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November 2012 Archive for In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

A Tip When Repairing U-Joints

Nov 27, 2012

 This tip comes from my friend Pat Fagen, owner of Axle Exchange/FastShafts in Des Moines.

Fagen says some sort of hydraulic or mechanical press must be used when repairing non-greasable universal joints. When assembling greasable u-joints, the kind with a grease zerk on the "cross" of the u-joint, it's fine to use a vise, a hammer and a socket of the proper size to compress the caps of the u-joint to fit inside their yoke(s).

But Fagen says the caps in non-greasable u-joints have a stiff neoprene disk that keeps the needle bearings in place as well as prevents the end of the cross from contacting the inside of the cap. He says you'll drive yourself nuts, or damage the u-joint, if you try to use a hammer to pound the cap(s) into place because the neoprene "bounces." He says to use a press to apply steady force to compress the neoprene disk and for proper assembly.

If you ever have opportunity to watch a professional driveshaft/u-joint installer rebuild a u-joint, do it. If you have to PAY for the opportunity, do it. Those guys know tricks that make rebuilding u-joints almost easy. It would take me 1,000 words to try and explain what they do in 30 seconds with a quick tap and a solid rap with a hammer, once they have things prepped and aligned. It's fun, and humbling, to watch a pro in action.

Before You Park It for the Year

Nov 19, 2012

 From my vantage point, farmers are a lot more concientious about cleaning up equipment before storing it for the winter than they used to be. I used to see combines parked in machine sheds that looked like they had loose straw stacked on their rear decks, and planters that had a couple bags of seed still in the seed hoppers. Today most machines in machine sheds have been blown off, washed up and lubed prior to storage.

But there are some areas that often get overlooked. On combines, rock traps are easily overlooked, as are sumps at the bottom of vertical unloading augers, clean grain elevators and tailings elevators. Since all those areas are "low points," any water from washing the machine, or any rain that fell on the machine during harvest, accumulates in those areas. If they aren't cleaned out, by next summer each area will be packed with a lovely mass of rotting grain, resting against the bearings and shafts at the bottom of those augers an elevators.

Planters have sat in the shed for several months by now, but if there's any seed left in hoppers or bins, it's an inviting target for mice and rats. When living was easy last summer, the varmints may have ignored that treated seed, but this winter when food is harder to come by, they'll be glad to set up housekeeping inside seed tubes or planter frame tubes. If they get bored, they're plenty of wiring harnesses routed through those areas that they can gnaw on for entertainment.

Sprayers don't have much attraction for varmints, and by nature don't acquire much crop debris, but the very chemicals they deliver can harm them during storage. It's a no-brainer to drain the spray system AND flush it with RV antifreeze. Sprayer manufacturers say that it's best to flush with antifreeze because merely draining risks "missing" low points in valves or controls that will then freeze and damage the component. In most cases, manufacturers also prefer to have spray pumps and valves stored "wet"--as in, with liquid in them--to keep seals from drying out.

Tractors benefit from a good cleaning before storage, and any self-propelled machine benefits from some sort of plan to keep batteries charged. Whenever a battery's internal voltage falls below 12.6 volts it's possible for sulfation to begin. The best way to keep batteries at optimum charge is to hook them up to small, computerized "float chargers" or "battery maintainers" that constantly monitor batteries and keep them properly charged. These little gizmos aren't extremely pricey--from $15 to $50, depending on the size of the battery to be maintained, but when you compare the one-time price of a maintainer that will last many years to the $200 price of a large battery that was allowed to discharge and fail...

Don't forget to prep your summer toys for winter storage. Motorcycle batteries, motorcycle cooling systems, boat starting batteries, boat trolling motor batteries, boat bilge pumps, boat live well pumps--they all benefit from a little preventive maintenance. 

Storing Hydraulic Cylinders Outside

Nov 15, 2012

 A lot of large field cultivators, disks and other tillage equipment get stored outdoors. Those implements have three, four or up to six big hydraulic cylinders that are money-makers for equipment dealerships.

That's because each spring we rebuild a number of big, expensive hydraulic cylinders that were stored outdoors with their shafts fully extended. Their chrome finishes withstood the first few years of weathering, but even the thickest chrome eventually succumbs to the elements. Once the surface of a chromed shaft starts to pit due to corrosion--even tiny pits you can barely feel with a fingernail---those irregularities snag on the rubber seals of the cylinder's end cap as the cylinder is extended and retracted during field use, and it's only a matter of time before the seals are leaking. The expense of repairs is multiplied because it's useless to simply replace the seals if the same corroded shaft will be gnawing at them every time the cylinder extends and retracts. 

If an implement has to be stored outside, try to fold or unfold it so its hydraulic cylinders are retracted. If the geometry of the machine is such that some cylinders must be left with their shafts exposed to the elements, Grandpa's old trick for storing moldboard plows isn't a bad idea---coat the chromed shaft with the heaviest, stickiest grease you've got in your shop. The grease will squeegee off next year the first time you use the machine, and the chromed shafts will be shiny and smooth.

When In Doubt, Act Like You Know What You're Doing

Nov 07, 2012

 Today I was taking apart an assembly that I'd never taken apart before. The design was new to me, the parts fit together so tightly so I couldn't quite see how it should come apart, and the tech manual's detailed instructions said, "Remove snap ring, remove bearing, press out shaft. Reassemble."

(Somewhere, the engineer who wrote that tech manual is snickering to himself.)

I did some preliminary tapping with a hammer, then escalated to outright pounding, just in case the parts needed extra encouragement. Still no luck. I corralled another mechanic to offer his opinion on how to disassemble it in a "professional" manner, and after careful examination he slapped me on the back and said, "Let me know how it works out for you!"

As he walked away he offered some sage advice: "Do it like you were in the field with the farmer looking over your shoulder."

In that case, I might admit to the customer I was in unfamiliar territory, but I'd grimly attack the problem until things were in pieces, because I never want a customer to feel like he's paying for a mechanic who doesn't know what he's doing. I've learned that if I act confident, the customer has confidence in me. So I attacked the situation with "confidence", and eventually reduced the assembly to its elemental components. In the end, even though I had to resort to a torch, an air hammer and a BIG sledge hammer, the only casualty was to a 50 cent snap ring, so I guess the operation was a success.

Sometimes confidence when making repairs comes from knowing what you're doing. Sometimes that confidence comes from grim determination that you're not going to be defeated. Discouraged, disgusted, annoyed, angered and perhaps temporarily stymied, but never defeated.  

Help For The Dead Battery Blues

Nov 01, 2012

 One of the best purchases I've made in recent years was to buy a battery booster pack for my home garage. Folks call them by different names---jumper packs, battery boosters, booster packs--but the concept is the same: they're a specially designed rechargeable battery in a case with an easy-carry handle and built-in jumper cables. Hidden in the easy-carry case are microprocessors and other electronic circuitry that makes the rechargeable battery work perfectly to jump-start cars, trucks and tractors with dead batteries.

The great thing about booster packs is that they're "smart" enough that you can leave them plugged into a wall outlet all winter so they're always fully charged. Disconnect the plug from the wall outlet and you're ready to jump-start any vehicle. Instead of having to drag an extension cord to power a 115-volt battery charger, or find another vehicle so you can use jumper cables to jump-start the dead batteries, you just carry the booster pack to the dead horse, hook up the two battery cables that are built into the booster pack, and you're ready to "jump" the dead battery.

My little booster pack weighs about 10 pounds and easily starts a car or pickup truck. As long as you don't crank on it for a long time, it will start two, three, maybe four vehicles before it needs to be recharged. It cost around $55. At the dealership we use a heavy-duty booster pack designed for starting big diesel engines. It's heavier, around 40 pounds, but its carrying handle makes it easy to lug up and down steps and ladders on combines and tractors. If it's -20 degrees and a tractor's batteries are stone-dead, it might not get the job done, but if a tractor's batteries have ANY power left, that heavy duty booster pack will generally provide the extra "oomph" to start even the biggest 4WD tractors on sub-zero days.

When you shop for a battery booster--and you should if you don't already have one--look for long cables with insulation that will stay flexible in cold weather, cable clamps that are easy to operate with gloved hands, and then match the amp-capacity to the biggest batteries you anticipate jump-starting with the unit. Like I said, the little unit that I keep in my garage was around $55, while the heavy duty unit at the dealership was more in the $200 range. 

After spending a lot of years dragging electrical extension cords to the back corners of machine sheds so I could use a 115-volt battery charger, or having to figure out how to get a pickup or another tractor close enough so my jumper cables would reach--a battery booster is worth every penny on those cold mornings when you really don't need any extra frustration.

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