Updated: Dec 27, 2019
"The 'Solution' for Y Block Hardware"
Throughout this month I plan to post a few articles that I have written for the Y Block Magazine. Over the past several years, helpful technical information I have submitted has been published by Bruce Young the editor. If you are interested in subscribing, you can find out more by visiting this link: http://www.y-blocksforever.com/Links.html. Towards the bottom of that page there is a link with which you can contact the magazine.
If you are rebuilding a Y block then you know how valuable all of the nuts, bolts, washers, and miscellaneous hardware can be. Granted, Y block bits and pieces are all SAE so the standard bolt and thread sizes can be found at your local hardware store. However, there are a few pieces that are specific to the Y block that just cannot be found anywhere else. Take for example that pesky power steering shoulder bolt that attaches to your water pump; it cannot be found just anywhere, and when you do find someone who reproduces it, they want enough money to finance their own Y block rebuild. How about that small distributor keeper? The intake manifold studs and washers? I have never made a list that pertains only to the Y block, but you may have a few other small items in mind.
And there exists a second reason – expense! Have you gone down to the local hardware store lately to find out how much replacing all of the nuts and bolts on your Y block will run you? No, I am not talking about those “grade 1” bolts that you can bend with your fingers and have a torque value of 10 foot pounds before the heads break off! Quality hardware costs good money, and I do not recommend that you cheap out on your build. You are going to spend quite a few bucks on the machine work alone. Good money can be saved on reusable hardware from your original block or from another core.
I would imagine that the subscribers of this great magazine have a number of Y blocks lying around the shop or have disassembled several cores over the years to find exactly the heads or crankshaft you were looking to put into your next engine. Over the past two decades, I have amassed hundreds upon hundreds of nuts, bolts, washers, doo-dad’s, whatchamacallit’s, and everything other small metal object that Ford installed on their engines when they left the factory. I saved everything that looked even remotely re-usable. Any time that I needed a piece of hardware, I had to go through an unorganized, greasy, road grimy, rusty pile of small metal parts with no organization and nothing in the boxes ready to be installed. Frankly, I got tired of taking the doo-dad’s out, putting a couple in my parts cleaner tank and going over those tiny threads by hand, one piece at a time.
I fixed the organizational thing by purchasing some bins and containers that are easily accessed near my workbench. However, the tedious work of cleaning and de-rusting those parts remained. A friend of mine suggest an ultrasonic cleaner that uses a water-based solution and made mention of the fact that even Jay Leno has gone this route in his garage, albeit a very large machine that is way out of my budget. After some searching and shopping I found one for sale at Harbor Freight and hesitantly, faithlessly, purchased the unit.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I said.
The Ultrasonic Cleaner features a 2.5 quart tank, heating unit, and several time cycle options. I decided to use a solution of 50% water and 50% Awesome cleaner (found at your local Dollar Tree… yep, that’s right – it’s one dollar!) for the first run just to see what it would do. I knew it was the cheapest stuff I could use and if it did not work I would just go to the next step of Purple Power Degreaser or something similar. For the first run I poured the Awesome into the tank and met the same amount with lukewarm water. I turned on the tank heater and waited about 5 minutes for the unit to reach 125 degrees.
You can see in the photo that there is a clear plastic sight window on the lid so that you can watch the parts being cleaned. This may work for cleaning your wife’s jewelry, but you can forget the sight window once your greasy parts are immersed and the unit is on! They get buried in the depths of Loch Ness…
The Chicago Electric machine comes with a plastic tray that sits in the bottom of the unit while the parts are being cleaned. This makes pulling the small items out of the tank very easy. It did not have any handles for the tray so I fashioned two of my own using some lengths of bailing wire. It is my understanding that it is important that the user not allow any metal objects to rest on the bottom of the tank without the tray because damage to the transducers (the devices attached to the exterior of the tank that create the sound frequencies that clean the parts) may result.
Next, I dug into one of the boxes and pulled out two handfuls of hardware, about 35-40 pieces in all, ranging from ¼” to 5 inches long.
No pre-wipe, no dusting, no pre-soak, nothing was done to the hardware, just simply place them in the tank as is. (The solution may work better and longer for more batches if I did something to prepare the pieces from the loose stuff, but I wanted to put the machine through its paces for the first round of the bout.) I put the machine on an 8 minute cycle and checked the results… The solution had turned black as night, and most of the parts were already clean – especially the threads on the nuts and bolts. I put the tray of parts back in and did one more cycle of 8 minutes. The results amazed me.
A pile of clean hardware – and what grime remained basically just rinsed off in a tub of water. I set all of the items on a couple of old towels and let them air dry. Immediately I could see that past the grime more rust had shown up on some of the pieces - which brought me to the next step… Rust Removal!
For several years, I have been using a little basket to hold small parts like these in my bead blasting cabinet. The pressure from the air can send those small parts all over the place. At times, I would hold a bolt in my hand and blast it with the other hand holding the gun. Other times I would zip tie the bolt or hardware to something else so it would not blow away. Then I had a crazy idea. How about a cricket bait tube located on the fishing aisle of most large department stores or sporting goods stores? It is made of wire mesh with a cap on each end. Feed the parts into one of the tube, close the cap, and now you have something you can hold in your hand while you blast through the mesh.
The tube can be “rolled” in your hand while you blast so that you can see everything. Now why didn’t I think of this before? The results are very satisfying and everything in the tube is very easily seen as you blast your way through. When you are done blasting, all that you have to do is give it a couple of shakes and any residual media falls through the mesh. I really like the results of using the cricket tube. To help keep the rust at bay after the parts are cleaned up, I use some light oil or a rust-preventative type spray in a can. This treatment is for the hardware that will be used internally in the engine or for the parts that will never receive any paint. For those parts that will need to be painted later on, you need to find a way to keep them dry so rust does not form easily.
The parts can now be separated, organized, and stored in a way that will make retrieval pretty easy. Hardware stores have enough bins to put their lengths, thread measures, head differences, etc, in specific bins – it’s like a candy store for us shop nuts. However, I like to organize my hardware for specific parts of the block such as larger bins indicated by: Timing Cover, Intake Manifold, Rocker Arm Shaft, Bell Housing, Valley Pan, etc. You get the idea. As you go through a build or if someone else needs a part, you know exactly where you put it.
Now to address the nuances of putting your carburetor parts through the ultrasonic cleaner. The machine works well for all of those greasy, grimy, small pieces of threaded hardware. But what about those carb parts that have fuel deposits, baked on goo, etc? Recently I used the ultrasonic machine when I rebuilt an ECG 1956 2 barrel carburetor - the results were just simply unbelievable.
For the greasy, grimy, Y block engine hardware, it only took one or two cycles to wash the gunk away. But you may say, “Most of those parts were simply oily or had soft grease in their threads.” And to that I would reply, “You’re right.” The clear benefits of an ultrasonic cleaner of this size are portability, easy clean-up, and storage. Not having to deal with solvents is an added bonus – it will keep the EPA off your back too.
The real test, however, of this cleaner is whether or not it can get your carburetor parts spic and span. For those of us that rebuild our own carburetors, we know the value of the old carburetor dip such as Berryman’s. These solvents were so powerful back in the day that just a few hours immersed in the gallon can and voila! --- wipe the grime away. Most of us know that the old one gallon carb cleaner pails just do not have the power they once did. In fact, if you live in California your options for solvent power are mighty slim – some out there even resort to making their own home brew. This can be tricky and downright deadly if you failed Chemistry back in high school. I recommend you stay away from that risk unless you know what you are doing.
So for the real test of ultrasonic power I disassembled an ECG6 (stock 56 two barrel) carburetor and placed all of the parts in the tank. (I split the parts into three different lots to keep the sub-assemblies together.) Most of the parts needed only two cycles or less to shed the years of grime and gunk. The float bowl needed three cycles but this was of course the worst of the bunch and I only used one bottle of Awesome for the entire batch of parts. Each time I finished a batch of parts in the cleaner I basically brushed them off and rinsed them in warm water. Then I let them air dry on a towel. The large parts like the choke housing, float bowl, and the small “holy” parts I did use compressed air to get the moisture out of every orifice. To say the parts came out clean would be an understatement.
This is how the bowl came out of the cleaner after 3 cycles (with heat).
Feeling pretty confident I decided to throw our venerable Holley 4000 into the ultrasonic cleaner since a friend of mine wanted his 56 ECZ teapot done right. The carburetor was disassembled and the float bowl on the inside was especially nasty with all of those flaky deposits and crud.
The Holley Teapot showed quite a few years of gunk and goo from decades of use.
One by one the parts went into the cleaner and the ultrasonic waves did their work. The base of the Holley 4000 was especially filthy and needed 3 cycles just like the fuel bowl. I did cheat on this one and use 2 bottles of Awesome cleaner to freshen up the cleaning solution I was using in the tank during the middle of the rounds. The base did stick out a little bit because some of the casting was too tall for the tank, but after a cycle was through I simply flipped it around and the solution did it’s work. The parts on the 4000 turned out just as good as the parts from the ECG, if not better because I changed the solution out midway.
I am really sold on this method of parts cleaning now that I have completed so many cycles. If there was a negative to consider it would certainly be the size. You cannot exactly fit engine sheet metal or other larger parts in this small tank. So, I still have my parts washer which I will use to get those other parts clean. However, I do not believe you could do better than this little ultrasonic cleaner here when it comes to hardware and other small parts. Let me list the benefits as I see them:
Low Cost of Cleaning Solution/Easy Disposal
Cleaning “Power” (it does the work!)
Fewer “Lost” Parts in your Parts Washer
Easy Cleaning of the Tank (simply dump and wipe excess with a paper towel)
“Heat” Cycle (some ultrasonic cleaners are not heated)
There are plenty of helpful tips in the Y Block Magazine from issue to issue. Some are as simple as the procedure I just described, yet others dive deeper into such aspects as rocker arm geometry, connecting rod length, parts identification, etc. From to time I do list back issues on eBay or in a classified forum on one of the websites. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.