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Old 12-24-2013, 12:20 PM
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Recommended sewing machines

I want to buy a used walking foot sewing machine. I'm new to this so I have no idea what questions to ask or whether one manufacturer's machine or type is better than another. I intend to use the machine for seat work so I'll be sewing multiple layers and making up welting. Questions:
  • Is a flat platen or a post type machine better?
  • Are there any features (like reverse) that I really need to be sure the machine has?
  • How much difference does the distance for the needle to the machine base (arm length) make for what I'm intending to do?
  • Does it really make any difference how high the foot lifts?
  • Which manufacturer's machine is it easiest to buy parts for?
  • I'm assuming I want a 110 motor since I don't have 220 readily available. But does it make more sense to buy one with a 220 motor and just wire my shop for it?
  • Does it make more sense to buy just the head or the entire table and motor combination since I'll likely have to pay extra for shipping.
  • How the heck do I know whether some 50 year old machine has reached the end of its life or still has some life in it?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Old 12-24-2013, 06:14 PM
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1) A post bed machine is a nice luxury if you can afford one, but you don't want to sew everything with one. They are specialized machines which usually are dedicated to one specific operation. Stick with a standard flat bed machine which will be able to use a lot of different feet.

2) While you don't need reverse, it is really nice to have it. If you get down to a choice between two machines, take the one with reverse over one without.

3) Almost all industrial machines have about 10" of space between the needle and the body of the machine, which is plenty for almost anything you will want to sew. A long arm machine, which usually has 20 to 30" of space between the needle and the machine body, is great to have for certain things, but they are very, very expensive.

4) How high the foot lifts determines how much thickness you can put through the machine, and how easily the machine handles the thickness. In this case, more is definitely better. Most machines have 7/16" to 9/16" of lift height.

5) All of the Singer clones of the original 111W are easy to buy parts for because they interchange with a lot of different machines, but parts for most all machines are easy to come by. Pfaff machines are great, but their parts are more expensive. Unless you buy a machine that is absolutely worn out, you will never have to worry about buying very many parts for a good industrial machine.

6) 110 and 220 are readily available right from your breaker box. Neither one is a problem. What is a problem is three phase. Don't buy a machine with a three phase motor unless you already have it (trust me, you don't have it), or are prepared to buy a new motor.

7) Tables and motors are inexpensive, about $400 for the best of both together, and a new table and motor will probably be what you want to do anyway.

8) Almost nothing will go wrong with a good industrial machine, no matter the age. Buy a machine that has been taken care of. Look at the machine just like you look at a used car, if it has been beaten up, or neglected, it should be obvious. The machine I use every day is at least 60 years old, and I've put about $200 into it in the 20 years I've owned it.

9) How do you know about a used machine? You don't, so take it to a professional industrial mechanic to look at before you buy one. Better than that, buy one from a reputable sewing machine shop and get a warranty.

What are you looking for? A Singer model 111W or one of the dozens of clones of that machine like Consew, Artisan, Brother, etc. etc. etc. A Pfaff 1245, or a Juki. You want a single needle, lockstitch (as opposed to chain stitch), flat bed, compound feed (employing more than one feeding system usually drop feed and needle feed), industrial sewing machine with a walking foot (also called alternating presser feet) and reverse if possible. How do you know if a machine has a walking foot? The foot is in two parts, each of which has its own shaft, and when one half of the foot is down, the other half is up (hence the term walking foot or more accurately alternating presser feet), and a separate shaft for the needle. Three shafts. If it doesn't have three shafts it is not a walking foot machine and no attachment can change that. It either has it or it doesn't, you can't add it to an existing machine.
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Old 12-25-2013, 09:02 AM
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Beaware that just because a machine is an industrial machine doesn't mean that it is a walking foot machine. There are many many industrial machines that are not walking foot. Shop around, there are deals out there to be had. I bought my table, motor and singer 151w all as one piece on craigslist for $100. It doesnt have reverse and I wish the foot went a little higher but for now, it will do 98% of what I need it to do.There was a singer 111w locally that just went for $200 on ebay, it was the machine aka head only. So there are deals out there to be had. Also beware of ads using the terms upholstery and leather. Everyone on craigslist seems to put those words in their description, when its simply a home use machine. And it might do some upholstery or very thin leather, for a short period of time!
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Old 12-25-2013, 09:23 AM
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Almost every "industrial" sewing machine on E-Bay is listed that same way. They say "Industrial" and "leather" all the time. If it is not powered by a separate motor mounted to the table, you don't want it.
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Old 12-25-2013, 03:30 PM
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Guys: Thanks for the insight. I've been thinking of buying a machine off ebay but it sounds like I'm better off buying one locally (although they seem to be more expensive up my way). The very best to you all during the holidays and in the New Year!
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