In a word - filthy.
The Adler was in running condition when I received it. What it wasn’t was clean. I’m not a neat freak, but I do think it makes sense for a sewing machine to be clean enough that it doesn’t make things filthy while sewing.
In the seller’s photos, it doesn’t look really all that bad:
If anything, it looks clean but rusty.
In actual fact, the stuff that looks like rust is dried up, caked on sewing machine oil. I’d swear it had never been cleaned since it was built.
That excess of oil has an upside, though. The previous owner(s) kept it well oiled. The working parts are all clean and move smoothly. There were really no mechanical problems with the machine at all.
I tried to clean it a little the same day I got it, but quickly realized that it would be a much larger job.
My first thought was that since the machine was japanned, all I would need to do was to remove the oil. I tried cleaning the oil off with alcohol, and discovered right away that there was a layer of shellac on the japanning. The oil had soaked into the shellac - removing the oil meant removing the shellac, no matter what cleaning method I might have chosen.
The shellac was also worn through in spots. You can see the pin-striping along the front edge is missing where the shellac wore out and the gold decal stripes wore off.
I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to refinish the machine if I wanted to have it clean. That’s a story I’ll tell another time.
Besides the cleanliness aspects, the machine is also very far from its original condition.
The Adler class 8 was originally a treadle driven machine built into a table. Mine was removed from its table by some previous owner. It is now screwed to a simple wooden base. Instead of a treadle it has an electric motor with a foot pedal.
You can see what it looked like here. That site has several Adler class 8 machines listed, with photos. I don’t have any photos of mine with the original table, so you’ll just have to be happy looking at someone else’s sewing machine.
I do not plan to try to restore the machine to its original condition. I don’t have a table or treadle that would go with it, and I’m not all that interested in trying to gather up all the things it would take.
My plan right now is to get the Adler clean, then build a new base for it. Since I had to get some shellac to refinish the machine, I thought I’d find some nice wood, make a new and better base, then shellac it as well as the machine.
I want to stick with the shellac for practical reasons. Despite the decades of grunge, the shellac held up pretty well to the oil. Whatever finish I put on it needs to be oil proof, so why not use the time tested shellac treatment? A second consideration is the japanning and the decals. I know that shellac won’t damage them, and I don’t know that some modern finish won’t damage them. Safest all around to just shellac it and be done with it.
Next time around I’ll show some photos of the clean up and refinishing.