Buying and maintaining an industrial sewing machine

Posted: February 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

We just got an inquiry from a person who is interested in making the leap from portable to industrial sewing machines. Industrial machines are awesome – even if you are just sewing dresses or light fabrics. Their stitch quality is very consistent, they last forever, and they are made to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (think ‘factory’). Buy one, your grandchildren will thank you!

Here are some more thoughts:

See Jennifer’s original email, below our reply.

Jennifer,
Thanks for your inquiry.
I’d recommend that you get a walking-foot industrial machine.
While there are some decent heavy-duty portable machines like the Sailrite (very similar to the Consew CP206), there really are no good ‘halfway-between-portable-and-industrial’ machines. Big machines take some getting used to, and are a real hassle to move, but they are so worth it. You’ll never want to sew on a portable again.

Most factories/assembly lines have many different specialized machines. (e.g. walking foot machines for top-stitching, bartack machines for buttons and structural work, a post-bed machine for sewing in bag sides or awkward corners, and lockstitch machines for long, fast runs). You won’t find one single machine that does everything, but If you are just going to have one machine, I recommend a walking-foot.

Walking foot machines are best for leather and rubbery materials like inner-tube as they feed material simultaneously with both the foot and the feed-dog. Without the moving foot, frictiony material tends to bind against the foot as it is pulled along by the feed dog. We use our main walking foot machine as the goto machine. They can sew through anything. License plates, books, or fire hose. They are also good for super-light fabrics like ripstop nylon, as they pull the material thru the machine evenly. 

That said, if you mainly are working with light suede, demin, and vinyl, a normal lockstitch non-walking-foot machine will do a lot at a lower price.

For industrial machines, look for any Consew, Singer, Brother or Juki walking foot machine. Try to buy a used machine. Older is better – these brands are all solid, and pretty much like a Toyota pickup – they last forever, and parts are inexpensive and easy to find. Avoid Yamata, or other new Chinese machines.

Pfaffs and Berninas are great, but parts can be expensive. Any working walking foot under $400 is usually a good deal, but make sure it has reverse.

Any of these brands are usually good for a straight-stitch model too. We have a Brother DB2-791, and a Brother DB2-755, both are great – the 755s are very popular for sewing factories.  Any good straight-stitch in the brands above under $300 is a good price.

Dream list – look for a Bernina 217, Consew 206RB, or Pfaff 545. The Bernina isnot great for leather/rubber, but has dreamy zigzag action, and is super smooth. I had one and should have never sold it. Anything under $600 is a good deal for any of these. Also, the Consew 206RB is sold as a Seiko STH8-BLD-3.

Buy locally, don’t get one from Ebay. Shipping is expensive, it may arrive damaged, and you may have to pay someone to set it up. If you are buying one from Craigslist, try to get one that is in working order, and try it out before you pay. Bring samples of the fabrics that you want to use. If it is not working, or you can’t plug it in, check to see if it turns smoothly (you’ll need to press down the feed pedal with the motor switched OFF to release the clutch and spin the machine freely). Avoid machines that have an oil bath (pan full of oil under them) if they have been sitting for a long time and the oil is rancid or crusty.

Find someone local who can teach you how to service your machine – including adjusting the hook timing. If you push the limits of the machine (sewing hose, trampolines, and other found objects) you’ll jam it now and then, and unless you can do a little mechanical work, you’ll spend a lot of money at the shop. Before you go to a sewing store, look up upholstery, motorcycle, and boating shops in your area. All of these businesses have sewing associated with them, and you’ll connect with people who know the local industrial sewing scene.

Oil your machine ALL THE TIME (every day if you are using it a lot). Buy Lily White brand sewing machine oil by the quart or gallon, get an oil can, and oil every place where there is metal on metal contact (lots of machines have a daub of red paint on all of the oil holes). If you are buying an old machine, oil it well and work it loose before you start sewing on it. If the machine is filth when yo uget it, take it in for a cleaning ($100+), or put it over a baking pan and attack it with a big bottle of WD-40, some Qtips, and a clean cotton rag. Wear rubber gloves. Some people say not to use WD40 on your sewing machine, and it is a good idea not to use it for normal lubrication, but it works well for cleaning it up, and being able to blast gunk off with the little red hose is a bonus. 

We use #22 needles for our heaviest work, and #69 nylon thread (buy the 1 pound spools to save money). We sometimes use #16 needles with the #69 thread, or #46 thread for lighter projects. If you get a machine with a small bobbin, you can run #46 thread in the bobbin so it lasts longer. If you are topsticthing anything structural, you may want to use polyester thread, as it is less prone to UV degradation and rot. Buy Orange-brand needles off of Ebay. We often put a drop of oil on the needle before starting a thick run of stitching if we are using rubbery materials, otherwise the needle gets so hot that it melts the thread.

Happy hunting, and don’t blame us when your shop is too full of machines to walk through! Industrial machines are addictive…

On 1/18/13 7:25 AM, Jennifer Karches wrote:
Hello Zeke and Erika!

Wow, right now I wished I lived in Chico! I just spent most of last evening going through your blog and I am really enthralled….I feel like I have soul mates (who are light years ahead of me!) with you guys.;-)

The cattail bag was just amazing….truly a work of art. And I love the bike bags for the front of the bike! I never would have thought to use firehose for material!! It makes me want to stop by the firehouses in town and see what they throw out!!
I am currently making scarves, mitts, snoods, phone cosies, etc. out of thrift store cashmere and felted wool, but I am now branching into bicycle inner tube wallets and cell phone cases (and I just found a source for billboard canvas) and my 90’s era Singer is not cooperating with my ideas! We live in a college town so I am endlessly coming upon interesting things in dumpsters, the trash and during our big junk week, when there is “unlimited pickup”, which is basically a big trash fest for a handful of crazy people trolling around looking for useful things. 😉 I generally just load up my car many multiple times, and donate most items to Goodwill…because it makes me sick thinking all that stuff would go to the landfill! It is just gross how students (mostly) throw out entire contents of their apartment!

Anyways, so I have been researching getting a new (to me) industrial machine, and I am soooo confused about what to buy! I have been advised to buy, by different people, a Pfaff IDT machine, a Sailrite, an old Kenmore, an old Singer, a Consew…..

I did find this brand new Consew on ebay:
…but I’ve read a couple of not so stellar reviews.

So I feel kind of paralyzed as to what to do!
So, can you give me advice on a good machine that will sew multiple layers of leather, bicycle tubes, wool jackets, canvas, denim, etc. that a basic sewing novice (I’ve taught myself) can operate without much problem in a spare bedroom? Or do you have a machine to sell to me? Do I need to get one of those monster industrial machines or would a portable work? What needles/thread should I use?

I am basically just trying to take my occasional pastime up several notches, and hopefully consign some of the stuff at our local bike shop to support my habit! So I think I will be looking at older machines, which is fine with me. I am just a bit intimidated with the big industrial motored machines…

So, I hope you can help me! Thank you for any advice you can give me!!!

Jennifer

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