Getting Clean

One of the (many) things I’ve lusted over during the years is to have a decent parts washer in the shop. Over the years I have made a couple of my own including making one out of an old wringer washing machine, but for various reasons they didn’t last very long, and so I have continued ‘wash-less’ so to speak. Recently I have had the benefit of being able to use a friend’s parts washer, and this experience rekindled my interest in having something of my own – as luck would have it Princess Auto recently had them on sale ! This sale happily coincided with SWMBO’d being out of town at a quilter’s gathering and so with no checks and balances in place to divert me, I soon had my very own, brand spanking new 20 gallon parts washer proudly set up in the shop.

It was one of those Dilbert moments as I did my victory dance after filling it up with solvent, but which then rapidly turned into despair as the pump didn’t. Pump that is. Oh, it did hum slightly, and there was a tantalising dribble of solvent from the nozzle –  but the over all effect was under whelming in the extreme.

As with most males I had glanced at the user manual, but I confess that I hadn’t really read every line – OK, to be completely honest I had actually read the cover and little else. However, on closer inspection of the several pages of English and French language supplied text I discovered some quite important information that both I and the nice young pimply faced kid (NYPFK) at Princess Auto who had pointed at various things as I had asked questions, had obviously over looked. The solvent that the NYPFK had flagged was a light distillate sometimes called ‘Varsol’ which is used as paint thinners for oil based paints, and has also been used in parts washers since time immemorial.  All the people I knew locally with parts washers used this same solvent, and some of them had purchased Princess Auto parts washers previously, so I was just a little bit puzzled as to why the pump had failed.

As I re-read (or perhaps more accurately ‘read’) the instructions much more closely, I finally found ONE line (well, two actually as of course it was also there in French – this is Canada so we get a set of instructions for everything in both official languages) that very casually mentioned the need to use a water based cleaner ! This was confirmed when I disassembled the pump and discovered that it had (in very small print) a notice to the effect that it was a water fountain pump (!!) requiring a GFI electrical connection. A water fountain pump ? The heart of my shiny new parts washer was a water fountain pump ? There is no macho in water fountains – I was crushed. I was also a tad miffed as other than that one mention in the instructions (kindly and usefully repeated also in French), the rest of the verbiage talks about making sure you use a solvent not have a flash point lower than 100 F, that you don’t smoke, be sure to use in a well ventilated area, not to mess with the fusible link that drops the lid in case of fire, etc. At first glance this all seems inconsistent with the use of water as a cleaning material, but on further reflection of course I realised that like everything else for sale these days, it was made in China and I’ve seen their water so possibly it isn’t too strange after all ………….but I digress.

So I called the friendly Princess Auto people and explained that I had sinned and not carefully read the instructions, but that in my own defence one of their folks had pointed me at the ‘real’ solvent when I bought the parts washer rather than the fake stuff that doesn’t really work very well. They were more than kind and offered to refund me the cost of the solvent and replace the seized up pump which is why I like dealing with them – their tag line is ‘no sale final till you are satisfied’ and they do seem to mean it ! Before taking them up on their offer however I did a bit of research on the internet to see where I could buy a parts washer that would work with ‘real’ solvent and discovered an interesting thing – for supposed environmental reasons, water based parts washers seem to be becoming the standard which is really quite odd. Commercial shops have companies that handle the spent fluids, but I’d guess that 99% of the small parts washers like the one I bought are sold to people just like me who do not have access to commercial products or services. What water based cleaners we do have access to are not recyclable at all, so I suspect many people just dump it down the sewer ! Paint thinners or Varsol on the other hand are completely recyclable and there are all sorts of places you can take it to for safe disposal. The other point of course, is I live in Canada and as I look outside at the deep blanket of snow on the roadways here in Calgary (they talk about ploughing the roads here, but in our area this doesn’t happen) the obvious inference is that it must get cold during the winters so if you do not heat your shop when it is not in use, your shiny new water based parts washer will be history ! Clearly any sensible person would want ‘real’ solvent. Quite strange. 

Luckily Princess Auto sells several different parts washers and also stocks parts for them, and so have two different pumps on offer. The water fountain version, and also a fully encapsulated, epoxy filled one which closely resembles the 518020 model made by Little Giant Pump in the USA. The Princess Auto part 4216107 seen to the right, had the outlet pointing the wrong way, but I took a chance and accepted it as a free replacement for the one I had on the assumption that I could make it fit. Luckily, it was quite easy to alter and with the help of a few fittings that I picked up a local plumbing place I soon had it up and running – and pumping real solvent !

I did my Dilbert victory dance a second time and am now on to other things – using freshly cleaned parts !

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