What you'll learn . . .
• The most important features to look for when buying a used walking foot sewing machine
• The motor
• Popular models
• Thread, bobbins and needles
• Sewing machine feet and attachments
• Basic maintenance and education
Buying a used walking foot sewing machine is a great investment and once you own one, you will never regret you purchase.
First and most importantly – If you are sewing boat canvas it must be a compound feed walking foot machine.
With a compound feed walking foot machine there are two presser feet bars and a needle bar that work in conjunction with each other.
The presser bar feet walk . . . One bar going up and one bar going down.
At the same time the feed dog is moving inside the base plate of the sewing machine.
This combined motion moves the fabric through the sewing machine all by itself, greatly assisting in sewing heavy fabrics.
All upholstery and canvas is back stitched when you first start a row of stitching and when you end a row stitching.
This keeps the thread from unraveling. So reverse is a must.
The reason this is so important, is that an uncontrollable machine will need modifications to slow the stitching down if you want to produce clean and tidy work.
It’s not a huge deal if you know how to do the modifications, but a beginner might not be interested in installing a speed reducer pulley for use with a clutch motor (more on motors in a minute).
Know how it sews before you buy it. An exception would be, a reputable online seller with warranty (ask questions).
If you are looking at a particular used walking foot sewing machine, make sure it was designed by the manufacturer to handle heavy materials.
An example would be a machine that was designed for manufacturing drapery instead of upholstery. They look pretty much the same, but one model will be more powerful than another.
A quick call to the manufacturer and you should be able to get more information on the particular machine you are looking at.
There are two type of sewing machine motors most often seen on used walking foot sewing machines
We won't go into the details here, other than to let you know the clutch style motor can sew ridiculously fast and be very hard to control.
This is where I mentioned earlier the need for a adding a speed reducer pulley may be needed for an out of control sewing machine.
Pretty much every stitcher we know, prefers the servo. Not only are they silent, but they have settings that can control the speed.
Clutch Style motor
Servo Style Motor
You can also have needle positioner added to the machine.
A needle positioner makes the needle always stop in the down position when you stop sewing.
This makes it easy to turn and continue sewing without the material shifting under the presser feet, requiring you to move your hand to the fly wheel to assist in the action.
It's a time saver for professionals, not so necessary for the hobbyist.
Many stitchers retrofit their sewing machine with servos after they buy them, just for the pure joy of using one. Most used industrial sewing machines will come with a clutch style.
Be aware of the electrical needs of the sewing machine motor you are buying. Make sure you are buying 110V and not 220V. Otherwise, you will be changing your motor or outfitting your house with a designated 220 outlet
For hobbyist, beginners and live aboard stitchers, a Sailrite might be a good fit.
Let me stop and say, I finally had a chance to sit down and sew on a Sailrite machine.
My personal feeling is this. There are some good reasons to own a Sailrite .
It's mobile, it's a space saver and if you do indeed need both straight stitch and zigzag then a Sailrite could come in very handy.
A used Sailrite can also be less expensive.
However, we have looked at the cost of both used and new Sailrite machines. If you have the room for it, you will be far happier with one of the machines we have listed below. You can pick up a good used walking foot sewing machine from the list below with table and motor included for between 600.00 and 900.00 on craigslist and a bit higher from a retailer online.
Ease of use and quality of stitching will exceed a Sailrite.
A few popular brands and models used by the majority of professional Marine Fabricators. There are many more, but you can't go wrong with one of these.
Boat canvas and upholstery takes a tremendous beating from life spent outdoors, so you will need the right thread.
Thread - Now that you have found your ideal used walking foot sewing machine, you will be able to use the same thread professional’s use.
You will be using either a UV polyester thread or lifetime gortex thread.
The most desirable thread weight for the UV polyester is 138, this will get you 3-5 years depending on the strength of the sun in your area and time spent outdoors.
Some popular brand names are:
For lifetime thread, it will depend on the brand, but it will be equivalent to 92 or 138 thread.
Some popular names are:
Black and White Polyester V92 Thread
Black and White 138 Polyester Thread
Thread Cone Holder
Bobbins - You will have the choice of winding your own or purchasing pre-wound. This is purely your choice. Professionals we know do both.
To wind your own bobbins you will need two rolls of thread, otherwise it is very inconvenient to wind a few bobbins and re-thread the machine over and over.
We wind our own, it just seems natural. If you go this route, you will need some extra metal bobbins for winding thread, you can buy them online, if you don't have a supplier.
Needles are a science of their own. I’ll let you know what we use on our machines most of the time. They are Groz-Beckert 135 x 17, 125/20 Diamond point needles.
Your standard set of walking feet will most likely come with the machine.
You might also find cording feet handy. They are used for upholstery.
The most common size is 1/4".
If you can, find a set with cut away backs, wish makes it easy to turn
the corner you will love them.
Welt Cord Feet Side View
Welt Cord Feet Front View
Also, you might like a zipper foot. The left side of the foot will be cut away so you can get closer to the zipper.
You might also like a binding attachment. Most fabricators use either ¾” or 1”
You will be happy with a 1” binder, it captures the edge of the fabric well and should be easy for you to use.
You will need to look at your machine and its
attachment points. Most machines will
accept the style pictured below.
Tip - When purchasing binding for your projects, buy Sunbrella binding cut on a bias. It sews around curves better than straight cut binding.
Oiling and cleaning your used walking foot sewing machine is paramount, do this often to keep your parts from wearing out prematurely
We recommend using sewing machine oil specifically. If your machine comes with the manual, you will have information on oiling the machine from both top to bottom. If you don't have a manual, make that your first priority. You shouldn't have any problem finding a manual online or a reproduction of it.
Some common easily fixed problems that will crop up on you with industrial sewing machines are
When threading your machine make sure your thread is well seated and threaded correctly.
Inspect the used walking foot sewing machine you are thinking of buying. Look for damage, or worn parts. Tilt the back and look at the underside, checking for any tell tail signs of abnormal wear.
A used walking foot sewing machine can last for
many, many years. So find the right one
and you will have a machine that will service your needs for many years to come
Last, I'd like to share a contact with you for a good sewing machine man. Sam Sloan is a trusted source for many in the industry. He is a great go to guy for everything sewing machine, accessories and attachments.
You can find Sam at Sloan Machinery. He deals with both industry professional and retail customers, so he will be a good resource for you.
Finally for those of you wanting to learn the trade of marine fabrication, I'd like to share another great contact.
Mark and Deb Hood do a fantastic job in education for this trade.
Most of all have fun and sew your hearts out. Being able to repair and build your own canvas and upholstery projects will bring you great satisfaction.
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