In the Shop: School of Hard Knocks

March 8, 2014 04:15 AM
Dan Anderson close

Learning from my own mistakes has been a key element in my ongoing education as a mechanic. Such as …

It’s impossible to locate, connect and unroll a garden hose faster than a trash fire can develop under a combine or baler on which you’re welding or torching, so prep first.

  • If you tilt the tip of an acetylene cutting torch slightly toward the direction you’re cutting, it will preheat the metal and cut better than if you hold the tip at a right angle to the metal.
  • The wrench you lose or break in the morning is the wrench you’ll need that afternoon.
  • Cellphone transmission or recep­tion is not improved by yelling into the phone ... especially if you’re talking to your boss or spouse.
  • Sometimes the quick, magical but unexplainable fix for problems with GPS-based auto-steer, yield moni­tors and other high-tech computerized systems is to turn off the key, unplug the display or disconnect the batteries for 30 seconds. Don’t ask why it works; just be glad it often does.
  • If a hydraulic leak stops, it’s not because the leak magically fixed itself and everything is therefore OK. It’s because the leak emptied the hydraulic reservoir.
  • Welding rods have a "shelf life" if not protected from humidity. Welding rods with flux coatings that are degraded by moisture absorption might weld, but not nearly as well as fresh dry rods will.
  • Cellphones do not recover after being dropped into water, engine oil or antifreeze.
  • Grandpa was right: The correct way to pre-load a conventional wheel bearing is by tightening the bearing nut until the wheel "drags" when you spin it, back the nut off ‘til it’s loose, then hand-tighten before installing the cotter key.
  • Whenever it’s possible, buy battery-powered tools that use the batteries and battery chargers you already have.
  • Left-handed drill bits for removing broken bolts work like a miracle two out of three times.
  • Cellphones have an off switch.
  • It’s possible to overlubricate a bearing. Along with the risk of pushing out the seals, excess grease prevents grease from flowing around the bearing as it rotates, creates excess heat and shortens bearing life.
  • When welding in a crouched or sitting or position, be wary of folds or creases in your pants that will catch and hold globs of molten metal against treasured body parts.
  • Allen wrenches can be used on Torx-head screws or bolts just long enough to strip them out.
  • Slip clutches don’t lie.
  • Dried raccoon dung left on the exhaust manifolds of combine engines during storage can ignite and smolder.
  • Overtightening the lock collar on a bearing can crack the bearing’s inner race. A firm tap, maybe two taps at most, with a hammer and punch is all that’s needed to secure a bearing to a shaft.
  • Air tools require regular lubrication with air tool oil. Penetrating oil and generic lubricants found on farm shop work benches do not meet the standards of air tool oil.
  • When shutting off an acetylene torch, always close the acetylene valve on the torch handle first, then close the oxygen valve. That way, there won’t be residual acetylene left to backfire inside the tip.
  • When it’s time to replace an alternator, starter relay or other electrical component that is directly connected to the battery, disconnect the battery’s ground strap before disconnecting the component ... unless you like sparks.
  • Black hardware store metal plumbing fittings are not safe for agricultural hydraulic systems. They are for water systems and rated for 300 psi or less. Hydraulic fittings for agricultural use should be silver or slightly gold-colored, indicating that they are plated with zinc dichromate and are therefore designed for more high-pressure applications.
  • Never look at your thumb while you’re swinging a hammer.

Cool Tool

drill bits

If the only option to remove a broken bolt is to drill it out, left-handed drill bits often simplify and speed the job. The vibration and heat of drilling combined with the reverse-torque of the left-handed bit will usually spin out the broken bolt. Kits with both left-handed drill bits and fluted bolt extractors are $15 to $35.

An experienced farm mechanic by day, Dan Anderson’s practical shop tips, tricks and fixes are tested and true. Contact Dan:



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