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Reconditioning a Singer 99 Case - Part 4: Finishing

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

If you are joining this series here on Part 4, you may want to check out:

In Part 3, we left our customer's Singer 99 case in the condition you see here:


With all loose areas re-glued, damaged areas repaired with wood filler, pre-stain applied, and the entire case sanded smooth... we're ready to apply stain and a top coat.

Anytime it's practical, I like to use a rag to apply stain to bare wood. This wouldn't work so well on a large backyard fence, but for a small surface like a sewing machine case, rag application is perfect.
Stain is not paint - you probably know that. You should not leave stain on the surface of the wood the way that a coat of paint will remain on the surface as a coating. Aptly named, "wood stain" stains by penetrating into the wood. Allowing the stain to pool on the surface will only create complications in achieving a nice finish, and it will wreak havoc on your dry times, remaining tacky and soft too long.

I put on my "medical" gloves, fold a lint-free cloth into a small rectangular pad, and use the pad to wipe on the stain. Notice I position my case on an "empty" cardboard fabric bolt. This makes it easy for me to move the project around. However you choose to work, keep in mind that stain is potentially messy. It's watery-thin and speckles can splash about if you're not careful.

Here I'm applying Minwax "Honey" stain. It's a warm traditional color, just a touch richer than golden oak in my opinion. It wouldn't really matter if we wiped our stain onto the surface in a variety of directions, rubbing it in, and that can often be helpful depending on the particular stain and the way the wood responds to it. Please follow the directions on your product of choice.

I always finish any motion or application to a wood surface in the direction of the grain. I find that the aged, dry, soft wood of these cases really draws the stain in and makes it easy to avoid putting too much stain on the surface.

After applying the stain, within five minutes I use a dry cloth to rub the stained wood firmly in an effort to smooth out the color and remove excess stain. Again I prefer to finish this rubbing in the direction of the wood grain. 

Details, Details!

In Part 2, I took care to remove the faux leather neatly from the bottom edge of the lid in order to avoid tearing the interior lining of the case. I stain the exposed bottom edge of the case lid early in the staining process, but you could conceivably do it last as well.

Because the edge is such a narrow surface and not terribly important cosmetically when the case is upright, I can rub stain on this edge, wait just a few minutes and then flip the case lid upright. I don't have to wait for this bottom edge to thoroughly dry. If it rests against my protected work surface, it's not going to remove or blemish the stained edge to any significant degree.

I could use my rag all the way up to the edge of the leather pad with careful control, but a small hobby brush might work better if you're a bit tentative about the process. If stain does get onto the leather top, try wiping it away quickly with a clean dry cloth - it probably hasn't had time to penetrate the smooth surface of the leather. If stain remains, wipe it away with a cloth lightly dampened with mineral spirits. Any stain in the brown family that penetrates the raw edge of the leather will only serve to even out the color of that leather edge. However, if you're using a colored stain (something other than a natural wood tone or brown hue), I recommend taking care to avoid getting colored stain into the raw edge of the leather. It might stain unevenly and look odd.

I completed the staining as the customer and I had planned once she decided to remove the faux leather, as show below.

We realized that without the brown faux leather around the bottom of the case, and the leather pad on top remaining, the case appeared unbalanced. We agreed that the base of the case should be colored a dark brown to compliment the leather pad on top.

I could have tried working with a darker stain and multiple applications to the base in order to hopefully match it to the leather top. This would have been a bit unpredictable. I felt that using paint would work better to balance the colors more reliably.

When I need to create or match colors, I use water-based acrylic paint that I'm able to blend. To create the correct brown required chocolate brown, a little red, and a little black. To keep the paint from going on too heavily, I thin it a bit with water.

Important! If you decide to mix a paint color, bear in mind that if you run into trouble later during sanding, you might have to apply more paint or some touch-up. Make sure that you can either duplicate your color mix again, or that you mix enough to have ready through the following steps.

Since I'm about to cover an oil-based stain with a water-based acrylic, I want to make sure that my surface is fully prepped and adhesion of the paint won't be a problem. Not only do I sand the surface again, I next use "Liquid Deglosser" to make sure that the acrylic paint will bond well to the surface. Deglosser is very easy to use: wipe on and wait a bit. Please follow the directions on your product container.

Having mixed my brown acrylic paint to my liking, I begin by painting the inside of the base.

The water-thinned acrylic paint dries quickly and can accept additional coats in a short amount of time. I like three coats for very even color, but we have to bear in mind that this painted surface will have no real durability until it receives a top coat along with the lid of the case.

Top Coat Preparation

I've experimented with a number of finishing products on these old cases, and I like polyurethane the best for a durable top coat. You can choose from satin, semi-gloss, and gloss polyurethane products.

Prepping the lid that has only the stain is really easy - just sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.

Prepping the acrylic painted surface isn't necessarily difficult, but I take more care with it in order to achieve a really smooth finish that doesn't look like "paint." I use a finer sandpaper like 320 grit or 400 grit and sand the painted area to smooth out brush lines. I am careful to not sand through the brown finish - if I do, I have to be prepared to apply another coat or a little touch up.

This next image isn't our 99 case; it's one of the many machine bases I've built. It better illustrates why sanding a painted surface can benefit the final finish. See the brush lines "pop out" after I begin sanding? There is an apparent "ridged" unevenness and some "fish-eyes.".

But if I continue sanding carefully, I can achieve a smoother finish:

This process of sanding a painted surface may require balance - continued sanding will likely sand through the paint and you could find yourself in a frustrating loop: sand, paint, sand, paint, until you get it right. If I sand through my paint to expose the wood underneath, I have to be ready to put at least one more coat of paint on the surface, possibly more, and go through my sanding prep again.

With all areas of the case sanded, I still go an extra step with my "Liquid Deglosser." I've enjoyed great results with projects like cases by taking this additional step. Deglosser wipes the surface clean and provides greater assurance of proper adherence of the polyurethane.

As you apply the top coat, use the lighting in the room and the angle of your eyesight to ensure that there are no dry spots. Your brush can actually "pull" the polyurethane back off the surface if it becomes too dry as you are applying the top coat.

Follow the directions on your top-coat product. I prefer three coats of polyurethane with light sanding between each coat.

I make sure that I apply the top coat to the inside and underside of the base as well. In this next photo, the surface has dried and I've also applied some self-adhesive furniture pads to the bottom of the case. I use a tiny drop of quality glue in the center of each pad to ensure that the "tape-like" adhesive on the pads doesn't give out too soon over time.

Allow your project proper drying time, and you will end up with a beautifully refinished case!

I hope this was helpful! If you prefer to have us recondition your case, we would be happy to.

Now... how about rewarding yourself with a cup of tea or coffee in one of our in-house designed mugs?


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  • Thanks so much for the tutorial. I have never done wood working and this gives me ideas of where to start.

    Celia Johnson on
  • Wow, sure appreciated all the step-by-step photos, tips, hits, and tricks to shared to get this case looking its very best.

    Allison C Bayer on
  • Hi Amanda, my personal approach to removing fabric is with no liquid agents, and I’ve not tried it. I also refinish furniture, which often requires such agents, and I find it messy and not a pleasure at all. With patience and care, you can pull the fabric off within 90 minutes easily. I can do them within an hour thanks to so much practice. Best of luck!

    James Wolfensberger on
  • I have just purchased 15k80. Wow is it heavy! It has a fabric case which is quite stained and unsightly. Id like to recover it?…it looks really hard to remove fabric…should a chemical or glue remover make it easier?

    Amanda bray on
  • Hello, Faricha – I’ve sent you a direct email regarding your question :)

    James Wolfensberger on

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