replace the handwheel, or if you like the balance wheel, which is a process that can make no sense at all if you don’t understand what’s what.

Before we get stuck in though, I need to stress that what follows applies only to the classic Singers with the big chromed knob in the middle of the handwheel.  You’re on your own with anything more modern.

Right … assuming that you’ve had the handwheel off for whatever reason, put a couple of drops of sewing machine oil on the end of the shaft before you slip it back on and give the wheel a spin to spread the oil.  And now for the interesting bit.  You need to put the stop motion clamp washer back where it came from, and it can go back on four different ways – two with the projections on its inside facing into the shaft …

And two with them facing outwards …

So which is the right one?  The answer is that it’s one of the bottom two i.e. it goes back on with the projections on the inside of the washer facing outwards.  But that obviously still leaves two possible ways to fit it, and here’s why you need to get it right …

As we said in part one of this epistle, the two projections on the inside of the washer locate it on the shaft, such that both shaft and washer always rotate together.  But it’s those three sticky-outy bits on the outside of the washer that we need to concern ourselves with now, and in engineer-speak, sticky-outy bits like that are called lugs.  That’s why in some parts of the country you hang your glasses on your lugs, and the orifice into which blokes insert their little finger before wiggling it theatrically is their lug ‘ole.  But I digress.

Let’s have another look at the stop motion clamp screw, and at that small screw in its head which you have to unscrew before you can take the clamp screw off.  That’s called the stop screw, by the way.  Now, if your nice shiny chromed knob is still like it was when you took it off, the underside of it will look like this …

And it probably won’t surprise you to find that if you screw the stop screw back in, like you will when you put this all back together, it’ll look like this …

Now you have to pretend really hard.  You know how you took your stop motion clamp screw off by unscrewing the stop screw, then unscrewing the stop motion clamp screw itself so that it came off and the clamp washer fell out?  Well, imagine that you could somehow magically remove both knob and washer without unscrewing anything, such that they came off in your hand together, exactly as they were on the machine.  If you could do that, they would look like this …

Except for one thing.  The washer would be the other way up.  For clarity, I’ve taken these close-ups with the washer reversed so that it sits against the head of the screw.

What you’re looking at there is the relative position of the stop screw and the washer when you’ve released the clutch in order to wind a bobbin.   Remember that when you do that, the washer stays put on the shaft?  Well, now you can see why when you de-clutch a vintage Singer, you can only unscrew the knob about a third of a turn.  Yep, the stop screw comes up against one of those three lugs, and that stops you unscrewing it any further.  That’s why it’s called the stop screw.

Now, when you’ve wound your bobbin and you want to revert to normal sewing, what you do is screw your stop motion clamp screw in, i.e. you rotate it clockwise.  You can be forgiven for now thinking “Ahah, so the stop screw hits another lug and stops me tightening it any further?” because that’s what it looks like in this next photo.  But that’s not actually the case.

In fact you tighten the knob until you’ve squashed everything together tight enough to squeeze up the slack and lock your handwheel to the shaft.  That’s what stops you rotating the stop motion clamp screw any further – not one of those lugs.  Everything needs to be clamped together by the stop motion clamp screw before you’ve turned it far enough forward for the stop screw to hit one of those three lugs like it has in the picture below.

Gosh.  At last we’ve arrived at how this all relates to which way round that washer (which, remember, is upside down in those two pictures) goes.


To sum up the story so far, when we come to put everything back together, we need to meet two conditions.  Things need to be so arranged that when we slacken the stop motion clamp screw, we can turn it anti-clockwise far enough to release the pressure on the handwheel so it becomes free to rotate round the shaft, but not so far that we risk the washer getting out of position.  That’s the first condition.  The second is we need to ensure that when we tighten the stop motion clamp screw, everything squashes up enough to lock the handwheel to the shaft before that little lock screw hits a lug.

Unfortunately, those two conditions are only met with the washer one particular way round.  And which way round is that?  Who knows …

Fear not though, dear reader.  All is about to be made clear.

Hopefully …

First of all it helps if we can increase the odds on the washer staying put on the end of the shaft while we screw the stop motion clamp screw back in place.  The way I do that is to have the two slots in the end of the shaft horizontally opposed to each other, and if they’re not like that already, it’s just a case of putting a screwdriver across them like in the picture above and levering the shaft round to where we want it.

What we do then is put the washer on the end of the shaft with the inside projections facing outwards, we check that the little stop screw isn’t protruding through to the back of the stop motion clamp screw, then it’s just a case of carefully screwing that back onto the shaft.

Screw it in as if tightening the clutch for normal sewing, then try screwing in the little stop screw.  If it won’t go all the way in, don’t force it, because it’s telling you it’s not happy with the way things are aligned.  In that case, back out the stop screw, remove the stop motion clamp screw and try again with the washer rotated 180 degrees round the shaft.

If the stop screw will go all the way in, hold the handwheel and turn the knob clockwise as far as you can.  If that leaves you with a handwheel which is locked to the shaft, hold your breath and try unscrewing the knob as far as you can.  If the handwheel rotates freely when you can’t unscrew the knob any further, it’s your lucky day.  You got it right first time.  You’ve met both conditions.  Rejoice, put the kettle on and break out the stale shop-cake.

If the stop screw goes all the way in but something (it’s actually a lug on the washer) stops you tightening the knob before it’s screwed in far enough to lock the handwheel, you need to try again.

It’s a comfort to know that if everything worked properly before you took the handwheel off, it’s just a case of you getting that washer back on the right way and all will once again be sweetness and light.  You have a 50% chance of getting it right first time.

9 responses

  1. Pingback: Rusurrecting a Singer 66 Treadle Sewing Machine | procrasterina

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to put all this information together. I never would have fixed my machine without it, someone in it’s past had put the washer in the wrong way round so even with being careful and taking pictures as I went you saved me a lot of hassle !! 🙂

  3. This post gave me the final nudge to try doing this on one of my machines because I knew there was something stuck down there, just couldn’t get it out. Turned out to be some greasy old thread and I only needed two goes to get the whole thing back together, yeah!

    What can I take apart next? Not electrics, I don’t do electrics. i’m fine with mechanical stuff though.

  4. It’s 9:48pm and I do feel clever!

    I followed your instructions about handwheels and stopmotion and long story short, my 27K needlebar is no longer’ frozen’.

    I didn’t read it all mind, but that’s what pictures are there for. (I’m clever ’cause I followed your pictures, not ’cause I’m actually clever).

    Next I’m gonna search your blog for why I’m not getting stitches, even though I threaded it properly, according to me.

    Thank you Sid,

    Claudette The Happy.

  5. Bless you! I got it on the second try. Even after dropping the washer thingy! Now I can keep sewing!


  6. Hi, I love your blog and I ended up finding a 99 at an antique store for $5! I ordered a new power cord and was able to wind a bobbin but when I go back to sewing mode, the needle bar will not go up and down. I’m wondering if something is wrong in this clutch area? Thanks for the diagrams, I’ll try to tackle this next.

  7. Trail the error, I take pics of everything ‘before’ to use ‘after’ – and it still took 5 attempts, at one stage was convinced someone had sneaked in and switched the luggy thingy. Got it right in the end…I think!