benjaminrbrown

Maintenance/ Reliability in General of Leather Sewing machines

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First, thanks to everyone, particularly the older statespeople in the forum. I think I have read most every post on the website but rarely offer comments as others, more knowledgeable than me, provide answers far better than I ever could. I began, like many of us, hand-stiching items and playing around a bit. I find myself, like all those before me, wanting to buy a machine for as fun as hand-stiching is, hand-stiching bags is not the most fun that I have ever had. 

In my research, I cannot get a good feel for the answers to the following: How reliable exactly are these machines? I understand the need for preventive maintenance and how to take care of equipment in general, but are they that finicky once they are up and rolling? 

Essentially, I have 3 choices - 1) buy a new machine from Techsew, Toledo, or other sponsored place, 2) Buy a new machine from China and set it up myself (again I am a total newbie, this is not really an option in my mind for the first machine), or 3) buy used. 

My thought is to buy new from a sponsor as I think  these machines are fairly reliable with proper maintenance and I need the phone support when I inevitably need it. However, I have recently discovered a few places around me that indicate that they could work on these type of machines (I am outside of Orlando Florida in Deland), lessening my initial reluctance. However it brings me back to my original questions - how much effort does a machine take to keep up and running? If I have to take the machine into the shop (hour away) every time something comes up, I am uncertain that I want to deal with the headache. However, if I can do much of the work myself (I sit in front of a computer for a living though I understand machines to a degree) the the calculus changes.

TL/DR: I live in the middle of nowhere in terms of leather sewing machines. Would you be scared to have all of your support be reliant on a phone call? is my logic sound?

Thanks!

Next time I post it will have information not questions :)

Ben

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There are YouTube videos showing how to adjust, tuneup and operate most of the leather sewing machines we are using today and yesterday. These machine are based on proven designs that have persisted for decades and in some cases, over a century. Most are built to perform one task and do it well, unlike modern domestic machines that try to be everything to everybody.

In order to maintain and adjust an industrial sewing machine you need screw drivers, hex head wrenches and open end wrenches, in SAE and Metric. Most adjustments can be done by hand-eye coordination while moving a part. The dealers who setup the new Chinese and European sewing machines are capable of talking a buyer through an adjustment. Email and private messages allow the sending of pictures, manuals and links to videos.

In the rare instances where a repair cannot be described to or done by the customer, the head needs to be shipped back to the dealer. If parts are needed, the dealer will put them in, reset and sew off the machine before returning it to the customer. This is better than going too far and making matters worse on one's own. But those cases are few and far between.

Serious repairs tens to occur more with used machines than new ones. Lack of oil on critical moving parts, or using the wrong oil are contributors to seizing problems. Most leather sewing is done at very slow speeds, generating small amounts of friction and heat, far below the rating of most shafts and bearings. This is why most of our commonly deployed sewing machines have manual oil ports.

Regarding your option of buying directly from China, that would make YOU the dealer and repair depot. Nobody else would be obligated to assist you, unless they do it out of the goodness of their heart. Importers and dealers of Chinese machines take care of their customers or else get bad reputations. They make a markup to cover their time and shop charges. I was told that when a new major brand 441 clone arrives in a wooden shipping box, after being picked up at the dock, that it takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours on average for the dealer or his hired hand to uncart and degrease it, mount it to a table (that had to be assembled first), tighten loose screws and nuts and bolts, adjust the needle to hook timing and balance the alternating feet, then oil it and sew it off, making further adjustments as that machine dictates.

Or, you could learn to read and write in Chinese and ask the manufacturer for assistance!

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Good advice, as always, from Wiz. As to the reliability of older machines, it varies considerably and their condition is not always easy to discern but there are lots of 100 year-old sewing machines that still work beautifully and it's remarkable how many parts remain available. Lots of contemporary machines are fairly direct copies of old machines and some parts are interchangeable.

If you want to sit down and sew, buy a new machine from a reputable dealer. If you're interested in learning about machines and enjoy developing mechanical skills and knowledge, then making an old machine work for your needs can be very rewarding.

As to cost: If you are patient and diligent in your search, you can find solid old machines for a fraction of the cost of their new counterpart but, as Wiz said, you have to be prepared for some sometimes frustrating self-reliance. Look at Wiz's list of machines he currently owns; I'm guessing only one of them was new when he bought it.

Have fun, Gary

 

Edited by GPaudler

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1 hour ago, GPaudler said:

Good advice, as always, from Wiz. As to the reliability of older machines, it varies considerably and their condition is not always easy to discern but there are lots of 100 year-old sewing machines that still work beautifully and it's remarkable how many parts remain available. Lots of contemporary machines are fairly direct copies of old machines and some parts are interchangeable.

If you want to sit down and sew, buy a new machine from a reputable dealer. If you're interested in learning about machines and enjoy developing mechanical skills and knowledge, then making an old machine work for your needs can be very rewarding.

As to cost: If you are patient and diligent in your search, you can find solid old machines for a fraction of the cost of their new counterpart but, as Wiz said, you have to be prepared for some sometimes frustrating self-reliance. Look at Wiz's list of machines he currently owns; I'm guessing only one of them was new when he bought it.

Have fun, Gary

 

No kidding Gary! I have had to do some work on every machine in my shop. They all go out of adjustment from time to time, or need to be tweaked for a special thread, or complicated job. The older machines need the most work. Some are more reliable than others. But, I know with certainty that when I turn on my Cowboy CB4500 that it is going to sew. I may need to tweak the tensions, but it isn't going to sit there and spin without picking up the thread at all. Yes, I occasionally need to slightly reposition the hook, or move the needle bar, or lower the presser bar, but it's all part of the game. If I wanted a machine that is set it and forget it, I'd drive to Weaver Leather and buy an Adler 969 ECO for about 13 grand!

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I agree with what has been said so far.  There is enough of a learning curve with learning to sew leather on a machine without adding machine issues to the mix.  Like Wiz, I have only bought one of my machines brand new, and it is also a Cowboy 4500.  I've had a few issues, nothing that I couldn't work out myself with a little thought and trial and error, BUT I also have 25 yrs of experience sewing, maintaining and troubleshooting these heavy stitchers. I am far from being a mechanic, but I am more mechanical than an average woman.  My very first machine was an American Straight Needle.  It was endless frustration.  I got lucky with the next machine I bought, a Landis One,  and it did everything I needed it to do, and did it well, for years.  I picked up a couple more Landis One's through the years, but wanted to upgrade to a "better" machine.  I bought a Randall, which pulls a stitch superior to anything else in existence.  But it was a finicky, fickle, temperamental machine that had some serious preexisting issues.  When it was right, it was perfect, but when it was wrong, it was a nightmare.  I have since acquired a Union Lock, Landis 3 and 16, a Ferdinand Bull, the Cowboy 4500, and a couple lighter machines.  Of all of them, the Cowboy has caused the least amount of downtime, with the exception of the Landis 1's.  The Cowboy is more versatile however and will sew things you can't sew on a 1.  I don't feel that you could go wrong with buying any one of the new 441 clones from a US dealer.

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I bought my first machine a few months ago (CB4500) and it was setup by Bob at Toledo Sewing Machine.  It has pretty much run flawlessly to date.  I had a few questions when I started to learn to sew with it (I have never used a machine before this one) and Bob has patiently answered my questions over the phone.  I think as long as you oil it regularly and pay attention to any unusual noises (and stop if something does not sound right), you will prevent any major problems and should enjoy many hours of enjoyment.  These big machines can sew projects in minutes that used to take me an hour to hand sew.  As a result, I am making more projects and having more fun!  (I just do this as a hobby)

Another thing to consider when using a local service center for repairs - these are very heavy machines!  Moving one off of the table, into your vehicle, unloading it and then bringing it back to your home/shop is easier said than done.  I would want to work with Bob over the phone and exhaust any possible fixes before I start thinking about packing the machine up and moving / shipping it anywhere!

Gary

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32 minutes ago, Big Sioux Saddlery said:

I agree with what has been said so far.  There is enough of a learning curve with learning to sew leather on a machine without adding machine issues to the mix.  Like Wiz, I have only bought one of my machines brand new, and it is also a Cowboy 4500.  I've had a few issues, nothing that I couldn't work out myself with a little thought and trial and error, BUT I also have 25 yrs of experience sewing, maintaining and troubleshooting these heavy stitchers. I am far from being a mechanic, but I am more mechanical than an average woman.  My very first machine was an American Straight Needle.  It was endless frustration.  I got lucky with the next machine I bought, a Landis One,  and it did everything I needed it to do, and did it well, for years.  I picked up a couple more Landis One's through the years, but wanted to upgrade to a "better" machine.  I bought a Randall, which pulls a stitch superior to anything else in existence.  But it was a finicky, fickle, temperamental machine that had some serious preexisting issues.  When it was right, it was perfect, but when it was wrong, it was a nightmare.  I have since acquired a Union Lock, Landis 3 and 16, a Ferdinand Bull, the Cowboy 4500, and a couple lighter machines.  Of all of them, the Cowboy has caused the least amount of downtime, with the exception of the Landis 1's.  The Cowboy is more versatile however and will sew things you can't sew on a 1.  I don't feel that you could go wrong with buying any one of the new 441 clones from a US dealer.

Missing from my list of sewing machines are two Union Lockstitch Machines I have owned and sold off. I started in this business as a greenhorn to sewing leather. I did have garment experience because my Father was a Tailor. But, finding a true heavy leather stitcher was more of an adventure than I ever imagined when I set out on the unexpected Journey to Middle Earth!

Several times I thought I had found a big enough machine to sew holsters with #346 thread. But, I was sadly mistaken. Even a Singer 132k6 couldn't do a proper job sewing a half inch along the side seams. When I literally fell upon a ULS, everything changed for me. A half inch? No problem! 3/4 inch? No problem! I sold my second ULS in 2011 and used the money to buy a long body Singer 109 walking foot machine and a Fortuna skiver. It was a good deal, considering that I already had a Cowboy CB4500 for heavy work and thick thread.

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BUT! Sometimes one gets lucky. I bought an old Pfaff 335, that came with a hydraulic tensile tester, for $300. I love its unison feed and I've pushed its 5/16" thickness capacity as well as sewing hems on jeans and it has never even needed a timing adjustment. I set-up a 20+ year-old Brother TZ1-B652 drop-feed machine to sew tight zigzag splices with 138 thread in 12mm rope, stronger than the rope itself (see tensile tester, above),  and I found an Adler 120-2 for $400at a yard sale that will sew 16mm long stitches with #346 thread through 16mm+ (19mm foot lift).

I mention this because I don't want anybody to think they need to spend $3000 (or $13,000!) to practice their craft.

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  To consider what is was like just using a service manual; then to pen a letter to a company for guidance. Times have changed for sure, sometimes I laugh at myself as to the quickness of the present day technical information available.

This is somewhat fun here on the net with access to sharpshooters around the globe. If you like and I believe ya do the access to knowledge on these Leather, super tuned machines then your on your way to enjoying many machines available to you. 

Much of what happens to machines we make happen ourselves "and don't realize it" in the early stage, of any model.

I think if one goes above and beyond to set a certain base for projects. In these choices have very similar needs as thread size, textile or leather thickness and requiring the same or very very limited adjustment in tension, this would be a perfect start. 

Lastly the group here, includes yourself now seems to me they enjoy the repair questions needed by others especially when illustrated with photos.

Hope this helps

Floyd

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bb, my advice is do not consider importing direct from China. It's the sort of thing I would do, but then I like a challenge and I'm known for knocking my head against a brick wall! If 1) you are mechanically adept and like fiddling with things 2) are prepared to spend time learning about the mechanics of these machines and 3) are happy to spend time chasing spare parts then by all means look for an older machine.

If you can afford it, and as you obviously have little experience with industrial machines, your best bet however is to buy from one of the sponsors here. They have demonstrated that they will look after a customer and you will have peace-of-mind that your machine will work (and more importantly keep working). You may occasionally have to tweak it a little, but that's a lot easier than trying to get a worn machine to stitch consistently! Plus you will be getting a machine that is suitable for what you want to make.

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Ben,

I'm late in commenting, sorry. 

+1 on sponsors here or name brand/local vendors who can do follow up service in person or via the phone. 

Now, I hate to say this, as you have a budget for your machine, but "Buy once, Cry once". Get the best you can possible afford, even if you have to get a loan or use a CC. I made-do with shite machines forever when I started my biz's and waited until they made me some $ and bought nicer, newer machines.  

I'm an Adler whore now and just picked up a new 669. Worth the extra $ and I know I can call Adler and get advice quickly if things go awry.

Hints: Service your machine yourself, get to know how and when to lube and adjust things. Keep ahead of the curve on this so your machine is not down for bushings/bearings prematurely. 

Inbox me if needed.

 

Regards,

 

Andy

 

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