Rotary vs. Oscillating Hook Sewing Machines

Whether your shopping for a new sewing machine or just looking to better understand the one you have, it can be helpful to understand the differences in features and functionality between machines. One feature that plays a key role in how your sewing machine works is the hook system. This is the part of the machine that catches the thread as it is forced out of the needle to create a stitch. There are two main types of hooks, rotary and oscillating. Both hooks create lockstitch stitches, but they work differently and have a couple different considerations. Let’s take a closer look at these two systems.

Rotary Hook Machines

Rotary vs. Oscillating Hook Sewing Machines

Rotary Hook in the Sailrite Big-N-Tall. Shown without the bobbin.

A rotary hook machine, sometimes called a full rotary machine, is a machine in which the hook rotates in a full circle around a stationary bobbin. In this system, the shuttle hook catches the thread when the needle is going back up through the fabric and the hook then carries the thread around the bobbin cage to form the stitch, going all the way around the bobbin.

Rotary machines use a gear or timing belt linkage between the top and bottom shafts of the machine. To keep this function working properly, it must be set very precisely. This need for precision means that rotary hook sewing machines have tight thread tolerances. In other words, they work well with threads of specific, recommended sizes but can be unforgiving outside of their range. Additionally, small rotary hook machines tend to need their timing adjusted more frequently to maintain that precision.

A sewing machine with a rotary hook runs smoother at higher speeds (no vibrating), is quieter and has less frequent thread jams than machines with oscillating hooks. However, these machines are usually more expensive than oscillating hook machines. Rotary hooks are the standard choice for industrial sewing machines.

The Sailrite 111, the Sailrite Professional Series and the Sailrite Big-N-Tall are all full-sized, industrial machines with rotary hooks.

Oscillating Hook Machines

Rotary vs. Oscillating Hook Sewing Machines

Oscillating hook shown without the bobbin in the Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

Oscillating hook sewing machines have a hook that, instead of rotating in a full circle, oscillates back and forth. In this system, the hook picks up the upper thread from the needle and carries it down around the bottom of the bobbin cage. Once it has done this, the hook reverses its direction and returns to its original location.

Oscillating hook sewing machines have simpler mechanics and tend to be more affordable than rotary hook machines. They are also easier to time and maintain. Since oscillating hook machines have looser tolerances than the precise rotary hooks, oscillating hook machines can sew heavier threads in smaller machines. The drawbacks to oscillating hook machines are that they are louder and are generally not as fast.

Both of our Sailrite® Ultrafeed Sewing Machines have oscillating hooks.

Which Machine Do I Have?

If you’re looking at purchasing a new machine, the shuttle type is often listed in the machine’s specifications. If you’re unsure what type of hook your current machine has, there’s a simple way to tell. Remove the bobbin from your machine and turn the balance wheel by hand. Watch the motion of the hook. Does it make a full circle or does it change directions? If it changes direction, it’s an oscillating hook and if it stays on a full circular pattern it’s a rotary hook.


In general, oscillating hook machines offer more versatility with their looser thread tolerances. We find that they tend to be easier for amateurs to use because they are more forgiving to use and are easier to maintain because they require fewer adjustments. However, both types of machines will give you excellent stitches and performance. For many, the choice is preferential or driven by necessary features.

To learn more about the features of Sailrite’s rotary and oscillating hook sewing machines visit

  1. Rakesh said:

    Which is the best?

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Rakesh,
      Really there isn’t a “best” machine, it’s more about weighing which option will work best for you and your sewing. Rotary hooks are more precise, but oscillating hooks are more affordable and easier to maintain. So really it’s up to you!

  2. Most new sewers prefer a rotary hook because they are easier to access from the top if you are inexperienced. However, most people who have been sewing for many years prefer a vertical oscillating hook as they are easier to maintain, last longer and easier to use if you have great control over your machine, if you have those years of experience. Its a bit like new drivers liking an automatic, but real drivers consider a manual gives you complete control and flexability, not the machinery! Also, most industrial machine, that is ones that live in a factory, are completely different from domestic ones, that is why they have rotary hooks. The rotary hooks in domestic machines are not the same at all!

  3. Beckyjopdx said:

    Hey, Nikki, thanks for writing this up. Question – according to my Sincere’s service books, rotary machines don’t take AA needles… As I’m still quite a novice at repair, I haven’t picked up any rotary machines yet – not going to find those in thrift stores, lol. I generally find old, pre-1960s machines in bad shape to take apart and learn on. While some rotary machines take AA, it looks like most take a longer DD needle. Does that seem about right? I haven’t played on an industrial machine…I have a few friends that have them…I should ask what class needles they use…. What does the Sailrite rotary use? I’ve yanked a leather industrial needle out of one of my thrift store pick ups – an old Valiant Brother – someone jammed it in there pretty good. I *think* it was a GG because it was round, but again, I’ve just been doing this barely a year, so I’m still really new.

    I realize I’m finding this post ~3 years after the fact. My apologies.

    • Sailrite said:

      Hello Becky, I am not familiar with AA, DD, or GG needles, there is a very long history of needles and their naming conventions. If you have a pack of the needles you could take a picture of and send to me at I would be happy to look into it for you!

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