Sunday, December 2, 2018

Making tools on the fly

When working with vintage fixtures it is not uncommon to come to an impasse. Not everything that is joined will readily or intuitively separate. Not everything even has wrench facets. I don't typically send joined parts to the plater though so if the client wants them plated they must be disassembled.

I'm not impetuous by nature. I read instructions, I research, I study the problem and even sleep on it at times. I will usually find a way to get where I want to go while doing no harm.

I didn't take a before photo so the after photo will have to do to show the entire assembly. 
There are six parts that make up this vintage shower body spray. 
The base, threaded into the base is the ball, holding the ball to the spray head is the nut, the spray head, the striated ring holds the perforated faceplate to the spray head, and the sixth part is the face plate. 
Notice the wrench scars on the base from the pipe wrench that was used to remove the unit on the job. 


There are nine body sprays in the shower, here they are during assembly.
Some are still wet from testing. 
There are about sixty holes in each face plate. The holes are about thirty thousandths of an inch large. 
My dad would call that the thickness of a matchbook cover.  


The ball and nut must be removed from the base but the base has two female threads and there are no wrench facets. 
There is no way I am going to add to the wrench scars, forget that. 
I thought about this for twenty or thirty minutes. 
Nipple extractors are made to fit the ID of a pipe nipple, 
how do you address the ID of a female thread without harming it?


Eventually I decided to create a locking shim. 
Here is a 3/8" long section of 1/2" brass nipple thread, I cut a slot in it and filed the slot with a fine file.
The idea is that it will receive the nipple extractor and expand as the extractor forces it. 
As it expands it will lock to the female thread.
When the extractor is removed it will unlock. 


Some of the bases left the original galvanized nipple in the wall, the rest came to me with the nipples still in them. 
The nipple joined to this base is held firmly in the vise. Note my extractor shim between the tool and the fitting. 

Look again at this photo, There is the same shim being used to back hold the base so that the ball may be removed. 
The extractor going into the ball is clear of the balls opening, it reaches into the male thread of the ball. 
This must be or the extractor could distort the shape of the ball. 


Next challenge. 
The fine holes in the face plate create pressure in the spray head. 
The seal at the threaded ring must fit tightly to the new gasket that I cut from stock.  
I need to hold the spray head firmly in the vice without hurting the thread or changing it's shape. 
The nut thread on the spray head is 14 threads per inch. An 1-1/4" slip joint nut is the right size but has 12 threads per inch. 
Back around 1910 many p-traps were made that had proprietary thread counts. 
Going through my stock of parts I found one that was cut 14 threads per inch. 
Using the same theory as with the shim I cut and filed it. 
It threads onto the spray head's thread and the vice locks it into place. 
Once out of the vice the nut removes by hand. 
On and off by hand. 
This custom tool will go with the returning body sprays along with reference to this page. 
The nipple shim can be made by anyone in a few minutes

My Allpax brand gasket cutter did a nice job of cutting the 1/16" thick "cloth insert rubber" stock I used to seal the face plates to the spray heads. 


The same C I rubber made a good gripping sheet to tighten the rings. 





Here's another trick. 
When using a threaded nipple in the vice to hold the base in place so that the nut and ball may be threaded onto the base, first thread a 1/2" shank nut onto the nipple. Run it on far enough to keep it out of the way and then turn the female base thread onto the nipple hand tight. Next turn the shank nut back toward the base thread and wrench tighten. 
This creates the classic double nut lock. Loosen the shank nut away from the base and all comes back apart by hand.    

Nine body spray assemblies. Each one was hand made. 
All parts except the bases and the face plates were number stamped. 
All numbers were preserved during plating and all sets were joined in number matching order. 
This is set number 53 

53



53


53

How did I tighten the ball into the bases? 
The extractor turns only to loosen. 
The spray body threads to the nut and ball metal on metal. 
This creates enough friction to allow the spray body to be strap wrenched. 
The ball and spray body are a near perfect fit to each other when the numbers match. 

Pipe thread seal AND Teflon tape. 
Note the gasket in the ball nut to the left of the ball.
It is an 1-3/8" slip joint washer. 
It goes into the nut before the ball. 


  

The gasket I'm using to seal the joint of the ball and spray body is a medium thickness 
1-1/4" slip joint washer. Some of the balls came with wrench scars on them so I do not trust them to seal metal on metal as they were intended. 
Besides that there is friction instead of smoothness in the movement of the spray body when assembled metal on metal to the ball. 


All of this is the typical problem solving that occurs when something new and different is on my bench. So much of the work is unique and challenging. 
This is the first time that I have needed the C I rubber by the sheet and I will be ordering a sheet of the 1/8" thickness to complement the 1/16" I used this time. 
The black 1-1/4" slip joint washers scattered in the photos proved to be too thick for this project.  
The torch striker is present because the propane torch was used to help free the balls from the basses. 
For parts that have been frozen in place by time heat can lessen the amount of force required to break them loose. 
The strap wrench is never far from reach. 
In a few of the photos aspects of my hundred year old smooth jaw adjustable wrench can be seen. That tool is about ten inches long yet an 18" crescent wrench probably doesn't open as far. It handily spanned the ball nuts yet is short and light enough to allow the feel I need to do this work. In all fairness there are modern smooth jaw wrenches but I have several of the old timers and they are all in good condition.  



Saturday, November 24, 2018

Porcelain Repair.

From time to time I find myself with a piece of broken vintage porcelain. Most often this is the result of poor packaging or handling during shipping. As often as I am able to, I replace such pieces with salvage parts that are intact but one cannot always find alternate parts. It is especially difficult to find parts from the better manufacturers like J.L. Mott and Ludwig Wolff.  When it comes down to a repaired part or nothing, I opt for repair.  Last week I had to make such a repair and I took the time to take some photos so I could share my technique with you.

This broken part belongs with a large order I am processing. All of it is J.L. Mott. One of the distinctive characteristics of Mott faucets is the porcelain cross handle with the nickel plated brass center. The handle has four porcelain tips and a porcelain index button. Several manufacturers used porcelain index buttons and not surprisingly they are for the most part not interchangeable.



Certain index buttons such as this one marked Waste are less common than Hots and Colds. 
Very difficult to find are buttons that read Spray. 
Under the index button is the screw that is used to set the handle on the stem and the button is held in place by the brass threaded ring that fastens to the threaded raised ring in the top of the handle. 
The repaired index has already gone to the client at this point but I have this photo to show an intact handle

A few years ago, when I made my first such repair, I realized that I could not get a good result with clear epoxy. Clear calk and clear epoxy show the darkness that is on the other side of the joint. For instance, when one sets a cast iron kitchen sink with clear calk the darkness of the closed cabinet shows through and makes the calk look black. Likewise, clear epoxy repairs will always look dark. This dark line in the repair highlights the repair and robs some of the intended grace of the presence of the fixture. It is better to have a repair that is too white and let it darken than to have it start off quite dark. A little research on the internet lead me to products intended to tint epoxy.

This is my regular 30 minute epoxy with my hobby shop's logo on it. 
The white color pigment is made to compliment epoxy.  


The epoxy of course must be mixed in equal parts, the pigment does not have to be equal to either or both. 






















In this case I used a piece of heavy paper when I made my repair. 
It will keep my table clean of epoxy and form a permanent backing for the repaired part. 
Later I will trim the paper with a light grade sanding block stroked across the back edge of the part. 
Fortunately no small chips of porcelain were lost and this repair was quite successful.  


While I had my epoxy mixed I thought I would make this second repair. 
There was some very minimal material loss at the fracture and at that point I did not 
wipe my excess epoxy fully away. 
























When your epoxy is properly mixed the parts will not readily separate. I have sent such repaired parts to be plated and they came back intact.






In a side note, There are times when I am faced with this problem. These are also J.L. Mott. The original porcelain tips were set with plaster of paris, as were all brass and porcelain handles of the time. When the tips break away there are no available replacements.

I am currently in the process of creating such tips as replacements so that these handles can be complete and intact once more. The first such tips I will be reproducing are for L.Wolff tub valve handles and lavatory faucet handles. I will be showcasing them on my main website when they are ready and available.





















Sunday, October 14, 2018

First do no harm


One of the things plumbers are sometimes called upon to do is remove tub drain assemblies, a waste and overflow is what it is called. The hard part of that task is to remove the drain strainer, especially if it has been in place for several decades. It is notoriously difficult to do and often the strainer is destroyed in the process. If the parts are being removed for replacement the important thing is to not damage the tub but what if the parts are being removed in order to restore them?

There are two types of modern tub drain strainers, those with a cross bar and those without a cross bar. The latter of the two has no cross bar to allow a pop-up plunger to be used, much the same way as a lavatory pop-up. These two variations have been used all the way back to the early mid-century. There are a host of tools designed to help in the removal of tub strainers and still it is not uncommon for them to be removed with a saw.

Tub drain strainers before the mid-century going back to the Victorian period can present an entirely different problem. Yes they are as frozen in place as later versions but many times there are no tools for the task of removing them. Many of them are not just old and part of assemblies that are to be restored, they are beautifully ornate as well.
This beautiful strainer, circa 1900, fared well, coming away from removal nicely intact.
This is the two part style. The top has a female thread that fits to the male thread of the flange. 
It typically requires a propane torch flame to induce them to separate.   

This one part strainer was not so lucky. 
I was not able to reshape it and it was replaced. 



Here is another two part, I was able to straighten the minor damage to the spokes of the strainer but the drain boot was too mangled by the force required to remove it. I was able to find another.  

In many cases I make installation wrenches from plastic pipe or fittings. This custom cut wrench will not scratch the new polished nickel and is strong enough to compress the new gasket. 
A hole through the top of the tube allows a bar to be passed through for a handle. 

Last week I was told that I will be receiving a vintage standing waste for restoration. I have seen this tub and waste and know that the strainer is vulnerable to damage when removed. It may take considerable force to unthread it from the boot below the tub. As it so happens I have a strainer here that is the same size and pattern so I decided to fabricate a removal tool. It will probably take more force than a plastic wrench will tolerate so I needed to make my tool out of steel.

I put a lot of thought into it but didn't decide upon a design until about four days go. I woke early and designed it with my eyes closed and my head on the pillow. Today I finished it, it isn't exactly what I envisioned but it's close.

This is a one part strainer made by "Standard Sanitary" about 1910, before the merger with "American Radiator". 
It is the motif I copied when I made the drain strainer for the Victorian railway car basin, see my blog post from  March 25th 2016.  

Making my custom tool was a lot of work. I started with a piece of 1/4" steel plate and selected a hole saw that is slightly smaller than the strainer top. With the steel clamped to the drill press table I cut my disc from the plate.  Once I had my disc I marked it using the vintage strainer as a template. I drilled my six holes in two steps to help me stay on center, the center hole I had from the hole saw.
The target hole size was to allow 7/18ths" bolts to pass through. The heads had to be removed as the holes are too close to allow them. I selected small brass washers and threaded them to 7/16" x 20 thread per inch. They are the stops that lock the headless bolts on the forward side of the plate. I needed nuts on the other side but again the nuts wouldn't fit that closely together any more that the bolt heads would. 3/8" nuts would fit and I needed tall coupling nuts that would penetrate the ratchet socket I planned to use to turn my tool. I drilled and retapped  my coupling nuts from 3/8" x 16 to 7/16" x 20. When it all fit together the nuts made a circle of six, six sided nuts with six outside faces. A center nut bolted through the center hole holds the outside ring true and gives resistance against the force of the socket.



Note how large the bolts look inside of the formerly 3/8" nuts. 
That is a 3/4" drive socket which will take a seriously large wrench. 
This custom tub strainer wrench is ready for work. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Only fifty pounds

I could bring fifty pounds and no more. I was going to be flown from Portland Oregon to Pendleton Oregon, a distance of 210 miles, to work on a vintage ribcage shower. I was returning the same day, which was not a problem. The problem was being limited to fifty pounds of tools and repair kits to work on an ornate fixture I had only seen photographs of. I wasn't even sure of the manufacturer of the shower valving.

What do I select to bring? What can I afford to leave behind? I'm accustomed to driving a ten foot cube van stocked with repair kits that range from ten years old to older than me. The same may be said about my hand tools. Hardly any of it is light and altogether it requires a one ton truck just to haul it around. Removing something from the truck in order to streamline the operation is a sure way to find yourself missing it sooner than later. One thing was certain, I wouldn't be carrying anything for myself or my comfort, Those fifty allowed pounds were reserved for tools and parts.

In February of 2017 I was contacted by the owner/operator of The Pendleton House, a bed and breakfast set up in a 1917 Italian Renaissance style home in the town of Pendleton Oregon.

   https://www.pendletonhousebnb.com/

There is a walk-in tile shower in the house that is equipped with a full ribcage shower arrangement. The handles were not original, the main valves were not original, and the control valves were not functioning optimally. We texted back and forth, I looked at the photos he sent and gave him my opinion of what he had and what I might be able to do to help. That was as far as it went at that time and in the course of answering emails and running my restoration business I forgot about it.

In July of 2018 he contacted me again and we had another conversation about his ribcage shower. He told me that he was prepared to pay for my airfare if I would agree to come out and spend the day doing whatever I could to solve some of the problems with the old fixture. I figured I could do something to help and if nothing else, form a strategy for the needed repairs. We agreed upon a day and he emailed my boarding pass to me.

Years ago my wife Sandy and I speculated and rather joked about the possibility of me flying off to other places to work on vintage fixtures. I still maintain one of my tenet workplace philosophies, "The diligent worker should make himself indispensable on the job." I am well accustomed to being one of only a few sources of help when it comes to preserving and restoring vintage plumbing fixtures. Now though, someone actually wanted me to get on a plain and travel to work on a fixture.

The boarding pass was for Boutique Air and I would be flying in an eight passenger turboprop out of their own small terminal at PDX.  And of course I was only allowed to bring a total of fifty pounds of carry on.

   https://www.boutiqueair.com/
Duck your head to get into this sweetheart, stay ducked down until you sit in your seat as well. 


There was a strong possibility that I would need to reseat at least one valve so my full reseating kit and a selection of bronze faucet seats had to go with me. Unfortunately that already had me over twenty pounds. Certain parts assortments like cap gaskets and bibb washers had to be included as well as thread seal and Teflon tape. I included a decent four way screwdriver and flat jawed wrenches of various sizes. I had already supplemented my reseating kit with an assortment of seat wrenches.
I brought no pliers, nor did I bring a tape measure of flashlight.

Once I had found a box strong enough to carry my equipment the loaded box, including foam to keep kits from tossing around in the box, weighed in at forty five pounds. I used two crossed cargo straps instead of tape to be certain the box would stay closed and because the straps made good handles to lift the box by. At the terminal they weighed my box in at forty nine pounds.

Returning at the end of the day I was over weight, carrying a tip from the client, a fifth of Pendleton Whisky. How the day went is another story.
Feeling great at the end of an interesting day. 


 




















Sunday, November 12, 2017

Far Afield




A while back I received an email asking for help with a constant leak. As usual I asked for photos. When they arrived in my email I opened the file to see a Speakman wall mount single handle shower valve with a leaking cold water supply line.The client had done a routine washer change on the inline shower control valve, not the main shower valve, and the leak had begun as a result of that work. 
I'll use my photo instead of the emailed photo.



















The valve was in Spokane Oregon, some 350 miles from where I live near Portland Oregon.
A few emails back and fourth let me know that the local plumber, who would work on older units, had done what he was willing to attempt to stop the leak. He wrote a note for me, a description of the work and the problem as he saw it and that description was attached to one of the client's emails. In it he recommended that the unit should probably be removed and replaced. He ended his missive to me with the comment that "there is no magic". 

The way the work was described to me made me believe that only the cold supply leg had been removed as part of the repair and that that supply had been difficult to put back into place. I thought that was strange because the difficulty of putting the cold supply back into its place would obviously be alleviated by removing the hot supply also and then fitting them both back as partners. That, I thought, was the logical approach. Still, I didn't press that issue with the local plumber. I figured he was done with it. I kept coming back to the comment, "There is no magic".

The leak was at the lower union face and perhaps the threaded nipple of the cold supply. The description I had put doubt in my mind as to the condition of the union, the union nut, and the nipple between the union and the supply elbow under the lower union. I have a slightly later version of the same valve and pulled its supply union apart to see if the union was intended to be gasketed or ungasketed. I believed that my valve, if really needed, could supply union parts for the yet in use valve in Spokane. Clearly the union was to be gasketed. I also knew from the emails that a fair amount of teflon tape had been applied during the repair attempt. I am not a great believer in teflon tape.

The task looked both relatively easy and potentially vary challenging. It was not something I could try to walk the home owner through. Neither did I want to try to co-work with he local plumber over the phone or worse, by email. With all of these thoughts and doubts in mind, with the job being reasonably within driving distance, and with the epitaph "No Magic" challenging me I proposed to go to Spokane to correct the problem. The deal was that if I couldn't make the repair I would get the Speakman valve for my trouble but no other charge.

It took a few weeks to match our schedules and I departed Portland ten AM  on a Monday for what was to be a five hour thirty minute drive. With stops and a meal it was more like seven hours. My wife was riding shotgun on this trip, that was a good thing. Besides, she takes the photos.
The Columbia river gorge I-84 East before noon.


US 395 North

US 395 North North and getting late.


Things are different in Oregon and Washington.

It was dark and freezing out by the time we arrived. I was nervous about black ice and didn't trust anything on the road to be water if it looked wet. We had had a delay due to unexpected truck maintenance and in the interim daylight savings had robbed us of an hour of daylight for traveling. The forecast included the potential for snow on top of that.

It had been suggested that we spend the night in the guest room. It is a large lovely home circa  1912. Introductions were made and we brought in our overnight bags. After that though I wanted top see the job. It was in my mind to do the work that evening so I could rest easy that night. Dinner was cooking but water was drawn and the house water was turned off and drained down. I had my tools in the master bath by then and a large canvas drop cloth in the earthenware tub.
I start right in. I hardly ever remember to get before photos. This time though I had my wife on duty with her camera.

The standing waste is a Hoffman & Billings.I had rebuilt the valves a few years prior via shipment as per normal.  


The valve at the top left is the unit that had been repaired by the client. Pause for a photo. All business.
Teflon tape. That's got to go and there has to be some cleaning before anything else.


A brass bristle brush and a little pocketknife edge to clean away new teflon and old debris.


It took a while to get all of the teflon out of the threads of the union nut. Teflon can be a problem when it gets between the brass and the compression washer. When such a washer is used it is considered a face seal and nothing but the brass and the washer make the seal. Anything else, like teflon tape or thread seal, is not desired.


Clean and dry first.



Fitting the supply leg back the first time I can see there will be a problem. There is no room for gaskets and the lower union joint is slightly off angle.
When I saw that the cold side supply would barely fit back into place with no face gaskets at all I knew I had been right. The hot side would certainly need to come away as well. That would mean only the two brass screws at the shower arm would be holding the entire unit in place though so it was time for four hands. For a moment I became the photographer.
My wife is a better helper than I am a photographer.
The hot side had two matching fiber washers, one at each union. I had brought several fiber washer assortments plus my gasket cutting tool and two thicknesses of fiber gasket sheet goods. I had to make room for washers on the cold side so the hot side was going to need thicker washers. Each original washer was about 50 thousandths of an inch thick, I was going to double that. That made room for washers on the cold side but there was the other problem still to deal with. The brass faces on the cold side were not flush. This was caused by two things, the original installation was not perfect and the lower cold union tail had been removed and set back into place but not as tightly as formerly. It was ever so much higher than I wanted it and I tightened it a little but was shy of really turning it down hard. I did some trial and error. I had the house water on and off again with each trial. Finally it struck me what I had to do. I selected a fresh gasket from the kit I was drawing from and took up a semi coarse bastard file. I then began to thin the gasket on only one side, from twelve to six on the clock face and then working back slowly toward three but taking nothing away at three. I needed a wedge shaped gasket and I was hand tooling one in the palm of my hand with dinner cooking while sitting on the side of the tub.

One last time we turned the house water on and this time there was only a slight moistness where the leak had been persisting before. The fiber washer was wet and would swell with the water so I drew down on the joint with my flat face wrench, tightening it just a bit more and wiped the brass dry. Finally it remained dry.

There had been some leaking at the stem of the inline valve above so with the main problem solved I thought I would take care of the other leak as well. I removed the set screw and removed the handle of the valve. Then I removed the packing nut and cleaned it. It had some of my own packing string in it that I had sent with the standing waste valves a few years before. I took a fresh package out of my tool tote and repacked the valve stem.
Always a flat jaw wrench. I never even noticed the wash cloth until later, single minded as ever. Finding the work in my trifocals.

I have been making my own packing string for years, I even tried to market it once.

Dinner was served. What I had tried to do in thirty minutes turned out to be somewhat harder, it took an hour. I checked it again after dinner and it remained dry so I enjoyed the balance of the evening and slept well that night.

I have been turning wrenches sense I was twelve, I am sixty seven now. What I can't get I make or have made. What I can't do, well frankly I don't tend to think in those terms. Is it magic? No, it is positive thinking, a lifetime of problem solving, and a deep knowledge of materials. It kind of looks like magic though.