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In my opinion there is an enormous amount of myth, misunderstanding, and in some cases mystery surrounded by some type of voodoo. So my objective is to help to clear some of the mystery and shed some light on the myths about oiling our vintage sewing machines as well as our treadle sewing machines.
The first myth to explore is the machine itself. While it is a fascinating mechanical work of art it is also simply a large chunk of metal with moving parts that must move freely for the magic of a stitch to appear. How do we keep the parts moving freely? Well cleaning first of all is very important, but since our topic is oiling, we will just assume the cleaning is already done.
Now for the oil,what kind do we use. Some of you will undoubtedly say SMO (sewing machine oil) and others will say to use only Triflow ( a synthetic blend ) and my favorite of all times "I only use exactly what the book says". Obviously the book offered the best technology at the time it was written. but what about the machines whose book calls for oil no longer available. I have some original manuals which call for refined sperm oil,(oil refined from sperm whales).
Well here is how I see it, first of all discipline and diligence are a key factor. Most manuals will tell us to oil daily with use and weekly when the machine is being used lightly. First of all I don't think that there is a wrong oil to use. Any oil that provides a slicker smoother bearing surface is better than no oil at all. Some oils like household 3n1 types or penetrating oil, for instance have a tendency to evaporate and leave behind a sticky film when dry. Bad oil? Not really just more cleaning to do if you let it dry out. Discipline and diligence and never let it dry and it is a perfectly fine oil for your bearings. It's too high maintenance for me but the machine will work just fine. SMO, good choice, it doesn't evaporate as fast but over time it too will leave residue behind and again it is the user's responsibility to perform prompt and proper maintenance.
The next two are so very close to each other they often overlap each other. These are my personal favorites when it comes to a non-synthetic oil. Electric motor oil is one of the best in my opinion,only second to high grade turbine oil. These are found at most hardware or DYI stores in 4-8 ounce bottles. We have noticed that some of the LQSs and LHSs (local hobby shop) are starting to carry them also. They usually have;an extendable tube to reach into harder to get to spots. And cost per ounce are more economical than the small SMO bottles.
Finally we get to the last but not least of our oils, synthetics and synthetic blends. I personally like the synthetic oils. I think they maintain a constant performance at a wider range of temperatures making them a little more user friendly in all climates. That being said I don't believe they are the answer to all prayers. I think if a sewing machine is super clean (no oil build up) like new conditions they are great. But if it is an old or abused sewing machine that is gaining a new lease on life,and needs a very good cleaning inside the bearings then it is my opinion that a synthetic blend works better. I feel like the petroleum part of the blend dissolves the old oil and gunk while the synthetic part helps to lubricate and carry the softened gunk away and eventually after its all softened and gone then switch to a full synthetic oil.
In the end these are my personal opinions. As individuals we have the ability to form an opinion tailored by our own personalities. It's not my goal to influence anyone to do exactly as I do. My goal is provide a little insight that may help others to relax,slow down and enjoy their machines.
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