Converting a Singer Electric Drop-Head Cabinet to Hand Crank

Last week there was a thread on the list about trying to create a table for a hand crank that would be suitable to be kept in the living room so that you could sew quietly while the family watched tv. I had a Singer 15-90 in a typical 40's/50's cabinet stashed down the basement. I had never cleaned it up or done anything with the machine. My usual practice is to remove the motor, put on a spoked wheel and keep it available for use in a treadle or as a hand crank. The cabinets usually go to the church rummage sale as end tables, or, if in bad shape, to the dump.

Normally, installing a hand crank on one of these machines in its cabinet means having to leave the machine in the up position or having to take the crank off every time you put the machine down. I thought about that a bit and decided that this idea, having a hand crank in an attractive cabinet that could stay in the living room was too good an idea to pass up, and the simple solution was to adapt the standard cabinet so that the hand crank could be left on the machine head when it was put down.

Adapting the cabinet is actually pretty easy... less than an hour's work for a quick, basic job, as will be shown here. Please note that the cabinet and machine used here for demonstration purposes were not in real good shape and had had no clean up work done. My sole purpose was to show how to do this.

The basic concept here is simply to recognize that once the motor has been removed from the head and the hand crank installed on the motor mount (see instructions for converting a Singer electric machine to treadle or hand crank in The Sewing Machine Shop) the head is no longer going to be able to be lowered, since the hand crank mechanism projects further to the right than the motor did. When you try to lower the head, the hand crank hits the table top. The solution is to enlarge the machine opening to the right to allow the hand crank to lower.

I am going to shorten this set of instructions a bit by assuming you either know the basics of converting a machine head from electric to hand crank, or can go to The Sewing Machine Shop and check them out.

Start this project by doing the basic machine conversion... removing the motor and electric connections and installing first a spoked hand wheel (unless your machine already has one) and then the hand crank itself. (Note: I make it a habit to leave the electric light on... people powered or not, there is never enough light for my old eyes, and it is easy to splice some additional electric cord and a plug on.) Once the machine head is converted, remove the machine from the cabinet and turn the cabinet upside down on the floor. Put a cardboard or a blanket under it to protect the top. Systematically remove all of the cabinet mechanisms that have to do with electrical control... the metal flip-up plate at the right of the opening, the knee lever, and various clips that hold wires. (Note: Since I was leaving the light on the head, I left the one clip that holds the coiled up electric cord. I'll point that out later.)

I am going to show the pictures in the order I did the work... even though once I was underway, I realized I could have done it more efficiently. I'm hoping that this order makes the whole process clearer for you so you avoid a problem that I had.

Once I had the no longer necessary hardware removed from the table, I set it back upright and re-installed the head, with the crank on, and then lowered the head. The head would not fit through the opening. The crank rested on the table top. I took an awl and scribed a line in the finish that would provide an opening for the crank mechanism to fit through. The pictures begin at this point:


Here, I have cut out some table top, using an electric jig saw. Careful work with a hand coping saw could also do the job. This opening was marked with an awl with the machine head partially lowered, so that I could see what wood needed to be removed.

If you look just under the opening, at the right, you can see the metal bracket that Singer provided to hang the coiled up electric cord on. I left this bracket in place as a place to hand the coiled up cord that will power the light.


Here the converted head is installed in the cabinet, as it would be used. The one slight drawback to this conversion is that normally, a hand crank sits on a raised base, which provides some extra hand cleanance for your knuckles when cranking. With this setup, the backs of my fingers brush the table top as I crank... not a big deal. If it bothers you, you can quickly get used to cranking "flat handed".


Here I have begun to lower the machine. The crank handle is folded and you can see how the crank swings down into the enlarged opening.



Here the machine is all the way down.


Here is the finished job, cabinet closed.



A few comments... First, as I said, neither the head nor the cabinet in this project had been cleaned up. The cabinet would have been thrown out as far as my own use is concerned. If I wanted to actually use this cabinet setup myself, I would have obviously done extensive cleaning and polishing on the head, would have used a finer blade in the jig saw when I cut the opening (use a hacksaw blade or a glass blade by preference) and I would have finished the opening with careful sanding, stain and an oil finish, so that the raw wood didn't show. Then I would have treated the whole cabinet to a session with Howard's finish procucts. Treated this way, the whole setup would look terrific and you'd be proud to have it in your living room.

I hit two problems in doing this job. First, there is a wooden drip tray under these cabinets. I tried to remove all the electric hardware from under the cabinet without first removing this... and broke it, or it would still be there. Don't make that mistake. Remove the drip tray first and put it back on when you're done. Second, I discovered that to get the opening the size I needed it, my jig saw blade hit a metal cabinet fastener... ouch! New blade time. Below is a series of pictures of the cabinet fastener I hit and how I moved it.



Here you see, from underneath, how the hole I was cutting hit a metal bracket that holds the top to the side frame of the cabinet. This bracket has two screws, and also a small hook that slips into a hole in the cabinet side. Remove the screws and take the bracket out.


Put the bracket in a vice and hacksaw off the small hook that fit into the hole in the cabinet side


Here is the bracket ith the hook sawed off.



Here you can see how I have slipped the modified bracket over aabout an inch and reinstalled it. I used an awl to start the screw holes. I the tipped the cabinet back over and enlarged the opening about 3/4", providing a nicer curved corner at the same time. See pictures of opening, above.



Alright... there you have it, a nice way to use those electric cabinets you keep getting with machine heads, and to have a nice, quiet hand crank in your living room or den to use while you are watching television, or whatever. Since this was a first, learn as you go effort, you ought to be able to do a nicer job than this was, but this did show that it is a neat, practical idea.

Captain Dick