Installing a New Top on a Treadle


Discussion of the Universal Top Concept

A common situation with treadle users and collectors is to find a treadle machine head with no base, or a treadle frame that either has a cabinet that is beyond restoration or has no cabinet at all. The latter situation offers a wonderful opportunity to resolve the former!

Basically, a treadle is simply a mechanism for providing motive power. It doesn't care what machine it is driving. I have seen treadles used to power small lathes and scroll saws, as well as sewing machines. Assuming you can put a top of any kind on a treadle frame, two things are required for successful operation of a given machine. These are a workable cutout hole to mount the machine in the top, and careful alignment of the machine so that the belt operates in a straight vertical plane between the hand wheel and treadle drive wheel, and doesn't bind on any of the points it is fed through. These feed points are the front and back belt guides on the frame and either the two holes you drill in the top, or alternatively the slot you cut in the top.

The bulk of this page will cover a basic table top installation. At the bottom you will find a link to a page discussing the concept of a Universal Top... one that has interchangeable inserts and can accept a variety of treadle heads.

I have put tops on quite a few treadles. One of my favorite installations is to put a 2' x 4' piece of craft grade Appleply plywood on a White treadle frame. The White frame is wider than most, and provides a nice solid base for this big top, which, with a good machine mounted in it becomes a wonderful set-up for machine quilting. For a long time, my own treadle set-up was a 201K mounted in an oak table top that I put on top of a White treadle. Here is a picture of that installation:


These two pictures show the oak table top set-up. The top is 3' x 5'. There is enough room to the right of the machine for a large cutting pad. Note the back folded down. I cut the entire top and then hinged it. Under the left side is a stack of drawers. Under the right a small cabinet.

Note also the center drawer I made, and the small oak insert to the right of the machine base to accommodate the belt. I made this opening the standard size for the whole machine and the little metal plate that goes up and down with it in a treadle, then substituted the oak for the metal plate

Okay, that ought to give you an idea of what can be done. As I said, craft plywood makes a good top, but also, keep your eye open for any small table with a top that would work. This type of project calls for some ingenuity.

For the rest of this page, I am going to place a series of pictures of an installation that I did to create a lovely little treadle that Singer never made. Some time ago, I obtained a 3/4 size Singer treadle frame. In the US, these were mainly provided with the Model 24 chainstitch machine, though they have been found, much more rarely, with a Model 28 shuttle bobbin machine in them. In Europe, the shuttle bobbin 28 in this treadle was fairly common. Anyway, I had the frame, with no cabinet. The original cabinet was much like a standard Singer 5 drawer cabinet, and, to me, lost much of the advantage of the tiny treadle. I had a nice Model 28 head, originally electric but converted to hand crank. I also had a variety of parts and pieces from standard size Singer cabinets.

To make what became my "Baby Treadle", or as I have come to prefer, "Child's Treadle", I attached the flip-up lid from a standard Singer treadle to the 3/4 size frame as the top. I then cut a mounting hole for the Model 28 and installed that. I had a second flip-up lid, and used 10" of that, upside down so the moldings fit together, as a fold-up extension to the left of the machine. This installation leaves the machine permanently topside, so it needed a cover. Rather than build a coffin box, I used the lid from a bentwood case that was for 3/4 size machines. I'm going to show you pictures of the completed project first, then the step by steps.

Here you have three views of the completed Child's Treadle. To the right is the machine with top, above opened with extension out. To the left is a view of the rather intricate drawer construction. For the drawer, I used the front panel of a drawer

from a full size Singer. This was one of the ones with the molded insides to hold the attachments. I sawed off the front and then built the drawer structure and reattached the front to it. Note the open slot to allow for the belt. The only place to hang drawer slides was past the belt line. Also, note the cutout in the top of drawer divider. This clears some of the machine mechanism. The back of the drawer is very low to clear the rest of the machine workings. The main reason to have the deeper drawer section at all is to provide an oil drip surface to protect the carpet. Also note the most important drawer dimension…the front section fits an Altoids tin, the universal holder of bobbins, pins, needles, feet, etc.!

With the assistance of Joyce Baba and her husband Jeff, I got a lot of photos of this project underway. However, we didn’t finish it in the one day they were here, so at the end, there will be more discussion and fewer pictures, but I think you can get what you need.


Putting the Top On

These pictures show the treadle, upside down on the bench, being positioned on the flip top that will become the top of the treadle. Picture 2 shows using an awl to mark the screw holes, which were carefully pilot drilled (Mark your drill for depth with a piece of tape and don't go through!). The screws used are large tapered flat heads. The holes are not tapered, but these screws are what Singer used, probably because they center well, so I used them.. The last picture is the top, on the treadle frame. This treadle, top included, is 22" wide!


Positioning the Machine Cutout

This group of pictures shows preparations to cut out of the hole for the machine. This is critical. The first picture shows the use of a weighted cord (plumb bob) to align the vertical plane of the belt. The belt cannot angle to the right or left from the drive wheel to the hand wheel. I have set the machine in a base (the 28 will not sit level without one) and am using the plumb to find where on the top the machine should sit. This step will determine the left /right placement.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture of the process of the front back alignment, primarily because I forgot to do it right! Later, I had to take the top off and move it back to allow the belt to work right. So, no pictures of the process, but the second picture shows the side view. If you look carefully here, you can see that the top has been moved back. Actually, I could afford to move it back a hair more. Had I done what I will now describe, I could have had the machine mounted more nearly in the center of the board and the board centered better on the treadle.

To find the correct positioning front to back, slide the machine to the right edge. Use a piece of light line, 1/8" to 1/4" as a substitute for the belt. Run the line or cord through the drive wheel and front and back belt guides, then OUTSIDE the treadle frame and up to the top, then over the belt groove in the hand wheel. Tape or tie the line ends so that it is slightly taut, as a belt would be, and study the angles it reveals. This is going to be awkward and take a lot of judgement, because you can't run the line in the correct left/right plane. You are just going to have to study it out and visualize the belt as it would work with the machine in place. Move the machine forward and back on the top until your eye tells you that you have the best position for free operation of the belt. If you get the machine too far forward, the belt will bind on the front guide, too far back and you will have a problem with either the back guide or the edge of the opening you make in the top.

The positioning on this treadle frame was made more difficult by the fact that this top is only one thickness of wood. The original cabinet was two (the head lowered to the inside). Another factor was that the hand wheel on the Model 24 that the frame was designed for is smaller in diameter. These factors meant that the upside down "V" that the belt forms when it goes around the hand wheel is broader than on the original. Anyway, the end result is that my belt touches very lightly in the front belt guide and on the edge of the front belt hole in the top, but since I run a loose belt, it is not a problem.

Pictures 3 and 4 show making a stiff paper pattern, using in this case the opening in one of my display bases, to match the square required for the machine, then rounding the corners, using a small bottle lid that came close to the same curve as the machine corner. The next two shots show placing the pattern in the spot determined to be correct, then the outline is drawn with an awl or ice pick, and the last picture shows the pattern drawn on the top, ready to be cut out.

 This nest group of pictures shows cutting out the hole. Upper left shows using a Forstner bit to drill a starting hole for the jig saw. Do not attempt this with a blade bit. it will tear heck out of the veneer! Second picture is the diamond edge tile cutting blade I use. This blade will cut veneer without tearing or chipping , but it is very slow

Cutting. The third picture shows the start of the cut with the jig saw, and using the paper pattern to shield the top from the saw's bottom surface to minimize marring.

The last picture is using a cylindrical sander bit in a grinder to clean up the corner fit.


Installing a Lip on the Edge of the Opening

These three pictures show putting a lip on the front edge of the hole, for the front of the machine to rest on. The lip is simply an "L" shape of wood, cut on the table saw, that is glued and

screwed to the front edge of the hole. Note that the lip does not come up flush with the top surface. I smoothed the edge with a rasp, then I put the long edge of the "L" under the bottom of the table top and clamp/glued it. Finally, I pilot drilled and put two screws in from the edge, to help bear the weight of the machine. The screws were flat head wood screws, and were countersunk.


Cutting In the Hinges

Cutting in the hinges… Upper left, hinges are in machine and machine resting in hole, front edge on lip. Awl is used to draw around the hinges. Forstner bit (1 1/8") drills the hole (don't go too deep!) Hand chisel opens slot for the hinge pin.

The Machine In Place

Picture One is the machine, with hinges on, fitted into place. Pilot holes were drilled for the hinge screws, and the machine is installed. One step remains… the holes in the top for the belt.


Drilling the holes for the belt.

First, I will describe the right way to do this, then show the picture of the results of my having not done it quite right. Your machine's position should be pretty good as a result of the earlier alignment process described. Get out your white line and install it as if it were the belt, but do so with the line in the (hopefully) tiny gap between the machine's right edge and the wood. When you pull the line tight, it should reveal the best place to drill the holes (using a smaller Forstner bit). You should have a small line or mark, established earlier, that shows the left/right plane for the belt (which certainly can't be changed at this point!). Just make marks to the right of the machine where the belt will pass through the table, and drill accordingly. It is helpful to drill at about the same angle as the belt will be when installed.

To the right you see the top with the belt holes drilled. Here, again, you can see the results of my error in not achieving proper back to front position in the first place. The back hole is actually slightly behind the machine base, esthetically not correct. In the front hole, you can see that the belt is just barely touching the edge of the hole. As I said earlier, I am fortunate that I run a loose belt. The touching is so slight it is not a problem. If I come across another flip top later, I may re-do that portion of this job.


Some Further General Discussion

You would have been better off if I had shown the installation of a full size Singer. Unfortunately, that wasn't the project I had available and needing doing. It's a bit easier. If you are familiar with the breed, when you flip them open and lift the machine, there is a rectangular metal plate, mounted on a spring, that rises with the machine and has two holes in it for the belt to go through. The combined dimension of the machine and the little metal plate with the holes just happens to be the same as for the more modern long bed Singers. If you are working with a full size Singer, like a 15-88, 201K or 66, and want to save yourself some trouble, you can use this total dimension for your hole pattern, install the machine, and just leave a gap at the right edge. The belt will be perfectly happy running in it. The gap bothers me, so I usually fill it in this type of installation (see the photo of the oak table top at the top of this page). Very occasionally, if you are lucky, you can find one of these metal plates that is especially made to screw to the bottom right edge of the machine, rather than being fastened to the spring as in the treadle cabinets. If you have one, you can use that to close up the gap. I am including a photo of my 201K +54 installed in a modern cabinet designed for a long bed machine (a Touch and Sew) and in that photo, you can see the gap I speak of left open.

Another really sneaky way of doing this whole thing is to find a modern style cabinet, disassemble the cabinet and take the top only, and mount that on the treadle, lining up the belt with the machine in place. You will find this works quite well, and even gives you a machine installation in which the machine can be lowered and the flip top closed… no drawers, however.

201K +54 set in modern cabinet top that has been mounted on a treadle (see my page "A Visit to Captain Dick's Sewing Room" for more detail on this particular installation.) Note the gap to the right with the belt in it. To the right are two small shots of a 99 treadle that was made by putting the top from a 99 cabinet onto a late model Singer treadle.

Look very closely at the belt… you will see that I opened the belt holes by simply sanding half circles out, using a cylindrical sander on the grinder


The Universal Top

Pretty much everyone who has started picking up sewing machine heads ends up wishing they had some kind of a treadle that would accept heads of different brands. This has been done, and there is a link to a discussion and an example:

Link to Universal Top Page