Singer 401A

I have to say, the Singer 401A has been a pleasant surprise from the get-go. I responded to an ad for a sewing machine table, which in the last sentence made mention of a sewing machine, and the pictures showed the sewing machine, but it was being sold as just a table – even though the machine was included.

Singer 401A

Front View

 

Of course I inquired about the machine. The seller didn’t know if it worked (she had bought it for the table for her sewing machine, which didn’t end up fitting), and told me that it didn’t come with the power cord or foot pedal. Knowing that these machines were built to last, and are all metal construction, I decided to take a chance and buy it.

The ad said $10, so that’s what I paid for this one! It had been reduced from $25 because there were no takers at that price. Crazy!

Singer 401A

Back View

 

According to the Singer website and my serial number, my machine was built in 1951. In actuality, it was built in either 1957 or 1958 – this was the closest I could get.

In 1951, Singer assigned a ton of different serial numbers, but not all of them ended up on machines that were made that year. In fact, many of them weren’t put on machines until the late 1950′s! I found a site dedicated to properly dating the Singer 301, and it makes mention of the Singer 401A (as well as a few other models). If you have a serial number that starts with “NA”, “NB” or “NC”, you might want to check this out.

Singer 401A

Side View

 

I brought it home and this is what I found – there was a foot pedal in the foot pedal slot in the cabinet! The wires were still good too – no crumbling rubber. The machine was physically in good shape, with no paint chips, broken off knobs, etc. It came with one presser foot (the standard zigzag foot), one top hat cam, and all of the spool pins were even in place still!

Singer 401A

Here’s what was missing – the power cord (I was able to test the machine using my Singer 99-13 cord, since they use exactly the same one, even though the 401A only has 2 prongs – it’s like the power cord plugs today, where some of them have three prongs, one of them being the ‘ground’ and some have 2, but you can plug them into the same outlet) and the slide plate (this covers up the bobbin area and butts up against the needle plate). I’ve learned that it is extremely common to find a missing slide plate cover on these machines, and they’re super cheap and easy to replace on the Singers. I have one on order already, and I’m hoping it arrives next week.

Singer 401A

You Can See Why It's Called a Slant-O-Matic!

 

Another interesting tidbit about this machine – it is ALL METAL!! Even the adjustment knobs, hand wheel, and top of the machine. All metal!! The ONLY things that aren’t metal on the whole thing are the spool pins, and you could easily replace them with metal ones if you so desired.

Singer 401A

Threading Guide!

 

You know one of the reasons that those old 99K and 15 series (15-90, 15-91, etc), and featherweights, and similar machines are so popular and sought after? They make a genuine straight stitch. It seemed that as soon as you gave a machine the ability to zigzag, the straight stitch was never actually straight again. Try it on your machine, and you’ll likely notice that your straight stitches point a little to the side. It may be obvious or it may be subtle, but it’ll be there.

Singer 401A

Tension Assembly

 

It is a rare find to come across a machine that has the ability to zigzag and also produces a completely straight stitch when straight-stitching. My jaw actually dropped, but I get a completely straight stitch on the 401A. Like I said, one pleasant surprise after another.

Singer 401A

Missing Slide Plate :(

 

One of the first things I did after wiping the dust off the machine was open up the top cover plate and the bottom plate. I found that the oil had completely dried up (this is a good sign on an old machine that hasn’t been used in a very long time, because it means that the correct type of oil was likely used on it when it was in use, and you’re not going to have to spend the day scraping hardened gunk off the insides of your machine), and one of the 4 sets of gears still had a little grease on it. Nothing seemed to have any ‘metal on metal’ wear, which was good. I greased up all of the gears, and went about oiling all of the oiling points.

Singer 401A

Throat Plate Position Selector

 

It seems someone had decided to grease the cams, so I had to wipe off all that old grease, which ironically took a ton of elbow grease, and finally got them cleaned off. Remember, you do not need to grease your cams, as they are not gears and do not slide past each other!

Singer 401A

Stitch Selector Dials

 

After the machine was all de-linted (I used the vacuum for the first stage of this, followed by tweezers and a q-tip, before greasing and oiling), and the machine was lubed up, I decided to plug it in and see if it worked (I had no idea if I’d get anything from it at this point!).

Singer 401A

Light Area

 

I plugged it in….and nothing. Crap. As I was looking at the plug that plugged into the machine to make sure it was all the way in, I thought I saw a flicker come from the machine’s light. I wiggled it again, and I did. Okay, maybe just a loose connection, so I unplugged it and started to take a look. I noticed there was some oxidation on the prongs (greenish powder) of the machine, so I wiped all of this off – including the stuff that got stuck between the slits of the prongs and tried again. It worked! So it looks like the oxidation wasn’t letting it get a good connection, but once that was gone, it was all good.

Singer 401A

Built In Stitches

 

Even without the slide plate, I carefully tried the machine out. The tension was a little loose, so I took the tension assembly off, cleaned the gunk off of it and adjusted it a little tighter when I was putting it back together. I describe disassembling/reassembling the tension assembly as doing ‘the rubix cube from hell’. Not my favorite thing – but it fixed my tension problems, so what can I do? It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last.

Singer 401A

Spot for Top Hat Cams

 

I sewed over 8 layers of that poly fleece I used for the ‘Cape of Doom’ and it came out perfectly! This machine isn’t going anywhere :)

Helpful Resources:

Sew-Classic – has a ton of parts for old machines, cheap shipping and good prices. This is where I ordered my slide plate/power cord/extra feet from last night at 11pm, and had a shipping notice by 5:40am this morning. So far I’m impressed!

Singer301.com for dating your Singer with a NA, NB or NC serial number (not just for Singer 301′s).

T & T Repair page for Slant-O-Matics (Singer 401 and 500 Series). Threading, schematics, wiring, etc. They have a ton of other pages for different models too.

*You may be wondering why I keep writing these long detailed posts about sewing machines I find and fix up, but I am hoping to create a record and hopefully a bit of a resource for them, since it is sometimes quite difficult to find information on some of the older machines.

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29 thoughts on “Singer 401A

  1. wow, that’s a pretty machine! I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I have a singer that makes me love it to much, but it’s just adorable. I’m glad it works well! :D

  2. I’m glad you write these posts – I find them very interesting. I picked up a gorgeous machine at a rummage sale a couple of years ago – a Necchi from the 1950s in a cabinet – for just $2. (Yes, that’s two dollars.) I love the thing, but I don’t know anything about the inner workings of a sewing machine so other than verifying that it runs, I haven’t done much with it. Reading your posts is helping me work up the nerve to invest some time in that machine.

    • Thanks Sandi! That is so cool you found a ’50′s Necchi for such a great deal! I’ve been trying to snag a Necchi, but they aren’t very common around here (that’s not true, I’ve found 2 that looked like they had spent the last 20 years on the ocean floor!), so I’m still waiting for a salvageable one. I’m working on a couple of posts that go into more detail about fixing up an old machine for the beginner, so I hope you’ll stay tuned.

  3. I just found and bought the same model, and came across your blog while googling about it. Your deal was much better than mine! I got mine from the local sewing machine repairman, already refurbished and functioning nicely. No cabinet or manual though.

    Have you had any luck finding a manual for yours? There’s a 401 manual available to download online in a couple places, but oddly enough it has a totally different bobbin-winding set-up pictured (with winding on top rather than in the front the way yours and mine are). I’m mystified, because everything I’m reading indicates that the 401 and 401A were entirely the same, just manufactured in different places. This is one of the online copies of the manual: http://www.ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/manuals/singer-401-slant-o-matic-sewing-machine.pdf

    But it’s a little different from yours and mine….isn’t that odd? The Singer website lists a different (lower quality, actually) download of what appears to be the same manual. Any idea what the story is there?

  4. I just got a 401 A from Ebay, after a little cleaning it works like a brand new machine! Love it so far, but am having one frustrating problem….I keep breaking needles! Seems like the machine sews fine for a bit then all the sudden the needle gets out of whack and starts hitting into the metal faceplate (instead of going into the faceplate hole). Anyone else have/had this problem? Any advice? I love the machine, but I went through 7 needles today before I (almost) threw a fit and gave up for the night….

  5. Wanted to add my voice to the others thanking you for the posts on refurbishing vintage machines. I learned to machine sew in the early 1960s on a Necchi SuperNova but could never get the hang of the side load bobbin so I gave up machine sewing in the early 80s. I found an inexpensive top drop in bobbin at WalMart in the mid 90s and have been sewing like mad ever since.

    When I remarried and moved to Scotland in August 2010 I left my lovely little Singer 2662 behind as my new husband promised he would find me an all metal Singer. (wowsa, shipping the 2662 to the UK would have cost more than what I paid for it!)

    LOL, he found me a 1917 hand crank 99K, a 1933 treadle 66K, two 1973 electric (convertible to treadle) Stylist flatbed 513s, and last week a 1979 free arm 6103. All the machines have their original manuals, and are in service as teaching (and my personal sewing machines when classes are not in session) machines.

    I teach my students how to find vintage (never old, these are too special to be simply ‘old’) machines in good or refurbish-able shape, and it’s such a help to find a blog I can add to the resources page of websites I include with each sewing kit I give new students!

    Don’t stop, please, do not stop:)

    OH! Wanted to say that the 6103 (free arm zig-zag) makes an amazing straight-really straight-stitch. I am probably going to use it as my primary machine because wow, it has an amazing straight stitch but also a lovely z-z. And it sewed through eight layers of twill yesterday without a single strain. I even got a buttonhole made in that test strip that looks very-very nice.

  6. I just purchased a 401 today for $50 and just loved your information. I started collecting 2 months ago, and now have 17 machines – I think this will be my “go-to-machine” – some I am repairing and finding needing homes for them – a few I might sell to re-coop some expenses – the 401 is not going anywhere – again thanks for all the info and keep up the great work

  7. I also recently purchased a used Singer 401a machine & love it. I can select the stitch pattern on the left, but cannot figure out how to move the selector on the right ( A through J); it’s stuck on A.
    Any suggestions? Thank you!

  8. I just moved and found out that for some reason I can’t lower my machine into it’s cabinet (nothing is holding it). What did I loose? any input would be appreciated. I can have it up in the cabinet just fine but sometimes I would like to have it down. I’ve had my machine since 1960 and love it!!!
    Lois

  9. I really appreciate this blog. I recently inherited a 401A and I used your post to get oriented to the machine. I would love it if you would post some more detailed information about how to clean out/take apart/put back together old machines. I’m debating whether I want to try myself or just take it into a Singer servicing store.

  10. I own two of these machines and I love them. I also have a cabinet to put one of them into. Been using it for 30 years won’t ever touch a Brother again.
    Sandee

  11. Late reply, but thanks for this post- I have a bid in on a 401 on eBay that is also missing the slide plate. But several of my vintage machines were purchased that way. I think people just give up and throw them out sometimes because they can be tricky to get back on if the spring isn’t adjusted correctly. At any rate, I am really looking forward to getting a 401 one way or another, and your post was very informative!

  12. wonder if you can help me… i have this machine and all of a sudden the needle won’t go down, seems to be scraping on metal under the slide plate..even when i manually advance it, im afraid the needle will break off. any advice?

    • My suggestion would be to do a quick clean under the slide plate (to remove any built up lint) and replace your needle with a new one. If that doesn’t work, it’s possible that you may have sewn over a pin or something and knocked your timing off. In this case, you’re machine would need to be taken in for service. Let me know if that works!

    • You mention timing and I wonder if I have thrown the timing off on my 401-A. It was working fine except to shredding and breaking top thread when I decided to clean and oil. Now it runs and the thread moves through both bobbin and top but there are few if any stitches. It sounds as if it is sewing smoothly but there is only thread stretching across the space

  13. Great information! I just picked up my 401A with it’s full mahogany desk cabinet at a thrift store for $19.99. I can’t believe it was so inexpensive. I need to do a little more maintenance and decide if I should bring it in for a service. I need to replace the rubber for the bobbin winder. But, for the most part it looks pretty good and I’m looking forward to giving a good run. Would you suggest anything in particular to do before I use to make stuff?? Thanks!!

  14. I gave my 401A to my sister-in-law, then it went to her daughter and now after 5 years it is back with me. A good cleaning and oil/lube job and it should be fine again. Thank you for the link to the manual. :)

  15. I found your post when looking for information on fixing my tension assembly. You said you took yours apart – while it was an infuriating rubix cube, can you tell me anything about how you did it? Everything else I’m finding is only telling me how to adjust the tension. Thanks!

      • Very helpful, thank you! I did manage to fix it yesterday, though I’m not sure what went wrong and how I fixed it (I basically loosened up the mechanism, realigned pieces, and tightened it back up again) – but, this will certainly help if/when it happens again!

  16. when i sew with my 401 a sometimes the balance wheel will loosen up like you are winding the bobbin any suggestions to what might cause might be

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