Tuesday, April 5, 2011



Recently I was discussing the wheel brake feature of the "American style" Willcox & Gibbs hand crank sewing machine with someone on the Treadleon e-mail list. The person said her machine didn't have it, which made me realize that most people probably don't have them, and maybe I should write a tutorial on how to replace a missing or worn out one.

The wheel brake was made of a small piece of treadle belt leather, and in most cases it probably rotted away by now, as these sewing machines are usually well over a hundred years old. It rests in front of the small cog/gear wheel and is held in place by a small set screw which is recessed into a small hole that looks like it could be an oil hole (but it isn't).
Careful examination of a Willcox & Gibbs advertisement for this style of hand crank (which they call a "hand attachment") shows the leather strip in place, but you need to blow the picture up to see the detail.

I took pictures of both of my "American style" W&G hand crank sewing machines. One has the wheel brake installed, the other I haven't replaced yet. By looking at both photos you can see what it looks like with and without one. The first picture shows what your machine will look like if the brake is missing, the next picture shows the brake intact.


To make a new wheel brake:



1- Remove the set screw and remove any remaining leather scraps that might still exist. Use a dental pick to poke through the holes and clean them out of any remaining leather, grime, or gunk.


2-Hold a small piece of treadle belt leather up against the area it needs to go to gauge how long you should cut it. Use my photo as a guide line for the proper length.


3-Protect your work surface with a rotary cutting mat, cutting board, or even a piece of scrap lumber before you start cutting the leather.


4-Use either an x-acto knife, box cutter, or a straight edge razor blade to carefully cut the leather to the correct length. You could also use treadle belt pliers if you have them. It is better to cut it a little too long than too short. You can always cut more off. If you cut it too short you will need to start over with another scrap. I had to experiment and do mine a few times before I got it just right.


5- You may need to taper the end of the leather that goes through the holder for it to fit. This will depend on the diameter of the leather you are using. Again, you may not get it quite right the first time, so try again with another scrap of treadle belt leather if it comes out wrong.


6- Insert the leather in the hole, tighten the set screw, and then try to turn your hand crank the wrong way. The brake will prevent you from doing it. The brake helps prevent thread jams and thread breakage that occur when a user accidently cranks their machine in the wrong direction.


I hope this helps you in your restoration of your own "American style" Willcox & Gibbs hand crank sewing machine.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Fabulous! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this blog. Your pictures and text are excellent and I'm looking forward to trying this with my machines.

Diane