Features January 2016 Issue

Freeing Seized Hardware

Minimizing the effort required to disassemble badly rusted hardware takes a combination of muscle power and finesse. 1. Technical Editor Ralph Naranjoís toolbox features a collection of ferrous metal elixirs to penetrate rust and make surfaces slide more easily.

Simple ferrous-metal oxidation is a process in which iron, oxygen, and water chemically react, and it can cause rust to seemingly weld fasteners together. This unyielding grip often turns disassembly into much more of an ordeal, but with a few, regularly available products and a good set of wrenches, the big battle becomes a minor squabble.

My fastener coercion kit has changed over the years, but the gameplan remains the same. First, I attempt to strong-arm loosen the offending nut or bolt using a hex socket and a half-inch drive. This hex socket mates more effectively with a six-sided nut or bolt and affords more contact surface and less likelihood of deforming the nut or head of a bolt.

big hammers, nut cutters, high-quality hacksaw blades
2. An impact tool, big hammers, nut cutters, high-quality hacksaw blades, and a die grinder tackle seriously seized nuts and bolts.

If reasonable torque doesnít do the job, I switch to penetrants before increasing the torque with a longer handle (breaker bar). At times, Iíll first clear away some of the rust with a wire brush and perhaps even use some diluted muriatic acid to dissolve the corrosion. Next, I soak the offending fastener overnight with Liquid Wrench and resume the unloosening process the next day with a breaker bar and socket.

Smaller-diameter fasteners can be snapped in this process, and if that frees the hardware, all is good, but in many cases, breaking a fastener can turn a simple project into a major repair. A common example of this is the hinge-assembly bolts on a Catalina 22 swing keel. If these bolts are broken during removal, and you canít remove the remaining threads, a new hinge-retaining assembly (including fiberglass repair to install them) might be required. Even if you can remove the broken bits with a drill-and-tap kit and an easy-out, you have added hours to your project. Thatís why I still hold back a little on the second attempt, favoring less torque in an effort to keep the fastener intact.

box wrenches
3. Assembly requires fewer tools; box wrenches and a few deep sockets do the trick. Triad Trailers sent all the right hardware, making it easy.

Step three, when necessary, use a combination of heat and cold. I use a simple propane torch to heat up the surrounding area and expand the metal. I donít aim to create a red hot surface, just a moderate heating of the surrounding metal followed with an aerosol dose of PB Blaster or CRCís Freeze Off on the part Iím trying to remove. Heat expands the surrounding metal, and the cold minutely shrinks the stud. This combination of sprays can be particularly effective. Freeze Off creates a cold surface and adds penetrating oil. The change in temperature also causes enough dimensional change to allow the PB Blaster (one of the more effective penetrants weíve tested) to enter micro fissures around rusted threads and to facilitate loosening.

If none of the efforts mentioned above leads to success, I look to cutting off the bolt head or splitting the nut with a nut-splitter and driving out the fastener with a drift. Really high-quality hacksaw blades, specialty nut-cutting tools, and various thicknesses of grinder discs all fall into this kit of last resort.

Sometimes I use a ballpeen hammer, a small sledge hammer, or even a pneumatic impact tool to loosen up a rusty thread-to-thread union, but care must be taken with such heavy-duty bashing.

During reassembly, I coat new threads with graphite grease or a product like Bostikís Never-Seez. I also use white Lithium grease in areas where the stickier, more tenacious, heavy-duty coatings are a problem.

The threads of the trailerís screw jack pads also get some white grease; the corner jacks get a dose of CRC 656 after each post-submersion rinse-down; and the wheel bearings get new grease pumped through the hubs annually. I also spray some Boeshield T-9 on electrical connectors before and after a launching or haulout, and the job is done.

Comments (14)

After disassembling a 33 ft Atkins schooner. I agree with the 50%ATF and Acetone. When you heat a frozen part to red hot then let it cool ( or try the frozen spray). The cooling breaks the rust bond. Frozen drifts- turning is more important than in and out. And yes the concept of tighten and loosing is critical to avoid snapping the bolt( you are cutting rusted threads. Hi temp Never seize (Lictite) is mandatory on a new SS exhaust system.

Posted by: Jim deReynier | November 12, 2018 5:54 PM    Report this comment

What do you do if a stainless steel fitting, turnbuckle or fastener galls? I have a lot of SS stuff on my boat and have experienced this a couple of times. Dennis

Posted by: Dennis B | November 12, 2018 9:21 AM    Report this comment

I strongly recommend against using an EZ-Out or similar screw extractor when trying to remove corroded bolts in a metal fitting. If the techniques already mentioned don't work then usually an EZ-Out won't remove it either. Instead, since they are quite brittle they very frequently snap off inside the hole you drilled into the bolt and your problem has just gotten 10 times worse. Not only are EZ-Outs very brittle but they are extremely hard. A normal bit cannot drill them out. The only way I have found to remove a broken EZ-Out is to grind it out with a tungsten or diamond bit and even that is a real pain and can take a while.

Posted by: skipmac | November 11, 2018 3:52 PM    Report this comment

There is an aerosol penetrating product I picked up at the boat show called "Trick Shot"
It performed about the same as PB Blaster in ordinary use, but it has an interesting advantage over all the rest.... in that it is NON-Flamable!
I found that if you heat a severely rusted fastener ..... then quickly, while still very hot, hose it down with "Trick Shot"..... the sudden cooling seems to suck the penetrant way down into the recesses of the threads and free the fastener....

Posted by: Thomasez | November 7, 2018 11:16 AM    Report this comment

I also keep a set of reverse drill bits on board. These drill when the drill is in 'reverse' direction. The fastener often begins backing out as the drill penetrates but if it doesn't you simply keep drilling to break the fastener.

Posted by: Rich in Oberlin | November 7, 2018 5:02 AM    Report this comment

White lithium grease

We noticed that absorbs moisture, turning it into wet muck. We have no idea of the purpose nor intended use for White lithium grease.

Posted by: Gramma | November 6, 2018 9:59 PM    Report this comment

With much more experience in this matter than I'd like...I've found it frequently helpful to try for a fractional TIGHTENING movement of the stuck fastener. It will often tighten slightly when it won't move at all in the loosening direction. Sometimes the fastener can be loosened after the slight tightening movement. Failing that, the tightening movement seems to open fissures allowing the penetrant to soak in more easily.

Posted by: Annapolis Sailor | November 6, 2018 6:56 PM    Report this comment

With much more experience in this matter than I'd like...I've found it frequently helpful to try for a fractional TIGHTENING movement of the stuck fastener. It will often move slightly when it won't move at all in the loosening direction. Sometimes the fastener can be loosened after the slight tightening movement. Failing that, the tightening movement seems to open fissures allowing penetrant to more easily get into the threads

Posted by: Annapolis Sailor | November 6, 2018 6:30 PM    Report this comment

Probably a simple oversight, but when working with with either a breaker bar, or, preferably, an impact wrench, it can help a lot to try to loosen, and then to tighten, sequentially. For some reason, just trying to loosen does not appear to be as effective as trying to go both ways. The real trick here is just to make the nut move the first little bit on the bolt, it does not matter which way. That can break the bond as well as allowing more of the weasel P.... into the joint.

Posted by: Garry | November 6, 2018 6:14 PM    Report this comment

I've known many blue water sailors. Some are better sailors than others. But without exception everyone takes very good care of their tools. Tools to blue water sailors are like surgical tools to the physician. Without a good supply of tools kept in good condition ones blue water dreams can be nasty, brutish and short. It's a different story when it comes to engines.

Posted by: Piberman | November 6, 2018 4:51 PM    Report this comment

Using a small battery powered impact driver (Craftsman Nextec, for instance) with a socket or easy-out is a profitable option as well. Vibration is way more effective than force with stuck fasteners.

Posted by: Capt. Phil | July 15, 2016 10:57 AM    Report this comment

There's a good discussion on penetrating oils in the Cruiser's Forum titled "Penetrating oil for old bolts/studs on exhaust manifold"

Posted by: shodges | January 14, 2016 11:02 AM    Report this comment

I've also found Kano Kroil to be very effective and keep it on the boat. Kroil was reportedly was 2nd to a mix of ATF and acetone in a practical machinist post on penetrating oil (the PS site doesn't allow urls in comments):

Penetrating oil ..... Average load

None ...................... 516 pounds
WD-40 ................... 238 pounds
PB Blaster .............. 214 pounds
Liquid Wrench ...... 127 pounds
Kano Kroil ............. 106 pounds
ATF-Acetone mix....53 pounds

Posted by: shodges | January 14, 2016 10:54 AM    Report this comment

I've read comparison reviews finding that Kroil is the best commercial penetrating oil. I bought a tiny (2oz) needle-tipped empty applicator bottle from Amazon and keep it topped off with Kroil. The fine applicator makes it easy to get it right where it's needed without making a mess.

Posted by: JFolkers | December 22, 2015 1:30 PM    Report this comment

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