Building Display and Hand Crank Machine Bases

One of the most common problems faced by collectors is storage space. Machines in cabinets take floor space, which quickly runs out. Often, you obtain just a machine head, which is much more manageable, but without a base, they can be unsightly, and some do not sit level without a base. Also, if you are fortunate enough to have access to storage space, you can store the cabinets and display the machines… if you have bases for them.

I discovered all this very early on, and began making display bases for my machine heads so I could display a lot of machines within a shelf system. Later, I got into hand crank and treadle machines. Again, it was quickly apparent that a hand crank machine takes up a lot less space than a treadle. Often, treadle heads, and even many electrics, can be converted to hand cranks. The folks on Treadle On quickly discovered that 28's, 128's, 99's, 66's, many 27's and 127's, 15-30 's and 15-90's are all candidates to make excellent hand cranks. In fact, on my web site you'll find a page devoted to the conversion process. However, in many cases, a suitable base is needed. The display base pattern I had been building proved to be easily modifiable to provide a good base for a working hand crank, as well. Hence, this page on how to build a simple but attractive display base or hand crank base.

I was fortunate in having Joyce Baba and her husband Jeff come up to help me build a couple of sample boxes and photograph the process. Jeff also provided outstanding engineering drawings. Between a few selected photos and Jeff's drawings, you should be able to make bases for your machines.

Let's begin with a little general discussion. There is nothing complicated about building bases. All you need, for display purposes, is a framework that the machine can fit into. My "design" (which actually dignifies it more than is justified) is simply to measure the base of the machine, allow a smidge extra, and cut a front and back piece, 2 side pieces and four support posts. I make my own little "holding finger" (technical term there…) to keep the machine and base together when you pick it up. You can even skip these if you don't want to bother.

Here is a picture of a completed display box:

This is a finished display base for any 3/4 size Singer. Note the use of quarter-round molding pieces for the corner posts and position of holding fingers… see later text

This is a Model 15-88 in a full size display base that has not been given a finish yet.

If you study the above pictures, especially the first one, you can see several important elements. First, not that the front and back boards are full length. This is so that the joints, which are simple butt joints, won't show when viewed from the front. This means that, dimensionally, the side pieces will be the depth of the machine base (plus that smidge… don't forget it!). The front and back will be the width of the base, plus the smidge, PLUS TWICE THE THICKNESS OF THE WOOD YOU ARE USING. For wood, I used red oak, milled to 3/4" x 2 1/2". WARNING: any hardwood today is terribly expensive. Enough wood to make three of these bases cost me $60. So scout around to find wood. You could use pine, but it is not as attractive, and is pretty soft and subject to denting from the weight of the machine being put in and out.

 The reason for the smidge is that there is some variation in the machine castings from batch to batch and factory to factory. It's better to have a little bit of play in the fit than to discover at some time in the future that some machine you want to put in the base won't fit. (We are assuming for discussion that all machines are either standard full size or 3/4 size Singers.)

These bases will be shown in three forms… the Display Base comes in full size and 3/4 size. The construction is the same, only the dimensions vary. The Hand Crank Base involves a double thick back piece, to allow the width necessary for installation of hinges. The hinges are necessary on a machine that will be used, as opposed to just displayed. This is for three reasons. First, in the display base, two holding fingers are used, and the left hand one would interfere with the flow of fabric when sewing. Second, for a hand crank, you are going to want the machine firmly fixed in the base. Third, in use, you are going to want to be able to tip the machine back for oiling.

Again, all dimensions shown assume a Singer machine. Obviously, if you are dealing with another brand of machine, you will have to measure the base and adapt the dimensions accordingly. One other caution… some pictures show the corner posts square, some as rounded molding. This can be critical! Some machines are very uncluttered underneath. In making the display box for Joyce, we used a Model 15 as our sample machine. The undersides of it's corners are pretty clear, and the square stock worked fine. In the case of the hand crank base, where I used the square stock, the Model 99 would not fit in. I had to use a chisel and knock off one corner of the posts, making them triangular.

Alright, all that said, here are the dimensional drawings done by Jeff. They will be followed by some selected pictures to help clarify the assembly process.

Here you see the various pieces of a display box… front and back, sides, 2 nails per corner, and the inside support posts. Also the two holding fingers with screws.

Artistic visualization of finished base. Compare to photo above.


Dimensions of Joyce's display box for a full size machine.

Just in case, here are the dimensions I worked from (Jeff's are what we ended up with… not always the same :^)

 Dimensions for cutting stock:

 For full size Display Base: front and back are 16 1/4" sides are 7" cut posts 1/4" shorter than the boards

For 3/4 size Display Base: front and back are 13 3/4" sides are 6 5/8"

For Crank Base: front and back will be the same as above sides will be 3/4" longer, and there will be an additional inside back piece that is 1 1/2" shorter than the back and front pieces.

Some of the minor differences in Jeff's and my measurements are because mine are cutting measurements and his are after sanding, but in any event, MEASURE YOUR MACHINE, work everything out in your head and on paper and be sure that what you are making will work for you!

 A word on the support posts. In addition to the issue of their shape (see above), there is some flexibility in height. Up till seeing Jeff's drawings, I had been just kind of eyeballing it. As a result, some of my display boxes had the machines sitting a little high. Joyce's might have come out a bit low. Jeff shows the posts as being 3/8" shorter than the boards. I think 1/4" would be fine.

Here are some selected pictures of the assembly of the display base. This section will be followed by some discussion and pictures of a hand crank base, focused primarily on the differences.


gluing and fitting the frame


drilling the pilot holes for the frame nails


putting in the nails… use finishing nails and a nail set to seat these below surface. Fill the hole with wood putty, which will be sanded smooth later


gluing and clamping a corner post in… note the little "jig" with a 45 degree cutout on the corner. This lets the clamp seat the post properly

Using a belt sander to sand the frame and round the corners.


detail of the simple holding finger… a piece of plastic. A pilot hole must be drilled for the screw

positioning and installing holding finger




Well, I hope that enables you to make some nice display bases for your machines. The rest of this page will deal with a slightly more complex version that makes a good base for a hand crank machine.




Making a Base for a Hand Crank Machine

As discussed above, some changes should be made if the product base is to be used as the base for an actively used sewing machine, especially a hand crank. The base will require a bottom, to protect any surface the machine is set on from oil, and it will require a thicker back to accommodate hinges so the machine can be raised for servicing. These changes are easily made as described below.

here the pieces for the crank base are lined up. Note the changes from the base above. The side pieces are longer by 3/4" to accommodate the extra back piece, which is fitted BETWEEN them, not full width like the outside pieces.

Here the back pieces have been glued together. Note the stair step effect on the ends, where the sides will fit in. This will make a stronger joint.

Here I have drilled the two pilot holes for the end nails in the outside board, and installed the nails. I am now drilling a pilot hole for a nail to come in from the side and go into that extra inside back piece.

Here the hinges have been put in the machine and it is set on the frame, to get positions for drilling the hinge holes. Two things are critical… first, the single screw hole in the hinge is NOT centered. Don't use it for positioning the drill bit! Second, the finger length on hinges will vary. I put one set in and then discovered they pushed the machine too far forward for it to fit in the base. If necessary, install the hinges back just a tiny bit further than it looks like they might need to go.

In the first picture to the left, you see the hinge hole has been drilled, using a 1 1/8" Forstner bit. A brad bit will work, too, but is harder to control and doesn't make as smooth a hole.

In the second picture, the hinge pin channel has been cut out with wood chisels. You can now drill a pilot hole for the hinge screw.


Note in these two pictures that the square corner post has been chiseled to a triangle. As described above, I discovered that there was not enough clear space at the corners of the Model 99 for it to fit in the frame with square posts. If you use quarter round moldings for the posts, this should not be a problem.



Here the bottom piece, cut from a 1/8" plywood door skin, has been positioned, glued and nailed in with tiny finishing nails, which are seated just below the surface with a nail set. The bottom is cut a little oversize all around. When the frame is sanded, the belt sander will give the bottom a perfect fit to the frame. After finishing, glue a nice piece of felt to the bottom, or put rubber corner feet on it.

We haven't really discussed finish. I wiped lots of Old English Scratch Remover for Dark Wood on the raw oak, then followed that with Watco Satin Wax - Dark. This makes a beautiful finish that takes about 5 t 10 minutes!


The Model 99 hand crank in it's finished oak base. One thing not shown is the installation of a holding finger on the right frame edge. I used a nice original Singer black metal one, but put it on after this picture was taken.

I hope all this has been of help to you. I'm sorry the pictures aren't larger, but web site size imposes limitations.


Dick Wightman