Well, I finally bought one: the mother of all sewing machines--the Juki 1541S (the "S" stands for safety clutch).
As far as I can tell, the Juki 1541, the Consew 206 (Seiko STH-8BLD-3) and the Tacsew 111w (modeled after the Singer 111w) are some of the most popular machines in the bagmaking and upholstery world. Of course, there are about a million other machines out there similar to these (Pfaffs are big in the upholstery biz, but new ones are ex-pen-sive!). All of these machines have compound feed (needle-feed, walking-foot...aka unison feed) and a large bobbin, making them awesome for sewing medium-heavy materials. (In the world of industrial machines, there are even heavier machines, for sewing leather and thicker upholstery and webbing.)
I was using the Tacsew 111w before and it's a great machine. I love its simplicity and (mostly) smooth operation. The only thing was, I wasn't able to adjust the foot lift and sew over thicker materials, which I've been doing more with the #8 cotton duck I've been using. When you adjust the foot lift, a part on the foot bar (I don't know what the technical name is--my manual's over across the room) runs into the thread uptake mechanism and jams when you sew over a certain thickness of material. This sucks. I like to have a higher lift on my feet because I need to sew over a lot of uneven material, and when the feet don't lift high enough they drag on the material and foul up the stitch length.
Hopefully this won't be the case with the Juki, as it has a higher lift (I'm excited about sewing through foam) and being able to adjust the feet lift/alternating-movement is one of its selling points.
I wonder if the body on the 111 was designed for compound feed or if they just took it from another machine. It's a pretty popular body type...but the Tacsew 111w is the only compound machine with this body. Every other compound feed has a larger area for the needle bar, feet bars and thread uptake mechanism...even the Singer 111w, which the Tacsew ostensibly replaces (I don't know when Singer stopped making this...their compound machine now is the 4411a).
If they did skimp on the body, they've severely limited an otherwise great machine...bastards. But it is a relatively inexpensive machine...
Anyway...on to the Juki...
I'm pretty happy about having a legible and informative manual and parts list. The 111's manual barely makes sense...and one of the pictures in the parts list isn't even the correct machine (!). Ha.
Please don't throw away your Juki.
All right! Juki-brand wrench!
The Juki comes with Groz-Beckert needles, which I've been using lately. The sewing kit from Westchester comes with Organ, which I've used in the past. Before I got G-B needles, I was using Schmetz. It seems like the G-Bs hold up a little bit better if you're sewing #8 cotton duck all day long...but other than that, I can't tell that much difference between the three.
By the way, I ordered my machine and table from Westchester Sewing. I'd ordered some other things before from them and decided to see what ordering a machine was like.
I've also ordered two machines from Industrial Sewing Machine Man, which has been pretty good (they're drop-shipped from Tacony in the Midwest). Their 1541 price is almost the same as Westchester...which is to say it's cheap.
I've also heard good things about Keystone Sewing Company. Of course, as with the choice of brand and machine type, there are about eight million places to buy one (though I'd guess they probably come from only a handful of warehouses).
Putting the table together...that looks about right...
A servo motor comes standard with the Juki. I love punny sewing products. Ha.
Unfortunately, the motor has a brake on it, which I don't like. I use the hand wheel a lot when I sew, so to do that easily with this motor you have to press on the pedal a little bit. (I fixed this by just taking the cork brake pad off.) It makes me uncomfortable to have my hand on the wheel and on the pedal at the same time, so I slapped on my brakeless SewQuiet servo motor:
The SewQuiet has a smaller pulley, anyway, and I'm a big fan of sewing real slow. Ha.
Ironically, the Sew Strong seemed a little bit quieter than the SewQuiet (though I've used neither motor very much...and never on very thick fabric). The SQ has developed that annoying high-pitched electronic tone (it's really not that loud, though). Maybe it'll go away...
Puttin' in the drip tray. One thing that irks me about this setup is the space under the machine where you reach in and get the bobbin out is super small. I feel bad for anyone with larger hands. Maybe it's just the table, though. I'll have to file some of the wood away.
Oil collector bottle. This is a different design from what's in the manual. This is the time where I go, "Oh shit, I'm missing parts!" But everything worked out. Ha.
Okay, how am I going to get that out of the box and onto the table? This box weighed 110 pounds! Damn!
Come on out, you!
So Westchester drilled all the holes in the table for me, which is awesome (they did an okay job...I had to widen the light hole a bit). Last time I ordered a table from Sailrite: no holes drilled = no fun. You need a pretty big bit (which I don't have) to drill the thread post and the little peg the machine rests on when you tilt it back. Unfortunately where they put the motor meant I couldn't use the included belt. Too short! by an inch. That's okay...it smells like tarry marijuana (that's bad). "Hey! why's my room smell like weed!" It's that black belt up there. I was hoping the white belt would work, but it's too long. And I had a piece of this magic belt that came with my Sailrite 146B copy, but it was too small too...so I ordered a bit more offa eBay.
This is Fenner Power Twist belt, size 3L...that's 3/8" at the top.
It's pretty crazy stuff. Read what they say about it at Lee Valley.
It's suppose to be the absolute shit for running high-speed woodworking tools. I don't know it the benefits translate to the sewing world, but it is adjustable, strong, and cool-looking.
The Lee Valley stuff is the wrong size, though. Sailrite does sell it, but you can get it for half the price on eBay...from ohioblademan...or something like that. Ha. It's still three-times the price of a regular belt, though.
Drink up, little machine. I knew this funnel would come in handy some time...
That's a little oil-filled gear box. The 111w sits in a vat of oil, which gets messy sometimes.
Nuts! I've already fouled up my machine somehow. That little lever betwixt the red arrows is the bobbin case opener lever (aka the opener). As you can see, it's nowhere near the tab on the bobbin case/inner hook (left arrow) that it's suppose to press on. It got knocked out of place when the hook assembly locked up...so I reset it:
Loosen up the lever bar...
And move it to where it's suppose to be. The instructions aren't entirely clear to me on how you're suppose to do this: it mentions "clicks" and stuff...which I'm not certain of. I guess these are the clicks the inner hook makes when it opens and closes.
So, if you don't know what this is (like I didn't--this is my first machine with a case opener) a case opener makes sure the bobbin case is open at the top when the thread loop is coming out and forming the bottom stitch. Sometimes on a rotary machine, when you're using heavy thread, the bobbin case doesn't want to open and you can get a jam. So the opener, well, makes sure it's open. Some machines (like some Singers) have timing marks on 'em so you just line it up with the marks if it comes outta time. I just eyeballed it. As you can see above, the thread is moving around the bobbin, from left to right. It has to make its way between the lever and the case, and then the lever has to push on the tab to keep the case open:
Like so. Press on that tab! You can see the black thread on the upper right about to go up and form the bottom stitch. Hopefully I did this right. There's suppose to be like a 0.8mm (!) gap between the lever and the case tab at the lever's leftmost position. I think I left a slightly larger gap, so we'll see how it works. I still haven't sewn a bag on this yet, but I'm about to make a backpack, so we'll know soon.
Though, my 111 doesn't have one of these levers and it makes out okay...and I don't think the 1541 (no "S") does either (based on the one photo I've seen). So who knows...
I like the Juki's open design...unlike the 111's. Who knows what goes on in that machine. Ha.
As you can see on the right side, the Juki has a timing belt (that thing with yellow writing, which connects the top and bottom shafts). This gives it a somewhat sluggish action, I guess you would say. The 111 has a gear drive and feels somewhat looser while hand turning the fly wheel. Not a big issue... Also, the Juki is wick-oiled, while the 111 has a pump (plus wicks).
Ah! it's full of goo.
And this is what makes the Juki really nice: the little details. Look at this cute head cover!
Anyway, I'm pretty excited about this machine. I hope it's everything I've dreamed of--and more! (Meaning: hopefully I shouldn't've got a Seiko instead. Ha.)
I still have to build a table extension, too. And I think I'm going to move the light to the front. The light neck's not long enough to shine on the front--where I want it.
Up next: my new Singer 20u73. Maybe tomorrow...