A Tutorial – Vintage Singer External Motors … Do They Use Grease, Or Do They Use Oil?

I have recently seen multiple forum posts on lubricating Singer vintage external motors. To most folks, the obvious sign that a Singer motor is lubricated with grease is the presence of small tubes at the end of each end of the motor. While many Singer motors were fitted with tubes and wicks for filling with grease, some were fitted with tubes and wicks that were lubricated with oil. While they look very similar, they are in fact very different. Here are some pictures to show what I mean.

BR8-S on Model 66

This motor was fitted to a Singer Model 66. If you look closely, at each end is a raised tube. This tube contains a grease wick.

Here is another example of a motor on a Singer Featherweight…

If you look closely on the front of the motor, you will see a small tube at the 9 o’clock position looking at the pulley. This tube also holds a grease wick. There is also a grease tube at the back of the motor.

The next picture is a motor fitted to a Singer model 15-75.

Looking at each end, we see what appears to be grease tubes. In fact, they are not grease tubes, but oil tubes. These tubes also contain a wick, but it is an oil wick, not a grease wick.

Though they look similar, they are very different. Proper lubrication of this motor requires oil. A motor designed for grease lubrication requires a grease formulated to melt at a certain temperature. Proper lubrication of these motors is vitally important, and the life of your motor depends on it.

You see, a motor designed with grease wicks should not be lubricated with oil. The oil will seep into the motor and contaminate the copper windings. Over time, this will cause the motor to run slow, or not at all. On the other hand, if the motor is designed for lubrication with oil and grease is substituted, the grease may not flow freely to the shaft and bushing where it is needed and starve the motor of lubrication. Again, the motor will overheat and damage to the motor will occur.

How do you tell which is which? Well, it is not readily apparent and it requires close examination. Both use a round felt wick in a tube, and they look very much the same. It is no wonder why people trying to do the right thing and lubricate their motor, unwittingly end up doing something detrimental instead. I will try to explain how to tell the difference so you can properly lubricate your Singer motor… with grease, or with oil as the motor requires

Lets start with the motors that have grease tubes. The grease tube provides a reservoir for a small supply of grease that is in contact with the grease wick. This is accomplished by using a spring in the tube that pushes down on one end of the grease wick. The other end of the wick is in direct contact with the motor shaft. The grease is formulated to melt at approx 115 degrees F. and this temperature is achieved in normal operation of the motor. As the motor melts the grease, it turns into a liquid and is transported thru the wick to the motor shaft. This liquified grease lubricates the shaft and the bushing it rotates in.

One way to determine if it is a grease wick and not an oil wick, is to probe the opening in the tube with a pin or a needle. There should be little or no resistance to the probe as it passes thru the spring, until it hits the grease wick… maybe a 3/16ths to a 1/4 of an inch deep or so. This space is the grease reservoir. Here is a picture showing a grease wick…Notice the springs that form a reservoir for the grease, and it also keeps the wick in contact with the shaft. Bottom line, if there is a reservoir space, the motor requires grease.

Now, lets look at an oil wick…

They look very much the same, but notice that there is no spring, or space for a reservoir. The wicks are saturated with oil. If you probe the tube with a toothpick or a needle, there is no gap. The wick extends to the top of the tube. If there is no gap, there is no reservoir, and the motor requires oil.

Unfortunately, they only sure way to tell is by dissembling the motor. As I said previously, if it is a grease wick, when the shaft is removed from the motor case, the felt will pop down thru the bushing and be observable.

You can see the wick and the end is curved where it formed to the curvature of the shaft.

A motor with oil wicks is completely different. It uses a self centering bronze bushing shaped as a ball. A slot is cut into it, and the oil wick rests in the slot. It never touches the shaft. The bronze ball seats on a felt washer, and is held in place with a metal cup that seats in the motor case. The oil saturates the felt and lubricates the shaft. Here is what these components look like.

As you can see, this is very different from a motor that uses a grease wick.

The difference between a grease wick motor and an oil wick motor is not easy to discern by looking at them. I wanted to reach out and explain, and hopefully describe how to tell difference. It is important to know so people can perform the proper maintenance these motors need and the use the proper lubricant… grease or oil to maintain them.

I have read on more than one forum, where people wanting to do the right thing, discovered that they could not force grease into the tubes because the felts came to the top of the tube. Too often, the advice was to remove the felt to make room for grease… when in fact it was an oil wick.

I hope this information is useful to you and hopefully it will help you maintain your motor to ensure years of trouble free service.

As always, our tutorials are provided as a free resource to help you learn and maintain your vintage sewing machine. As our site has grown, so has the cost to keep and maintain it.  Despite these costs, I will strive to continue posting tutorials and other relevant content for the benefit of the sewing community.  If you found the content of this tutorial useful, please consider making a small donation to help me grow the site and help defray my costs… every little bit helps.

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Please let me know if I can answer any questions or if I can be of any assistance by emailing me at pungoliving@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

Lee

Published by pungoliving

First and foremost, I decided to share some of my experiences with vintage all metal sewing machines. It is a natural progression of my life experience exercising my hands and my mind. My background is a simple story... graduating High school, I wanted a trade. I landed an apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in welding. 5 years later after earning certification and working in many different environments, I decided to enroll in College and earn an Engineering. At the same time, I married a wonderful girl and started a new life. Graduating College with a degree in Structural Engineering, I began a 35 year career in the Federal Government. Along the way, we were blessed with 3 beautiful children. Earning a Masters degree in Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer I worked for the benefit of my family and my Country. Over the years, I have pursued many different hobbies... woodworking, car mechanics, astronomy, and taking apart and putting together all sorts of things. Pretty much anything I could put my mind and my hands into. So now, many years later, I am retired and finally able to wile away my days at home with the love of my life. Her interests have always been in sync with mine, but spending so much free time with her, I realized how broad her talents are! One interest she is particularly fond of is sewing. It didn't take me long to put 2+2 together and realize that I could do something with this. So, acquiring, adjusting, servicing, and restoring sewing machines was a win-win. I have a hobby that is detailed, involves tinkering with precision engineered high quality manufactured machines, while she has an opportunity to sew on various different makes and models of sewing machines. While there are many that have information on line, and what I have to say more than likely has already been said, I wanted to contribute to that conversation and learning gleaned from my experience and research.

54 thoughts on “A Tutorial – Vintage Singer External Motors … Do They Use Grease, Or Do They Use Oil?

  1. Hello, this is by far the most comprehensive explanation I’ve seen thus far regarding grease ports or oil ports. I have a Singer 201K-3 (EL103116). Which I’ve just recently acquired. It’s in pretty good nick. the motor looks very much like the Singer model 15-75 picture above (except its on a 201 and it’s 230-250 volts, as its for use in New Zealand). The motor manual that came with the machine has a sticker over the motor lubrication section saying ” as the bearings in this motor are now self-lubricating, Grease tubes and Tube of Motor Lubricant are no longer supplied” BUT the sewing machine also came with a tube of lubricant that definitely looked like it had been used. I tried what was suggested, inserting a pin and it goes in about 4mm. So in my mind this is looking like a grease port. But was looking for a second opinion as I don’t want to ruin the motor due to an error in judgement.

    Thanks.

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    1. Hello Ramen,

      Your 201K was manufactured in 1956. The style of the model 201, and the model 15 changed in the 50’s and your is made from aluminum instead of cast iron. The date of 1956 almost assures that the motor uses oil. If you send me a picture of the back end of your motor, I can tell you for certain.

      If the motor has tubes, and the manual says “self lubricating”, it will still need oil. Self lubricating bearings are known as “sintered” bearings and they are infused with oil. They will dry out in time, and 66 years is certainly long enough for this to happen.

      Many people use grease on the gears of these machines, but they should be lubricated with oil as well. I cannot think of any assembly on a 201K that would use grease, or where grease would benefit lubrication.

      If it is an oil wick motor instead of a grease wick motor, and someone used grease in it, I would not be too concerned… I would use 3 or so drops of oil in each tube and follow-up with periodic lubrication with oil. The heat of operation will allow the oil to penetrate and do its job.

      I hope this helps and please let me know if I can be of any further assistance!

      Lee

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      1. Hi Lee,

        Thanks for the reply! I’m sorry I’m only just seeing it now. your historical context makes sense, that by 1956 it would have been oil as a motor lubeicant. So could it mean the wicks need replacing if I am able to insert a pin about 4mm down the shaft? I have taken some pictures of the motor. What’s the best way to get the to you?

        Thanks again!

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  2. Hello, this is a very interesting and informative blog; thanks for digging into the topic of grease and/or oil in vintage Singer motors.

    I’m just restoring an RFJ5-8 motor (also sometimes called RF5-8), the kind that is often seen on a 185K or a 99K. It, along with its lamp and a non-Singer foot controller, had been piggybacked onto a very dirty and sorry-looking 15-88 (from 1948-54) which was originally a treadle. The motor was in need of serious cleaning, new brushes and some repairs to the wrappings around the coils, all of which I have completed. Other than that, it should be good. I can’t wait to get it reassembled and running on the 15-88 which I have cleaned, loosened up and brought back to life.

    While cleaning the insides of the motor, I discovered some fibrous material beneath the bushing at the bottom of the hole in which the shaft sits at the end nearest the brushes. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that this was likely a lubrication pad until I had pulled out about 95% of it, thinking it was just dirt and grunge. Anyway, it’s gone now, and I have cut a small piece of felt drip pan liner to put into the bottom of the hole.

    I am still not sure, however, whether this pad is for oil, or for grease. It’s interesting to note that the pad sits about two or three millimeters below the end of the spindle, in a space below the brass bushing that is as wide as the bushing itself. As a result, the pad in no way comes into contact with the spinning shaft of the motor.

    My question is whether to grease or to oil this little pad. There is scant information out there about the RF5-8 motor. Andy Tube does very helpfully cover a rebuild, but in his motor, there is nothing at the bottom of the hole and I would guess that someone had removed the pad previously. He suggests lightly greasing the inside of the bushing, where it contacts the shaft, but since there’s no pad he doesn’t mention with what to lubricate it.

    A similar motor, but for a Kenmore, is serviced with clear explanations by Stevie on Sewsaveme. It’s hard to tell where the bottom of the shaft sits in the hole, but he mentions that there is a pad down there with corresponding oil ports on the outside of the machine. He lightly greases the bushing and then turns the housing over and puts oil in dropwise through the ports, until it won’t take any more. However, there are no oil ports on the RF5-8.

    So, if the shaft does not come in contact with the pad, does the pad need to be greased? Or is its purpose to provide a tiny amount of oil vapour to the bushing when the motor is operating, in addition to the light greasing that is done at time of servicing?

    Your blog nicely explains the details and purpose of oil and grease wicks in Singer motors, but this model has neither, so I am perplexed!

    If you could be so kind as to cast a few pearls of advice my way, I would be most appreciative!

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    1. Hello Verznic,

      Your motor does not use grease. The thin film of grease that you saw applied in your online searches is really not appropriate motor lubrication. I, like you, see it is used for reassembly and break-in, but these motors are designed to be lubricated with oil, and grease is (in my opinion) is not necessary.

      Kenmore motors, singer motors, and practically every other vintage sewing machine motors made in the late 50’s and on, used oil instead of grease.

      Do not add grease to the felt pad in your motor. The lubrication for these motors is not direct. The way it works is like this… the shaft spins in a sintered bushing (bearing). A sintered bushing is solid, but is porous. The sintered bushing sits on a felt pad that is charged with oil. The oil wicks into the sintered bushing and lubricates the shaft.

      Sometime in the evolution of these motors, the oil hole was eliminated and the motors were advertised as lubricated for life… which is ridiculous. Oil does dry out and at some point they will need more oil. If you look at the front and rear of the motor through the vent slots, you can see the edge of the felt pad. In these motors, you can lubricate the felt on the edges and it is a good thing to do..

      You can add too much oil to the felts. If the felts are dry, 10-12 drops of oil should be sufficient for initial lubrication. Kenmore recommends 3 drops every 6 months or so for maintenance… but sintered bearings do a good job of holding oil and do work well in these motors..

      There is nothing advantageous in using grease in your motor… in fact, it is detrimental Oil is fine.

      I hope this helps explain how your motor works and help you get oil lubrication to your felt pads.

      Let me know if I can be of any other assistance and have a great night,
      Lee

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      1. Thanks, Lee, for your quick reply! So informative. I am going to assume that a little circular piece of felt from a Singer drip pan liner is ok, otherwise I could make a little felt pad out of wool rovings, or perhaps a piece of wool fabric. I know that acrylic felt is not suitable. Thank you so much for your help!

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    2. I have an RF5-8 motor on my Singer 99K. The only thing coming our of the motor are 3 electric cords— one goes to the light, one goes to the foot controller, and one goes to the electric outlet. There are vents in the motor casing— nothing else. As I look in the vents, I see nothing that looks like a spot for oil or grease. I am terrier of opening a motor—even if I could figure out how to open it. What do I do?

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      1. Hello Pat,

        the early 60’s Singer decided that their sewing machine motors were “lubricated for life” and removed access to the oil felts via a hole or a tube.

        I guess they never anticipated that people would still be using and maintaining their machines for 60+ years!

        There is a way to get oil to the wicks and I would be happy to identify the best way to accomplish this. If you send me a few pictures showing the front, back, and both ends I can explain how.

        I can’t receive pictures here, but you can send them to pungoliving@gmail.com.

        Thanks and I look forward to being of assistance to you.

        Have a great weekend!
        Lee

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  3. My friend has a 100 year anniversary singer, it is a 1949 model year, I learned they made a bunch before 1950, she just bought it and it has the original manual, and tube of something, I’ve read the part on lubricating the motor, the book calls it oil then calls it grease down the paragraph, and to confuse me more, the pulley side of the tube hits felt at a quarter inch, but the felt is flush to the top on the other tube.Reading your article I’m left to believe it’s either a grease motor or an oil motor, it can’t be both, can it?
    Can you recommend what lubricant I should buy, I’m new to this, your article is so very appreciated, thank you.

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    1. Hello Tom,

      It is either an oil or a grease lubricated motor, not both. They can be confusing. If you send me a picture of the front, rear, and sides of the motor to pungoliving@gmail.com, I should be able to clarify which it is. As far a buying lubricant, it would be better to wait until you identify the motor.

      I hope this helps!
      Lee

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      1. I have never sent pics on my email, I wish I knew how.
        I am pretty confident this manual belongs to this machine, it’s a 15 90. I’m guessing they used both types of motors on same year models?

        Here’s the paragraph:
        “At least once a year thereafter, turn the machine back on its hinges and remove the two thumbscrews
        from the two grease cups……”
        It then shows the arrows pointing to the two tubes as grease cups, what are the thumb screws?
        I checked the lubricant tube and it looks like good grease to me, it’s in a seemingly old green box with a red S .
        Do you think I can proceed and push that felt down a little bit, and grease it up?

        Thank you for being so understanding of the complexities of these machines, I didn’t mean to throw you a curve ball with my predicament.

        Like

  4. Edit: come to find out the motor on the picture in the manual for the 15 90 is not the motor on mine, so I just took mine apart to get to the knitty gritty, it seems to be well lubricated on the brush side, a felt washer connected to the grease tube was pretty damp, but a brush was worn down to one sixteenth out of the spring, while the other one was almost half an inch!

    My friend is going to sew many gifts for Christmas on it, Thank God I could put that motor back together for her, at least I know how to replace the brushes now, that one brush doesn’t have long to go. it was solid on the pully end, no parts like you’ve shown above in your pictures in the article, so that means it is a greaser.

    Thank you Lee and have a Wonderful Christmas.

    Tom

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    1. Hello Tom,

      The maintenance procedure you described sounds like it is for a potted motor on a 15-91. If the rear of the motor has a small removeable cap (it is a shaft plug), it is a grease motor. If it does not have this plug (endcap is molded without a removeable plug), it is an oil motor. Mid 1950’s vintage motors can be one or the other.

      Uneven brush wear is a sign the brush became frozen in the brush tube. Replacing the brushes and cleaning the tubes will correct this problem.

      Good luck and let me know if I can be of any further assistance!
      Lee

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  5. I’m a bit confused by your post, that is whether to use oil or grease in my motor. I have a copy of the manual that I believe came with the motor on my Singer 15-90. I’ve taken apart the motor and it is the same one that you advise to use oil in. The manual says to never use oil, but rather to use Singer Lubricant which is a grease. In fact to directly quote the manual: “Never under any circumstances apply oil to any part of the motor”. I believe someone in the past used oil in the motor. There was oil everywhere which took some time and effort to clean up. Any thoughts?

    Like

    1. Hello Jeffery,

      Thanks for asking your question… it is a good one. In the 50’s, Singer transitioned from grease lubricated to oil lubricated motors. Even later, they transitioned to “never need oil” motors… and with very minor cosmetic changes, they all looked the same. That was what prompted me to write the blog and show the internal differences between oil and grease motors.

      I hesitate to rely on the users manual for any machine of this vintage because it may or may not be the manual the machine came with, and it may or may not be the motor that came with the machine.

      What is definitive is that if you disassembled your motor and found oil felts (not wicks) and a round sintered bushing retained by spring clips, your motor uses oil and not grease. If you use grease in this motor, it will never migrate to the motor shaft and will not provide any lubrication.

      Excess oil is not good for the motor. I too have found motors with oil contaminating the brushes and motor windings… most likely adding far too much oil to the felts, or applying oil in the wrong place.

      The quote you referenced from the users manual is true for grease wick motors and is certainly true… adding oil to a grease wick can migrate to the brushes and windings and cause problems.

      Singer’s recommendation to never add oil, even those equipped with oil tubes (later deleted), is nonsense on a 60 year old motor. Motors need lubrication… period. After 60 years, there is no lubrication left.

      I hope this helps to clarify your question and please don’t hesitate to ask if I can be of any assistance.
      Lee

      Like

  6. Thanks for your reply Lee. Clearly none of the greases available today will fit the bill.

    I have two questions, first, what type of oil do you recommend – assuming that petroleum jelly doesn’t work out and second, which is off topic, I seem to have misplaced my pictures of where the two washers fit. Are they between the brass bushings and the spring holder or at the end of the shafts?

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  7. Hi!
    I just read your blog about oil vs grease ports. My 66 has the same motor as your 15. I believe it to have oil ports. Could you tell me how often and how much oil I should put in the ports?

    Thank you,
    Liza

    Like

    1. Hello Elisa,

      Assuming the felts have any oil remaining (if the machine has been stored unused for many years they are dry),I think 3 drops every few months should be sufficient. If the machine has been sitting unused for many years, 8-10 drops may be necessary.

      I hope this helps!
      Lee

      Like

  8. This blog makes a pretty solid sounding argument, so I went digging through my files to see what Singer says about that model motor. I found the Singer B.A.K. Electric Motors manual form K5959, & after reading through a bit I found this statement verbatim on page 11:
    “Never under any circumstances apply oil to any part of the motor. Singer Lubricant, specially compounded for electric motors, remains just where wanted in the bearings, while oil would work its way into the commutator and brushes, causing much trouble and vexation, such as difficulty in starting, over-heating, smoking, etc.”
    My guess is that most likely in the century or so since these motors were made, some well meaning individual decided to “fix” the lube cups with new wicks, & just threw out the shorter wicks & springs that were once in those lube cups.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your feedback Nathan,

      It is certainly a topic for debate. I have seen the same information and I just don’t know how to reconcile this… Singer obviously knew what lubrication their motors needed. The problem as I see it today is that the comparison in my blog shows two motors with completely different styles of wicks. The grease motor has wicks that are in direct contact with the motor shaft. These grease tubes have springs behind the wick to keep it in contact with the shaft. The “newer” motors have a sintered bearing that rests on a round oil felt. There is no contact between the shaft and the wick in the oil tube. There are no springs behind the felt in these motors, or at least I have not found springs behind the wicks in any of these motors I have restored. As such, I see no path for grease to flow from the wick in the tube to reach the round felt and transfer liquified grease through the sintered bearing to the motor shaft. I have seen the same arrangement of captured round felts on motors of other manufacture that have oil holes in the motor casing to oil the felt. Keep in mind, these felts are not intended to be saturated with oil and following other manufacturer’s information, only 2 or 3 drops every few months is sufficient.

      I guess the debate will continue and hopefully one day I will find information that changes my mind. The most important thing is to keep lubrication in the motor… One word of caution concerning Singer lubricant. The Singer grease formulated and available today in small tubes is not intended for motors.

      Thanks for doing your research and reaching out to me regarding my blog post!

      Have a great evening,
      Lee

      Like

  9. Just for good measure, & since I already had that folder open, I looked at the Singer B.R.K. & B.U.K. Electric Motor Manuals too. Those manuals both appear to parrot the B.A.K. manual as far as lubricating the motors goes.

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  10. I think it would be helpful if you made it clear that almost all of the Singer motors with ports use grease and that this motor is the exception. Every Singer motor that I have worked on that had ports, had bushings with a hole that allowed the grease wick to ride the motor shaft. The bushing you show from your motor clearly does not. Is it possible that your motor was meant to use grease and the wick would get hot enough touching only the outside of the bushing to melt the grease? That melted grease could then soak into the bushing and lubricate the machine in that way?

    Like

    1. Hello Tre,

      Thanks for your observations! This blog has generated a good deal of debate and I think it is a good thing. To add to the problem, it seems that grease formulations for these small motors are no longer available. There are lots of blogs that delve into the properties of the grease, and the one thing that is discussed in most is the melting point. The melting point for a suitable grease is low and the Singer formulation (from what I have read) is 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

      In a Singer motor with a sintered bushing/bearing resting on a round felt, it appears the transport of liquified grease to the motor shaft would be inhibited. This, and noting that so many brands of motors with this design are clearly designated to use oil leads me to think the same is true of these Singer motors.

      Thanks again for your comments and please let me know if you find something more definitive or clarifying the proper lubrication for these later vintage motors.

      Lee

      Like

  11. For what it’s worth, in my case I think there is a way to reconcile the grease and oil debate.

    I made a mistake in my post above when I called Singer Lubricant for Electric Motors a grease. I am now pretty much convinced that it wasn’t a grease at all.

    Greases are typically oil mixed in suspension with some other material. I’m not an expert but I understand that clay is pretty typical. When the grease heats up, the oils that’s in suspension “drops” and lubricates the part that it’s in contact with. After a while when the oil is used up one is left with a deposit, often rather hard, somethings very hard, of old grease that’s no longer lubricating anything because the oil is gone, Historically, grease was made by combining oil and powdered limestone. So when the oil is gone, one is left with something like a hard clay or limestone or whatever the grease was made of.

    I now suspect that the Singer motor lubricant was not a grease at all but rather a very viscous oil, maybe something akin to petroleum jelly, that once only slightly warmed melted into a rather thin oil and lubricated the bearings in the motor. So a drop or two of light oil in what you Lee call an oil wick will work. Petroleum jelly should also work well. I now believe this for a couple of reasons. (1) No one whom I’ve read indicates that the wicks have become rock hard solid. The wicks in my motor were not hard at all even though they were dry and I know for a fact that the machine hasn’t been run for at least 20 years and maybe more like 30 years. If the old Singer lubricant was grease, the wicks would, I think have become rock hard. (2) In my motor which is a BAK-8 there is a grove in the inside of the motor case, behind the brass bushing into which the wick fits. The end of the wick does come into contact with the shaft of the motor. The motor has identical parts to the one that you show Lee, brass bushings held by very stiff spring that forms a cup that holds the bushing. So in my case, there is enough contact in my motor to gently heat the wick to allow lubricant to flow to the shaft. (3) Finally, as you wrote Lee, White recommended use of petroleum jelly to lubricate their motors. White wasn’t trying to sell lubricant. Singer was selling its own lubricant which I now think was more or less the equivalent of petroleum jelly. (4) I’ve tried a completely unscientific experiment of putting a bit of Vaseline petroleum jelly into the wicks of my motor, I left maybe 1/8 of an inch worth of petroleum jelly sort of piled up on top of the wick and after running the machine for about 10 minutes or so, the petroleum jelly melted into the wick. The room was cold and I checked if it ran down the outside of the tube. It didn’t. It all absorbed into the wick.

    So now why did Singer advise not to use oil in their motors? Too much oil will completely mess up the motor and it may even start to smoke. The spring/clip that Lee shows will act as a barrier preventing most oil from spraying around the inside of the motor, but too much oil can mess up the motor’s insides. By using Singer lubricant that potential problem is minimized. By being able to sell their own brand rather than recommending petroleum jelly, Singer was able to earn some revenue that would otherwise have been lost to them had they done what White did and recommend petroleum jelly.

    At this point, I think you are completely right in your analysis Lee, a drop or two of oil in the wick say every six months will work. I also think that at least in my case a bit of petroleum jelly in the wick will work too. My only word of caution about petroleum jelly is that I wouldn’t use petroleum jelly with additives such as scents or anything else.

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  12. There is one other point I think is worth making. I understand people have been apt to try to pull these wicks out and maybe somebody will want to replace them. From what I can see from my wicks, they look like they were made out of felted wool. I’m not an expert but from what I can tell from a bit of internet reading, wool has a very high ignition temperature. It won’t catch flame until it reaches something like 570 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t know if that’s exactly right, but it’s way higher than any number of other materials. That’s why wool felt was used for the wicks of these motors. The felt wick can be in contact with the shaft all day and not catch fire.

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      1. Funny thing, on the one hand people hold the extraordinary quality of these machines in the highest regard, and at the same time they think they know more about them than the engineers at Singer and do stuff like that.

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  13. Wool felt has the highest durability, wicking capabilities and density, all perfect for applications in oil or grease wicking. Acrylic fibers can be felted but not to the degree that wool can, because natural wool/hair has little hooks on it which facilitate the felting process, and non-wool fibers can’t replicate that.

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    1. You are absolutely correct, the only distinction I would make is that felts come in different weights which depend on density. This is represented by an “F” number with the lower number being softer (less density wool) to higher numbers being harder (high density wool).

      Grease wicks for sewing machine motors are in the lower number range (F0 to F5) oil wicks are medium range (F7 to F15). Harder wicks are not used for these motors. (Please do some research on the proper density wick for your machine, I’m no expert on the topic but there is plenty of info online).

      I hope this adds to the topic!
      Lee

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  14. It sure does help Lee thanks. I know nothing about the densities of these wicks or what to use for which part of my machine..

    I do know this: I’m missing one in the bottom of my 15-90 just over the cam that rides in the fork on the right of the machine. When I refurbished the machine I found the deteriorated remains of a lantern wick which I think might have been cotton. No idea how to get a proper replacement – I understand that these wicks are sold in 5 foot lengths, and I only need perhaps 1/4 inch worth.

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    1. Hello Jeffrey,

      Singer put felts in many places that make you wonder why. This felt is not critical and you do not need to replace it… proper oiling maintenance will suffice.

      I hope this helps!
      Lee

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  15. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for the reply! I’m sorry I’m only just seeing it now. your historical context makes sense, that by 1956 it would have been oil as a motor lubeicant. So could it mean the wicks need replacing if I am able to insert a pin about 4mm down the shaft? I have taken some pictures of the motor which I’ve emailed to you.

    Thanks again!

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    1. Good morning Ramen,

      The wicks are probably okay… add a few drops of oil to recharge them with oil and then 2-3 drops every few months to keep them charged… you will be fine!

      Like

  16. This was very helpful! I have narrowed down the my 1948 Singer 66-18 has an oil wick. Unfortunately one of them is missing and I can’t find a replacement. Do have an idea of where to find one or what to do if it is missing?

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    1. Hello Sarah,

      It is not easy to lose an oil wick in these motors… they are installed with the motor completely disassembled. I would first determine if there is any old oil wick still in the tube by probing it with a round toothpick (or similar item). If it is indeed gone and you don’t feel comfortable disassembling your motor to the point the bearing retaining clip, bearing, and oil felts are removed, your options are limited.

      The purpose of the oil wick is obviously to soak up oil and carry it to the bearing. It is a critical part in the motor, and so long as the oil tube is packed with felt and lubrication can reach the bearing, the purpose is achieved.

      The felt size you need is 1/8″ round. I have seen folks selling replacement wick lengths on Ebay, but I buy it in longer quantity from McMaster Carr and cut it to fit.

      If you look closely at the oil tube, it is tapered at the end so the wick can’t be inserted from the top. I think what I would do in your situation is to cut small strips of spool felt and pack then tightly in the oil tube. If you can fill the tube with compressed felt, it should work to lubricate the motor.

      No doubt there are folks who would disagree with this approach, but something is better than nothing.

      I hope this helps!
      Lee

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      1. Thank you for your reply! The little metal port can be pulled out without disassembling the motor (I was able to pull out the port I do have. I am guessing someone pulled one and lost it at some point. It is a small little tube, smaller than my grease port on my Featherweight. The one I do have has felt in it. On the other side of the motor is an empty spot for a port. If I poke around it is just metal. You would suggest just stuffing that empty space with felt?

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      2. Hello Sarah,

        Sorry to get back to you late… I think the tube needs to be present to hold oil and keep the felt moist. If the motor has a round felt and sintered bearing, you could stuff the hole with felt and add a drop of oil and it should reach the round felt… before you do this, rotate the motor and look into the hole. if you see the motor shaft turning, do not use oil.

        Please let me know what you discover and I would recommend doing something rather than nothing. Missing the tube is definitely a problem, but one that may have a workaround rather than a fix.

        Thanks!
        Lee

        Like

  17. Hi Lee,

    Nice to see another Virginia Beach local interested in vintage machines! I have to express some confusion, though. I admit you seem more knowledgeable than me in this matter, and I doubt that a couple drops of oil will hurt anything when it hasn’t been lubricated in a while, whether the motor is meant for grease or not. However, both the BAK motor series and the BA 3-8 that you use as an example are shown in Singer materials as requiring grease rather than oil, and I do not believe this to be a mistake. My sources are a pdf of a manual titled “lnstructions for Using and Adjusting Singer B.A.K. Electric Motors” and a Singer 206K43 (1953) manual which clearly shows the BA 3-8 motor, also instructing the use of grease and not oil. Though these motors did away with the bulky grease ports and instead opt for small silver tubes, I do not believe that they are not still intended for grease. They are quite explicit in the matter. I additionally do not see why Singer motor lubricant would not make it past the bronze bushing if oil can, since the whole idea is that the low melting point allows it to liquify and get into small areas to lubricate. I am wondering therefore if you have documents/service manuals/etc. that show an explicit transition to oil-lubricated motor design, since your primary example seems to me to be a grease wick motor based on the available evidence. I hope this does not seem overtly critical, I am simply interested in learning (and always excited to see new documentary evidence).

    Thanks,
    Matt

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    1. Hello Matt,

      There are actually a few folks in the Virginia Beach area that have contacted me and I’m glad you found my blog! I appreciate your feedback on this topic and I consider any criticism as constructive and furthering the debate in hopes of a definitive answer. Your criticism is open ended and I appreciate that.

      This blog has generated more than one response referencing the same manuals. I have the service manual you referenced and I see the same cautionary statements to use only “Singer lubricant” in all of the different Singer sewing machine manuals I have. Like you, I was very skeptical when it came to lubricating these motors with oil and confounded by the fact that neither Singer or anyone else offers a lubricant formulation specifically intended as a replacement. The fact that Singer does not give us any hints as to their brand lubricant formulation means that me (and others like you) need to decide the best substitute based on the design of the motor. Otherwise, I would simply purchase and use the “proper” Singer lubricant as specified. Singer was very proprietary in all of it’s service specifications and maintenance requirements so it is no surprise that no alternative is offered. It certainly would be helpful to know if “Singer lubricant” was more like a grease or more like an oil. While I have a tube of old vintage “Singer lubricant” I do not trust the consistency of the formulation to be preserved after 60 years or longer to use as a comparison. The content of the tube is a honey colored viscous liquid (think gear oil) as opposed to a more solid grease (think petroleum jelly). Regardless, I certainly would not use it to lubricate a motor today. I will say without reservation that the Singer grease lubricant offered for sale today is NOT suitable for motors because the melting point is far too high for these motors to tolerate.

      The reason I posted the blog with a comparison of the two motors disassembled was to address a problem that I believe many people share… these motors need lubrication. Looking at how the motor is designed led me to my conclusion, and I believe it can be defended in debate. Still, they are simply conclusions that I arrived at by inspection, comparison, and assumption, not by rigorous analysis.

      The main point I considered is how lubricant is transported to the motor. I attempted to discuss this in my blog in some detail, but in summary it pretty much goes like this…

      In a grease wick motor, the wick is in direct contact with the armature shaft and the motor has grease tubes that allow for a sufficient reservoir of grease to melt and provide an adequate supply of lubricant . The grease tubes on these motors have a spring behind the wick to keep it in contact with the shaft and the space around the spring allows for a reservoir of grease in the tube available to melt.

      In an oil wick motor the armature shaft does not contact the wick. The shaft spins in a sintered bearing that rests on a round felt in contact with the wick in the motor “grease” tubes. There is no spring or available reservoir behind the wick to hold any appreciable amount of “Singer lubricant” (A.K.A grease). It is possible that the Singer lubricant was of low enough viscosity to impregnate the wick in the tube and then transport it to the felt, but I have not seen any evidence of this in any of the felts I have seen. Even if that is the case, this lubricant is no longer available and I would still make the argument that using oil is more appropriate than using a higher viscosity grease such as petroleum jelly (that would be appropriate in a true grease wick motor). I am aware that Singer cautioned not to use Vaseline as a lubricant, but White sewing machine motors (and others) of similar design did allow petroleum jelly for motor lubrication.

      All this aside, I have found many examples of Japanese manufactured motors commonly found on similar vintage machines that do specify oil and use the same bearing/felt configuration as the Singer motors I describe as oil wick motors. Similar in design, I have to assume that the materials are the same and oil will provide proper lubrication for both. I cannot defend the use of excess oil to the point that it seeps into the motor, but simply saturated, the felt holds the oil in place. The oil recommendations I see for these motors specify 2-3 drops of oil and this is far less than the saturation point of the felts. So even for these motors, the manufacturer cautions against excess oil.

      But wait! Here’s another wrinkle on the topic… I have a manual for a Singer model 306 (manufactured between 1954 and 1962) that says “Caution – Do not lubricate the motor”, and that “On all of the latest machines shipped from the factory, the grease tubes identified in the motor diagram have been eliminated and the motor requires no lubrication”. Really? sounds like a plan for obsolescence and I do not believe for a second that a 60+ year old motor does not need grease or oil today, regardless of the design.

      I do agree with you that a few drops of oil won’t hurt in either instance, and that’s all these motors need anyway.

      I hope this helps you understand my position on the topic, and look forward to any future comments… for or against my position.

      Thanks!
      Lee

      Like

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written comment, Lee. I had read the post fully but after reading your clarification I’d certainly say I am more clear on your position (and convinced!) I had the same concerns with regard to the viscosity of petroleum jelly preventing it from saturating the wicks, let alone the felt, especially with it being the only apparent suitable substitute. I have seen people during break down soak the felt/wick in melted PJ before reinstallation, but this of course still does not solve the issue of simple regreasing. I think I will use your method on the 206k I have, it will certainly be more convenient than trying to use a syringe of petroleum jelly!

        Thanks again,
        Matt

        Like

  18. Hello Lee. I think everything you’ve said makes perfect sense.

    The one comment I would make about your May 13 post is that in your fifth paragraph you refer Singer Motor Lubricant as AKA “grease”. I haven’t seen anything that tells me that it was grease. It makes no sense to me that it was grease. It makes all the sense in the world that it was a viscous oil that melted at a low temperature, became a liquid and saturated the felt pads.

    Grease would have left behind the “carrier” that would have been made of, clay soap or whatever other material. I can’t see Singer ever using actual grease in motors that had sintered bronze bearings. Once the oil in the carrier dropped out, the carrier would have been left. The bearings would have completely clogged up, as would the felts.

    I think the whole grease/oil debate can easily be solved: Singer motor lubricant was almost certainly not grease. It was viscous oil and petroleum jelly is sort of kind of more or less similar, but not exactly.

    I’ve been happy enough using petroleum jelly, but lately I’ve used your approach and topped it up with a drop of sewing machine oil. I’ve checked and double-checked and no oil has made it past the butterfly and into the motor. I’ll be keeping an eye on things, but at this point I suspect I’m far likelier to put a drop of oil into the tubes a few times a year rather than go to the effort of trying to get petroleum jelly into the tubes. But one thing I’m absolutely sure about, and that is not to use grease.

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    1. Hello Jeffery,

      I agree with you. The reference to “grease” is to address all of my other references to the grease ports (tubes) on the motors. I did not point out your observation regarding the grease carrier in my earlier response because I was getting wordy, but in my experience, grease does have a texture that shows up in the felts. A grease wick has signs of grease but none of the motors I have disassembled with round felts and sintered bearings have shown any sign of grease… I appreciate your pointing this out and it is an important clue in what lubricant is appropriate today.

      That said, oils are made from different bases such as wax, petroleum, and mineral oils. Certain household oils (such as 3-in-1 oil) has a wax base that will leave deposits behind when the oil dries out. I refer to this as “oil varnish” and I find plenty of it in and on previously oiled parts. Other oils contain teflon (Tri-Flow oil for example) that is not appropriate for use in motors. Recently, I have been using an oil called Velocite 10. Made by Mobile, it has a mineral oil base and is formulated for lubricating industrial sewing machines and high speed shafts.

      I wish I knew more about the Singer lubricant formulation, I have searched in vain and hope I that someone knowledgeable on the topic would clarify it for us… now that would be a big benefit to folks in the vintage sewing machine community!

      I will keep looking, nut until then, I don’t think a few drops of mineral based oil will cause any harm to the motor… no lubricant at all will.

      Thanks again for your comments!
      Lee

      Like

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