Friday, July 14, 2017

Rebuilding a Bridgewood Planer

This 24" Bridgewood planer is my workhorse, a 1000 pound beast that plows through hardwood without breaking a sweat. 

It's been in the family since the 1994, and worth every cent that Wilke Machinery charged. It's rare that you hear that about a piece of machinery - most woodworkers find flaws like inferior engineering or poor quality of materials, and regret buying some of the tools they've acquired.  

Right off the top of my head I can think of two tools that were total wastes of my time and dollars - you can read about them here and here.

But not this one - there's virtually not a single thing you can find wrong with this machine, and I've babied it throughout the years, ensuring it'll last for a long time. 

But lately, raising and lowering the bed has become harder and more stiff - I'm not sure if it's just age, or if something entered the gearing, but luckily - it happened just as the school was entering a break in classes.  

Time for a tear down!

This handle controls the the bed, raising and lowering it to control the depth of cut. 

After planing some damp wood one weekend, the handle became stiff and really hard to move. Coincidence? I wasn't sure...

The handle shaft runs down the side of the machine, attaching via a simple bracket at the top, down through the gear cover plate and  finally at the bottom, where it  attaches the handle to the planer, shown below. 

We (well... Denny....) pretty much narrowed it down to one of those two areas that was causing the problem. 

Removing the handle and the cover exposed some pretty sexy gearing!

Denny, the shop's boy-wonder, always rises to the task of getting greasy  - so once he assessed the situation,  he realized a couple of things - the planer needed to be raised, so he could have better access to everything. So - two car jacks, some various wood blocking and a little acrobatics - and bam, the planer was lifted about 8" in the air.  

That made everything a little easier... 

this bevel gear held 23 years of grease and grit, and after narrowing the problem down to two areas, we decided to pull apart the whole bottom half of the machine for some cleaning, greasing and new bearings.

Usually this puts fear into most woodworkers, who dread doing repairs, but this one was a dream. The Bridgewood was so well engineered - simple and straightforward - that it was a breeze to rebuild. We pulled everything out, and Denny labeled the parts. (Good Army training!) 

We took out everything - the handle and its shaft, and the two rods and all their components that make the bed raise and lower, parallel to the cutterhead. The rods were covered by rubber boots that were fairly degraded, and I'm pretty sure they're no longer available, although I read somewhere that Wilke parts are still floating out there for purchase. 

The sludge was unbelievable,

these weren't your standard bearings, at least like I'm used to seeing!

 Den suggested buying some carburetor cleaner and giving everything a good soaking. 

It worked like a charm!

 Pieces went from greasy to shiny, 

and after buying some new 1/4" loose ball bearings, 

we re-packed the inner and outer bearing races with fresh grease.

After greasing and replacing the top race, this spun like... well, a fidget spinner on steroids! 

Time to re-assemble everything and keep our fingers crossed. 

Here's the bottom of that handle shaft - cleaned, greased, and ready for attachment. 

You have to have access under the machine to do this.

By the way, I'm neglecting one important step, in case you have a similar planer and are considering doing this re-build.

Taking out the rods that raise and lower the bed leave the bed free to fall out of parallel with the cutterhead. I didn't get a photo of it, but we put some blocking under the table, propping it up while we took these adjustment rods out to clean them. Getting the bed back to parallel comes later....

After everything was re-assembled, we took a wide board and drawer some lines on it - to see if the bed was parallel. After we ran it through for a light cut - we noticed the lines were taken out on the right, but not on the left. 

That meant the table wasn't parallel.  

There's an adjustment on the top of the rod below - and we grabbed the mother of all Channelock pliers and adjusted it, maybe 1/8 of a turn. And then re-planed the board - better, but not perfect.  A few more adjustments, and we grabbed the digital caliper to get a more accurate reading.   

By now, that wide board was too thin to get a good reading, so we used two strips of wood, running on on the left side of the table, and one on the right side. 

Here's the difference between the left and the right pieces of wood - I'll take it! It's nearly perfect, or as we say - good enough for government workers! 

Everything was buttoned up, and we lowered the planer off the blocks - back in business! 

And the handle rotated like a dream again! If anyone wants to tackle their Bridgewood planer and has a question, feel free to contact me:   

We may not be able to help, but we might be able to point you in the right direction.

1 comment:

John Frame said...

You two are rock stars!
I have had to rebuild a few old tools/engines in my day. Some worked out well, some failures. Always stresses me out. To often replacement parts do not exist any more. Nice to see that old planer keep on running.