Sunday, August 18, 2013

Going Foreign, or How a Swiss-Made Bernina Joined Our Home

Thursday morning, shortly after I arrived at work, my boss' wife came into my office area to show me a classified ad for a local estate sale listing various "sewing machines and items".  My boss' wife is my second biggest enabler, with Michel being the other.  So, as soon as someone else was in the office, she and I headed out to the sale.

For the most part, the sale was a bust. I wouldn't classify the items they had as "junk", as there were some good items. But those good items were priced at nearly full retail, which to me, defeats the purpose of garage/estate sales - to move things out quickly while making a buck or two. In the garage area, I found the sewing items mentioned in the ad. One was a modern plastic Singer. That one I immediately passed on.

The next machine caught my eye. I knew it wasn't a vintage Singer, but I wasn't certain what it was until closer inspection. It was a vintage Bernina Record 730. I looked it over and other than being filthy, it appeared in good shape with lots of accessories, original manual, case and there was even a sewing table that appeared made for it (sold separately, of course).

1969 Bernina Record 730

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about Bernina sewing machines, other than they are Swiss made (or were) and that they are considered Top-of the-Line sewing machines and have been for a long time.  My only experience with Bernina has been with the recent acquisition of a Bernette serger; an excellent stitching, excellently well built serger and which has forced my Kenmore serger into retirement (or at least storage).

I also know that they are very expensive sewing machines and most are generally out of my comfortable price range. The price listed for this estate sale Bernina 730 didn't appear off base, but it was more than I've paid for any machine at an estate/garage sale. I decided to pass on it - too much of a personal unknown for my comfort.

I went back to the office, but something about the Bernina kept tugging at the back of my mind. I began doing some research and decided that I should have bought it. Regret set in and by the end of the day, I knew someone else had probably purchased the machine. I told Michel about it when he got home, and he convinced me to go back to the sale on Friday morning and get the machine if it were still there. I slept on it and Friday morning I had decided to hold to my guns and let the Bernina go; I just didn't know enough about Bernina's, even vintage ones.

But Saturday morning, Michel wanted to go antique shopping and while we were going to be out, he convinced me to go back to the estate sale. (Like I had a choice, he was driving after all.) So, we drove out to the sale and the machine was still there, and priced half off. At that price, I had to buy it. I figured from the research I had done, at the very least I could part the machine out and get my money back. I packed it all, paid for it, loaded it into the car.

When we got home later Saturday evening, I set out to start cleaning up the Bernina. Taking the load off the motor, I plugged it up and tested it. The motor spun right up, no issue there. I re-engaged the stop motion clutch and turned the machine over by hand. Tight. SUPER tight. I pulled out the manual and began oiling in all the proper locations. With the manual, there was a service tag where the machine had been serviced by the local store (still in business) back in 1986. Yes, this machine is going to need some TLC.
Mostly cleaned up - It has a 75 Jahre badge on it. Does this
make it special?
I let the oil begin to do its job and I continued on to cleaning up the machine. It's amazing what a rag with warm water will wash away. After the first round of cleaning, I tried turning the machine by hand again. Much easier and smoother until it hit one spot. I assumed it needed more oil so I began looking for the sticky spot. I moved the stitch selection lever through its paces, tried the left-to-right needle movement. But I could move it manually. I scanned through the operator's manual on how to set the machine; nope, still no zigzag. I dug in deeper...and there it was - a cracked and busted cam gear. Damn, not what I wanted to see.
When this section of the cam gear meets the lower worm gear,
the machine becomes extremely tight and nearly impossible
to turn by hand. It will need to be replaced.
I quickly googled 'Bernina cam stack gear' and learned it was not uncommon for this particular gear to crack or break. It is made of nylon, and as I know from 1960s and 1970s model Singers, nylon gears wear out over the years. Decision time. After researching the price of the gear, and what it would take to replace it, and looking at the prices and praises of fully functional Record 730 machines, I have decided the machine is worth repairing.

While I am at it, I will replace the drive belts. They are still intact and functional, but they are dry and brittle and in time, they will break. Once the gear and the belts arrive, I will chronicle replacing the cam stack gear. This will be a challenge for me on two fronts: one, I know vintage Singers, not vintage Berninas; two, I generally work on straight stitch machines, not zigzags. The few Singer zigzag machines I have serviced have never needed repair in their internal ZZ mechanisms, so this Bernina will present me with several new firsts. Wish me luck.


quiltfool said...

I'm sure you'll love your Bernina. My 930 was my first "good" machine and it still does all the heavy lifting in the sewing room. I did buy a "parts" machine, tho because it was cheaper than buying parts one at a time. Unfortunately, I haven't needed parts since. Lane

Michelle said...

I got one of these at a thrift store believe it or not. I was so excited. I brought it home, 'unstuck' the stuck parts, and it works, but I haven't done anything with it since then. It is sitting in it's case. I am not machine poor, but I find them so hard to part with! Have fun with your machine and I look forward to hearing more about this restoration. If anyone can do it, you can!

Betty Tyler said...

You should join the Berninathirtysomethings yahoo group. Some members are honest-to-goodness Bernina technicians and always glad to help. Great group!
Betty Tyler

Christy said...

Did you ever change out the camstack gear? I recently acquired a 730 that will also need a new gear and am gathering information to guide me as I go through this process.

Scott said...

Christy - Yes, I did replace the camstack gear; it was pretty straightforward and painless. I bought the gear SewingPartsOnline, and I joined the Yahoo "BerninaThirtySomething" group to learn more about the machine.

Christy said...

Ok thank you, nice to know it was pretty straight forward. I am working to un-stick the stitch width detent button first and then I will be re-placing that camstack gear.

kushami said...

i'm about to perform the same operation on my Bernina 717. my first try at a repair. Luckily I know a couple who collect machines and do repairs in a town about 1.5 hous away, so if I get stuck they will help me out.