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What You Need To Lubricate Your Sewing Machine

Hello everyone, today I thought I would open up a discussion about oiling our treadle sewing machines/vintage sewing machines. For all practical purposes, I will be referring to oiling machines that are frequently used, mechanically solid with all steel gears, brass or steel bushings, and steel bearings. I have a limited amount of experience with plastic gears, ceramic bearings, and Teflon bushings and I am still learning how to properly maintain them. I grew up in a rural area and learned early if we needed mechanical work done we did it ourselves.

Learn what you need to lubricate your sewing machine today

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Myths About What To Use To Lubricate Your Sewing Machine

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.

What Kind of Oil to Use In Your Sewing Machine

 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 is "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 key factors. 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 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 shops) are starting to carry them also. They usually have; an extendable tube to reach into harder to get to spots. And the cost per ounce is 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 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 it's 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 to provide a little insight that may help others to relax, slow down and enjoy their machines.

Don't miss all of Paul's posts or our sewing machine posts!  Want Mel's opinions on sewing machine oil?  She's got her own post you can find here

sewing machine oil

Would you like to comment?

  1. I just thought there were was mineral oil. I had no idea there were other options.

  2. Well Paul, I've oiled the heck out of a vintage 1963 Singer Rocketeer Model 500 which was not used in years and bone dry. Imagine my delight and self-satisfaction in getting it to run again. Makes a perfect stitch, but the motor makes a high whining noise when it runs. I asked a friend and she said keep oiling. When I removed the fly wheel on the end, and just turned the motor on with the foot pedal and it rotated without the gear being engaged, it still makes that whining, screeching noise. This is a gear driven machine, no belts. So what do I do now, should my whole motor be servied? I know that you are not supposed to oil motors, but could it be the area where the drive shaft (if that is what it is called) come up from the motor through a port, maybe called a bushing, could be dead dry as well since the gears were bone dry. I hope you can respond please, or do a blog post on handling cranky motors...Thank you for all your good information on yours and Mel's blog, I read it avidly. Peace to you in the Easter season...l