Singer Slant-O-Matic 500a the "Rocketeer"


I was just telling Peter, my sewing buddy and fellow vintage sewing machine aficionado, that the next machine I'd like to add to my collection was a Slant-O-Matic. This surprised him since I am not the biggest Singer fan and Peter absolutely knows this.
The Rocketeer is an assault on even my eclectic taste. It is strange breed of machine and that's exactly why I needed one. First attraction came when I discovered these Slant-O-Matic machines are fully gear driven, which means no belt. In theory gears sound much stronger and study than belts but considering that almost all sewing machines still utilize belts I have to wonder. Researching further I discovered that the machine also included another of my must have features, needle position setting. That sold it.
I check craigslist every day for sewing machines because I'd rather buy local then pay to ship heavy stuff around. This area does not have a strong showing in the vintage sewing machine

department and I assume it's because most of them are still in use. Wouldn't you know it, today I find the listing for my Rocketeer and it's within a 20 minute drive. The gentleman was selling the machine for his grandmother and she wanted $100. This barn find has been sitting in the original owners home with little or no use for years since she had given up sewing ages ago due to failing health. The bobbin I found in the machine tells the story. It was wound with two different colors of thread and what you see in this photo is how it was wound all the way down to the core. While unwinding the thread the direction switched multiple times, no wonder she threw in the towel. I think when we start winding bobbins like this it might be time to tell more stories of sewing than sewing itself. Either way I'm glad she finally decided to part with her beloved Rocketeer.
My first explorations were curious as I carefully unscrewed the top lid and opened the bottom panel. The machine was either hardly ever used or it had been serviced before being put away for the last time. There wasn't a speck of lint or thread fragment anywhere in the machine. It also did not have the build up of varnish that comes with years of oiling. A very clean machine, if not a bit musty smelling.
First off a lock stitch is a lock stitch and it would be impossible for someone to determine what specific machine it was stitched on by looking at just the stitches after the fact. Sewing machines create these stitches the same way but the execution can be different between manufactures. This is why some machines have a following and some do not.
This machine has some functional elements that set it apart from any of my other machines and makes it somewhat unique. I'm not sure if these features are worth paying inflated ebay prices for or not.
  • Gear driven, it's interesting I'll give you that. Stronger or better, no. The motor itself is not particularly strong in this machine.
  • Darning, on the Rocketeer you don't drop the feed dogs, you raise the needle plate. This is a bit strange but I don't see any disadvantage to this system besides the uneven machine bed surface with the plate raised.
  • Zigzag stitch uses a cam on the permanent cam stack instead of the usual levers inside the machine. It works for embroidery stitches on other machines, why not zigzag?
video
Embroidery stitching on Slant-O-Matic 500 is also a somewhat unique setup. Inside the machine are seven metal cams with one of those being the zigzag function and the ability to add another removable cam on top of the stack. The stitch selector knob on the front of the machine has two parts so you can make selections on the left and the right simultaneously.

videoThe top part of the stitch selector knob moves a metal finger to the desired cam and as the cam turns the bumps and dips in the surface are transmitted through the finger to the needle bar moving it back and forth. That part functions the same as most other cam operated machines from this era. What I find unique is the addition of the second selector on the main stitch design knob. It allows you to choose another cam to be used simultaneously with the first giving you an even more varied embroidery stitch. Now you have to remember that the cams on this machine only control the stitch width function so all your embroidery designs are variations of a zigzag stitch. It can only get so fancy. Still it's unique to me.

The test this machine failed on is one that few machines I've come across can manage. It's the really thick thread test. The needle thread creating the top stitching looked fine but the bobbin thread was too loose. I've discovered that the trick to being able to use super thick thread is upper thread tension. It takes a LOT of tension to pull the bobbin thread up into the fabric layers. This machine just didn't have it and that's ok. The stitching with standard weight thread was beautiful and consistent so that's just fine. This machine also has a drop in bobbin which is not convenient when you need to adjust your lower tension often like I do when i switch thread weights. Having seperate bobbin cases with tension adjusted for different threads is much easier.

Sewing with the Rocketeer feels and sounds much more machine like than most of my other sewing machines. I assume it's the gears but the sound it makes is that whining machine sound. It reminds me of a radio controlled toy car. Unlike other machines I own, especially the Japanese made variety, the Slant-O-Matic has very little momentum as you're sewing, when you take your foot of the pedal the machine stops almost instantly. This does make it easy to control your needle up/down by tapping the foot pedal to advance the machine half a stitch.

Something else I really appreciate about this machine is that it is steady at any stitching speed. I have a few machines that at certain speeds bounce all over the place. The Singer doesn't vibrate at any speed.

video

All in all it's a wonderful addition to my collection and I'm excited to sew a few projects with it. I'm now on the search for a Pfaff 332 and a vintage green Elna of some sort. Of course I'm always on the look out for a Dressmaker with needle position selector, these are fantastic machines.

33 comments :: Singer Slant-O-Matic 500a the "Rocketeer"

  1. Brian, get some heavy grease on all moving parts where you have metals moving against each other. Oil won't do on metal gears etc.
    Gem

  2. You're quite right, I do need to pick up some heavy grease soon. The Singer 500a is a geared machine but it doesn't drive the machine with a metal on metal gear, it's some sort of softer material? Whatever it is it seems to work ok but could still use a little grease! :)

  3. I have a machine like this and am trying to learn as much as I can about it. Thanks for posting this. I just ordered a buttonholer, and hope it works. I would really like to find more cams but I am not an adventurous sewist like you, and probably will end up just zigzaggin my way through life, never to do a double stitch. Those jeans are incredible, and your other blog posts are informative, but I could have gone a long time without knowing that hot glue permanently bonds fabric. I am afraid I will take shortcuts now and not use my machine enough. Keep posting...!

  4. Excellent review!
    Thanks

  5. Just thrifted the power/foot control cord I needed to get my 500A working (for $1.50!) and am loving sewing on it! Great post, thanks for the info.

  6. What an awesome deal! I'm looking for an electronic pedal for mine... I love my Supernova even more with it's electronic upgrade!

  7. Great machine! I just picked one up at a local Good will store. Unfortunately it didn't have any of it's accessories or a manual so I'm searching for those.
    Looking forward to additional reviews from you.
    Paul

  8. What a beautiful machine! I have an old ornate White which was motorized, and a very gorgeous old Bernina all metal machine that works like a dream! Never even saw this type of Singer! Thanks for sharing it!

  9. I just got my own 500a. It was sitting in my folk's basement. I oiled all the spots listed in the manual, but I'm looking for an appropriate grease to use on the gears. I'm thinking there has to be an automotive equivalent I can use. Any suggestions?

  10. Love Love Love my Rocketeer !

    In my shirtmaking studio, it's the machine that the tailors I employ "fight" over to use, lol!

    Of course, if I am not drafting patterns and rather stitching on a given day...I grab it first ;)

  11. Brian can you help me? The stitch selector on my rocketeer seem to be stuck? The top one pushes in, and the bottom one pulls out, but it will not shift to the different options. Am I completely missing it? She already bit me once. : /

  12. @Jeff - I just found a site that has parts for 'classic' sewing machines, that has oil and grease (as well as the bobbin tension screw I needed for my Singer 500!), and that has refreshingly low shipping costs: http://shop.sew-classic.com/main.sc

  13. Thanks for the videos. I'm teaching myself to sew and have decided to get a Rocketeer as an upgrade to my $80 machine. Is there an adapter that will allow you to use snap on feet?

  14. I have a fantastic Slant-o-matic 500A that my in-laws gave me after it collected dust in their basement for years. After the initial repairs it has been a fabulous machine. Recently the gears locked up for no apparent reason. I keep it well oiled so it was odd. Took it in to get fixed and as soon as I got there it magically worked again. Except, it's not working right. When I am doing quilting the thread shreds after a few inches of stitching. I have done EVERYTHING. Changed needles, thread weights, bobbin tension, re-threading. The practice "sandwich" sews just fine. I'M JUST SO FRUSTRATED!!

  15. Brian, I notice you said that the motor was not very strong. I just got a 500a and it was sewing a bit sluggish. I pulled out the motor and cleaned all of the carbon dust out, sanded the commutator and cleaned all of the groves and carbon brushes. After putting the motor back in it has made a tremedous difference in the machines power. I've been sewing over blue jean seam like a champ. It doesn't even hesitate now it just sews right over them.

  16. Hi Brian, I also have a 500a. I love it. I also have a Spartan made in England.
    To add to that is a Singer treadle with a shuttle that I believe dates 1800's.

  17. I have a portable Slant-O-Matic 503 model, I think, which I love, complete with all the fashion disks, case, foot-pedal & all KINDS of special feet & rufflers & hemmers & button-hole feet. I don't know all the right words, but I know I Love it! Also have a Brother Model 141 in stand.

    I also woodwork, so one day I'm going to build a rocket themed table for it: check it out: hinged leaves shaped like rocket fins, a circular right hand side for spools, looking like a rocket motor.

    So what does a guy make on a sewing machine? For practice, I made a lot of rags from an old duvet cover. I used the undulating fashion disks to make nice hemmed borders. Every man needs a good tough rag for soaking up spills & messes.

    This is true: Several years ago, when the Democrats still had the House, I made an appt. w/ Rep. Henry Waxman, & gave him (along with a nicer gift) one of my home-sewed rags, to thank him for "cleaning up" all the corruption his committee was investigating! (I joked I couldn't bring a shovel through security! :).

    Thanks for your site. I'll be back.

  18. I accquired a 500A last fall when I bought the sewing equipment from a widower of a local sewing maching shop, which it turns out I knew. With the embroidery and serger, I also accquired the 500A. I really hadn't had time to mess with it till this weekend. I was carefully cleaning the cigarette smoke residue and was delighted to see what great shape it's in on the outside as well apparently as the inside. I can't find a date on the Singer website and wondered if you had any advice on another way to find it. I also can't fins a manual to download for a reasonable price and therefore don't know wxactly where to oil it. Any advice there? I think this brings my machine total up to about 25. 2 much loved Singer Featherweights, my moms old really small New Home, and her old Pfaff we got in Germany in 1959 I think. I also have a couple of 99's and a 301 plus 2 treadles and another singer I rescued from an outdoor market in Texas for $10 including the table. And a beautiful old Heavy sewing maching I got on e-bay for $20 (the only bid). Plus a couple of commercial machines. I have the fever. It's a little under control now since I accquired my last 1936 Featherweight in great condition. Can you help with a diagram of where it should be oiled? Thanks.

  19. I love my 500a, I found it at an antique store almost 14 yrs ago now. I scored it and it's sewing table for $125. I recently sent it out for repairs at a local sewing center and can not wait to get it back. I hope you enjoy sewing on yours as much as I have on mine as it really is a great machine.

  20. I have the manual save to my computer and would be more than willing to print you a copy if you still need it.

  21. Hey guys, I recently purchased a desk at a goodwill the other day to find it was a fold-out Singer (slant-o-matic 500). The machine looks vintage and has all these parts that came with it including a little box with gadgets and oil tins. I know little to nothing about sewing machines, is this a vintage machine and is it worth the $23 i spent on it?
    Please any advice would help.
    Sincerely mck

  22. Mckenley, don't want to steer you wrong, but in order to properly give you my opinion reference your Singer SOM 500, I'd have to see a pic or see it and examine it. I would guess that, unless it is rusted, or in terrible condition, it would be worth more than the $23 you spent.

    J

  23. i work as a camera man at keeneland and i unfortunately, vividly remember that accident. i pray she rides again and accomplishes all that she sits out to do as a jockey.
    English Bulldog Puppies

  24. Hello, that machine brings back very fond memories of my younger days and learning to sew. My Grandmother bought that new in 1961, and allowed me to sew with it.The 500 was manufactured between 1961 and 1963, followed later in 1963 with the Slantomatic 600, (which I own). I am certain that since you have had it for a while, it has been properly lubricated. I can tell from the "metallic"
    sound it needed some "love". When they are "lubed"
    properly they "purr and whirr"...
    All the best and Happy Sewing.. Richard Ransom Beman


  25. I have a very clean, well-maintained 500a, and I was just sewing on it and all of a sudden the whole thing just locked up. I can't move the hand wheel or the take-up bar. As I look down into the throat plate, it seems like something is stuck down there but I can't get the throat plate off because I can't move anything at all. It's as if it's just frozen. I only use the thing a few times a year and I'm really sad. I was in the process of fixing a pair of pants and all was well and then BLAM! it just locks up tight and none of the mechanisms move.

    Ever see anything like this before?

  26. If you can't sew through 6 layers of denim with immense ease on a Slant o Matic sewing machine, something is wrong.

  27. Just got my 503A back from the shop and need a walking foot, any ideas where to get on for this machine?

  28. If anyone is looking for a Slant O Matic 500 with all the accessories, in cabinet with chair contact me at gpmason48@aol.com. Pick up only in CT

  29. I have a Singer Slant and enjoyed reading all you have written about it. I don't use it a lot but wouldn't part with it or my Featherweight. If you enjoy the hunt for older machines a good place to look is shopgoodwill.com.

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.
  31. O-Kay. I have just gotten a 503a for 20 bucks. Something white and plastic, probably the missing spindle for thread on top, was stuck behind the stitch length adjuster. I took that apart--screw in knob, little washer, little ridged knob with threads inside, and this funny threaded thing that looks like a cross between a pagoda and a razor blade. The white plastic spindlish thing fell down inside the machine.

    Can slide pagoda razor blade thing into slot, but Couldn't get pagoda razor blade back into ridged knob, where I think it should be from memory and photos, and dropped cover plate screw into throat plate height adjuster. Where it fell through.

    So. . . I need to figure out how to get into the base of the machine, and how to fit pagoda razor blade into stitch length regulator.

    Help!!!!

    Sara

  32. Pagoda razor blade thing is tiny with a slit in the middle and two flanges at the end that fit into the stitch regulator plate.

    I hope also to find little cover plate screw to put it on again. Thanks

  33. Okay. Got bottom poem which was so easy. Found screw and reinstalled it and found the spool thing which was the spool and is broken. Still can't get the pagoda razor blade thingy on.

    This is kind of fun,

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