Power Tool Restoration After A Flood
Written by: Dominic Greco      September 2003

Restoring Power Tools After A Flood

1.0   Introduction

It was not by accident I became adept at repairing tools that had been submerged or exposed to excessive amounts of water. In September of 1999, Hurricane Floyd roared into Bucks County Pennsylvania. Before it was over, trees were toppled, power lines were torn down, and many of the local creeks and streams overflowed their banks. People who had lived in the area for most of their lives said they had never seen the water rise that high, in such a short amount of time.

My neighborhood lay not far from where Mill Creek empties into the Neshaminy Creek. During the height of the hurricane, the water rose 6 feet in under 2 hours. My neighbors and I were forced to evacuate our houses. It was an unbelievable experience. When we were finally allowed to return to our houses, it was probably one of the most heartbreaking experiences that one can imagine. The damage was phenomenal. The water level in my basement (where my woodshop was) was well over 6 feet, while there was also water in the living room and kitchen.

Besides the rest of my house being damaged, almost every woodworking tool that I own was covered by the brown, silty, water. This is the reason I received a crash course in tool repair. One tends to get very creative when the only other option is giving up. You see, my flood insurance did not cover any the tools in my basement. The policy was written such that only the washer, dryer and furnace were covered. Everything else down there was not due to it being "below grade". (I really would like for someone to show me a basement that is above grade. I believe they call it a basement folks, because it's usually underground!.)

With most of my woodworking tools out of commission, I had the choice of discarding them, or attempting to repair them. The purchase of each tool represented a large amount of research and hard earned cash. Simply writing them off was impossible. And purchasing new ones was not financially practical at this moment. I chose to repair them.  I couldn't just sit back and give up. I am just too stubborn (as my wife will gladly attest!) to give in so easily. In addition, I used these restorations as a type of therapy to ease the stress generated by dealing with the endless list of insurance agents, bureaucrats, inspectors, and lawyers.

Each power tool I restored presented a different challenge. When confronted with a area I was unfamiliar with, I would consult my coworkers, or my woodworking friends at Badger Pond and Wood Central. They were a tremendous help.

Before I go much further, I would like to state that this type of project may not be suitable for every power tool that has been in a flood. You have to look at the initial cost of the tool, the age, and the condition that it was in. You should also factor in the time, labor, and replacement costs needed to repair it such that the power tool will function as efficiently, and safely as before.

2.0    Some tips about Flood Insurance

    2.1    Know your policy before the flood

If I have one piece of advice to give it this: Please take the time to read your flood insurance policy. If you're not sure of what a section means, or what is covered, contact your insurance company. Be aware that insurance companies are around to make money. They are not providing you insurance out of the goodness of their heart. They follow the policy to the letter. Make sure you read, and understand what is covered. Be the "informed consumer".

    2.2    Maintain detailed records

During the clean up from a flood, document everything. Photograph or videotape everything that is damaged. Be sure to get copies made and store them in a safe place. I can't tell you how much this helped me when it came time to post a claim. Being able to back up your claim with evidence is worth its weight in gold.

Keep a daily log of phone calls. Who you called, their phone number, when you talked to them, and what they said. You'd be surprised how much cooperation you can get by being this organized. On more than one occasion I remember correcting a person by reading my notes and saying "I'm sorry, but you're mistaken. On such and such a day at this time you told me this…."

Get a folder or three ringed binder and start saving ALL of the bills that are a result of your clean up. Document the time and materials it takes you to clean up. Insurance companies will want to see this later when you file your claim.

3.0    Getting Started

You'll need some supplies before you start

  1. CRC Electronic Spray: When sprayed into a motor, this causes the water to be "pushed" out. This spray will go a long way towards drying out the sensitive electrical components in motors.
  2. DOW 557 Silicon Dry Film Lubricant: In my opinion, this is the perfect lubricant for internal mechanisms of wood working tools. The dry film does not attract sawdust, and lasts much longer than oil or grease. It is also much cleaner.
  3. Mineral Spirits: Use this prior to waxing or oiling a tool surface.
  4. Simple Green/Bleach: Water from a flood typically has mud, silt, sewage, and other unsanitary flotsam mixed in.
  5. White Lithium Grease: Used to lubricate bearings
  6. Equipment Manuals: Don't underestimate this. Having an exploded view of the tool in question, along with a detailed parts list is extremely helpful when you're attempting to restore a tool. Most manufacturers will send you the manual for free. Some, like Jet have the manuals on line as PDF files. Others like Delta will email you a scanned copy of the exploded view/parts list if you are able to give them a valid model number.
  7. Green Scotch Brite pad / Steel Wool
  8. Wire Brush
  9. 220 grit to 600 grit Wet Dry sand paper
  10. WD-40
  11. Spray Adhesive
  12. Boeshield T-9
  13. Johnson's Paste Wax

4.0    Tool Calibration

You may want to brush up on you tool calibration techniques. Since you may be totally disassembling this power tool, it will have to be re-calibrated afterwards. Here are (2) of the books that helped me.

  • "Power Saws and Planers - The Best of Fine Woodworking", Taunton Press, 1991
  • "Mastering Woodworking Machines" by Mark Duginske, Taunton Press, 1992

5.0    Establish a clean working space

If you can manage it, empty your basement and clean it thoroughly. The floodwaters leave behind a fair amount of nasty substances like sewage, heating oil from overturned tanks, mud, silt, and the occasional deceased fish or waterfowl. DAMHIKT

FEMA and the Red Cross suggest treating flooded areas with bleach to kill off bacteria and mold spores. Being allergic to mold, this was a top priority for my wife and I. I found that having a clean workspace also gives you a piece of "order" amidst the chaos left behind by the flood. It is also healthier. You may end up spending a good amount of time working in this area. Being exposed to mold spores, sewage, or fumes from fuel oil in an enclosed environment may lead to respiratory problems down the road.

After you have cleaned your work area, make sure it is well ventilated. This will help to dry up wet spots and help to prevent mold from coming back. Having a portable dehumidifier in this area can also help to get the moisture out of the air. Remember, if the air is moist you tools will most likely rust again.

6.0    Disconnect power

The first step (if you haven't done this already) is to disconnect the tool from its power source. Do not try to operate any tool if you think there is water inside. Doing so will cause irreparable damage.

7.0    Remove the Water

The next step is to get the water out of the tools internals. Simply trying to shake the water out is not enough. Take the tool apart and wipe it down with some paper towels. Clean out any mud or debris and wipe any exposed surfaces down with Simple Green. You want to get rid of any contaminants right away. Besides being a serious health hazard, there is a chance they will interfere with the tool working properly. Spray the motor and electronics with CRC. When the CRC hits water, it dries almost instantly. As long as there are no large standing puddles in the tool, the CRC will dry out the insides nicely.

8.0    Disassemble the Tool

If possible, take the tool apart and examine the motor, shaft, brushes (if this is a Universal Motor), and windings (if it's an Induction Motor). More on this is covered in Section 9.0 below. If there is rust, carefully remove this. I used a soft brass wire wheel in my Dremel tool to take care of this. For larger areas, use a Scotch Brite pad.

After you are done removing rust from a metal surface, it is a good idea to coat the area with some type of lubricant or rust preventative. I used a rag soaked in T-9 to wipe down blades, bits, and shafts that I had just cleaned.

9.0    Restoring a Motor

I mention Induction motors above. These are the types that are used on heavy power tools. Usually, they transmit their power via a V-belt and V-Groove pulleys. Below you can see a picture of a typical Induction Motor and it's internal components. Universal motors are not all that different. Much of the steps covered below can be used in restoring them as well.

When dealing with an induction motor which has been submerged in water for a period of time, it is important to address several critical areas. The areas that will be most effected by water will be the bearings (both front and rear), the rotor, and the windings.

Typical induction motor anatomy
    9.1    Checklist for Motor Repair

When attempting to repair a motor, there are several key areas that need special attention. I've assembled a sort list below that will walk you through the process.

9.1.1    Was the motor plugged in, or was it under power when it was submerged?

If not, then there is a chance that the internal electronics were undamaged. Attempting to start a motor when it is wet is a sure fire way of damaging it beyond repair, as well as starting a electrical fire.
9.1.2    Are the rotor, windings, or shaft damaged?
To examine these items closely, you must take the motor apart. This is not as bad as it sounds. Most motors are held together by four long bolts that run through the motor body. Simply loosening these will enable you to remove the end covers. Sometimes a thin flat head screw driver must be used to pry the endcovers off. Be sure to not use excessive force. Many times the end covers are cast aluminum and can crack easily. Once these are removed, firmly grip the rotor/shaft and remove the assembly.

I spread the parts out on the table, taking care to locate the electrical connections, and note where each wire went. I kept a 3" x 5" card with all of the locations written on it in case I had to leave in the middle of the operation. This took only a second, and ended up saving me a lot of time. (When restoring my band saw, I lost the 3" x 5" card I had made for that tool's motor and spent the next month scrambling for the correct information!)

After you do this, take a look at the motor diagram and make sure you are able to identify the rotor and the windings. Examine these carefully for damage. If there is just a slight surface rusting, some work with a rotary tool and soft wire brush may be able to clean it. If the damage is more extensive, the motor will not be worth salvaging. If there is a rusty spot on the rotor, this will cause erratic operation. Paying attention to this area now will be better than having to revisit it in the future.

In my case, I did not have any of the tools plugged in at the time of the flood. I took some time, drained the motor, and doused the inside with CRC electronics spray. This displaced the water that was still in there and help stop further rusting. I then took advantage of the situation and thoroughly cleaned each component with a wire wheel brush and my Dremel.  Wipe down the cleaned surfaces with mineral spirits to remove any impurities, and then give them a coat of T-9.

If the exposed portion of the motor shaft, where the pulleys are normally installed are pitted, you might need to sand this with some wet dry sandpaper. In order to not sand a flat spot, I normally do this when the motor is under power. After the motor has been cleaned and put back together, I normally run a quick test to see if it works fine. I clamp the motor to a workbench and then apply power. Using a small piece of 220 grit sandpaper, I lightly touch the revolving shaft. In most cases, this cleans off any rust quickly. Be careful not to apply too much pressure.

9.1.3    Are the bearings in good shape?
The condition of the bearings needs to be determined. This can be tested by simply turning the shaft by hand and listening to the sound the bearings make. If you cannot turn the shaft, it turns with difficulty, or the bearings are heavily rusted, the bearings are most likely ruined. This may make the motor more trouble than it is worth to restore. It may be more cost effective to look in the yellow pages for a local motor repair shop to get a new or used replacement motor. The time and trouble saved may well offset the cost.

Hopefully, you got to this tool in time and you don't need to replace the bearings. Using CRC to remove any moisture first, apply a small amount of White Lithium Grease to the bearings. Don't go overboard here. A little goes a long way.

If you decide to replace the bearings, the next step is to get them out of the motor. Most of they are press fit to the ends or to the motor housing. Removing them was a simple matter of securing the shaft, removing any snap rings, and sliding the bearings off. If you find you cannot get the bearings out, you may have to take the motor to a repair facility and have them press them out. But from my experience, its usually a simple matter of just lightly tapping on the bearing housing to get them out.

Replacement bearings are easy to find. I'll mention more on this later. It is important to get the exact size and type. Many times the bearing are unique to that type, size, and make motor, and must be ordered from the manufacturer. The equipment manual usually contains an exploded view drawing with part numbers. As I stated in the beginning of this article, if you don't have the manual, call the manufacturer and request one. Most of the time they will give this to you for free, or for a very nominal fee.

Many times the bearings themselves will give you the brand name or part number. If you cannot see them, you can consult your users manual and find the correct part number. Or you can take the bearings to a bearing warehouse, or industrial supply house (like Grainger's or McMaster Carr) and have them find one exactly like it.

One note here: Even if the old bearings sound ok, you may still want to replace them. Over time, the corrosion that may exist inside the bearing will degrade the races and cause mechanical problems. Bearings are a pretty standard item. They are often easier to find, and not as expensive as some would think. I found a higher grade replacement bearings for my jointer at one of the surplus store mentioned above for less than half the price of the replacement bearings detailed in the user's manual.

9.2    Re-Assembly

Reassembling the motor may be a bit tricky. Any time that I take apart a complicated piece of machinery. I tend to make notes on it's construction. If you have lost your manuals like I had, this may be a life saving operation. After consulting my notes, I put the components back together and tested the motor shaft for ease of rotation. The shaft should spin freely and without any appreciable amount of noise. I then reattached the electrical wires and tested the motor successfully.

10.0    Cleaning Cast Surfaces

Below are (2) photos showing the condition of my Craftsman 10" tablesaw after the flood. As you can see, the cast iron tabletop is pretty heavily rusted

Front view of Table saw before the restoration

Rear view of the table saw before restoration

Cast Iron surfaces are pretty easy to clean off. You just have to be careful about how you do this. It is easy to gouge or dig into the surface. That is why I will never again use an orbital sander to remove rust from a cast iron tabletop. (DAMHIKT!)

Get a nice flat piece of wood that is roughly 3" shorter than your Scotch Brite pad. Use this like a sanding block to back up the Scotch Brite pad. It helps to even out the pressure and make the rust removal a bit easier. Move the block back and forth over the top until you feel it is clean enough.

After you have removed the surface rust, look for pitting. If there is enough to cause concern, I would suggest lapping the tabletop. Lapping is a term associated with cylinder heads. It is a process for polishing the tops of these items against a dead flat surface (most likely a granite table top) with progressively higher grits of abrasive compounds until they are mirror smooth. You won't have to go that far, although I did just to make the tool shine. This is where the wet dry sandpaper, spray adhesive, and WD40 come into play.

10.1    Lapping the Tabletop

First we need to make a lapping plate. Find a nice flat piece of steel, maybe an old cast iron wing from discarded tablesaw, or a piece of thick (½" to ¾") glass. It should be 1" to 1½" thinner and shorter than the sandpaper. This way you can roll the sides up and have it behave like a "sled moving over snow" when sanding. Starting with 200 grit, affix the sandpaper (grit side out) to the lapping plate. Lube the surface of the tabletop with WD-40 and lay the lapping pad sandpaper side down on the tabletop. Using a figure 8 motion, move it around. Try not to stay in one spot for too long. After a time, check your progress. Cleaning in between with mineral spirits, move up in grits as you see fit. The higher up in grit you go, the brighter the top will shine. I used 600-grit on my tablesaw's cast iron top to produce a mirror like surface that is still smooth to this day.

The process above is not fast. It will take some time to achieve the results you need. Take your time and you will be amazed at the condition of the top after an hour of polishing. If you take a look at the (2) photos below, you can see an example of the results you might expect.

Top view of Tablesaw after restoration
Front view of Tablesaw after restoration

11.0    Preventing Rust from coming back

After you have re-assembled your tools, and have them back in working order, be sure to give all steel surfaces (like steel support legs and cases) a good coat of Johnson's Paste Wax. This will reduce the chances of them rusting again, and reduce the amount of sawdust that will stick to them.

Wipe down the cast iron surfaces with mineral spirits to remove any impurities, and then give them a good coat of T-9. I've found this spray to work at least 2 times as well as paste wax alone in preventing the re-occurrence of rust.

Remember also to take a break every now and again. The process of restoring your tools can be quite back breaking if you attempt to get it all done at once. Take your time and soon your tools will look and act almost as good as new.

I hope that this article can be of use to those of you that find yourselves in this predicament.

Good luck!



Copyright ©2003 Dominic Greco.. All rights reserved.
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