This is the machine that’s made my life miserable for the past three weeks, and the pair of boots I’ve been trying to side seam for the same amount of time. Prepare for a long post, because I have things to say.See that different-colored plate on the front of the machine? There’s another boot maker in my town–Ray Dorwart. I worked with him at Jay Griffith’s boot shop when I started, he was my first and primary teacher, and we’ve co-existed happily in the same town as boot makers for 30 years. I tried repeatedly to figure out what was wrong with this machine and finally mentioned it to Ray. He looked at me with abject hurt in his eyes and said, “Why didn’t you call me? You KNOW I know about these machines! I can help you!”
Ray’s been at my shop several times working on the machine with me and for me, and today he took the whole front of his personal machine off, brought it here, and put it on mine. As it turns out, my new (to me) machine has a couple of worn-out bearings and they were allowing too much play in the needle bar. I could never have figured this out on my own, especially without a replacement piece to test the theory. This is why I never allow anyone to say the words “your competition” to me about other boot makers. I always immediately correct them with “my peers” or “my fellow boot makers.” We all carry valuable pieces of an endangered trade and it’s so important to share with each other and work together to keep our craft alive. I am incredibly grateful that Ray is in my town and willing to drop his own work to come and help me.
Secondly, I want to stress that there is nothing in the above story that implies I am at all unhappy with the machine that I purchased or the person who sold it to me. These machines are OLD and they’re complex. Even refurbished, they have habits and wear patterns. The person who sold it to me makes a different type of boot than I do and he was using a much heavier needle and awl, heavy enough to overcome the bit of wiggle in the needle bar. I am confident he was completely unaware of the issue. The problems began when I switched to the weight of needle I prefer.
I adore old machines, even with their idiosyncrasies and the headaches they cause. I learned so much during the last three weeks about Straight Needles and how they work, and I value that. But this is why I tell students to buy a Cobra Class 4 from Leather Machine Co. instead of trying to find an old Straight Needle. Unless you’re just really into the joys and the heartaches of old machines, you’re better off buying a new machine that works and that you can get parts for. I’ve found the problem on my machine, but now I have to try and find the replacement parts. And since they’re not made anymore, I’ll be buying parts that are cannibalized from another machine, with the risk of being just as worn (or worse) as the parts I’m replacing.