Elna #1 Grasshopper lubrication – part 2

Following on from my previous posting on the subject of oiling your Grasshopper, here’s the “lubrication chart” from the English-language instruction book as separate pages for clarity …


Grasshopper versus Featherweight

As far as I’m aware, the Singer Featherweight 222K i.e. the free-arm version, was introduced in 1954.

That’s 14 years after Elna started production of the Grasshopper.

So where do people get this idea that the Featherweight was the first domestic free-arm sewing machine?

How to date an Elna #1 Grasshopper

Let me begin by stating that I don’t consider myself to be any kind of authority where the Grasshopper (or indeed anything else) is concerned, so what follows is not necessarily definitive.  It should, though, cover most eventualities, and hopefully be better than nothing.

OK, we start by lifting the access door on the bend in the arm, and noting the serial number, the first digit of which is the last digit of the year of manufacture …

Now, given that most Grasshoppers were produced between 1940 and 1952, the question arises as to whether this one is 1942 or 1952.  Similarly, any serial number starting in 0 or 1 is going to be ambiguous.  So how to tell?

First off, swing up the round plate which covers the access hole at the back of the column and see if there’s anything punched there like this …

If you can’t see that, get closer …

If there’s numbers, problem solved.  That’s the date of manufacture, in this case March 1952.

If there isn’t, and your serial number starts with 0, 1 or 2, your date of manufacture is most likely to be 1940, 1941 or 1942..  If that’s the case, the top of the motor housing on your machine will have a hump in the middle of it and/or the part of the knee-lever linkage which comes into contact with the back of the flywheel will be square-ish, not cylindrical.

Out of the 7 machines I have here right now, the only one without a date punched on the periphery of that access hole is the one with the serial number starting with a 5, and that has to be 1945 because production had stopped before 1955.

I have seen a date-stamp inside a motor housing done with an ordinary rubber stamp, and apparently some machines were rubber-stamped with a date underneath, but whether or not those could be taken to be its official date of birth I have no idea.

Elna #1 Grasshopper lubrication – part 1

One of the very first things I ever learned about Grasshoppers was that you must never go near the hook/bobbin case area with sewing machine oil.  Naturally I asked why not, and was told that sewing machine oil was too thick.  It would slow the machine down.

Oh really?  So what, pray, was a person to use instead?  “Petrol” was the answer.  Which made no sense at all to me – even when it was explained that (a) petrol was what it says in the instruction book and (b) it wasn’t a problem in practice because a can of lighter fuel lasts for ages.

(At this point I’d better point out that I’m English, I live in England, therefore I speak of petrol and paraffin, not of gasolene and kerosene.)

Fortunately, the first Grasshopper I bought came home with the instruction book, albeit the German one, so I immediately looked to see what it had to say about lubricants.  And would you believe …

Scan of Elna Grasshopper lubrication diagram (German)And lest there be any doubt about that, on the previous page under “Maintenance of the Machine” it says (in German, of course) that before each use, “the shuttle should be lubricated with 2-3 drops of petrol”.  So my informant was right.

Or was he?  Yes, Tavaro did seem to recommend sewing machine oil for everywhere but the shuttle – but petrol still made no sense at all to me.   Petrol’s a lousy lubricant.  And besides, what does it say on petrol pumps in Germany?  Yep, it says “Benzin”.

I was thoroughly confused.  Fortunately, I then acquired the French instruction book, and guess what …

Scan of Elna Grasshopper lubrication diagram (French)Now, if you go into Google Translate or Babel Fish or whatever with “pétrole”, what do you get?  That’s right – you get “oil”.

But that’s only part of the answer, because whilst it’s true that, for example, “une lampe à pétrole” is an oil lamp, that doesn’t mean oil as in sewing machine oil, it means oil as in lamp oil.  Which is a close relative of paraffin!   And sure enough, no sooner had I concluded that Tavaro meant the shuttle to be lubricated with paraffin, than I discovered that in the US-market Grasshopper instructions, it doesn’t say “gasolene”, it says “kerosene”.  Or paraffin.

This of course raises the question “why paraffin?”.  Given that paraffin has no magical properties at all, my guess is that Tavaro simply wanted any lubricant for the shuttle which had a lower viscosity than ordinary sewing machine oil, and the only thing which was readily available at a reasonable price in most of the Western world 70 years ago was paraffin.  It’s not much of a lubricant, but it’s better than none and it does creep into  very small gaps even better than sewing machine oil does.

So OK then, what exactly is it that you oil with your paraffin?  Funnily enough, the following diagram and text are missing from both the French and the German instruction books that I have here …

Sorry about the quality of that scan from a print of a dodgy PDF, but hopefully you can see that the idea is to put 2-3 drops of kerosene down one of the slots in what Tavaro called the Upper Guard Ring, before each use of the machine.

And why might it be important to do that?  Well, here’s a picture of the area we’re concerned with, on a really grotty Grasshopper …

Those slots in the upper guard ring are the slots down which the lubricant is dropped, and here’s why.  If you imagine a cross-section through the whole thing at, say, the point where the right-hand arrow’s pointing in that picture, then draw a diagram of it in Photoshop because that’s all you’ve got, it looks something like this …

In that much-simplified diagram, the red bit is the shuttle hook and the black is what on most other machines is called the bobbin case, on the top of which are to be found those slots.

When you’re sewing, the bobbin case stays put and the shuttle hook whizzes round and round it at a fair old speed, so you can see that it would be a good idea if that very narrow gap between the two parts was lubricated.  And that’s what you’re aiming to do with your 2-3 drops before each use – get them to creep into that gap, and hopefully stop the parts wearing against each other.

But what lubricant to use nowadays?  Well, not WD-40, that’s for sure.  You might just as well use paraffin – or even diesel if you can handle the smell.  Clock oil would probably be good, but you should see the price of it!  Actually, any modern low-viscosity automatic transmission fluid would do the job, and seeing as how you wouldn’t need to apply it every time you use the machine, you could probably scrounge enough to last you several lifetimes from wherever you get your motor car serviced.

In the end though, I’ve settled on Tri-Flow Oil from the US of A despite, rather than because of, the way in which it’s relentlessly promoted at every opportunity by its many fans on US sewing forums.  It’s a very thin oil with good penetrating properties, it has PTFE in it (so you really do need to give it a good shake before applying it) and it doesn’t stink, so for the time being at least, that’s what I’m using.

What I’d love to know, though is this – has anybody actually tried dropping good quality modern sewing machine oil down those slots and tested whether or not it really does slow down the machine?

[As to why the German instructions used the word “Petrol”, the only clue I can come up with is that if you look up “Petroleum” in a pre-war German dictionary, it translates as “crude oil, mineral oil, rock oil, paraffin, lamp oil, kerosene” …]

The female plug

picture of mains connectors for Elna Grasshopperphoto of female plugs used with Tavaro GrasshopperPictured above are the three different types of female plug used to connect the mains lead to a Grasshopper

The big one on the right with the porcelain insulation on the business end is for a Series 1 machine.  It’s a type of plug which was used quite widely on all manner of Continental domestic and commercial equipment until the early 1960’s or thereabouts.

The one in the middle is the more common of the two all-Bakelite plugs which mate with the later flat-blade male socket used on the Series 2 and Series 3 machines.  As far as I know, it’s an obsolete connector which was used almost exclusively in Switzerland, usually for domestic and office machinery, audio amplifiers, slide projectors and suchlike.

The one on the left is simply a variant of the one in the middle, with added earth contacts.

Of the three, the big one is nowadays relatively easy to find  The earthed one is definitely a rarity, although it’s the only one of the three which I know is still available on the Continent brand new – at a price.

So what are these things called, apart from a female plug?  Well, I’ve asked a lot of people and searched a lot of websites and I still don’t know what the proper designation is of any of them, so if you’re an authority on obsolete European mains connectors, I’d love to hear from you.  I can though say for sure that despite what you might read elsewhere on the internets, a Euro C9 female plug does not fit the later type flat-blade socket on the Series 2 and 3 machines.  However hard you try.

Actually, I should perhaps qualify that by saying that a Euro C9 female plug as moulded onto the end of replacement mains cables sold for Revox tape recorders does not fit, and it does not fit because although the socket blades are the right distance apart, they are too thick and too wide.

Anybody want a spare mains lead for an old Revox?

One obvious way forward if you’re stuck for a mains lead for a Series 2 or 3 is to hard-wire it to the blades of the male socket on the machine then try to get some good-quality heat-shrink tubing over them.  You probably won’t be able to get the machine back into its case and it won’t look pretty, but it’ll work, and you’ll be able to unsolder the wires and remove the excess solder if in due course you do acquire the kosher plug.

The other option seems to be fitting a different connector to the machine, and I have looked into this.  The existing socket removes easily enough and all that’s needed for a replacement mounting plate for a new one is a nice piece of black 3mm acrylic, but the big question is what connector do you put in it?

The ultimate problem-solver would be the ubiquitous Euro C14 chassis plug, but there’s nothing like enough room to fit one without surgery to the motor housing.  After that, it seems to me that almost every readily-available socket would either foul the screws with which you mount the new plate to the motor cover (assuming you use the two existing tapped holes), or it would be deep enough to risk contact with the fan on the motor shaft.

If you’re not bothered about keeping the machine in original condition though (or capable of being readily returned to its original condition), I guess you could take inspiration from some of the “modifications” which surface from time to time.  Perhaps the wackiest one I’ve seen so far involved a conversion to foot control and a vintage Singer mains socket screwed to the back of the motor housing …

Shipping a Grasshopper

One advantage of the Grasshopper over most other vintage sewing machines is that it comes in its own steel case.  However, relying on the felt-faced spacers inside that case to stop the machine moving about in transit is definitely not a good idea.  You don’t have to see many Grasshoppers before you can work out which areas of missing paint are down to normal use, and which were rubbed away by contact with the inside of the case.

Here’s how to make a proper job of packing a Grasshopper …

That’s the Elna packing instructions dated 1945, and here’s what a properly packed Grasshopper looks like when you open the case …

Picture showing How to pack an Elna #1 for shipping

This is a machine which came over from Germany via DHL photographed as I opened it up, and I could find no evidence at all of it having suffered any damage in transit – thanks to Karsten following the directions in those original packing instructions, which I’d sent him a copy of.

That masking tape (painters tape) he used had no effect upon the paintwork, although I wouldn’t have wanted it to stay stuck on for very much longer in case it did have.

Incidentally, you’ll note that the instructions advise you to tie a bit of string round the arm to prevent the light carrier dropping down.  I can vouch for the fact that if you ship a Grasshopper without doing just that, the light does indeed drop down and flap about.

As you can see from the bottom picture, there’s plenty of space in the throat area to pack bits and bobs like oil cans and so forth, provided they’re properly wrapped up so they can’t do any damage if they do move about.

There is actually one more useful tip to pass on about packing Grasshoppers for shipping, but I need to take a couple of pictures to illustrate it, so that’s going to be another blog post.  Maybe even the next one.