So you've decided to take the plunge and invest in a Slant-o-Matic 401A.
Great choice! The 401's versatility, power, and longevity are beyond compare. If you select your vintage 401 carefully you will enjoy many years of sewing pleasure.
So what should you look for?
Clearly cost is always a factor. Just a few short years ago you could pick up a smart looking 401 for $25, spend $100 or so having it tuned up and you had a great machine at a great price. But these days even thrift stores and garage sales want $100 or more. And eBay sellers may be asking $300 or more for a serviced machine.
So before you spend your hard earned cash on a "Farm Fresh" machine, consider the following:
Cosmetic Condition These machines can take a beating and still sew like champions, but poor cosmetic condition can be a red flag. If there are gouges, scratches, and dings on the outside then there's a good chance the machine hasn't been regularly cleaned, lubricated, or adjusted. This could mean damage or wear to internal machinery.
Dirt and Rust Old sewing machines are often dirty. A layer of dust and grime on the exterior of the machine isn't necessarily a bad thing, but dirt and grime on the inside can cause wear and tear on the machinery. Signs of rust or blistering paint can mean that the machine has gotten wet in the past. If the machine has been wet then the motor and electrical wiring may need repair.
Mechanism Does the handwheel turn freely? Does the needle move up and down? Does the hook rotate around the bobbin? If the handwheel is frozen or binds, then the motor bearing may be frozen.
Power Cord & Foot Control 401, 403, and 404 models have two cords, a power cord and a foot control cord. Check for both. A replacement power cord runs about $12. A replacement foot control can be $50 or more.
Spool Pins Broken or missing spool spindles are easily replaced, but will cost a few dollars. If they've broken off it can be tricky getting the stumps out of the spindle holes.
Needle Plate & Bobbin Cover Plate Check for any missing plates, which may cost up to $20 apiece.
If you are buying a machine from a private party or secondhand store be prepared to spend $100 or more on servicing if you want to get the most out of your machine. 50 years of dirt, grime, and neglect can take their toll. Running a dirty, unserviced machine will cause unnecessary wear and tear.
The following checklist details what to look for when looking at a 401 if you want to minimize servicing & repair costs:
Having difficulty viewing the checklist document? Visit "Cheat Sheets" page for pdf download..
The same considerations apply if you are considering purchasing an un-serviced machine from an online seller.
On the other hand, if you are considering shelling out a few hundred dollars for a "serviced" sewing machine from an online seller, you should consider the following:
Positive feedback Look for a proven track record of quality work and good customer service.
Description of cosmetic & mechanical condition A reputable seller will be upfront about cosmetic flaws and mechanical performance. So review the listing carefully. How does the seller describe the machine? Are there clear, close-up photos? Does the seller mention cosmetic flaws? Are there stitching samples? Video of the machine in action?
Detailed description of servicing Servicing a machine involves a whole lot more than wiping away the dirt and squirting some oil into the little holes. Thoroughly cleaning a machine requires disassembling all moving parts and removing all dirt, grime, and oil residue. The motor wiring, bearings, brushes, armature, & commutator should be inspected, and replaced or rebuilt as needed. All organic parts (bobbin tire, bed cushions) should be replaced. Spool pins & felts should be inspected & replaced as needed. Plates, doors, hinges, knobs, & levers should be cleaned, adjusted, repaired, or replaced. Tolerances need to be adjusted to standard specifications. All moving parts should be lubricated with appropriate oil or grease.
Return policy or Warranty Does the seller stand behind their product? At minimum the seller of a serviced machine should offer return for refund if the machine is dead on arrival. Some sellers may warranty their work for an additional period of time, but keep in mind that even the most conscientous seller cannot guarantee that a 50+ year old machine will run another 50 years.
Shipping insurance Look for full value insurance against shipping damage.
Protective packaging These machines deserve a whole lot more than a flimsy cardboard box and wadded up newspaper. The shipping industry does not handle with care. In fact, when we first started selling machines we were advised to package each machine to survive a kick down a flight of stairs. So that's what we do, and we haven't lost a machine yet! An appliance-grade cardboard box lined with 2-3" of foamboard and filled with peanuts or bubblewrap is the best protection for your vintage investment.
A "farm fresh" 401 may be a great deal, but there can be a lot of hidden costs if you have to replace a lot of missing parts or repair damage from years of neglect or abuse. On the other hand, paying a higher upfront price for a "serviced" machine may be more cost effective, IF you buy from a reputable seller.
Either way, if you choose your 401 carefully and invest either your time or money in quality servicing, you can expect many years of sewing pleasure from your vintage treasure!
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.