Wrench Scramble 2015: Project Axle Hell

ford 8 inch axle shaftI love drop-out 3rd member axles for how much they ease parts swapping and fabrication. Most famously Ford’s eight and nine-inch diffs, as well as most solid axles from Japanese truck manufacturers allow the differential to be removed and swapped with simple hand tools. Find a lower-geared, limited slip example in a junkyard or on eBay? You could swap it yourself in half a day and keep your old one for a spare. Secondarily, the entire housing is heavy-gauge steel (as opposed to the cast-iron center-section on a Dana-style one), allowing for easy welding of whatever brackets you need.
There is one challenging part, however: the axle shafts are a press-fit into the ends of the housing, one that can occasionally border on permanent. While reassembling the Ranchero’s rearend, I made a bonehead move and tapped the axle in place without putting the brake backing plate on first. Ok, let’s just yank it out with the slide hammer. Nope. Queue two days straight of torching, hammering, yanking, chaining, more torching and finally Dremel-tooling…

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Let’s take a step back: I got a good deal on an 8″ housing and diff, but the housing had been sitting in a side yard for a decade or two. Much wire brushing, air blowing and wiping was required to remove the grass, spider webs and wasp nests inside and rust from the mounting surfaces. Also, all-new drum hardware. Well, almost all-new. Don’t assume you can just pitch all your old drum parts in the trash, as we still needed a few brackets and things from them.
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With that out of the way, the order of assembly should be: cut old bearings off axle shafts, press new bearings on, drop the diff in, then drum backing plates, then seals, then axle shafts, then drums. Instead, while check fitting which axle went on which side (they’re different lengths), I got overzealous and just tapped in the driver’s side almost all the way in.
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A slide hammer is the standard tool to remove an axle shaft. Cheap ones are relatively cheap and Autozone rents them as well. In its absence, you can use a brake drum, reversed and pulling against loose lug nuts for a similar effect (<–that’s a video). To ease things out, dousing with penetrating oil and heating the end of the housing with a torch helps (though this can cook the non-metal parts of the bearing and any nearby seals).
But my shaft was having none of it. I suspect the fit was so tight because 1) the hole the bearing went into was still rough with corrosion and 2) it’s a brand-new bearing, without any wear off of the internals to loosen up the fit like an old one would have.
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A few other methods, according to random guys in forums on the internet: do the reverse-drum trick, but with a wheel, hang it by the shaft and smack the end of the shaft with a hammer to shock it loose and finally use a loop of chain and a bar to make your own slide hammer-like shock loader. I tried all these things and had cuts, bruises, blood blisters and a sore back to show for it.
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Finally, I broke out the Tool You Only Use When Something’s Gone Very Wrong: The Dremel® (though mine’s actually a Black and Decker® brand rotary tool). Burning through a whole container of micro cutoff wheels, I nibbled away at the exposed 1/8″ of the bearing, trying to weaken it enough to break the press fit. Just cutting wasn’t enough (I heated and slide-hammered to no avail), so then out came the chisel.
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When the first chunk cracked off (and ricocheted around the garage) I didn’t even care if it was going to get the bearing out, it just felt so good to finally actually inflict some damage. More chiseling and more chunks and it was clear victory was at hand. The final act was to cut the remnants of the old bearing apart to get it off of the axle shaft. Alas, Timken RW207CCRA, we hardly knew ye. Until the replacement comes in the mail, that is.
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21 Comments

  1. Trying to figure what vehicle you are working on the.Googled your part # :Wheel Bearing, Rear Wheel Outer, Edsel, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury.So is it an Edsel? Love those old things.

  2. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only person who starts putting something together, and then says, “Oh sh-t, I forgot to put in…”

    1. When I learned how to flare and assemble hard brake lines for our FSAE car, the veteran racer who was serving as my mentor told me, “It’s pretty straightforward…you just slide the fitting nut on the tubing, put a dab of oil on the flare tool, put the tubing into the flare tool and turn until it’s about like so…then just test-fit it and leak check it. Don’t forget to put that nut on before you flare the tube, though.”
      “That seems straightforward enough,” I said.
      He nodded, and said, “Yeah…just make sure you got that nut on there.”
      Wise man.

  3. Ugh, nothing more frustrating than being excited and even over zealous in putting things back together and have something like this happen – conversely, there might be no better feeling than finally rectifying said situation. Probably why it’s a good thing I never pursued a career in mechanics – these things seem to occur more often than not in my shop.

  4. “Burning through a whole container of micro cutoff wheels”. I lol’d. Been there, done that, cutting off little bolts with stripped nuts, on a Previa evaporator case. Put any kind of side load on one of those, and POW! Then, it’s turn off the tool, lock the shaft, back the screw out and pitch the bit of the wheel left on, put on the new one…
    Why can’t Dremel make some thicker wheels that won’t disintegrate when you just look at them wrong?

    1. The kits I’ve bought have two varieties. There’s a brown variety that seems to just be ceramic all the way through, and then there are the larger diameter black ones that have the ceramic abrasive reinforced with fiberglass. They aren’t any thicker, but they do a better job of not disintegrating. The brown ones though.. Might as well just smash ’em with a hammer before you put them on the arbor.

  5. I got to sample a small part of this joy when my high-school car (’73 Cougar) had a rear wheel bearing go out. Fortunately my dad knew how to service these and was able to walk me through it.
    Sidebar: Dremels are a nice primary tool for at least one thing: grinding the numbers into cattle ear tags.

        1. That’s the style I’m more familiar with too. It just never occurred to cut the numbers into, since we just use a marker (or buy the pre-printed ones). What’s the advantage of grinding numbers in?

          Oh, and those metal ones? They’re very small, and the last time I saw them was at least ten years ago, before my dad switched from dairy to beef.

          1. IIRC the blank tags were cheaper, grinding the numbers was more permanent, and my dad had a system with the numbers that didn’t necessarily work with the pre-made tags. Plus it was pleasant busywork in the warm shop during a cold winter day.

  6. If you ever want to feel really bad about your wrenching and/or welding skills, go look at the Pirate4x4 forum, specifically the hardcore build threads. Some of the things those guys do with raw metal and axles/diffs is incredible. I applaud your work as it’s much braver than what I’d do or am capable of.

  7. Oh man, that’s been an endeavour! “Disassembly is the reverse of the assembly” – that’s just hayneous.

  8. I often use my dremel with a sanding barrel to quickly deburr my home made sheet metal brackets. I also used the cut off wheel quite a bit when modifying my new headlamp. But yeah, if you’re using it as a rotary wrench, you’re in a bad spot.

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