Bearings - 201 (continued)
most all fishing reels use grease and oil to lubricate bearings and other reel
components. The primary purpose of the lubricant is to reduce wear and damage
between contacting surfaces. Reduced wear is achieved by utilizing a low
viscosity material between wearing surfaces that have a relative high
coefficient of friction. In effect, the wearing surfaces are replaced by a
material that has a more desirable coefficient of friction, like oil or grease.
Lubrication is also used to preclude corrosion, and to seal against the entry of
water and debris.
Grease is a semi-fluid
mixture of oil, a thickener and additives. The oil that performs the actually
lubrication in reels is usually petroleum or synthetic based. The thickener
gives grease it consistency, and can be thought of as a sponge that holds the
oil in place. Additives enhance performance, protect the grease and lubricated
surfaces, and can even neutralize the effects of corrosives. Many reel greases
on the market today have additives specifically designed to prevent chemical
attack of metal components due to seawater.
Reel grease and oil are
not really interchangeable. Grease is used when it is not practical or
convenient to use oil, primarily in low speed frame bearings. It must be thick
enough to prevent it from running or spinning out of a turning bearing. On the
other hand, oil is used in locations that are generally more accessible, and
primarily in higher speed spool bearings. It must have lower viscosity and
little restriction to movement of bearing components. The previous picture show
a greased bearing ready for reinstallation back into a reel. (Notice how a
generous amount of grease was expelled between the shield and inner race ó the
bearing is completely full and was greased with a commercial small bearing
Although all bearings and
moving components in a reel could theoretically be lubricated with oil, grease
does not require as frequent replenishment, and it limits the intrusion of
debris and generally protects the components better than oil. However, there
are a few downsides to the use of grease. Grease tends to resist motion more
due to its higher viscosity, and some low quality greases can dry out and
harden, or can bleed. (Bleeding is a condition where oil separates from the
thickener, primarily due to age or temperature). Early reel greases tended to
harden and bleed relatively quickly, but that is seldom the case with quality
modern reel grease.
Oil should never be added
to a greased bearing, because it tends to wash out the thickener. The net
effect is the bearing will more susceptible to the entry of contaminants, and
will need to be replenished sooner. Contaminants and debris will no longer be
held on the surface of the grease if the thickener washes out, and the bearing
may actually wear due to insufficient contact with lubricant.
Itís also not advisable to
mix different types or brands of grease or oils, since it can have adverse and
unpredictable effects. Some of these effects include reduction in lubricating
properties, change in viscosity, additives can be diluted, and thickeners can
harden or bleed. If a new brand of lubricant is to be used, manufacturers
recommend that components should be cleaned to completely remove the old
lubricant. If this is not practical, then itís advisable to inspect the
condition of the bearings more frequently to look for signs of incompatibility.
Some things to look for are hardening, bleeding, grease discoloration (typically
darkening or streaking), and rougher bearing rotation.
It is seldom necessary to
add more than a small drop of oil to a reel spool bearing. Oil should be added
to the outside of the inner race and the bearing spun slowly to distribute the
oil. Any excess oil will be spun off after a few hard casts, but the oil can
splatter inside the frame, and get on magnets and the spool.
Oftentimes you can add
lubrication to a frame bearing without removing the bearing, like when
performing periodic maintenance during a fishing season. Many reels have access
or grease openings specifically designed so the grease travels to ball bearings,
roller bearings and other sliding friction components. In other cases, it may
be necessary to just dab a small amount of grease on the surface of a ball
bearing, and work it into the inside of the bearing with a fingertip, dowel, or
stiff brush. If the shaft is removed from a roller bearing you can work a small
dab of grease that has been applied to a small stick or dowel into the rollers
and cage. Frame bearings wonít usually use much grease anyway, so donít get
carried away with the grease. If you see debris or foreign material on the
surface of the old grease, itís advisable to remove it with a wooden stick or
similar object before adding new grease Ė just donít push it into the bearing.
Grease can be added to a
roller bearing still mounted in the frame, but itís usually desirable to remove
the load (shaft, pinion, etc), from the center of it to grease it. Just put a
little dab on the cage and work it into the side of the cage at the rollers with
a small circular stick. It wonít take much, and expect any excess grease to be
pushed out when you remount the load Ė just be sure the excess grease wonít end
up on the drag stack or other components not intended for grease.
Always make sure a bearing
is dry before re-adding grease. If not, small droplets of water may be trapped
inside the new grease, or if itís a solvent, the small droplets can even break
down the grease. There are a few different ways to add new grease to a frame
ball bearing that has been removed and cleaned:
can use a small bearing greaser to force the grease into the bearing through the
open space between the shield and inner race. These greasers are very quick and
do an excellent job of completely filling the bearing, and one is shown in the
previous picture. You can make your own, or buy one. [I intend to cover this
in a future product review.]
can also remove one of the bearing shields, pack the grease into the bearing
with a fingertip, and then reinstall the shield when full. Although you can
completely fill the bearing this way, it can get quite messy and tedious, since
removing and replacing a shield retainer can be a real challenge Ė especially
when grease is involved.
can pack the grease into the bearing through the open space between the shield
and inner race, by periodically putting a dab on a finger, and working it into
the bearing. However, this can also get quite messy, and one has to wonder how
much of the bearing actually gets filled this way and how much thickener is
actually lost in the process.
Hereís a tip that you can
use before remounting frame bearings that youíve just greased. Spread around a
small dab of grease in the bottom and side of the socket that the bearing mounts
in, before putting the bearing back in. It will not only aid in installing the
bearing back into the frame (some bearings are a very snug fit), but will also
preclude corrosion between dissimilar socket and bearing metals. (If the
bearing is flanged, be sure to put a light layer of grease on the area where the
flange mates into the frame.) Pinion gear bearings seem to be the most
vulnerable to frame-bearing corrosion, because the pinion itself is often made
from a third type of metal, which sets up a great condition for galvanic
corrosion! If youíve ever had to remove a pinion bearing that has been corroded
into its bearing mount, youíll appreciate this tip.
I wonít make a specific
recommendation on the brand of oil and grease to use in your reels Ė Iíll leave
that choice to you, since there are so many. (Besides, anglers have very strong
opinions on what brand of lube is their favorite or the best to use, similar to
the opinions they have on rods and reels.) The only real recommendation Iíll
make is to stay with lubricants that are designed for reels. They really arenít
that expensive, and the additives and thickeners have been specifically
developed for use in reels, and more and more manufacturers are switching to
synthetic reel lubricants because of superior characteristics. [I donít see any
advantage to using general purpose lubricants, or lubricants designed for other
equipment, in a fishing reel. Why run the risk of reel damage, by using a lube
that wasnít really intended for them?] I have had very good success with Hot
Sauce reel grease and oil, and I like its unique properties, but that is just my
Iím often asked if oil or
grease should be used in the knobs of a reel handle. The answer to that
question is dependant on a few things:
anglers prefer the smooth and buttery feel of a greased knob when they
crank their reels, although the knob doesnít tend to spin as freely as it would
anglers like the solid feel of knobs that spin quickly and with the slightest
effort, and thatís fine too.
reels may already have grease or oil under the knobs, so you may want to just
stay with whatís already there.
Grease tends to hold debris on its outer surface. Since reel handles are very
susceptible to debris while shore fishing, it makes some sense to use grease in
end reels usually come with instructions that cover knob maintenance, so be sure
to check for manufacturer recommendations, before making a final decision.
anglers who only occasionally fish with their reel wonít notice much difference
between a greased or oiled low profile reel handle. But an angler who spends a
lot of time on the water probably will.
[I personally prefer
greased knobs on reels that I use for spinner baits and crank baits because they
involve steady cranking, and the feel of oiled knobs for intermittent
presentations like jigs and worms.]
Here are a few knob lube
tips: Removable knobs (with bushings or bearings) are easier to grease if the
knob is removed. Always put a very light drop of Locktite on the threads
at the end of knob screws so they donít back out while cranking, and donít over
tighten them. You can restore some of the smoothness to a worn knob that is not
removable, by forcing grease between its mounting shaft and the knob (usually
through an end cap) Ė just donít get carried away with the grease and be sure to
remove, clean and rinse them first. Knobs are vulnerable to picking up sand and
other debris while shore fishing, so watch for this, and remove any debris as
soon as you see it (and never set your reel on the ground).
Most reels are designed so the bearings can be removed for cleaning, greasing
and replacement. However, removal will usually involve disassembling parts of
the reel, requiring 1 Ė 2 hours and basic mechanical skills to perform
(depending on skill, cleanliness, methods used and other factors). It may be
better to remove them to clean them, but that may not be always possible.
Many different cleaning
agents can be used to clean bearings. Some examples include: Degreasing agents
like Simple Green; citrus based cleaners; and industrial solvents. Here are
some important things to remember:
Solvents like mineral spirits, brake cleaning fluid, acetone, naphtha, denatured
alcohol, lighter fluid, etc. are irritants, flammable and dangerous to breathe,
so exercise appropriate precautions if you use them!
clean bearings in bleach based products, since it can damage many metals.
clean yellow metals (copper-nickel, nickel-copper, light bronzes and brasses) in
ammonia based products, since they can crack these metals.
not get solvents on plastic or painted reel parts. Some solvents can melt,
discolor and crack reel plastics, and blemish paint. Also do not clean rubber
or poly sealed bearings, or plastic roller bearing races in solvents, unless you
are absolutely sure the solvent will not affect them.
protection should be worn if using air to spin or dry bearing. Bearings can
become projectiles from poorly fitted bearings.
the use of solvents that contain perfumes or other similar additives. For
example, the fragrances in beauty shop acetone will leave a deposit that will
affect the adherence of grease, and can even blemish yellow metals and certain
magnesium or aluminum alloys.
I like to use acetone to
clean bearings (and other bare metal parts) that Iíve removed from my reels,
because it totally breaks down the components and additives in oils/greases. It
also does not leave any harmful residue after it dries, so rinsing is not
required. If I cannot remove a bearing from the frame, I use Simple Green to
clean the bearing and other parts of the reel in place, followed by liberal
rinsing in tap water. Spray it on, and scrub the bearing and adjacent areas
with at stiff bristled brush, and repeat the process as necessary. (However,
donít get it on drag components.) More time and effort will be required to
remove lubricants and debris, and it may help to just periodically spray the
Simple Green on and let it set for a bit, before scrubbing. You can even
spray/flush it into the bearing(s) with a syringe or eyedropper. Always be sure
to rinse the bearings (and other parts) thoroughly with tap water after using
Simple Green and similar cleansers.
I prefer to clean removed
bearings in an ultrasonic cleaner. The ultrasonic action is very efficient at
removing old lubricant and debris from components, even if shields are installed
on the bearings. It will not damage any of the bearing components, and will
take less time to thoroughly clean the bearings. Ultrasonicís also have couple
of subtle advantages that are of benefit. The center race, cage and balls will
slowly rotate as the bearing become clean, especially if the bearing is standing
vertically on its outside race. (This slow rotation between the balls and race
tends to scrub the balls and wash away harder surface debris (like crushed
silica from sand that has adhered to the balls).) The small amount of heat
produced by the ultrasonic will also help emulsify the lubricant.
I admit that I get
meticulous about my bearings (just my nature I guess), and many others wonít
often go to the extremes that I do. I put each bearing in a glass vial (~50 ml)
that has been filled half-way with acetone and then put the cover on the vial.
[I use glass because you can see the acetone get cloudy as the bearing is
cleaned, glass is very efficient at transferring ultrasonic motion, and acetone
will not harm the glass.] Then I put the vial in the cleaner, and add/remove
water to/from the cleaner so the level is approximately the same level as
acetone in the bottles (the greatest transmission of ultrasonic waves will occur
if the levels are about the same). I allow the bearing to initially clean for
approximately 15 -30 minutes, depending on the cleanliness of the bearing Ė
periodically checking the vial for cloudiness. If the acetone in the vial gets
cloudy, Iíll replace it with fresh acetone, and continue ultrasonically cleaning
it for the remainder of the time. Next, Iíll allow the bearing to soak in clean
acetone for an additional 15 - 30 minutes, and will finish by final cleaning it
in the ultrasonic again for 15 - 30 more minutes. I usually rotate the bearing
between each of these steps (by putting it on a pointed hard wood dowel), to
drain the acetone and check the condition of the bearing. Bearings that do not
turn smoothly after cleaning, can cleaned an additional time, but most likely
are permanently fouled, worn or damaged, and should be discarded.
I have even cleaned a few
reel frames with some of the bearings installed in them, in my ultrasonic using
Simple Green. I did this more as a test to see just how clean the bearings
would get, and found they cleaned fairly well. [However, I normally
ultrasonically clean my frames after tearing them completely down, because I
also typically inspect the reel for damage/wear at these times.] You may want
to consider cleaning your reels with the bearings installed in the frame, if you
donít use them in harsh environments, and know that wear and damage is not very
If you are thinking about
getting an ultrasonic cleaner, here are a few things to consider. Get one that
is large enough to hold the biggest reel frame you have, if possible. I have
all low-profile reels, and the 5Ē x 3-1/2Ē opening is plenty big for a frame.
In fact, I can clean a frame and a few other small plastic parts in Simple
Green, and 3 or 4 bearing vials that contain acetone, all at the same time.
That can really save time, since the ultrasonic seems to frequently become a
bottleneck when I strip down, clean and re-lube a reel. Also make sure your
ultrasonic will take the rigor of cleaning a reel, since there are some very
cheap models that are really intended for cleaning hard contact lens, that are
made for only 5 minute duty. You can often get a good quality ultrasonic off
the internet, but can get some very nice bargains (for used ones) on eBay. I
got mine at an auction that was selling equipment from a jewelry store, for $35
dollars. My wife even uses it to clean her jewelry too, which I tell her was
the reason I bought it!
So, whatís a good way to
clean removed bearings if you donít have an ultrasonic?
You can still
do a pretty good job of cleaning bearings if you donít have an ultrasonic.
However, it will usually involve more time and effort to do so. Soak the
bearing in a jar of solvent or Simple Green, periodically agitating the jar to
wash loosened lubricants and debris out, and periodically spinning the bearing
on a pointed stick to redistribute/breakup remaining grease, and repeat until
clean. You can often look into greased bearings with a magnifying lens, or can
tell by the way they spin, to determine when they are clean. (A dirty bearing
can take 2 - 3 hours to clean this way, and very dirty bearings may even need to
be soaked over-night.) However, the time can be significantly reduced, if you
remove at least one shield and clean it.
Roller bearings will clean
faster if you can remove the plastic cage from the outer race (theyíre usually
press fitted into the frame via the outer race and it can be a little difficult
the first time you remove it from the frame). The cage is usually press fitted,
tabbed, or held with a retainer. Just be careful, since the rollers will often
come out of the cage and they are very small as shown in the previous picture.
Do not clean plastic roller bearing cages in a solvent unless you are sure that
it will not be damaged. (I like to clean mine in Simple Green.) Always be sure
to rinse liberally with tap water after using cleansers and get completely dry
before lubing them. By the way, a can of compressed air (like you use to blow
debris off a computer keyboard), will work great for quickly drying bearings.
[I donít use a hair dryer because of the acetone I use in my workshop.] When
you reassemble the bearing, the grease will usually hold the rollers in place,
while you reinstall the cage into the outer race.
By the way, thereís a
problem with the components from the 2 roller bearings shown in the previous
picture. Can you figure out what it is? (Answer
Iím not associated with
any of the previously mentioned products. I only identify them to give examples
of what is available. Also, the techniques, tips, etc. that Iíve provided are
what work for me, and others may do things a little differently.
Some anglers donít have
the skills, time, facilities, interest or desire to clean and lube their reels Ė
and thatís fine, there are many good reel mechanics available to do this for
them. Others enjoy maintaining their equipment as much as they do using it Ė
and thatís fine too. Just remember, if you are going to clean and lube your
reels, youíll need to ensure you have the correct tools, schematics, lubricant,
time, work area, and be free from distractions ahead of time. Also, be safe
when working with solvents, compressed air, etc.
Still want to know more
about reel bearings? If you do then congratulations... your graduating to the
next class. A class that only the most tackle afflicted need apply. The next tutorial will go
even further into bearing applications, problems and other topics. By the
way...the answer to the question in the picture is (Answer: One of the rollers is missing Ė each bearing takes 6 rollers. It was
found later, sticking to the bottom of the tweezers used to position the
components for the picture!)