Introduction: How to Make a Sewing Machine Tractor
This is a model tractor I built from a 1963 Pfaff sewing machine. This is something I've wanted to make for a long time and finally got it done!
The sewing machine I used for this was beyond reasonable repair and had been set aside as a parts donor, so it was a great candidate for a new life as a tractor.
Using an old sewing machine to make a toy vehicle or sculpture is not a new idea. A couple of quick searches shows that artists have been doing this for years:
However for my version I was aiming for a distinct "real tractor" look, and I wanted to include some fun next-level features as well. I'm happy with the results.
If you're interested in taking on a similar project I hope this instructable helps you out. Thanks for looking!
Step 1: Completed Details
The tractor has a pivoting front axle designed to mimic the look and function of a real vintage tractor, and steerable front wheels controlled by the steering wheel which was made from the machine's original hand wheel.
Several parts were taken from the original sewing machine to use for the tractor (aside from the case and hand wheel), along with various bits of scrap metal, hardware like nuts, bolts and metal rods and tubes.
The four wheels are all new, but were aged to match the real patina of the sewing machine case for a cohesive "it's old" effect. This was a notable side project all itself, covered in detail toward the end of this instructable.
Step 2: Clean and Disassemble
I began by giving the machine a good external cleaning.
The machine was then taken completely apart, down to the very last set screw and bushing. Tools used were a variety of screw drivers, a set of punches, a hammer, some needle nose pliers and a few other common hand tools.
Once my machine was stripped apart, I sorted all of the pieces and started assessing which things could be used for what.
Tip: When you completely strip down a machine like this, look for the set screws. If a part is "stuck" it's probably locked in place by a tiny little set screw.
Step 3: Planning
For this project there was a little pre-planning, but mostly it was completed by making it up along the way.
One choice that had to be made ahead of time was regarding the wheels. They had to just look "right."
After looking at all kinds of wheels, I ended up using two 4" steel-hub caster wheels from a Harbor Freight store, and two 8" steel-hub lawn mower wheels from a Lowes store.
The metal hubs were an important choice because they needed to take some weathering and aging procedures and turn out the same, and plastic wheels would feel completely out of place and ruin the effect. I wanted this to look like a model that might have actually been made during the same era as the original machine.
Step 4: Modify the Case
This is how the sewing machine case was modified.
One of the first things I did was get a lead test kit and make sure there was no lead in the paint. With no lead detected, I went ahead with the project.
After studying some vintage tractors to get a feel for basic designs I liked, I jumped in and started cutting. You've gotta just go for it!
The case is made out of cast aluminum, which is relatively soft and needs to be cut away or ground at relatively low speed. Tools used were a small metal band saw, Dremel rotary tool, oscillating tool, and hand held jig saw.
The final shape of the case with the various cut-outs was determined by the shape of the chassis and components attached to it.
All of these different parts were created in conjunction through a lot of test fitting, modifying, and trial and error, but I've tried to group the various components into their own steps so this is somewhat easier to follow along.
Step 5: Build the Chassis
This is how the chassis that holds everything together was made. It was made using some metal rods along with bits of angle iron and other scrap metal.
Welding was done using a mig welder with argon/CO2 gas mix.
Pieces from the sewing machine were used as steering column supports, which are shown in more detail in the next step.
Since this project is a sculpture made on the fly, there are no specific measurements to share. Everything was eye-balled and created based on what looked good to me.
Step 6: Steering Column and Supports
The steering column was made from the main drive rod that originally ran through the top part of the sewing machine. This piece holds the hand wheel and rides through various bushings, so using it this way just made sense.
After some careful positioning, supports were welded in place to hold this rod at the desired angle. Additional modifications were made to the case and housing pieces to allow this to fit through as needed.
Step 7: Steering Arm and Tie Rods
A steering arm was created using a part from the original machine along with a small metal rod. This connects to the end of the steering column and takes the rotational movement from the steering column and turns it into a linear movement, driving little tie rods that steer the wheels.
Inner tie rods parts were made with small metal nuts welded to metal rods. Before welding, all the hardware used in this project was soaked in vinegar until all zinc coating was removed, making it safe to weld.
Once the nuts were welded in place, half of each one was cut off using a band saw, then gently shaped so they mated together without binding up.
Step 8: Front Axle
The pivoting front axle was made with a piece of scrap metal and a metal rod. The rod was welded in place to the ends of the rectangular piece first, then the middle section was cut away.
A bolt was welded to the rectangular piece so it could be attached to the chassis, and the piece was laid out in such a way that it had natural stops built in to limit how much it could pivot.
The excess rod was trimmed away and the upper part of the axle was cut down to make it look better.
Step 9: Spindles
The parts that hold the wheels that pivot left and right are the spindles. These were made with some round tube that was welded to pieces of flat steel, which were then welded to the axle.
The middle portion of the tube was then cut out, and new pieces of tube were welded to bolts to which the wheels will be fastened. These new tube pieces were trimmed and made to fit within the cutout sections on the axle, where larger bolts are dropped in from above to hold the spindles in place but allow them to pivot.
The photos show this better than I can explain! ; )
Step 10: Spindle Steering Arms
Spindle steering arms were made using small nuts and metal rod, which were welded to the top of the round tubes of the spindles.
Step 11: Completed Axle and Steering Assembly
Some threaded couplings were welded the tie rods shown earlier, and small pieces of threaded rod were used to create tie rod ends, which attach to the spindle steering arms.
See photos for the completed assemblies.
These parts were all made to have a fair amount of play so nothing binds up and can be moved freely by the steering wheel, but also built to allow alignment to be done by threading the tie rod ends in or out as needed.
This is kind of dorky, but I enjoyed figuring all of this out and piecing it together from common hardware.
Step 12: Motor
For looks, the original motor was mounted to the chassis with a simple bracket, however the actual motor armature was removed along with the brushes and wiring to reduce the overall weight of the tractor.
There was never any intention to somehow rig up the motor to drive the tractor, although people like to ask and suggest that "for the next one."
I say: that sounds like a great idea, go for it!
Step 13: Seat
A piece of scrap metal was welded to the back of the chassis to act as a support for the seat back.
The seat pieces were epoxied in place initially with 2-part epoxy to simply hold them securely for more precise drilling of holes, through which rivets were then fastened.
Step 14: Side Project: Welding Third Hand
During this tractor project, I realized I finally needed to make myself a third hand to hold small pieces in position for welding. This was a mini side project, but I figured worth sharing.
It was made from items in my metal scrap bin, and uses an old trailer hitch ball I've had kicking around for years.
Step 15: Details
At this point I added a couple of small details to the tractor: an exhaust with muffler, and a PTO (power takeoff). I also re-attached any parts from the original sewing machine that still fit on the case (presser foot lifter, tension knob, stitch width dial, etc).
The exhaust pipe was made from the presser foot bar, and sits in it's original location although extended upward through the top cover of the sewing machine. A pair of bushings from the machine that happened to fit over this rod were epoxied in place to look like a muffler. This whole piece just rests in place can be lifted out if I want to remove the top cover.
The PTO was made from the toothed drive pulley that was originally on the sewing machine motor. This is fixed to a small rod and spins freely below the seat held in place with a collar on the inside of the seat area. This is a fun detail that gets a pretty joyous reaction from tractor lovers!
Step 16: Assembled, Pre-Finishing
Here's the completed tractor prior to any paint and finishing work.
It looked pretty cool like this, but still needed a lot more time and finessing to really pop.
Step 17: Paint and More
The chassis and all other new metal parts were spray painted with flat black paint. Then each part was very gently rubbed with a scotchbrite pad to get some subtle wearing along the edges and welds.
The exhaust pipe/muffler was heated up with a MAP Pro torch until it was a smoking hot, then dipped in some old motor oil. This gave it a blackened look. The muffler pieces slid right off during this process and actually had to be re-glued back in place later on.
Step 18: Wheels
The shiny new wheels needed a comprehensive makeover, which is outlined here.
The larger wheels came from the store with a thick, plasticky paint on the hubs. I initially used some chemical paint stripper which removed most of this paint, but the remainder had to be sanded away using a Dremel and small sanding drums.
The smaller wheels had a zinc coating, which was removed by soaking the wheels in vinegar overnight.
With both pairs of wheels stripped down to bare metal, I sprayed them with a mist of vinegar and let them sit out in the sun, which almost immediately gave them a thin layer of brown-orange surface rust.
With the four wheels equally rusty, I masked off the tire portions and sprayed the metal hubs with lacquer to seal in the rust.
I then rubbed some wax onto the wheel hubs in the high spots where it would look natural for paint to be worn away.
The rusted/lacquered/waxed hubs were then spray painted with red paint.
When the paint was dry, I used a scotchbrite pad to gently scuff the paint to remove the glossy sheen, which in the process removed paint from sections where wax had been applied, revealing the rusty surface beneath.
The tires themselves were also sanded gently with 100 grit sandpaper to remove the store-bought sheen and make them look slightly worn as well.
The completed wheels now looked appropriate to go on this tractor, so it was worth the trouble!
Step 19: Reassemble
With all the parts completed and finished the tractor was reassembled for the final time.
Step 20: Done!
The completed tractor can be played with as a backyard or sandbox toy, or stuck up on a shelf for display.
I'm not sure exactly what we're going to do with it yet.
Maybe I'll sell it and buy more old broken sewing machines. You can never have too many!
Step 21: For Next Time . . .
I actually had two machines as options for this project.
But I went with the Pfaff as a tractor, and think the Bernina would look great as a hot rod or a low-riding race car.
What do you think?
Thanks again for checking this out. Hopefully it sparks some ideas and inspiration for your next project!