Sunday, August 26, 2012

August Knit-in: Proper Machine Care and Maintenance

August’s Knit-in had to be the most informative, most helpful and most important event of the year for the MKGM. It truly was a must-see opportunity, and if you missed it, you missed out on a real treat. Shawn Dolan of Knit & Sew World was the guest dealer/speaker, and he spent the early part of the day demonstrating how to clean our machines, and even to make minor repairs, then after lunch we all got “down and dirty” (literally) as we cleaned and repaired our own machines under Shawn’s expert supervision. It was astounding just how dirty our machines get, even if we “think” we’re keeping them clean! There was actually little to no knitting done whatsoever, but for those of us that attended, Shawn’s demonstration was so worth the lack of knitting time! So much so, that it would be worth its weight in gold to host Shawn and his maintenance seminar as an annual event. After all, our machines are a relatively substantial investment; learning to properly care for them can make them perform at their peak, and increase the life of them. Shawn likened this simple maintenance to routine oil changes in our cars. Without them, our cars would quickly conk out on the side of the road. The same holds true for our knitting machines. The small annual to bi-annual investment for new needle retainer bars, replacement needles and cleaning solution is nothing compared to repair and/or replacement costs!
Shawn provides one-on-one supervision as we clean our machines
Shawn systematically went through each step of how to clean your machine, the do’s and do-not’s, what to watch for, where to be careful so as not to damage the inner workings of the machine that we can’t see (and didn’t even know was there), and told us which solvent to use, and where to purchase it (De-Solv-It Contractor Solvent—an oil-based solvent available from Ace Hardware and other retailers (click link to find where else it’s sold)). He stressed the importance of not using de-natured alcohol, a favorite among many machine knitters, as it can actually damage the machine by drying out the lubricants you can’t even get at, and removing the finish that protects the metals.
The first thing he had each of us do was to remove the needle retainer (sponge) bar and needles from our machines, check the sponge and clean the needles, replacing them, if necessary (he had new needles available for purchase). A bad needle can be working perfectly at the latch end, but he showed how they can wear on the flat sides of the needle butts where a groove can form, causing the needle to shift from side to side, damaging the needle bed. The only way to notice this is to take the needles out of the machine and inspect them.
On a side note: Your author highly recommends not getting into the common habit of moving bad needles from the middle of the machine bed to the ends, rather simply throw them away and replace them. It will be impossible to remember which needles are bad, and leaving them in the machine can cause damage down the road, especially if a project requires a large number of needles, if not the entire needle bed, or more importantly, when you take them out to clean them.
He had new needle retainer bars for purchase, as well. He reiterated the importance of the sponge bar—which most machine knitters know, but don’t know all the reasons why it’s so important—by stating that the machines are tuned to a very fine calibration, and if the sponge bar isn’t in perfect condition that not only does the machine not knit properly, but the needles can wear through the metal on the interior of the machine, causing damage that can’t be seen, and can take years to become aware of.
Shawn then had us clean our carriages, which can get “gunky” with old oil, lint and dirt, jamming up the cams and/or patterning buttons. Sticky cams lead to dropped/missed stitches, and stuck buttons are one of the most common complaints when a machine is brought in for repair, yet easy to fix yourself, or prevent in the first place. After they were cleaned, we re-lubricated them properly with just a touch of machine oil on the tips of the bristles of a paint brush. No need for lots of oil! After all, the solvent is also oil-based, so not only does it clean the machine, it adds a touch of lubrication, as well. Bonus!
After this, Shawn showed us how the needle bed, itself, can begin to warp. It’s such a subtle warp that most of us don’t even notice it. The needles sit in slots on the needle bed. Between the slots are the thin strips of metal. Those are what begin to warp downward, and can also damage unseen parts of the machine. He showed us how to move them back into place (if you weren’t at the demo, please do not try this at home without being shown the proper way to do this!), and how to remove tiny nicks from the needle slots. Those are also subtle, and your author was surprised to find several on her own machine that she had never even noticed before!
Finally, he showed us how to clean the timing belt and behind it (yes, behind it) on the machine. He stressed the importance of how to do this properly and carefully, so as not to damage it (it’s extremely fragile—do not try this at home if you haven’t been shown the proper way to do it!) and incur a costly replacement expense. That was probably the most surprising portion of the entire demonstration. Timing belts are probably the one thing most machine knitters don’t know they should be keeping clean and lubricated. They were the most dirty part on everyone’s machines, probably for this very reason.
Shawn even did simple repairs for us, if needed
In all, it was a lengthy, and tiring event, but so worth it! It was astounding how well the machines hummed along after spending one day tuning them up. Monthly maintenance should keep the length of time spent tuning them up to a minimum after the initial thorough ordeal, and with proper care and this maintenance there is no reason why our machines can’t last a lifetime, or even the next.
Thank you, Shawn!