Sears Kenmore 117.959
Built by White
Thanks to a contributor, "Doug", Zorba has made freely available a PDF of the manual (3.6MB).
I get more hits on this page - the 117.959 sewing machine page - on a daily basis than I do for the rest of my site COMBINED! There's a lot of folks out there researching this particular model for whatever reason, and for whatever reason, they all seem to be using "Devices" - mostly iPhones and iPads!
Please understand: I only had this machine for a short time, it is now at a school for homeless children and is no longer in my possession. Therefore, I'm really not able to answer any further questions other than what I documented here at the time.
Please see the resources page for parts vendors, wiring diagrams, and other information which may apply to this particular model.
This machine is VERY common, VERY heavy, VERY ugly, but VERY reliable if you get a good example.
They also are often VERY overpriced, don't get rooked. I personally wouldn't pay more than $25 or $30 for one.
Shown next to my recently restored "Streamliner"!
When I asked my good 'Net acquaintance, "Randy" if he knew anything about this
model, he responded with this picture and "I have two of them"!
My White 690, with its standard 7" X 14½" flatbed.
Note the (hinged) black plate to the right. This brings the
total cutout width to 16½", the same as the Kemore's
A bad attempt to show that this Kenmore's width equals the...
...width of the White 690 plus the width of the filler plate.
Original knee lever mechanism and control box (e-waste recycled)...
...Was replaced with a standard Mercury Electric foot control.
Machine as received. Missing spool pin, and absolutely filthy.
Hand wheel end.
Backside. Another friction drive, but spring loaded like the
Reversew "Rex", thank Goddess.
Detail showing the rotary shuttle.
What I've been able to find out so far:
This Sears Kenmore was built by the White Sewing Machine Company as evidenced by its 117.xxx Sears assigned model number - in this case 117.959.
Received from a dance sister, this one was only in my care for a short time. I got it cleaned up, oiled, and a new cordset & foot control wired - then it passed to a co-worker, who will build a base for it (the same woodworker who helped with the base fabrication for the "Streamliner"), then it will go to a school for homeless children.
Aside from being very dirty, it wasn't in bad shape. The topside spool pin was broken off, an identical replacement from a White model 77 has since been installed. This machine arrived very dry. There wasn't a drop of oil anywhere - yet surprisingly, it wasn't frozen up; although I'm sure it would have eventually as it only turned over stiffly.
It was a contemporary to the "Streamliner", and a direct competitor. Its huge size (Can we call this a "5/4" size?) doesn't really translate into more space between needle and pillar:
Looking through the Streamliner to this Kenmore. The needles are lined up.
This shows that the much larger overall Kenmore is actually smaller where it counts.
Streamliner needle to base of pillar distance is 7¾", Kenmore a smaller 7-1/16".
I have some kind of fetish for compiling useless data, Click Here for a chart of needle to pillar distances of all the machines found on this site.
When compared to the "Streamliner", the Kenmore's Reversew "Rex"-like spring loaded friction drive motor is a definite advantage over the Streamliner's fixed in place friction design. The Kenmore also has an interesting upper thread tensioner, which is very user friendly:
Front of arm lever controls the tension assembly on the end of the arm! Note numeric calibration.
Having a numerically "calibrated" upper tension control was very forward thinking in this machine's era. It also, unlike the Streamliner, uses what were to become standard needles, the 15 x 1 size. It even uses the most common bobbin winder tire in the world, the #15287, which is used on countless Singers and many, many others, and is available "anywhere". National used an oddball proprietary tire that - fortunately - can be replaced with a #2460. Not quite as common as the 15287, but still easy enough to find.
Standard as used on Singer #15287 bobbin winder tire!
Like the Streamliner, the Kemore also didn't conform to the "Singer Standard" for flatbed machines. As can be seen from the above pictures, a 16½" width could be accomodated by said standard, but Kenmore specified that the bed have non-standard square corners; as well as having non-standard hinge pin spacing at 9½", instead of the standard 9¾". Of course, National Sewing Machine Company, the builder of the "Streamliner", wasn't much better than Sears was in this regard. Although their machine followed the standard bed dimensions, oddball corner radiusing and their own pin spacing foolishness (9⅜") made base/cabinet with head interchangeability basically impossible. I've read that Sears did this on purpose - whether or not National did too I can't say.
Whites of this era - and thus Kenmores too - are among those rare machines where the handwheel turns AWAY (clockwise) from the operator, instead of the more usual TOWARDS. As it has a spring loaded motor, it was equipped with a "straight" (Non-Tapered) rubber drive wheel. These are still available from at least two different sources. The Streamliner, with its fixed in place motor, uses a tapered drive wheel which is virtually impossible to obtain (I finally found a couple of NOS on eBay). The Reversew "Rex" also came with a tapered drive wheel, but as it too has a spring loaded motor, a straight one can be employed.
Hard as a rock 60+ year old straight drive wheel. Worked, but noisy.
New drive wheel in place. Somewhat quieter, definitely softer, not worn out!
The Kenmore has a much larger hand wheel than any of the Nationals - all other things being equal (which they never are), this should result in greater power availability at the needle.
This machine is now off to the woodworker friend to build a base for it before it goes to the homeless children's school. I have no definitive proof that this model wasn't ALWAYS supplied in a sewing table, never a portable base in spite of the machine pictured below.. If you know otherwise, please Contact Me.
Forward/Reverse escutcheon removed for cleaning and oiling. Totally dry!
Face plate assembly removed.
Rather unusual in that the needle and presser bars, and all their ancillary equipment,
come right off of the machine with the face plate! All totally dry!
Handwheel removed. Here the interior can partially be seen. All totally dry!
Handwheel partially reassembled. The fiber loop is intended to soak and hold oil
for the handwheel and its clutch. All totally dry!
The motor with its electrical connections. The motor has fibrous washers to hold
oil. You guessed it! All totally dry!
A couple of shots of the cleaned, and lubricated machine...
Even the lite bulb was good!
Winding a bobbin requires the source spool be placed on this lower spool pin.
Route the thread through the tension disks on the winder thread guide as shown.
The only tricky part - be sure the thread passes behind this tang, as shown.
Thread path from front. The tang can be seen here as well. Route thread through small hole
in bobbin until a few wraps are on - then the excess can be broken or cut off.
Top thread path. The best that I can tell from the rather inadequate manual, the thread simply
passes under all 3 sections of this topside "triple hook thingie".
Rather unusual front mounted tension/check spring assembly. Threads easily enough.
Then up to the takeup arm. Much to my annoyance, it isn't slotted like the Streamliner's is.
Sews very nicely!
As this machine was destined for school use, I labeled the oddball rotation.
Storing your friction drive sewing machine.
Machine in portable base. As these plastic bases were not yet made when these machines
were, it is obviously a replacement. It was also obviously made for a Kenmore machine
as it accomodates is large size, square corners, oddball hinge spacing and front screwdown.
What this doesn't tell us is if the pictured machine was originally supplied in a portable
base as new - such a base would have been wood. Picture provided courtesy of eBay seller "washisstuff".
Some people recommend storing any friction drive sewing machine that has a
spring loaded motor with a small wedge of wood behind the motor to give a small
gap between the drive wheel and the hand wheel so a flat spot won't develop.
Reversew "Rex" shown, but the principle applies to any friction drive machine
as long as it has a spring loaded motor.
Others recommend a bit of sponge or other soft spacer...
Here are 3 rather bad YouTube videos (but I repeat myself):
Startup and Run.
Threading and First Sewing.