A first look at the Pfaff 31 and its cabinet.

The Pfaff model 31 sewing machine - Table of Contents

My daughter and I picked up the Pfaff 31 the other day from her grandfather’s house. I’ll clean it up and reassemble it, then we’ll have to see about transporting it to where she lives.

The sewing machine itself is in my wife’s sewing room with the other machines. I put the cabinet in the garage for now - I’ve got work to do on it, so it might as well stay where I’ll be doing the work.

The Pfaff 31 is a pretty machine - jet black with a golden vine and leaf pattern as decoration. The gold isn’t just gold. It’s sort of “grayscale” but with varying shades of gold.

The manufacturer name (“Pfaff”) and the model number (“31”) aren’t just decals. They appear to have been molded into the housing when it was cast. The letters are something like a millimeter deep.

Pfaff model 31
Pfaff model 31 - 1
Pfaff model 31 - 2
Pfaff model 31 - 3
Pfaff model 31 - 4

I’ll have to dust it off and give it a coat of shellac to protect some spots where the japanning is gone, but there’s really not much to do to clean it up. It was treated much better than my Adler was.

Besides looking good, the old Pfaff 31 also sews well. Pfaff is still around, and has user’s guides for many old machines available - I hunted down the Pfaff 31 user’s guide, and threaded the machine according to the diagrams.

It sews like great grandmother used it yesterday - even though the machine hasn’t been used since she died in 1985.

Stitch test
Stitch test

I don’t know what kind of oil was used on it, but it hasn’t dried up or gone gummy in the last 37 years. The machine turns over smoothly and easily - I did that test by hand cranking the balance wheel.

The cabinet is unfortunately not in as good shape as the machine. It spent at least part of the last 37 years in my father-in-law’s workshop being used as a sort of auxilliary workbench. The finish is damaged and it’s got spots of what looks like white house paint on the veneered front. There are some chips and dings in the surface as well.

Cabinet 1
Cabinet 2
Cabinet 3
Cabinet 4
Cabinet 5

My plan right now looks like this:

  • Sand the dents and dings smooth so they won’t snag on the cloth while sewing.
  • Sand the finish smooth in the places where it is worn and faded, then put a coat of shellac over it.
  • Remove the house paint drops from the veneered front without damaging the finish on the veneer since it is OK outside of the paint drops.
  • Replace the ruined rubber supports for the machine with a couple of leather pads. (One of the rubber pieces is complely eaten up. From the green crumbly mess it left behind I’d swear it was copper instead of rubber, but the one that is still there is definitely rubber.)
  • Oil the treadle.
  • Oil the wheels. (You can’t see them in the photos but there are small wheels in the feet of the cabinet. Right now, they squeak something awful when you push the cabinet around.)

I do not intend to restore the cabinet. I’m only going to smooth it out then cover it to keep it from being damaged any more. A layer of shellac will “seal in” its current appearance while keeping it functional. The veneered front looks good as is - if I can get rid of the white paint drops without damaging it.

The treadle mechanism works perfectly - I tried it out. It is smooth and the next best thing to silent.

“Silent” is a good thing. My daughter actually has a relatively new sewing machine (manufactured sometime in the last ten years or so) that she doesn’t often use. It makes so much racket that she’d rather just sew things by hand than use the machine. She likes the sound of the Pfaff 31 - it has a smooth whirring sound with a rhythmic “thump” as the oscillating shuttle reverses direction. It’s a rather pleasant sound, all in all.

By comparison, my Adler class 8 is almost completely silent. It has a rotating hook so it doesn’t thump at all. If I crank it by hand, about all you hear is the very faint rattling of the bobbin. Having heard the Pfaff and its treadle, I’m beginning to think I might start looking for an Adler cabinet and treadle for my machine - the motor I’m using is rather noisy.

There’s a leather drive belt with the Pfaff, but it looks like it broke and is too short. I’ve ordered a new belt, which should arrive sometime next week.

Aside from the belt, there’s no mechanical problems at all - it’s all just putting things back together and applying a bit of cosmetics to make the little old lady look nice.

A couple of weekends of not too strenuous work and I’ll be able to deliver the Pfaff to my daughter.

The Pfaff model 31 sewing machine - Table of Contents