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 




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.