The Kenmore model 158.1802 is the flagship of the Kenmore model 158 sewing machine line. When the 1802 was introduced in 1968, Kenmore claimed it was their best sewing machine. They went so far as to emblazon this claim on their badge for all to see, so who am I to argue? I will go as far as saying that I suspect it was true when the machine was first introduced in 1968 and no less true in 1972 when production of the 1802 came to an end. Some may disagree, but It was Kenmore’s flagship sewing machine then, it has a fantastic reputation now, and It is certainly a great sewing machine in any vintage!
Why is this important? Well, it’s important to me because I got some exciting news… my niece Amelia is learning to sew! When I talked to my brother a month or so ago he mentioned that she had bought a new Janome sewing machine and is using it to fashion her own clothes. Janome makes some good machines so kudos to her for her doing her homework! Looking at some of her projects, it is clear she is quite talented in her work and she has been learning good sewing techniques. Well, I was excited and happy to hear that she had taken up the craft and because I believe that vintage all metal sewing machines are the highest quality, most durable, and best domestic sewing machines you can own, I decided that she should have a sewing machine suited for any project she might dream up. Thinking about Kenmore’s claim and discussions with my Wife about which machine would be perfect for her, we decided that it would be a Kenmore, and then after much thought, we decided the 1802 would be the best machine to restore for her. I know this introduction is a little long, but aside from the detailed restoration, I want her to know a little bit about her “new” vintage machine… Please bear with me.
There are a lot of good things to say about the 1802. It is a full size machine, but because It has an aluminum alloy body to reduce weight, there is still a good heft to it. The machine is comfortable to use in a sewing cabinet or in a portable sewing case. it is quiet and smooth as silk sewing. Everything in and on the machine, including the sewing mechanisms, the plates, the covers, and the control knobs are made of metal. Aside from the badges, the tension dial, and the switches, there is no plastic to be found anywhere in the sewing machine. The 1802 is also a full featured machine. It is capable of using a plethora of gear driven attachments such as the best buttonhole attachment you can find on any vintage sewing machine, an assortment of Kenmore’s “super high shank” presser feet, and a large selection of stitch pattern cams to cover pretty much every conceivable sewing project she can imagine.
Like many Kenmore’s, the 1802 has an impressive presser foot lift height, a quick release presser foot clamp, and great control over the length and width of stretch stitches. It uses easy to find class 15 bobbins and standard 15X1 needles. As you might expect, the machine displays an impressive amount of power. The power of the internally mounted 1.2 amp motor is amplified through the sewing mechanism via a 2-belt reduction pulley system. This arrangement increases the power from the motor to the balance wheel. Consequently, the machine has plenty of piercing power and the ability to handle heavy sewing applications. The power is readily apparent when using the machine and it sews smoothly and quietly through any fabric with ease. Kenmore’s of this class have a distinctive sound and “feel” that give you confidence that the machine’s ability is limited only by your own.
All that said, let’s look at her machine and get into the restoration. All in all, the machine looks like a great candidate for restoration. There are some minor paint chips in the body of the machine and some paint loss on the balance wheel. Typical of most Kenmore’s of this vintage, the plastic badge, tension dial, and switches have yellowed over time. This yellowing will be reversed in the restoration.
Let’s get started. This is the machine before restoration…
Mechanically, the machine looks good. The way I think of it, the machine has “good bones”. There is a minimum amount of old oil varnish on the sewing mechanisms that will be removed and cleaned in disassembly, but overall, the majority of the mechanisms look pretty clean.
The goal of this restoration is to address all of these issues, and more! So lets get started.
The sewing mechanism is disassembled in the needle bar head and the connecting rod, motor, switches, and power block are removed from under the machine. All of the cover plates, as well as the balance wheel, the tension assembly, and bobbin winder mechanism are also removed.
The sewing mechanism in the upper arm shaft is cleaned in place. Disassembly here requires the removal of complicated assemblies that would be very difficult to reassemble and readjust. Fortunately for this machine, they don’t show much build up of oil varnish and I can clean them in place. The rocker pins and linkages under the machine bed will be removed, cleaned, and reinstalled one at a time. This method keeps the original clearances close and only minor adjustments will be needed after cleaning and reassembly. The extra time spent doing it this way will save time in making adjustments later.
All of the parts that rotate or mate with another part are laid out for ultrasonic cleaning. As the pictures show, there is a lot of previously hidden oil varnish to be removed.
After cleaning, all of the parts are wire brushed to bright steel. When lubricated and reassembled together, they will be as smooth running as possible.
The needle bar and presser foot bar is polished glass smooth.
Because many parts rotate or move up and down in a bore, all bores are cleaned with a brass wire brush.
Some of the parts are removed and cleaned in place. This is done for assemblies that are too complicated to be disassembled and installed with the proper clearances or adjustment.
The connecting rod, cam lobes, forks, and gears are cleaned to bright steel.
The oscillating gears are housed in a gear case and are lubricated with grease. Over decades, this grease hardens to the consistency of beeswax and is no longer capable of lubricating the gears. The old grease is removed and repacked with a high quality synthetic grease.
Next, the motor is disassembled and restored…
The tension assembly is disassembled and cleaned…
The bobbin winder is cleaned…
And finally, the bobbin case is disassembled and cleaned…
That completes the mechanical restoration and now the cosmetic restoration begins. First, the body of the machine is cleaned. Having everything already removed makes it easier.
The pieces that have yellowed are restored to their original color. This is a topic in itself and one I have covered in a tutorial that can be found at the following link: https://pungoliving.home.blog/2021/03/06/a-tutorial-reversing-the-plastic-yellowing-on-a-kenmore-sewing-machine/
As you can see, the inked badge has been bleached out. If you noticed, the badge logo has changed and this is because this machine is technically a 158.18024. The “4” identifies the machine is the fourth iteration in the 1802 series model line and identifies it’s manufacture in either 1971 or 1972. My attempt to correct the lettering on this badge will invariably be marginal due to the width of the text and the font. My hands are not steady enough to produce the fine line thickness under magnification, and a brush thin enough is hard to find. I could replace the badge, but I want the machine to be original. My only consolation is in my attempt to do restore the lettering is that it will forever be a reminder to Amelia that no detail is too small for her machine. For this, the badge is placed under 40X magnification and the lines are inked with a very fine tip artist brush.
Having done the best I can with the badge, the machine is reassembled and the paint matching begins.
The machine does not need a lot of paint repair. A few nicks here and there and the balance wheel is missing some paint. Using a paint matched color applied with an airbrush corrects these defects…
The paint used for paint matching is not a high gloss paint, but a flat paint. This is intentional because the machine will be top coated with a clear high gloss polyacrylic finish and the flat color will blend into the finish.
The machine is masked for spraying with a poly acrylic top coat.
After applying the topcoat, the machine is set aside for a few days to cure and then the machine is glaze polished.
With everything reassembled and the cosmetic repairs completed, the machine is adjusted and tuned to ensure the stitch is the best it can be. The machines restoration is now complete!
The only things remaining to be done is to make a custom red oak base and gather all of the attachments such as feet, cams, button hole attachment, monogrammer, etc.
The base is important to a machine like this. Kenmore plastic cases are great and in comparison to many other brands of sewing machine cases of this vintage, they have stood the test of time. Even after 50 years, many Kenmore cases still retain their strength and integrity. The case this machine came in was in good condition with the exception of a broken handle. This necessitated using a different case. Kenmore cases offer everything needed to use the machine except style. They do have a surprise inside many folks don’t know about, and you can see what this surprise is at the link to my blog explaining it at A Tutorial – Kenmore Sewing Machine Cases… There is a Surprise Inside! – Restored Vintage Fine Quality Sewing Machines (home.blog)
The 1802 is a powerful full size sewing machine. Even though it is smooth running, it is best used in a sewing machine cabinet. A sewing cabinet achieves two things… First, it provides a very stable platform for the machine and second, it is a functional piece of furniture designed to compliment the machine. I can’t offer her a sewing cabinet as a piece of furniture, but I can provide her with a beautiful base that is constructed like a piece of furniture. My chosen wood for bases is red oak. It is a very stable hard wood species, it stains well, and it is readily available. For my bases, I buy bundles of 3/4″ red oak tongue and groove solid wood flooring and process it to the proper dimensions for width and thickness. After removing the tongue and groove and planing it to a final thickness of 1/2″, I typically find the wood to have a wonderful grain pattern that I just can’t get in pre-processed oak boards. If you would like to see the build process for this base you can find it at this link: Building a Craftsman Quality Oak Sewing Machine Base for a Full Size Singer Sewing Machine – Restored Vintage Fine Quality Sewing Machines (home.blog). Because this base is built to fit a Kenmore, the dimensions and corner support radius’s are adjusted to fit the machine.
After building the base, the next step is to decide what finish would suit her preference without spoiling the surprise. You see, Amelia is a creative and artistic person so color and texture is important to her. Not knowing what she likes, I asked her Dad to find out. At this point I can only imagine the conversation… “So Amelia… what’s your favorite color? Her response was dusky rose… Not any closer to finding out what stain color to use, he undoubtedly had to narrow the conversation, probably something like this… Okay, that’s great, so… what’s your favorite wood?” After responding that her favorite wood is maple, she was probably wondering why he was asking! Anyway, the feint was accomplished and I have a direction in mind for the finish color. With a pronounced grain, red oak has a much bolder grain pattern compared to maple. In it’s natural color, red oak has a beautiful gold tone and the color is acceptably close to maple. Because she is also a textural person, I think she will like the grain pattern of the wood. Note the grain in the wood for her base? Picking through a bundle of wood, I chose these boards for her base because of it’s distinctive grain pattern. The build complete, here is the base before finishing… it looks pretty bland now, but after applying two coats of transparent natural stain and four coats of shellac it will look great!
See what I mean?
The next step is to assemble the accessories. I was fortunate to come across the “Kenmore Tower”, a stack of Kenmore accessories for this machine that includes pattern cams, a good assortment of high shank feet, and a monogrammer attachment. The only attachment the machine needs besides these is a button hole attachment. I consulted my good friend Ebay and within minutes had one whizzing my way! Here’s a little note on the button hole attachment. Sears designed many of their machines with a gear drive lever under the bobbin plate to drive their attachments…
All Kenmore attachments are gear driven. Each attachment has a gear drive plate that is substituted in place of the machines bobbin cover plate. The benefit of this is that the fabric is held firmly in the attachment and the drive lever moves the attachment along with the fabric. Many machines move the attachment over the fabric and relies on the feed mechanism and movement of the attachment to work. In comparison to a Kenmore attachment, this is far less effective in proper formation and stitch uniformity.
Almost done! Throw in the original users manual and I think she will have enough to make her successful in any sewing project she could ever dream of… except when looking at the whole package, I noticed something was missing. Looking around the shop I found some short pieces of red oak leftover from the base so I thought a cone spool holder would be useful. Using cone thread is very economical and they hold a LOT of thread. Anyway, I made a spool pin holder to match her base and now I think the package is complete. This cone spool holder has two different size dowels to accommodate any spool thread cone she chooses and is tall enough to clear the top of the machine. Intended to be a matching accessory, it is finished to match the base.
Finally finished, here is the machine after it’s restoration… it is a beautiful and a functional sewing machine that should run reliably for many years.
Surprise Amelia! We love you and hope you get many years of use from your “new” vintage all metal sewing machine!