In the Shop
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.
Minimize Brake Bleeding
Mar 07, 2010
For many years I thought I was the only mechanic who took a deep breath whenever he had to approach brake work. I've discovered that I'm not alone. For as simple as brake work appears, it's not. And because you're often working with various springs and components in relatively small areas, it's often a knuckle-busting process that gives "bleeding" multiple meanings. Here are a few tools and tips that can minimize both kinds of bleeding problems:
-I've spent a lot of time stretching, pulling and compressing springs during repairs to drum brakes. For years I did it with pllers, Vise-Grips, pry bars, screw drivers and even bare fingers. I finally spent $25 to $50 and bought an assortment of brake spring pliers and compressors. They come in various sizes, work great, and I was stupid to waste so much time and knuckle-skin trying to mess with springs without the proper tools. Visit your local NAPA or auto parts store, buy brake spring pliers and compressors, and you'll never regret the purchase.
-I confess to doing all sorts of ugly things to push disk brake pads back into their holders so they could be removed. Pry bars, big screwdrivers, wedges of wood---I'm not proud of the things I've done. There are special tools that easily and quickly press disk brake pads into their holders. They're worth having and they aren't especially expensive. Just be careful, no matter how you push those pads back, that you do it steadily and slowly. Brake manufacturers have warned me that if you force those pads too hard and fast, it's possible to turn inside-out seals inside the master cylinder. I've never seen it happen, but...they tell me it's possible.
-Speaking of disk brakes and other modern braking systems: BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN WORKING ON ABS (anti-lock braking systems). Some of those systems operate at extremely high internal pressures. It's fine to do "external" work like replacing pads or rotors, but if work is needed to the master cylinder, slave cylinders or the actual ABS components---be sure you know what you're doing, or don't do it at all.
-If you're working alone on old-school drum brakes and need to bleed the system or individual wheel cylinders, consider a brake bleeder tool. There are various kinds at various prices, but they allow a lone mechanic to bleed brakes without the constant battle to keep air out of the system.
-Final tool, and an essential one: dust mask. Or at least your handkerchief tied over your nose and mouth. Some brake shoes/pads contain asbestos, and even the ones that are asbestos-free produce dust that's not healthy to breath. Even if you only do brakes once or twice a year, take time to be safe when you first remove the brakes and especially if you use compressed air to blow brake dust out of the drum and shoes.