Introduction: Refinish an Old Wooden Sewing Case

Picture of Refinish an Old Wooden Sewing Case

I recently restored this lovely old Necchi Supernova sewing machine, but couldn't bring myself to put it back into its ratty old case.

The case was beat up and looking pretty sad, but I could see it had some potential.

These are the steps of how I stripped it down, fixed it up, and refinished it into something a little more suitable for the machine that was going into it.

You may not have an old wooden sewing case that needs to be refinished, but perhaps there are some general ideas here that will help you with a project down the road.

Thanks for taking a look.

Step 1: Original Case

Picture of Original Case

This is the way the case looked when I got it. It wasn't in the worst shape I've ever seen, but it had clearly been dragged around for 50 years.

Step 2: Break It Down

Picture of Break It Down

I began by disassembling the case into its various parts.

All the hardware was removed. The side clasps were riveted in place, so these had to be drilled out.

Step 3: Strip Off Paper Finish

Picture of Strip Off Paper Finish

I made a bath of sorts out of a frame of scrap lumber with a plastic garbage bag draped over it.

I scoured the paper surface with a wallpaper removal tool and let the case soak in a solution of wallpaper remover.

The paper covering peeled off fairly well, although some sections required a little more effort.

Step 4: Sand

Picture of Sand

Once the pieces of the case were all dry, they were sanded smooth by hand with 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 5: Repair

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There were several cracks, voids, and other areas that needed to be patched or repaired.

A lot of these blemishes were just due to the nature of the original design; there was no need for perfection since all the bare wood was to be covered anyway.

The inside portion of the case that supports the sewing machine needed a little glue and clamping to tighten things back up.

Step 6: More Repair

Picture of More Repair

The holes where the handle had been attached were worn and enlarged from years of use.

The holes where the side clasp rivets had been drilled out were also worn and fairly chewed up.

All of these holes were patched with epoxy putty. The handle holes got a little bit of wood filler as well.

Step 7: Add Name to Case in Lighter Stain

Picture of Add Name to Case in Lighter Stain

This was a little experiment in two-toned wood staining.

I wondered if I could add the Necchi name to the side of the case in a light wood stain, and then add a darker stain all around it.

I began by tracing a stencil onto the wood surface, and then used a sharp hobby knife to cut through all the lines made with a stencil to a depth of about 1/16" into the wood. I then carefully brushed a light stain into the letter areas, and blotted off the excess stain with a rag. This was done on both sides of the case.

My thought was that if the wood fibers were cut along the desired outline, the darker stain would be less likely to bleed into the lighter area. This was true, and it worked out great.

However there were other issues, which I explain in the next step.

Step 8: Add Darker Stain

Picture of Add Darker Stain

I added darker stain around the letters with a small artist brush, but didnot blot awaythe excess stain for fear of getting dark stain smeared onto the light letters. (Oops! See below.) I then proceeded to stain the remainder of each side of the case when these detailed areas were done.

Because I didn't blot the excess stain away around the letters, but rather just let it soak in, some of these areas are stained darker and don't match the rest of the case very well. It's not terrible and I can live with it, but it is quite noticeable--to me at least.

If I were to do something like this again (intricate two-toned staining), I would take a slightly different approach.

After staining the lighter areas, I would very precisely seal them with a couple coats of shellac before moving on to staining the darker areas. This way I could just throw down the dark stain in large passes like normal, wipe up the excess and move along. The dark stain wouldn't penetrate the shellacked areas, and the results would be more uniform. Seems like an easy solution after the fact....

Live and learn!

Step 9: Pinstripes

Picture of Pinstripes

On the outside of the case there were little grooves cut along the left and right sides that originally held some decorative cording.

Prior to staining the case, I filled these grooves with wood filler. After staining, I masked off and painted gold pinstripes over the top to hide the filled grooves.

To keep the gold paint from bleeding under the masking tape and to leave nice crisp lines, I first painted the pinstripes with clear shellac to seal the edge of the tape. I then painted the stripes gold and removed the tape.

This is a great trick for painting clean lines, and is covered excellently right here.

Step 10: Finishing

Picture of Finishing

The entire case was coated with three coats of shellac, with a light sanding with super fine steel wool after each coat.

After the final sanding, the case was rubbed with paste wax and buffed clean.

Step 11: New Handle

Picture of New Handle

I made a wooden insert for the handle to replace the crusty old plastic one, and finished it in the same manner as the case.

Step 12: Reassemble

Picture of Reassemble

Everything was then reassembled with the original hardware. The side clasps were fastened with gold screws into holes pre-drilled into the areas I patched earlier on with the epoxy putty.

That's it for the case. Much better then it was!

Step 13: Bonus! Small Storage Box

Picture of Bonus! Small Storage Box

I also made a small storage box out of some scrap material to go along with the sewing case. This was glued and nailed together, and finished to match the case.

Comments

maf314159 made it! (author)2017-01-17

I did it with my grandmother's sewing machine

For the logo, I transferred the laser ink with an iron

Thank you very much for the idea

seamster (author)maf3141592017-01-17

Hey, I like it! That looks fantastic. Thanks for the photos! :)

pkr316 (author)2016-02-24

GORGEOUS! AND I have a Riccar case that needs THIS <3!!

MarkH20 (author)2015-04-11

Great job! I don't see anything wrong with the Necchi logo, but if it bothers you maybe outlining the logo with some paint would make it disappear. I like to repair (restore) sewing machines, but never tried redoing a case.

tweber-freeman (author)2014-11-13

That is fantastic!

seamster (author)tweber-freeman2014-11-13

Hey, thank you! It was a fun project, and I was quite happy with how it turned out.

Brooklyntonia (author)2014-10-24

I was thinking of another option for staining the letters in a different color that doesn't require intricate painting.

Could you ...

paint the whole thing in the light stain

mask a section where the name will be with painters tape

use the stencil to apply the letters to the tape

score per your instructions

peel off the excess tape while leaving the letters masked

apply the darker stain?

I just wonder if the different colors of stain would react badly. I guess it could be tested on a piece of scrap wood.

Brooklyntonia (author)2014-10-24

Love this! Can't wait to see what you do with your Pfaff.

seamster (author)Brooklyntonia2014-10-24

Thank you! I think the Pfaff will get a more hip looking case. I'm not sure where I'm going to go, but it will end up on here whenever I actually get around to it!

I've actually got . . . 3 of these 130s currently. And I sold just sold a couple of them!

Now my wife just rolls her eyes when i walk in with another new, old machine. There are worse hobbies to have, I guess.

mulesaremylife (author)2014-09-05

sew nice!

seamster (author)mulesaremylife2014-09-05

Hey... I see what you did there!

Thanks!

threeoutside (author)2014-07-01

Beautiful project! I need to make a case for my own portable sewing machine. I haven't been able to find a How To for one yet, but this just might give me enough info (great photos!) to measure using your photos and my machine, and to design my own. Thanks for sharing. Very classy!

seamster (author)threeoutside2014-07-01

Thank you! 

I'm actually planning on making a full case from scratch for one of my old Pfaffs, but I'm not sure when I'll get to it. Whenever I do, I will post it... but it might be a while.

Here's an excellent sewing machine wood base tutorial I saw a while ago. Very nicely done I think, and maybe something that will help you out. Good luck!

threeoutside (author)seamster2014-07-01

Wow, thanks for that link! I'm a retired widow who inherited a mess of a workshop when my husband died. I started out having to do minor household repairs, went on to make a couple of *really* simple and not-at-all-professional little projects, and my tools and skills are very limited, so something with simple tools and materials like that is very inspirational. I look forward to your Instructable!

There seems to be quite a few of those workshops. I wonder if there is a way to connect women that would like to unearth the mysteries of making in an orderly, community centered place. (I am in Tampa, with lots of tools in a big space)

terrefirmax2 (author)2014-07-06

sometimes there are the teeniest tiniest screws....

jimmysymo (author)2014-07-03

Great job..Your painting tips are really good, and can help in any joint of 2 colouring paints.I have an old pair of wooden telephone boxes and ringers I will try to repair, they are in Mahogany wood and if I work like you, should turn out O.K

seamster (author)jimmysymo2014-07-03

Thank you. Those telephone boxes sound interesting! I'd love to see how they turn out.

If you snap a few photos along the way, you ought to post a little instructable on them. Thank you for the comment, and good luck with those boxes!

jmdushi (author)2014-06-30

You are really lucky having an original vintage Necchi. The best sewing machine ever made. You made a beautiful box from the old one.

seamster (author)jmdushi2014-06-30

Thank you! I've actually got three more of these supernovas waiting to be repaired.

There are certain old machines I always snatch up if I find them for a decent price. And sometimes people even give them to me for free! These old Necchis along with Pfaff 130s are my favorites. They are great machines.

Yardster (author)seamster2014-07-02

I'm restoring a frozen Necchi Supernova and would like information about removing the flywheel. It would be totally awesome if you made a tutorial on the total cleaning and oiling of the vintage machine! I have a Nora and a Supernova and both have frozen bobbin winder needle release knobs.

seamster (author)Yardster2014-07-02

Hmm. I'd recommend liberally applying some solvent (like WD-40 or kerosene) and letting it soak in for a while, and then trying to work the parts loose. These particular machines seem to have much tighter tolerances than others, so just a tiny bit of gunky oil or crud can really cause a lot of trouble.

There's a vintage Necchi group on yahoo that may have some useful information. I haven't looked into it much, but I know it exists. Also, there's a ton of great general info around the web on sewing machine cleaning and repair. I'm just a hobbyist, and everything I know I either read or watched on the web, or figured out from lots of time tinkering. Either way, it's fun and you will learn a lot if you put in some time.

Here's an additional two cents: WD-40 is great for cleaning and unfreezing parts, but NEVER use it for lubricating (it's not a lubricant, it's a solvent). Also never use 3-in-1 oil, or any other general purpose oil. Only use "light sewing machine oil."

Hope that gives you a little direction!

Yardster (author)seamster2014-07-02

It would help if I knew what parts would come off, come apart. The Necchi Yahoo group isn't very complete in that respect.

seamster (author)Yardster2014-07-02

I left a note on your orangeboard. I'll try to help you out if I can!

jmdushi (author)seamster2014-06-30

Now I'm just a little bit jealous :) I have only one. Do you know there is a Necchi group on Yahoo.

seamster (author)jmdushi2014-06-30

I'll have to look into it sometime. Thanks for the heads-up!

Shiseiji (author)2014-07-02

First, love what you did with the case! Love your stenciling skills!

FYI on penetrating oils in general and freeing up stuck items. Kind of a minor "hobby" of mine . . . A quick Google search on "Testing Penetrating oils" will turn up a test conducted by Machinist's Workshop V20 number 2, April/May 2007, page 35 Article: “Testing Penetrating oils”

Almost all penetrating oils are based on Stoddard Oil. You can pursue Wikipedia if you want more detail. Water Displacement formula 40 will, on purpose, leave a residue to repel water. The residue is great for things left out in the weather, not so much for moving machinery. 3-in-1 oil is based on really nice thimble oil, but the citronella oil they add will go rancid and become sticky. There is a newer formula without citronella oil but I have no experience with it.

Using kerosene (paraffin in the UK) as a solvent works well. Put a cheap turkey pan in a heavy duty trash bag, and the machine in that. Loosely tie up the bag to collect heat. Keep splashing the kerosene every day (more often if you can) till things move. Put the old kerosene in cheap clay kitty litter for disposal. Exactly how Singer cleaned machines for servicing with a solvent very close to kerosene back in the day.

The easiest to get (in the US) over the counter product is Liquid Wrench, and I use equally easy to find PB Blaster if I see or suspect corrosion. Many also use oil of wintergreen and have reported very good results. Where I live it can be found at Whole Foods for $7 USD for 1 imperial ounce. There are cheaper sources.

Heat from a blow dryer can help. Apply the penetrant and cycle the heat to expand and contract the metal.

Take a look at McKenna Linn's site for some good information on Necchi machines:

http://www.mckennalinn.com/sewing-machine-how-tos/... and you can try the Yahoo! Nicchi group. And triple check there isn't a hidden screw holding things together . . . probably not with a hand wheel, but unless you have a parts chart/manual, you never know.

Ron

seamster (author)Shiseiji2014-07-02

Great tips, thank you! That site you linked looks great, I'll have to take a closer look and really dig through it.

Shiseiji (author)seamster2014-07-02

My pleasure, passing it forward. I've posted similar instructions in a half dozen or more Yahoo! boards. McKenna is a great gal. She's been helping me (and others) for a long time.

DAYJAY (author)2014-07-01

Well done. Lots of good information... and nicely presented. Thank you! btw: I like the darker surround about the name... makes it 'pop'.

TheLacedAngel_TSMP (author)2014-07-01

This is beautiful! I've got a couple of these sitting around, and it never occurred to me to strip off the cruddy covering and refinish the wood beneath. Thanks for the great how to!

sniffydogs (author)2014-07-01

I love my old machines! Thank-you for the inspiration! Never knew that there was wood under there.

thebeatonpath (author)2014-07-01

Love this! Have a few Singer boxes that I may have to try this on. LOVE what you did with this one. Just beautiful.

seamster (author)thebeatonpath2014-07-01

Thank you very much! You should give it a shot. If you transform an old sewing case, you ought to post a photo here when you're done. I'd love to see how it turns out!

pattymadeit (author)2014-07-01

Wow - just WOW. That looks amazing! And it's cool to see the ole SuperNova restored like that! That's the sewing machine my Dad purchased for my Mom when she was pregnant with me (1957), and ultimately, it was the machine I learned to sew on. Thanks for sharing!

seamster (author)pattymadeit2014-07-01

You're very welcome! Thank you for the kind words.

This is a great little machine--tight, consistent stitches, and will last indefinitely with proper care.

billbillt (author)2014-07-01

double plus good....

Bannockburn (author)2014-06-30

This is fabulous, nice work!

seamster (author)Bannockburn2014-06-30

Thanks!

Hey, I like that pallet table you made. The colors make all the difference, imo.

jmwells (author)2014-06-29

This gives me ideas for a project box. I was thinking of building a custom box. But this would speed things along. Great job. Great i'ble.

seamster (author)jmwells2014-06-30

Thank you very much!

fluffydragon (author)2014-06-30

Looks lovely!

doodlecraft (author)2014-06-29

Wow, you did a terrific job fixing up that beat up case! :) Awesome!

seamster (author)doodlecraft2014-06-29

Thanks! It was a fun little project.

LoMac (author)2014-06-29

Turned out quite nice.

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Bio: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is ... More »
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