Singer 29k13, c. 1910
The Singer 29 has been made for a very long time – from the 1890’s until 1964 in Kilbowie, UK by Singer and latterly as “clone” machines to the present day. The concept has endured and other manufacturers still make similar machines, albeit in relatively small numbers in these days of disposable everything. These machines include the Adler 30-1 and Techsew 2900.
Inevitably over time machines evolve and the 29 is no exception. This article is aimed at explaining some of the variants – mainly to help anyone thinking about acquiring one of these versatile leather patching and mending machines.
Throughout the life of the 29, there have been two bed lengths available – approximately 12” and 17”. There are also two bed widths available – either 1” wide or 1 1/32”. Since the bobbin in its shuttle takes up the whole width of the bed, this meant that two bobbin sizes are used – a 16mm diameter one for the narrow bed machines and a larger, 20mm diameter bobbin for the wider machines. The wider bed provides more strength – especially with a longer bed – and allows a higher capacity in the bobbin. The narrower bed gets into tighter spaces – which is one of the 29’s great strengths. Most machines that are still around – and probably most produced originally – are short arm narrow bed types, as the 29k13 pictured at the start of this article.
Late model 29k 72 – Long and wider arm, removable section of bed
There was a big revision to the machines after the 29k33 machine. Models up to 29k33 have the presser foot tension applied by a long spring bar on the back of the machine. Bending the spring via a thumbscrew adds tension. Models after 29k33 have a more conventional coil spring mounted presser bar mechanism, mounted vertically near the needlebar. They also have a bar running along the bed to release the needle plate instead of a small round button sticking up slightly from the bed of the machine on earlier models.
A further revision saw the drive pinions for the shuttle revised. Early and late models have two pinion wheels with a long rack and a short rack driving them, but each of those systems is different and only the late model (71k onward) parts are still available. Models 12,13,14,15 and 16 have one long rack and three pinion wheels. Models 51,52,53 and 56 also have just a long rack and 3 pinion wheels, but these are of different design again! New parts for the 3 pinion wheel system are not available. Early models have no adjustability on timing and as the pinions wear, eventually the timing is off to the extent the machine starts skipping stitches – so at that stage there’s no saving the machine. Beware if buying an old machine not seen sewing properly!
29k13 – back view showing long spring bar that provides presser foot pressure.
There was a further big revision from models 29k71 and onward, where the bed has a removable section with the shuttle and driver which can thus be replaced. The early machines have the shuttle carrier running directly in the bed machine casting.
All models can be adapted using a boss on the front of the machine to run either a hand wheel on the front of the machine or the same wheel fitted to the main shaft. Not all the machines came with the side wheel as standard though.
Restored 29k4 c.1900 – end wheel, two speed treadle base and home made flat bed attachment. Similar wooden flat bed attachments were a factory option.
All models have two different sized pulleys on the main wheel to take a treadle or other belt drive and can take a treadle stand with low and high gearing. This was standard on some models and available as an option with others.
29k71 machines have the refinement of adjustable tension on the take up lever tension via a thumbscrew on the long needlebar driving arm on the top of the machine. A further refinement is a release mechanism for the handwheel so bobbin winding can be done without operating the whole machine.
The later machines have a simplified mechanism for adjusting the throw of the tension check lever which can be retrofitted to early machines.
All the readily available brand new spares I’ve seen are made to fit the later models – College Sewing Machines for example advertise their parts are compatible with the 29k71 – short bed narrow arm with front mounted hand wheel. They do sell some parts for other models – such as larger bobbins and shuttles for the wide arm machines.
Needles are available in a narrower range of options in the past – the very largest needles that will fit the machine is a 25/200, but the largest now widely available is a 23/160 and most offer 22/140 as the largest size.
The general consensus from ‘t’intenet that I’ve seen is that the 29k works best anyway with less than the maximum needle & thread sizes, so this restriction may not be that big a loss.
So the message for anyone wanting to use one of these machines as a serious workhorse – for maximum parts availability is to find a 29k71, 72 or 73. Next best option is probably a 29k51 or later, which has the improved needle plate catch and possibly the later shuttle drive. Least favoured are probably models up to 29k33, due to their old shuttle drive and less refined presser foot control with no new spares availability. Narrow short arms appear to be in the majority. Long arm models and wide arm models will need at least some used parts at some point, although some 72 and 73k specific spares do seem to be available.
Parts for models earlier than this are mostly but not all the same as the later ones – certainly for short arm narrow bedded models. For example the bellcrank lever that is prone to wear and results in short or very short stitch length is common to all machines.
Earlier models may need parts at some point that can only be sourced from other old machines – which are probably worn too, but these machines were made to last – and early machines in good condition will still have lots of life left in them.