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I already explored getting a modern sewing machine second hand in this question. Now I would like to consider a treadle as well. I quite enjoy traditional tools where muscle power is used over electricity. It give me a more accomplished feeling at times.

I see lots of treadle machines online at second hand sites. Likes most things the descriptions are vague and the prices vary.

What do I need to do, test and or feel for when looking at these machines? I'm sure there should be a general list of things to be aware of.

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Brand, Model, Functionality and Missing Parts

  1. Singer is first choice, White second, and other brands should be purchased only if complete (check for bobbins, presence of operating manual, and condition of moving parts). Singers are more numerous and, therefore, parts for them are more readily available ... if not from dealers, then from other old machines.
  2. Singer made various models, and accessories are not equally easy to find in all cases. If the machine you're considering comes with only one or two bobbins, for instance, make sure they're the disc variety rather than the scarcer long type.
  3. Look over the machine carefully. A few small parts may be missing, but such pieces are generally replaceable. Major hardware, however, is more difficult to obtain or repair. Move the treadle to be sure it functions, and check the rods that connect it to the wheel. See if the skirt guard — a handy item — is in place. And, no matter what its condition, if you come on an unusable machine for free or a couple of dollars, take it. It may be a fine source of parts.
  4. If you're at an auction and overhear some woman saying that she wants a treadle operated sewer because the cast iron base makes a nice table or the drawers make pretty flower boxes, outbid her if you can. This sort of thing is being done far too often, and it's a terrible waste of good sewing machines.
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  • Pfaff is also an excellent treadle brand. I had one for a very long time and loved it. – user1798 Apr 14 '17 at 18:22
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I wouldn't recommend getting a treadle online because its big and you'll pay high shipping costs. In addition, you cannot test an online machine out and have to just rely on the sellers word. I would say its a better idea to pick up a machine at an estate sale or tag sale in your local area. Its much safer than Craigslist and you'll get a much better price.

When you go, make sure:

  • your sewing machine doesn't have any rust
  • The hand wheel at least turns a little bit. (if it doesn't turn at all your taking a risk)
  • all parts and accessories are included or easily replaceable online
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In addition to norcal johnny's excellent advice, the good news about treadles is they are almost indestructible.
Usually a new belt and a good oiling will get you started.

If you also want a beautiful machine, that's a different story.
Some of the old Singers are in great aethestic shape, but per norcal johnny's comment, you will be competing with people who want to make tables out of them.
But you can find some gems if you look around. I've owned both a beautiful old Singer treadle that was a work of art, and a Pfaff industrial treadle that was a workhorse machine but not so gorgeous.
The Pfaff had no gold leaf scrolling, etc., but you could sew anything on it, sails, upholstery, leather and more.

So decide in advance what you will be sewing most and why you want the machine.

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  • And check that the machine is running. Once the wrong oil has been used on the machine, it gets sticky and makes it very hard work (if possible at all) to get the machine running again. – Willeke Apr 14 '17 at 18:43

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