The holidays, the brutal cold and our first Nor’easter of the winter are over so now it is time to get back to work getting boats ready for the coming season. This week in the rigging shop I have started cleaning turnbuckles that we noted as being in need of servicing when we unstepped masts last fall.
Turnbuckles are one of those boat parts that get very little attention, during the season they are just there doing their job of holding the rig in position. It isn’t until it comes time to unstep the mast that we find them to be dirty and/or just plain stiff to turn or frozen in place.
Usually those masts that haven’t been unstepped in a few years are the ones with turnbuckles that are in need of a little tender loving care, the accumulated salt and dirt in the threads make them stiff and sometimes those that are all stainless will gall, where the lack of lubrication causes the threads to lock up, known as galling, and thus require replacement. Yearly service will go a long ways towards preventing this condition in stainless steel turnbuckles.
Cleaning turnbuckles with either the mast up or down is relatively simple and only a few tools and a little knowledge to make the job go smoothly are required. So lets take a look at how to clean our turnbuckles and save ourselves some money in the long run.
First off gather your tools and cleaning supplies. You will need a little basin for solvent, a paint tray for roller painting works well and mineral spirits for a solvent, a small preferably Stainless Steel wire brush, nitrile gloves, a few rags, waterproof grease, I use winch grease a small grease brush, a pair of dykes to pull cotter pins, new cotter pins of the appropriate size to replace the old ones, and if your turnbuckles are to stiff to turn without tools, a couple of sturdy screwdrivers to use as levers. If you are cleaning your turnbuckles on board then you will need a small tarp to prevent splatter from getting all over your work area.
Once you have all your tools you are ready to begin. If you are doing this job with the mast still in the boat then remove and clean one turnbuckle at time. If your turnbuckles are dry, spray a little WD40 on the threads to lubricate them before trying to turn them. To avoid having to retune your rig, measure the pin to pin length of each turnbuckle before you remove it, write the measurement down so you won’t forget it, trust me it is easy to forget and forgetting means you will have to retune the mast!
Next disassemble the turnbuckle and clean by scrubbing the threads in solvent with your wire brush. If you have some particularly difficult threads to clean you can gently wire wheel them on an electric wire wheel, but be gentle, don’t force the threads into the wheel, you can damage them. Usually you won’t have to clean the threads inside the barrel of the turnbuckle but inspect the area and clean if necessary.
Once clean dry the solvent with a rag and then apply a thin coat of grease to the threads. As seen in the photo below apply a slightly heavier amount of grease to the end of the threaded portion that screws into the turnbuckle barrel first. Most of this grease will be left inside the barrel of the turnbuckle lubricating the internal threads of the barrel. That grease which turns out to be excessive will be wiped off after you screw the turnbuckle together. Once the turnbuckle has been reassembled wipe off the excess grease to prevent it from getting on you or your dog and thence on your interior cushions!
When you reinstall the cleaned and lubed turnbuckle use new cotter pins. Many people try to reuse cotter pins from year to year but that is foolish. Cotter pins are cheap and new ones are a lot easier to install than trying to get the old bent ones back in the little hole in the clevis pin. Besides who wants to loose a mast because a used 15 cent cotter pin broke!