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Reel Bearings 301: Maintenance, Design, and Troubleshooting (continued)

Ball Bearing Troubleshooting (cont'd): An easy way to generally check a ball bearing for cleanliness and condition is to first clean the bearing and then:


1) Put the bearing on a pencil, sharpened dowel or other similar object and spin it with a finger tip while it is positioned vertically. [Ball bearings are almost always designed to carry a load on their center race, and having the bearing positioned horizontally may not always give correct results in this check.  When the bearing is positioned horizontally, the center race is carrying a small axial load, which can affect how the balls track and the bearing rotates on some race designs.]  The bearing should spin smoothly, freely and without noise – there should be no erratic rotation.


Don’t worry how long the bearing rotates; because tolerances, type of balls, and the internal design and construction can affect how long the bearing spins (primarily due to the momentum of the spinning components).  In addition, some bearings may even wobble a little when doing this check and that may also be acceptable, since some race designs can cause the wobble if the bearing is not carrying sufficient load (due to insufficient pre-load).  However, even if the bearing wobbles a little, it should still rotate smoothly.  If it doesn’t rotate smoothly, the bearing may still be dirty, corroded or worn.


Rotate - Second Step in Checking a Radial Ball Bearing Cleanliness and Condition


2) Holding the bearing vertically, slowly rotate the bearing while grasping it between a fingertip and thumb.  When doing this, do not put any axial load on the bearing, but instead put a slight amount of vertical (radial) load on the bearing with your finger/thumb as you turn it.  It should feel smooth as you rotate it and should not feel gritty, rough or ‘choppy’ under the slight vertical load you are placing on the outer race.  Oftentimes you may feel a rough spot when you do this check, and this usually indicates a problem with the bearing: it may indicate that the bearing is still fouled with hard debris (sand, metal, etc.); a ball is damaged; the retainer (cage) is bent, or a race is flaked (e.g. dented).  [You can often rock the bearing back and forth across this point and ‘zero in’ on the rough spot.] If the bearing feels ‘generally rough’ while doing this check, this can indicate that a race may be worn or warped, or the retainer may be distorted.


If either of the first two checks fails, then re-clean the bearing and repeat both checks again.  If the bearing fails either of the first two checks again, then consider replacing it.  Bear in mind that these two checks only give a general status on the condition of the bearing.  It is still possible that both checks will be satisfactory, yet the bearing will be noisy and not rotate correctly when lubed and put back into the reel.  The reason for this is that the alignment of the components and loads that are carried can have a more significant affect on how a marginally worn or damaged bearing actually rotates, and the speed the bearing rotates at in the reel will usually be a lot higher.  However, the two checks can still be used to identify the majority of problems.  (If both tests pass satisfactorily, then you can lube the bearing and slowly spin it with a finger tip to disperse the lube.)


Damaged Races - (Left) Center Race Due to Misalignment, (Middle) Outer Race. Due to Corrosion, and (Right) Center Race Due to Mishandling (e.g. dropping?).


Here’s a tip that can save some heartache while you disassemble and clean your reels.  Cover your work space with a clean lint free terry cloth rag.  The terry cloth strands will help prevent parts from bouncing on your work bench and rolling away.  If you’ve ever had a precision bearing roll and fall from your workbench onto a hard floor you’ll appreciate this tip; because chances are that the bearing was damaged in the process.  A fall of this type can dimple a race, deform a retainer so that will no longer track correctly, and can even knock-out a shield on the side of the bearing.  You may not be able to readily see the damage from outside the bearing, but trust me, it probably occurred and chances are you’ll be trashing the bearing later.


The table below lists the symptoms, causes and solutions to several ball bearing problems.  Although the list only focuses on common problems, it can be used to troubleshoot the majority of them.


Ball Bearing Problems, Causes and Solutions


Bearing Problem Cause Cause
High Speed Spool Bearing - Constant Buzz or Roar sound (often accompanied by severe vibration during cast) Hard Debris in Bearing Clean
Worn Races or Balls Replace Bearing
Bearing Not Axially Aligning Correctly While Spinning Clean/Lube Shaft In Race
Shaft Bearing Not Sitting Correctly In Socket Make Sure Bearing Is Correctly Seated
Socket Filled With Oil Clean the Bearing Socket and Felt (if equipped)
Spool Vibration (spool out of balance, out of round, or warped shaft) Spool Out of Balance/Round or Warped Shaft
Spool Pin Not Centered on the Spool Shaft Re-center Spool Pin So It Does Not Rub On the Frame or bearing socket
High Speed Spool Bearing - Buzz or Roar Constant With Spool Speed But Loudness And Pitch Changes With Spool Speed Damaged/Pitted Replace Bearing
Internal Corrosion Replace Bearing
Severely Fouled Clean and Lube
High Speed Spool Bearing – Hiss or Rustle That Changes With Spool Speed Soft Debris in Bearing Clean
Mixed Lubricant Clean and Lube
Water Intrusion Let Dry-out
May be normal for some ceramic hybrid bearings until they "run-in" NA
High Speed Spool Bearing - Gurgling or Hollow Sound [Especially Ceramic Ball Bearings] (Changes With Spool Speed And May Also Experience Vibration) Overlube Excess Oil May Eventually Be Expelled
Water Intrusion Let Dry-out
Mixed Oil Lubricant Clean and Lube
High Speed Spool Bearing - Screech, Squeel or Howl (Intermittent or May Become Constant at Higher Spool Speeds) Insufficient Lube Lube
Mixed Lube Clean and Lube
Bearing Shield Contacting Center Race Remove and Reinstall Shield
Worn/Damaged Race Replace Bearing
Ceramic/Ceramic Hybrid High Speed Spool Bearings - Rustle Sound (Often Sounds the Same at All Spool Speed) Insufficient Lube Lube
Dirty Bearing Clean
May Be Normal For Very Light Spools or Very High Speed Spools May Not Even Be the Bearings
Spool Vibration Warped or Dented Spool, or Bent Shaft
Any Bearing - Crunch Felt When Rotating Bearing By Hand at Low Speed Hard Debris in Bearing Clean
Worn/Damaged Races or Balls Clean First Then Replace if Needed
Any Bearing - While Cleaning Does Not Rotate Smoothly When Bearing is Positioned Vertically on its Center Race and Spun By Fingertip Still Dirty or Old Lube Not Removed Clean Again
Bearing Cage Inside the Bearing May Be Warped Or Not Tracking Correctly Clean Again But May Need To Replace
Damaged Balls Replace


The noise (both audible and vibration) that a bearing exhibits can provide a lot of information on the type of problem that it experiences.  However, bearing noise is also influenced by the manufacturer’s design and internal construction of the bearing, materials it is made from, raceway finish and internal clearances; and these last factors really don’t have anything to do with the ABEC rating of the bearing.  Noise can also result from a bearing that is not mounted correctly in its socket; the load does not fit correctly in the center race; or the bearing carries a radial imbalance from the load.  Wear, lubrication, fouling and misalignment can also produce bearing noise as shown in the previous table.


Here’s a tip that can preclude ball bearing damage while performing maintenance on your reel:  Applying excess force across the inner race and balls to the outer race can actually damage a ball bearing. Ball bearings are designed to support little axial load, and if you push or remove a ball bearing into a tight socket by the center race, you can damage the bearing and not realize that it even occurred. [This is more likely to occur on pinion bearings, since the socket that they mount in usually employs a precision fit to hold the bearing.  In addition, it is very easy to get a pinion bearing stuck in its socket when installing or removing it, because it gets tilted.]  Always try to remove or install a bearing into its socket by pressing on the outer race.


Next Section: Roller Clutch Bearing Troubleshooting 










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