Fixing an old-ass sewing machine

There’s nothing on the internet about Viking Husqvarna foot controls, so here.

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This is a Viking Husqvarna 150. My mom got this in the early 80s before she had to deal with raising over-curious heathens like me. When I flew the nest in 2006 she let me take it.

The thing is like 40 lbs, built like a tank, and, while pretty dusty, I’m not surprised it still runs perfectly. You can tell it’s one of those objects that was built to last forever. I used it all the time, but one day it suddenly stopped running… the light was on when you flipped the switch, but the foot control did nothing. All the correct machine motions were there when you turned the hand wheel, so it wasn’t the, uh, “sewing machine” part of the sewing machine.

I lived in the North Shore of Massachusetts at the time. There are people there who are certified Viking machine specialists (I guess that’s not the strangest certfication you could have) so I dropped $150 for the foot control repair and a tune-up for the machine proper. Got it back a week later and huzzah! I can perform shitty t-shirt surgeries again! I was feeling awesome about it for about a week (yes! protect and repair! don’t throw a good thing out!), and then it died again. Same problem! And I didn’t have another $100 for the person to fix it again (and obviously they hadn’t done it right the first time) so it became closet fodder for another seven years, another one of those things I’d fix “when I got the time”.

I felt pretty silly lugging around a 40-lb lemon sewing machine every time I moved (I’ve moved 9 times in 14 years), but I couldn’t bring myself to toss it or sell it for parts. It’s just the foot control, and the rest of it’s fine! Beautiful, even!

Every once in a while I’d waste a day googling for old repair manuals or instructional videos or anything that could help me troubleshoot foot controls. There are tons of videos and articles out there that tell you how to fix the sewing machine itself, but nothing for my issue. I feel like that happens all the time.

Also, I looked up buying a replacement foot control, but they only seem to be available for Husqvarna 120s, 180s, and 190s out there, or weird third-party questionably-compatible ones. I’m not interested in gambling another $100 for that.

Fast forward to April 5, 2020, and no one’s allowed outside. Looks like I’ve got time now!

Okay, the intro and reason why I’m writing this down is over. There’s no reason to take pictures of a sewing machine in a coma, but now pics are helpful so here they come.

Here’s a video that helped me grow the spoons to pop open the foot control by myself. I’d tried this before, but apparently I wasn’t beasting it hard enough.

Actually it wasn’t the video itself, but the comments. Notice how that top comment has my same issue. There are no freaking answers anywhere! This is why I created this article.

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Just gotta flex, huh?

The foot control plastic is hard and brittle, but I used two flat-head screwdrivers and held my breath, thinking “I may have a completely broken machine at the end of this, but if I don’t risk a little aggression here then I have a broken machine forever anyway”.

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I did crack the plastic around the hinges, but not in a way that affects the performance of the machine. Inside this black casing was some white casing and a V-shaped bit of metal that acts as a spring. It didn’t occur to me to take comprehensive photos at this point so here’s a drawing.

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You get a drawing here because getting the thing open is the hardest part, and I’m not doing it a second time just to get a photo.

I unscrewed the two screws in the white casing, and when I flipped that over I found…

Wrrr the magic happens! Or supposed to anyway.
Wrrr the magic happens! Or supposed to anyway.
Wrrr the magic happens! Or supposed to happen anyway.

The tiny silent problem! The bottom connection still looks solid, but looks like the wires in the top cable had been bent so many times over the years that it finally snapped off. When I’d taken the machine to the “certified” people in MA, the guy must have found the broken wire and, instead of replacing the connector, tried to glue the two ends back together with a shitty soldering job. Makes sense why it only lasted a week before snapping again.

From the outside, electrical appliances look like a magical objects. When they’re broken, it must be that they’ve ran out of magicness. Manufacturers try to make it look that way, and that it’s time to get a new one, that it’s “dangerous” to open things up by yourself, that only people with a minimum of six doctorates in engineering could possibly understand. But if you do open it up, you can see the logic of the circuitry, and that it wasn’t put together by a wizard, but by a regular dude, with regular, very replaceable parts.

(*just be careful and make sure everything’s unplugged. Don’t @ me if you hurt yourself leaping into something with a screwdriver.)

So I had to clean up all the errors of that previous guy, which involved dissembling all those fiddly bits in that white casing.

I googled things like “electrical connector types” until I found out the actual name of the thing I needed. Turns out it’s called a “female disconnector” or “female terminator” and you can find them in auto-parts shops. You need a crimping tool to attach them to the ends of wires (and NOT solder!) and they slide on to a corresponding male connector (no jokes come to mind here at all). They’re sized by the gauge of the wire.

The disconnector on the bottom slid off easily enough. The busted one, the one the certified guy had soldered all over, I had to peel off with needle nose pliers.

I cleaned all the metal parts with a toothbrush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I think that green shit on the top connector is oxidized flux, but the rubbing alcohol made it disappear.

Then put all the parts back into its white casing. Sorry I don’t have pics of this stage. But everything locks back together easily enough, like a 3d puzzle. Everything was ready, but the power cord needed new disconnectors.

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I can’t reuse that. Technically I could have used the original terminal on the right side, but that half of the cord would have been considerably longer in the end, and it wouldn’t fit well when put back into the casing.

I ordered this thing. It’s not even ten bucks. Way more reasonable than buying a whole replacement foot control! It came with a bunch of terminals of various sizes.

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No Am*zon links for you! Screw those guys! https://www.acehardware.com/departments/lighting-and-electrical/electrical-tools/wire-strippers-and-cutters/3017696

Also I looked up videos on crimping for youtube. Here’s a good one.

This is why the google algorithm can’t figure out who I am. It notes that I am suddenly very very passionate about crimping a propo of nothing.

Any other decade, I would have wandered the aisles of a hardware store and bought it myself, but now is not the time. I know (now) that this isn’t the greatest combo wire crimper/stripper ever, but for someone who wants to casually crimp two whole times in their life, this is great.

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Left: end of the cord that I cut off with the old disconnector still attached. Right: new disconnector; for 18–22 AWG cords with attached gaurd thing.

So, disconnectors are sized by the gauge of the wire they’re going on, and not by anything on the business end. 22-18 AWG disconnectors were the smallest I could find, but maybe there’s something smaller out there and I just didn’t google hard enough? I can MAKE this work though.

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The power cord halves were trimmed and stripped. The disconnectors were crimped onto the ends (those red sleeves don’t protect very well, huh?).

Not shown here: since the terminals were both wider than the original ones, I took my needle nose pliers and gave them both a squeeze so they’d stay on the other connectors. But not before giving everything a test:

Oh hello, husqvarna 150! I haven’t heard you say anything in years! Welcome back!

You can see with the disconnector on the right side that while yes it’s connected, it’s pretty loose. So I squoze both of them tight. Then it was time to put everything back together. I screwed the white casing back into the black casing, and making sure the v-spring was in place I snapped the black casing halves back together at the hinges.

I texted this video to my mom, who congratulated me and said I’m way handier than any of the men in my family.

Now I realize, with the way the lever moves the wires inside the white casing, the broken wire in the foot pedal was bound to happen. It’s an intrinsic design flaw, but it takes like 30 years for it to show up. But… I guess when it happens again in 30 years, I’ll just go get another couple of disconnectors for $1.50 and replace them again.

Now to make some coronavirus masks so I can go outside and buy groceries! I’m so hungry!

Illustrator — BKN — Watching the story unfold — Drawing only what I see.

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