Tuesday, November 28, 2006

VW - Keeping Clean

Keeping Clean

>-Bob, >I love the idea of taking charge of my life and not being cheated >by dishonest mechanics, but my first (and last!) attempt to do my >own tune-up left my hands in such a state I'm terrified of >trying it again. I know you'll think it silly, but the appearance >of my hands is very important in my work. >-AnyMouse


Dear AnyMouse,

I don't think it's silly at all; the appearance of my hands is very important in my work as well. For example, if they are dripping blood and missing a finger or two, I tend to get real upset :-)

But in all seriousness you have a valid point. Cars are dirty and that dirt gets onto your hands. And when a good, black greasy goo gets ground into the dead skin around your fingernails and on your knuckles, about the only thing that gets it off is pumice -- you got to grind of the skin to get out the dirt. But when you do that, the result is sore, red hands that aren't much good for a couple of days, even to a hairy-chested mechanical type.

The trick to keeping your hands clean is to not let them get too dirty in the first place; you have to seal up your hands before you get them dirty using stuff like hair gel as a sealant. One brand is called 'Invisible Gloves' and forms a barrier strong enough to protect you from mild chemical burns; people allergic to epoxy resin and the like use it to keep from getting a rash. Just rub the stuff in like hand cream and let it dry. Soap and hot water takes it off.

My grandfather was a Mason, very involved with their affairs. He did all sorts of blacksmithing and machinist work yet had 'gentleman's hands' (my grandmother's choice of words). He used the hair-gel trick. He also scratched a little Ivory soap under his fingernails when he had an especially messy job.

There's a stuff called 'Machinist's Soap' that contains a chemical that will keep your hands from sweating. Politicians probably use more of it than machinists but you get the idea. If you can keep your hands from sweating you can wear surgeon's rubber gloves, or even those cheap throw-away plastic gloves, and still do some useful work.

You can buy both Invisible Gloves and machinist's soap from machinist supply houses (check your Yellow Pages) or outfits like Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co., of Fullerton, California. They sell a lot of epoxy and the like. They're kind of expensive but you get what you pay for. Call them at (714) 870-7551. But if you check around, chances are you can get hand-stuff locally. (Everyone's got hands.) And after you're all cleaned up, go in and do the dishes! Washing dishes (or just soaking your hands in hot, soapy water) is one trick every mechanic uses to keep his hands presentable. (But most don't have the courage to admit it :-)

The down-side of scrubbing your hands with pumice and the like is that you'll literally wear out your skin. So you use an emollient. Since the days of the Romans common aloe has been used by mechanics, armorers and the like. Just break off a spear of the stuff, crush it in your hands, smear the green goo all over your hands and let it dry. It not only forms a protective barrier, the goo contains an anti-bacterial agent that will keep your hands from getting sore.

The other side of the Getting Dirty coin is keeping your engine clean. It's no different than anything else; if it's dirty, wash it. Auto-parts places carry special stuff for scrubbing engines but your veedub engine is mostly painted metal; treat it like you would your refrigerator or stove. So long as you don't go at it with a fire hose, a little water won't hurt nothing. You don't want to get water in the alternator, or down the carb, and covering the distributor with a plastic bag makes good sense, but aside from that, just jump in there and give that puppy a bath.

If your engine is dirty you're bound to get dirty working on it. So clean it up. No oven cleaner or scouring powder, soap & water will do just fine. I use dishwashing soap, the cheap green stuff, and a stiff paint brush (cutting the bristles shorter makes them stiffer). A toothbrush is just about the handiest thing ever invented when it comes to keeping your engine clean; worry about the nooks & crannies and the open areas will sort of take care of themselves. Once you've gotten the engine clean, spend a little time keeping it that way. It will do both you and the car a lot of good; it's one of the ways you take charge of your life.

Another factor in keeping clean is Dressing For the Occasion. That means long-sleeved shirts buttoned at cuff and collar, long trousers, and shoes that cover your ankle. Working on a car is a job, not an adventure; dress like you're going to do some work. Then let the clothes get dirty instead of you. As to style, I can't say I ever thought about it. Good mechanics tend to be neat by nature; they'd starve to death otherwise. I wear levis or khaki trousers, khaki or denium shirts, good serviceable American-made stuff. You can wash them every day and they'll still last for years. Avoid synthetics and blends; plain cotton is the stuff you want.

There's no mystery to getting grease out of cotton fabric. Use something like trisodiumphospate (try dishwasher soap) or Washing Soda and let the things soak. You're playing chemist here. You've got to give the chemicals a chance to work.

If you own a washing machine, figure out how to make the thing run two or more cycles. On ours, I just leave up the lid. It won't spin with the lid open. Next time I happen by, I reset it to start sloshing again. Do that a couple of time and even the greasiest levis come clean. Sorta faded, but clean. Same thing applies to getting the soap out of your clothes. After you get them clean, run them through another wash cycle with no soap; really rinse them puppies.

If you don't own a washing machine, get a 5-gallon plastic pail and start your own Grungy Laundry. Use a toilet plunger to slosh the clothes; you don't want to get that TSP on your hands.

The other thing you mentioned, the strength factor, is related to your remark about cutting your hand when the wrench slipped, but let me give you a little background on the problem. If you look at a new spark plug you'll see it comes with a washer, that circular metal thing just above the threads. Your spark plug is properly installed when it's tightened enough to compress that washer. There's a torque spec for spark plugs, and as you become more adept as a mechanic you should always torque your plugs to spec, but for now just get them tight enough to compress the washer and they'll work fine.

The compressed washer is why they were so hard to loosen. As you mentioned, once you got the wrench to turn, the plugs unscrewed easily so lets focus on loosening them. The secret here is to use a bit more leverage; a longer wrench. No, you don't have to go out and buy a special wrench, what you want to find is a piece of pipe or tubing that will fit over the wrench you already have. And yes, Craftsman tools are good ones. But Sears probably can't sell you a 'cheater,' which is what you call a piece of pipe when you use it to gain leverage.

What you want is a piece of electrical conduit about a foot long. Or even a piece of plastic water pipe. The diameter is determined by your tool.

When you've got the socket on the spark plug, position the wrench so you can slide the cheater over it and still have room for a short pull. Support the wrench -- you never want to get too rough with spark plugs or you'll break the ceramic insulator -- and take a strain on the cheater. Never jerk on the thing; you've got more than enough strength to loosen the plug if the lever is long enough. The plug will come loose with surprising ease, so don't pull too hard or your hand will come flying off and you'll bark another knuckle.

It didn't come loose? Lengthen the cheater a little and try again. And make sure you're turning the plug in the right direction. On your Ghia the plugs on the passenger side will unscrew when you PULL on the cheater, assuming it is pointing UP. On the driver's side you'll have to PUSH on the cheater. (The manuals will say "Loosen in an anti-clockwise direction," or something equally unclear.)

And of course, you do the same thing when you put in the new plugs. Use your cheater to tighten them. Just be careful not to overdo it; with the right lever you'll have more working muscle than Hulk Hogan.

The principle of lengthening the lever-arm of a tool may also be applied to the generator pulley nut and those 'impossible' lug bolts you mentioned. Fact is, the lug bolts on your wheels should never be run up tight with an air-wrench or you won't be able to change the tire without help. Use a nice l-o-n-g cheater to loosen them, then re-tighten them, snug as you can. You don't have to take them out, just loosen then re-tighten them to your specification. The stock Volkswagen lug wrench was designed to be used with a cheater. Get one made out of pipe, not plastic, and carry it in the boot. That way you'll know you can always change your own tire.

Along with the cheater you may want to carry some of those disposable plastic gloves; tires are dirty too. I've never used the 'paper' coveralls you mentioned but if the 'paper' is Tyvex, I know what you mean and I think it's a wizard idea; there's no reason to get filthy just from changing a tire.

I'm sincerely sorry you hurt yourself working on your car. It wasn't the cars fault, nor yours. The blame has to fall on a society that simply doesn't care all that much for the details of life. I hope this note will provide the encouragement you need to give the mechanical arts another try.

-Bob Hoover

No comments: