Maintaining Your Treadle Irons

Hello everyone, it’s been a busy week for me here in the quilt room . I have been trying to work out a different quilt block and adapt a new technique to the dimensions that I want. Failures by the foot and success by the inch but I am almost ready. As I was finishing my routine sewing machine maintenance, brushing lint and oiling the actual head,I started thinking about all the different noises I had been hearing while sewing and it registered with me that I need to clean the treadle irons also !! So as I do my maintenance on the treadle irons I will explain some of the different issues I have ran into and how I dealt with them. When we’re done hopefully the irons will once again be smooth as glass.
maintain treadle irons

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Ok first of all I would like to make clear that not all treadle bases are built exactly the same. I have a variety of different manufacturer’s treadle bases and the basic concept is pretty straightforward so the descriptions given will be more of a generic value rather than a step by step by the number exact way to do it. I will only be using my own personal experiences and results. What I have found to work for me may not be what works best for someone else.

So let’s just start from the floor and work our way up taking for granted that there are standing legs on the left and right side of the iron base. Now, parlor cabinets and student desks are not included today because of lack of experience and design differences. We are only talking about the cast iron treadle bases. From the floor up we have a horizontal brace that holds our two sides from moving and spreading apart or closing together. Just above the brace is your foot pedal. On each end of the pedal is our first adjustments and bearing assemblies. These are usually cone bearings which resembles a sharpened pencil and a matching cup that the point or cone sets into. They will be threaded into bracket mounts on the legs or the legs them selves and will usually be slotted on the end of the shaft. There should be a large nut threaded on the shaft so they can be adjusted and then locked into place holding the pedal up off the floor and providing the pivot as we push the pedal up and down. If we tighten them too far into the cone then the treadle will pedal hard and stiff. If we leave them too loose then the pedal will knock and rattle. I use a little heavy grease like a wheel bearing grease or a thick synthetic grease to lube the cone surface and the cup. I like my treadle to be as quiet as possible and as free wheeling as it can be. So after lubricating the cone on both ends I adjust them into the cup with a screwdriver in the slot while keeping the pedal centered in the space. I jiggle and shake the pedal while adjusting and when there is no noise and both cones are supporting the pedal I hold the shaft from turning with the screwdriver and tighten the nuts down against the mount. This locks the bearing into position. Some times it may take a couple tries to get it right for me,

As we continue upward the next essential part would be the treadle drive wheel. it usually sits over to the right side of the base. It also employs the a variation of the cone bearing. The difference is the wheel is secured to a crank shaft by set screws or pins passing through the collar or hub of the wheel and into the shaft.The crankshaft will mount on a back brace which fastens to the side legs holding the distance in the middle and top the same as the bottom brace,There will also be a bracket also mounted to or part of the brace creating a space in the brace which straddles the drive wheel, The ends of the crankshaft are the tapered part of the bearing and the cup part of the bearing is a shorter version of the shafts we adjusted on the foot pedal. It is greased and adjusted the same way as the pedal.

Now we have one last critical part of the treadle base,It is the pitman arm and it attaches the crankshaft to the foot pedal. There are two basic types of pitmans, The earliest version was a simple wooden slat with a hole on each end. One end of the pitman slides onto the crankshaft before the crankshaft is adjusted into place. There is a slot intersecting the hole that the crank is in. There are screws or clamps which can be tightened,closing the slot and making the pitman tighter on the shaft, the other end hole slips over a peg mounted to the toe end of the foot pedal. There it a wooden slider that can be tightened to shorten the length of the pitman and maintain a positive drive connection between the pedal and the crank shaft.On these wooden pitman’s I also use a little grease to provide the lubrication for smooth operation.

The second generation of the pitman arm is a steel shaft which either has a ball bearing with an inner race that slips over the shaft like the wooden pitman does or it has an actual rod cap which clamps the crankshaft the same way a motor piston rod does the crankshaft of a motor,The ball bearing style I force grease into the bearing race from the sides similarly to packing any other ball-bearings. The rod cap style has an oil hole for lubricating the bearing and shaft surface, These do sometimes wear like a rod bearing on a motor causing a knocking due to the rod cap hole being worn to a larger size, If you try to tighten these to take out the slack they will break,Been there and done that, not fun but can be fixed. Instead of tightening to remove the slack I have found better luck in loosening and adding a thin shim in the cap or around the crankshaft and then tighten back down, Again they will break easily so use caution and don’t over tighten the screws. On the other end of the steel pitman’s there will usually either be a ball-bearing which mounts the foot pedal via a peg arrangement similar to the wooden style.or there will be a threaded cup that the steel pitman slides through. On the pitman shaft itself there is a ball type round bearing surface that matches a socket inside of the cap. The threaded cap will go down through the foot pedal and is secured by a locking nut,It is also adjusted and tightened very similarly to the cone bearings. These can also wear and create noise, If grease doesn’t quiet them down I have found that I could use grease infused cotton balls or cotton batting to pad the round bearing on the end of the shaft. After tightening down the lower pitman bearing the cotton and grease will result in a silent movement of the lower end of the pitman arm.

This is what I have found that works very well for me and makes my treadles run very smoothly and quietly. Im sure there are other ways of doing the same thing .after all its just bearings and any lubrication beats none any day. If you find something in this to be useful that is great if you find a better way that works for you then that is great also. if you have questions or if I confused you then by all means please feel free to contact me. I am always ready to help someone to enjoy their treadle or to learn a new and different technique. Until next time I hope you enjoy your machines as much as I enjoy mine.

maintaining treadle

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