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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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 :)
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.