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Singer 403

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The Singer 40X series (401, 403, and 404) were Singer's top machines in the late 1950's to the early 1960's. These are slant-needle, all metal machines and are sturdy as tanks! All metal gears -- no plastic here -- so they'll last darn near forever.

The Singer 404 was a straight-stitch only machine -- but built just as well as the two higher end machines. The 403 (this machine here!) had a camstack and offered additional stitches by using cams. Note that you had to use a zig-zag cam to get a zig-zag stitch! If you did not have a cam in the machine, you could only do straight-stitch!

The 401 was the top end machine -- it used cams, but also had a built-in camstack! So ... you could select a number of built-in stitches, or you could use the same cams as the 403 to create the same stitches!

Although the 401 had a built-in camstack, the 403 could create the same stitches as long as you had the cams. There are about 22 available cams for the 403/401.

These machines are pretty much mechanically identical to the later "Rocketeer" series (the 50X line).

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The 40x series uses standard 66 style bobbins; they use a drop-in bobbin scheme.(hooray! No bobbin case!) Bobbin threading is very simple.

These are fairly powerful machines -- the 40x line uses a .7 amp motor. The presser feet are standard slant-needle presser feet.

Note the "pre-rocketeer" styling on the top of the machine! No surprises in the tension works -- just be sure the presser foot is raised when you thread the machine; otherwise, the thread may not fit securely between the tension disks.

Here is a threading diagram ... it's for a Singer 401, but threading a 403 (or a 404) is identical.

I couldn't find a free download for a 403 manual, but here's one for a Singer 503 which is almost identical.
Some needle position and stitch width controls on the center of the machine. Note that the stitch width ONLY works if you have a cam in the machine! Otherwise, it alters needle position but you'll still only stitch a straight stitch.

The needle position (left/center/right) control took some fiddling -- the trick is to push it in before you can move it!.

When you change the stitch width lever, you'll see the needlebar actually slant to the side! Important! When you do insert a stitch cam, be sure and set the stitch width to the locking "0" position first! This lets you easily insert or remove a cam. Once you've pushed the cam in place, you can change the stitch width as needed.
Here's a view of the standard "Singer style" stitch length lever. Finer settings towards the middle, coarser towards the bottom ("Finer" meaning high stitches per inch, "Coarser" meaning low number of stitches per inch).

Like all other Singer stitch length levers I've ever seen, push it all the way up for reverse feed.

Just to the right of the stitch length lever is the bobbin winder. A common ailment of older machines with this type of bobbin winder is that the winder "tire" will need replacing. I don't fool with it anymore -- I just use my Wright Sidewinder for bobbin winding.

The thread spool pin on the base and the pulley just next to it are for bobbin thread and bobbin winding. The left on the base handles the feed dogs. All the way to the right activates the feed dogs. The middle setting disables the feed dogs for free-motion work -- but it really doesn't lower the feed dogs. What it does instead is raise the needleplate so that the feed dogs no longer catch! Even though it's raising something rather than lowering something, people still refer to it as "lowering" the feed dogs, though.

All the way to the left loosens the needleplate so it can be removed.
Here's the feed dog workings in play.

Note how the feed dog lever is in the center position ...
... and note how the needleplate is raised a little bit higher than the rest of the base! This has the effect of nulling out the (still active) feed dogs so you can do free motion work!
A view from the handwheel side. Turn the silver wheel in the midle of the handwheel to disable the needlebar when you're winding a bobbin (or, just use a Sidewinder and don't worry about it!)

Note how there are two pieces to the power cord. One supplies electricity to the machine. The other attaches the foot pedal speed control. The power cord is meant to be fed from the rear of the machine -- that's why it has such an abrupt fold ... I'm plugging in from the front of the machine!
A quick view from the backside; yep, looks like the backside of a machine!

You can see the two thread spindles on top the machine. Unfortunately, I broke one of the off while setting this machine on a shelf. I normally only use one thread spool and one needle, so I didn't think this was a big deal.

Then I found out you can actually use two needles at once on this machine. Not a special "double" needle, but two regular needles inserted side by side! Makes a really quick and easy way to do double needle stitching. I've seen pictures of double needle stitching using some of the fancy stitch cams and it's pretty attractive. I'm going to have to give the double needle thing a try!
Here's the Cam spindle -- there's a little door on top the machine; you pop it open to reveal the cam spindle.

When you pop the top on a 401 or a 500, you'll see an extensive stitch chart. Since the 403 uses cams for fancy stitching, you don't need the chart. Some people feel the 403 is actually easier to use than the 401 because otf his!

The cams are often called "top hat cams" -- you can see why (although they look more like a sombrero to me). The cam fits on the spindle very smoothly. You can see a squarish "hole" just to the left of the top hat on the cam. You can also see a "finger" just behind the cam spindle. Just position the cam so that the finger pokes through the hole and press the cam down into place ...
...and here's the finished result! To remove the cam, just grab it and pull -- it'll come right off.

As mentioned earlier, though, be sure to set the stitch width to "0" before inserting/removing a cam.

Once you've inserted a cam, a zero stitch width will still be a straight stitch. As you increase the stitch width, you'll see the cam pattern appear. Like most embellishment stitches, you probably want a very fine stitch length for the stitches to look their best.

The cams have a pattern printed on them that shows the resulting stitch. This particular cam will creae a series of triangles. When users first purchased 403 models, it came with the zig-zag cam already inserted. These zig-zag cams are now hard to find; if you find a 403, be sure and check to see if the zig-zag is in place.
And that's most of the particulars on the Singer 403. A sturdy, powerful, cam-capable slant-needle machine made back when Singer knew how to build sewing machines that would last for generations. This series of machines is a keeper -- and they're still fairly available (many machines made -- good supply) and the pricing hasn't gone too crazy yet.

I found this one on Ebay -- but many people find them at thrift shops. This was the same model machine that my mom had when I was growing up.
Here's the project we'll make with the Singer 403 -- a scented hot pad. I used some scrap fabric I had, plus some cotton batting and some potpourri for this quick project.

Click here for the Scented Hot Pad project!

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