Belt Tension Gauges


Practical Sailor’s editor-at-large, Nick Nicholson, writing in the Offshore Log in the May 1999 issue, discussed a breakdown of Calypso’s high-output alternator.

Because such alternators are extremely common on today’s power-hungry boats, Nick waxed wisely for a page about the proper installation and maintenance of the all-important creator of the mysterious stuff called electricity.

Belt Tension Gauges

Touching on belt tension, Nick said he found invaluable an $8 tool called a belt tension gauge. He said it was a “NAPA Krikit V-Belt tool (part #7401-0101)”.

Shortly thereafter, the calls, letters and fax messages started to flow. “Was it a mistake?” asked Sam and Maureen Marks, of Fernandina Beach, Florida. “All they had was a timing belt gauge; quite a different thing,” said James L. Hodges via the Internet. “Wrong number,” reported Brian Hern, of Seattle. “Help,” said Frank Bolton’s letter…etc.

A telephone call to the local NAPA store (Middletown, Rhode Island) confirmed, indeed, that there was no such part number.

An on-the-way-home visit to the store and a talk with a very helpful gent named Pete Benson confirmed the fact that that number is not a NAPA part number.

Benson (he’s a problem solver) pressed on. After a few minutes pouring over NAPA catalogs (of which there are many), he said, “Aha! There it is. Belt tension gauge. Part #KR1. $8.52 plus tax. Don’t keep ‘em in stock. Tomorrow okay? Truck comes every day.”

“Deal,” we said.

As long as we were mobile, we hit a couple of other stores (including K-Mart), without success—until we stopped by a very serious auto parts store in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s called Carnegie Auto Supply. It’s the kind of store where, if your fingernails are clean, you tend to keep your hands in your pockets.

Belt Tension Gauges

Behind the counter, Bill Costa was very helpful. He consulted a rack of catalogs, and finally said, “No $8 gauge, but we have one for $58.18. Wanna see it? I’ve never sold one. Oughta be nice for such bucks.”

It is and, as it should, it makes Nick’s NAPA gauge look bush.

The NAPA gauge, which is indeed identified on the accompanying instruction sheet as a “Krikit V-Belt Tension Gauge,” is a simple lever device with a snap release. Hold the gauge on the belt, press against the belt with a thumb in a little saddle and the force swings the lever out of the case until the increasing pressure releases a button snap. Read the pressure on the body where it is intersected by the lever.

The Big Bucks gauge, made in Michigan, is a patented three-arm spring device. Depress the plunger, hook the center arm on the belt, position the other two on the belt, release the plunger and read the dial, which reads in pounds (and Newtons, too). The fan-shaped dial also has colored sections showing ranges for fans, generators, alternators, compressors and power steering. The dial even reminds you to run new belts for three minutes before final adjustment. You can order the $8 gauge from any NAPA store. Tell them the part number is KR-1.

The $58.18 version? It’s called a Borrough gauge. Borrough used to be in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but went out of business 10 years ago. The tool, still called a Borrough Gauge, is now made by Kent-Moore Tools, 28635 Mound Rd., Warren, MI 48092, 800/253-0138.

When Nick sees this, he’ll start running around Papeete, Tahiti, or wherever, looking for a Borrough Gauge. Nick likes good tools.

Nick Nicholson
Nick Nicholson is a boatbuilder, racing sailor, and circumnavigator. He began his career at Practical Sailor as an Associate Editor in 1979, and has been Editor-at-Large since he left full-time work in the early 1990s to finish building a 40’ cutter in his backyard, and subsequently sail it more than 40,000 bluewater miles. The voyages of Calypso were chronicled in the Offshore Log section of Practical Sailor during that circumnavigation. He has also raced from the US east coast to Bermuda more than 20 times, winning numerous navigator’s trophies in the process. In recent years, he has primarily worked as a race official and technical rules advisor in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup. He also chairs the Technical Committee for the Newport Bermuda Race.