What you should know before buying an industrial sewing machine
I’ve sewn intermittently since I was a kid, and I really started to sew about ten years ago. Even though I technically got past my small 3/4 size household machine pretty quickly, I continued to use it because it always did whatever I asked it to do. I even made my first backpack on it before deciding it was time for something bigger. Don’t ask me how I managed not to kill this machine, because I have no idea.
Last year I bought a so called Heavy Singer that claims to have 50% more horsepower than a standard home machine. This bad boy will easily make handbags and backpacks, I thought. And that’s the case. Well, most of the time.
I found its limits when I tried to make a bag from thick upholstery fabric. And honestly, when it comes to finishing most bags – sewing the thickest, most difficult seams – the machine often lifts off the table on the opposite end of the needle.
What I really need is an industrial sewing machine. Not to replace the singer at all, but to complement him. I can fully justify this purchase. Let me tell you why.
So what’s the difference?
A home sewing machine is a lot like the family car in that it can do a variety of things very well. It carries the kids, it’s a good grocery store, and the gas mileage is decent. You can probably get it in and out of the garage with no problem. Domestic machines, especially modern computerized machines, are thus versatile. They come with a handle at hundreds of different points, both functional and decorative.
An industrial machine looks more like a semi. It’s big, it’s heavy, and it has one major purpose: to be tough for whatever you need to do. The comparison ends there, however, because industrial machinery spins terribly fast from a dead stop, unlike semi-trailers.
Household machines were mostly built into cabinets or hard carrying cases, but today they are generally more portable. On the other hand, industrial machines are built into sturdy adjustable tables, and always have been.
The biggest consideration in getting an industrial machine is its size. An industrialist will certainly take up more space than an average domestic, and he is much heavier. I have seen machines with tables on casters and others that are supposed to be bolted to the floor of a factory. Anyway, I’m going to have to make serious rearrangements in my sewing room to make room for an industrialist, in particular by leaving me a little room to work.
Under the hood vs under the table
A servant’s motor is about the size of my fist and is inside the machine. Manufacturers have a much larger motor that sits on the outside of the machine and is bolted under the table. These machines are designed for constant use, day in and day out. They are installed for a single purpose, which is often (and in my case will be) a straight needle stitch with a walking foot. Others are set to do a zigzag stitch for stretch seams, or a blind hem, or they may have a twin needle and are set to sew the flat seams on hundreds of pairs of jeans per day.
Older industrial machines have clutch motors. They are fast, loud, and run continuously when turned on. The video below explains them pretty well. Newer industrial machines have servo motors that offer much finer control, can sew slowly or quickly, and are really quiet compared to clutch motors, or even the small, fist-sized motors inside servants. However, I have been warned that they might not last as long as a clutch motor. To that I say meh, because a replacement only costs around $ 100, and it should be easy to replace the old with a new one.
What’s the point?
You can do a lot of things with a home machine, especially if it’s an old one. Like most things from 60-70 years ago, they’re just better built. Want to make your own clothes? Unless we’re talking about denim jumpsuits and leather coats, you’re probably okay with a servant.
Do you want to work with leather or canvas? Repair boat sails? Padding the seats of your Airstream? Don’t bring a knife to a shootout. You need an industrial sewing machine. While you can find a servant who can cut through leather or thin canvas, that won’t become a point of frustration until your seams start to pile up. Like many other things in life, you have to use the right tool for the job.
Here’s the thing with manufacturers: not all of them are for heavy fabrics, although that is the kind of industrialist I’m looking for. I want an industrialist because of the muscle and because of the seemingly endless list of materials I could sew with a sturdy pattern. I’ve made a lot of bags from old shower curtains and tablecloths with pretty good success, but want to do more with upholstery and leather, both of which are heavier and harder to sew.
- Durability. Industrial machines are designed to run all the time for many years. Who wouldn’t want that?
- Speed. Whether clutch or servomotor, these machines are quick. Some go up to 5,000 rpm.
- Permanence. It is not possible to store the machine when it is not in use. It’s heavy material!
- Automatic features. Some manufacturers will cut the wires for you (yes, please!).
- Calm, if it has a servomotor.
- Possibility of upgrading. Love the machine, but hate the table? Should be a one-for-one exchange. Same with the motor – it could even use the same mounting holes as the original.
- Limited feature set. But that’s what I want. I have my Singer servants to do the fancy stitches.
- Heavy, difficult to move, with a larger footprint. It will be hard to rearrange my room, but it’s worth it.
- Noisy, if it has a clutch motor. I would love to have the chance to switch to a booster and hear the difference.
- Threading. The placement of the wires will be different from a domestic placement, and perhaps less simple.
- Energetic efficiency. Clutch motors are less energy efficient than servo motors because they run all the time.
Old machines: maintenance and upgrades
If you’re like me (and I think you might be), you’re drawn to older machines in the same way you might be drawn to, say, a car from the 60s rather than a car from the years. 90 for your first project. You think I’ll pay less than I would for a new one, it’s almost guaranteed to be sturdier, and I won’t panic about every little scratch and pop like I would if I did. was buying a new one.
On the other hand, a new one is new. It will come with all its planned accessories and possibly some guarantee. Its modernity will translate into better resale value if you decide what you really want is a post-bed industrial machine so you can try your hand at shoe making.
If you can find an old, mid-century industrial machine, you’ll get more than your money’s worth. After you’ve cleaned, oiled, and greased it, you’ll probably want to upgrade a few things like the built-in light, the pedal-to-motor connection, and even the motor itself. And your machine may need something small but important, like a new belt.
No soul in a new machine?
I’m not saying that. But feel free to search for an older machine on Craiglist or something similar if you’re not afraid of a bit of upfront work. By older I mean the 1950s or 1960s. If you want a new industrialist, they’re not hard to find. You can get a new Juki from Bezos’ Barn for under a million dollars, or a Sailrite from their site for about double. There is probably a sewing machine dealer in your town where you can go and try them out. And even if you can’t do that, there are a lot of bag and leather goods makers who have made videos about their machines and why they bought them, so check out a few before deciding what is right for you. the best. This is what I am doing.
Banner image: “Sewing machine on table” by dejankrsmanovic, CC BY 2.0
Vignette: “Industrial sewing machine” by David Hilowitz, CC BY 2.0