Dry Versus Oily Planter Chains
May 02, 2010
More and more farmers run roller chains on planters, balers, combines and other machinery "dry". One farmer commented after I recommended replacing all the major drive chains on his combine (a $400 expense), "For the mess it makes and the time it takes (to oil chains daily), I just replace the chains every year and don't worry about it."
I understand and appreciate his view. It certainly makes my job easier and less messy when I work on "dry" chains rather than dripping, oily chains. In some cases I actually advocate running chains dry, but in most cases chains work better and last longer if lubricated regularly.
In no particular order, here are some tips, opinions and ideas about roller chain maintenance:
-seed unit drive chains in planters can usually be run dry. They're low-speed chains that don't build heat and don't run under a lot of tension. Lubrication actually attracts dust and grit that forms an abrasive paste that may speed chain wear. Slow moving, dry chains seem to shed that dust/grit more easily. All bets are off if the planter sits out in the rain--dry chains rust five times faster than chains that have been kept even occasionally lubed.
-Any planter chain that has a kink or stiff spot in it should be replaced. Anybody who runs kinked chains with the attitude, "They'll loosen up after 10 or 15 acres," is harming his plant population and spacing.
-Soak all planter drive chains with clinging, foam-type chain lube prior to annual storage. If a planter has to set outside all year, either remove all chains and store indoors, or plan on replacing all chains annually.
-Round baler drive chains and chains on combines run at high speed and run hotter because of it. Those high-speed chains merit regular lubrication and benefit from it because they sling off excess lubrication and don't "attract" abrasive dust and grit. High-speed chains don't need to drip oil. As long as they're at least "moist" with an oily film, they're happy.
-Chains don't "stretch". Any "stretch" that develops over time in a roller chain is actually the total of fractions of an inch of wear between each of the rollers, sideplates and internal pins. Pins get smaller in diameter, sideplates wear thinner, rollers become narrower. Chains eventually break because their components wear too thin to withstand the load.
-Worn chains create worn sprockets. This can create significant problems on planters if sprocket teeth become so "hooked" that chain links jerk as they come off those hooked teeth. Any jerks or impacts in seeding mechanisms can create seeding skips or misplacement.
-Final opinion: Anybody who puts away a machine for the year with dry chains deserves the cost of replacing those chains.