How to Oil a Vintage Sewing Machine

PLEASE NOTE – THIS PROCESS HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL FOR ME HOWEVER, RESULTS MAY VARY.  USE THIS TUTORIAL AT YOUR OWN RISK.

So I recently reviewed the Kenmore 1751 and while I was doing that I thought I would take some photos so that I could do a post on how to oil a vintage sewing machine.  I recorded a small video but I have not yet learned how and with what program to edit the footage in, once I do I will post it.

If you have the sewing machine manual it will include a section on how to oil your machine.  Manuals for vintage sewing machines are available online however, vintage mechanical sewing machine have very similar parts so this post should help you even if you do not have a manual or if you do not have the same machine pictured here.  Just a disclaimer, I am not an expert sewing machine repair technician.

To oil a sewing machine you will need the following:

  • A couple of screwdrivers
  • Paper towels or a rag to clean off any drips.
  • A couple of Q-Tips or small paint brush
  • Cleaning brush or old toothbrush
  • Sewing Machine Oil
  • Tri-Flow Grease

The type of oil you should use is sewing machine oil.  Seems kind of obvious but I have heard of people using cooking or baby oil on their machines.  I also would not use WD-40 as it will leave a sticky film once it dries; the film will prevent your machine from moving smoothly.  The image below shows 2 larger bottles of different sewing machine oils that I use and each of these has a handy telescopic spout that allows you reach difficult areas in the machine.  I buy these at the local Vac and Sew shop.  You can also use a smaller oiling pen pictured here which is available at Joann’s or similar type store.   How often should you oil your machine?  When the machine runs hard or starts to make excessive noise.  I will oil after every 3 or 4 projects, but that is just me being overly cautious.

You want to start by removing the top lid of the machine; the top usually has 2 screws that need to be removed, then you lift the top off.  If your machine uses stitch cams, you need to remove it prior to taking the top off.

Use a small cleaning brush to remove any dust or debris before oiling.  You can use a sewing machine brush or even an old tooth-brush.  There is no need to brush hard, a gentle brush over the area is enough.

You will want to add one drop of oil to each small hole and to each area where there is a “joint” or moving part (usually a metal to metal part).  By moving the fly-wheel you can easily see all the moving parts and areas that need oil.  The following photos include arrows where you should place a drop of oil.  Depending on the machine, there will be more or fewer holes and areas that will need oil.

If the inside of the top of your machine and/or the underside has a metal piece that looks like the one pictured below, this is a gear and these parts will need grease instead of oil.

Most sewing machine gears will already have some grease on them already but it will not hurt to add a small peas-sized gob of grease/lubricant.  You can apply this with a q-tip, small paint brush, or your finger, then rotate the fly-wheel to get the product all around it.  If the gears are really dry, you can add a good amount to it (ex. teaspoon amount) without it affecting the pieces.  I would use the small paint brush if I was adding this much grease to a gear.  How often should you add this grease?  Whenever the piece/gear looks and/or feels dry.  I use Tri-Flow Clear Synthetic Grease, you can buy it online and bike shops also carry it and price is usually $10 or less.  There are also a liquid and spray versions of Tr-Flow available but I have never used them.

CAUTION – THE SPRAY VERSION OF TRI-FLOW IS HIGHLY FLAMMABLE, EXPLOSIVE, AND DANGEROUS.  I would advise NOT to use the spray.

USE THESE PRODUCTS AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Next open the hinged face cover plate area where the needlebar is housed to oil this area as well.

Clean the feed dogs with the brush.  Now that you are working on the entire machine, you should also clean the shuttle race area.  Below is a picture of what this area looks like with the bobbin case and shuttle removed.

Raise the needle bar to the highest point and remove the bobbin case and shuttle.  Most machines have 2 levers that push sideways away from the shuttle assembly, lift the shuttle race cover and shuttle by the center pin.  Remove any lint or thread particles with the brush off of the shuttle race pieces.

Next you’ll want to add 1 drop of oil to the pin on the shuttle.  The pin is where the bobbin spins so it should be lubricated as well.  Again only 1 drop is necessary.

Shuttle

You should also add a drop of oil in the shuttle race area as pictured on the next photo below (arrow on the far left).

To oil the bottom of the sewing machine tilt the machine head back to oil the points indicated below.  Please note – you may want to place a rolled up towel to lean the machine on while it is tilted.

Below I point out more oiling points in addition to the feed dog unit.  I am pointing out the feed dog unit because if you are unable to raise or drop the feed dogs, they may be frozen.  There is a way to free these up.  If you need help with this, please leave a comment and I will do a post in the near future as I want to keep this post focused on oiling and lubricating.

Keep oiling the rest of the areas on the underside of the machine.

This is pretty much it.  Your machine may or may not have as many oiling points as the ones I have indicated in this post.  Your machine may have more!  Oiling your machine is necessary and hopefully this post has gotten you started in the right direction.  If you need more help, please leave a comment.

13 thoughts on “How to Oil a Vintage Sewing Machine

  1. Thanks for all the useful information and picture. This will really help me in the future. I have an old Singer and Frick machine and quite sure these steps will help me a great deal.

    Regards
    Jolandie

  2. I own a Sears Kenmore Model 1560 zig zag sewing machine that was my very first purchase earned from my very first paycheck.I have used this machine for everything and anything for 30 years.. I am so sentimental about it it is hopeless.

  3. A friend of mine asked for help with oiling her sewing machine. I did some google searches and found your excellent blog post. I hope it’s ok, that I referred them to this blog post. You did an excellent job illustration and showing how and where to oil. Thank you so much. (Now, I just need help learning how to put little arrows on pictures so I can do the same thing…something I have NOT learned to do.) Be blessed, and thank you so much! Michelle

    • Hi Michelle,
      You’re welcome! I am glad that you found this post helpful. Of course I am fine with you referring anyone to this post. :)
      Have a nice day!
      Sonia

  4. YES! My Kenmore 1560 feed dog is frozen. Sort of. It moves when sewing but the feed dog control does nothing. Can you help with this problem?

  5. This page has been lots of help, thanks! I have my daughter-in-law’s vintage machine and the feed dogs don’t move fabric. I will oil the machine and try your feed dog fixing info if more work is needed. Again, thank you!

  6. I just left a comment on your Flickr photo of a Morse 4300 and then happened upon your blog while trying to look up the difference between a belt and a gear system (I do a lot of sewing but don’t know the slightest thing about the machine – time to learn!) Your blog is really helpful and well-documented. THANK you for taking the time to do it and “opening your doors” so other people can learn!

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