TLC for Power Tools
Keep the Juice Flowing
Just like a car, your woodworking equipment will work better and last longer with regular maintenance. How often do you need to stop building projects and start cleaning your machinery? That depends on how much you use a given tool.
If you're a hobbyist who works in the shop now and then, set aside one Saturday every year for checking and cleaning tools. If you're running a tablesaw all day, every day, you should clean it every couple of weeks.
Here, we've laid out the essential maintenance steps for some common workshop equipment.
- Cords. Check for frayed spots; check plugs for burned prongs. If you find any flaws, replace the cord and plug.
- Brushes. These actually are solid blocks of carbon. Some are accessible beneath two screw-on covers on the motor housing; others require removal of the housing. Replace the brushes if you find rainbow colors on a spring, a collapsed spring-like the one being held above, or a broken copper lead inside a spring. Also replace any brush that's worn down near or past the limit mark on its side or shows signs of burning or chipping.
- Arcing. Peer through the vent slots while the motor is running. You should see small sparks at each brush. But if sparks trail around the motor, have the tool checked at a repair shop.
- Grounding. Touch a continuity tester from the grounding prong on the plug to any metal on the tool. A reading shows that the tool is safely grounded.
- Blow out dust from inside portable power tools by directing compressed air through the motor vents while the tool is running. Wear safety goggles, and don't use more than 50 pounds of pressure. Blast around drill chucks, too.
- Remove rust from metal work surfaces with degreaser or rust penetrant and an abrasive pad. To protect against further rusting, spray with TopCote, available at woodworking stores or from Klingspor's Sanding Catalogue, 800/228-0000, at a price of $9.95 for a 5.5-ounce can, item number BOS 1005. Allow the TopCote to dry to a haze, then wipe it off.
- Clean plastic parts with a damp cloth. Use water because chemical solvents can damage plastic.
- Tablesaw: Clean the moving parts with a stiff wire brush and citrus cleaner. Don't use water, which rusts cast iron. (Note: To get at all the key spots on a cabinet-style saw, you probably will have to remove the tabletop.)
- Saw blades: Spray them with oven cleaner, then buff them with a fine, knotted wire brush mounted in a drill.
- Router: Remove the collet, and clean its inside surface with a round, fine-bristle, brass brush. Clean the outside with steel wool or a nylon pad. Clean the subbase, and lubricate it with a Teflon lubricant or wax.
- Plunge router: Clean the plunge rods with a fine abrasive pad, and lubricate them with graphite or wax.
- Bandsaw: Clean off any sawdust that has packed between the blade and the tires, using a Scotch-Brite pad or a light wire brush. Replace the tires if they're cracked.
- Radial-arm saw: Clean the track and rollers with a rag dipped in a 50/50 mixture of ammonia and water. Then lubricate with WD-40, and wipe most of the oil off again. Also clean the column with a fine abrasive pad, spray it with WD-40, and wipe off.
Don't Hesitate, Lubricate
- Noisy gears or oil leaks behind the spindle indicate that the grease has broken down. Open the tool housing, and put a modest amount of medium-weight grease on the gears. Or, you might choose to take it to a tool repair shop.
- Gearbox oil reservoirs require frequent checks. Top them off with 90-weight oil. You'll find these on such tools as stationary planers and worm-drive saws.
- Sealed bearings on most newer power tools require no lubrication. However, some less-expensive tools have an oil hole that opens onto a sponge, which feeds oil to a brass or bronze bushing. Apply only a few drops of light oil in that case.
- Tablesaw: Apply white lithium grease or powdered graphite on worm gears, bevel gears, and trunnions.
- Belt sander: Spray white lithium grease on the needle bearings mounted on a shaft in the idler roller.
- Planer: Some bigger and older machines have drive chains. Remove the side cover, and oil the chain. Spray Teflon lubricant or graphite onto the jackscrews that raise and lower the table or cutterhead. If your model has oil cups on top of the table, apply a few drops of oil in those. Check the rollers for build-up. Clean metal rollers with solvent and a fine wire brush, and clean rubber rollers with a hand scraper.
- Drill press: Apply a Teflon lubricant or graphite to the height-adjustment rack.
See to Those V-Belts
- Cracks. If the machine vibrates as it shuts down, that could be a sign of belt problems. Check the belt, or belts, and replace any that are cracked. Always buy one of the same series and length. If the marking has worn off the old belt, take it to a supplier as a reference. You can find local belt suppliers under "Power Transmission Equipment" in the Yellow Pages of your telephone book.
- Tension. When you tap a belt with your hand, it should feel taut, not slack. If you push on it lightly, it should flex about 1/32" for every inch between the pulley centers. Adjust tension according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Performance. Spray a commercial belt dressing on the belt while the machine is running. This product reduces slippage and extends the life of the belt.
- Pulleys. Make sure they're aligned properly with one another and tight on their shafts. Use Loc-Tite, available at hardware stores, on the threads of set screws to keep them secure.