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1 - Oil for Babbitt Bearings

There are about as many opinions as to what kind of oil should be used for babbitt bearings as there are people using babbitt bearings. The general consensus on what kind of oil to use is that it is really not that important - what is important is that the operator is using some kind of oil on the bearings.

Most old literature suggest that babbitt bearings be oiled with a "light machine oil". Any kind of light weight spindle oil between ISO-10 to ISO-68 should work fine. With that said, here is some specific information on oils used with Babbitt.

1.1 - Way Lubes

The most recognized name is probably Mobil Vactra #2. Way lubes are formulated with tacifiers and EP (extreme pressure) additives to handle linear movements. The do work in some low speed bearing applications. Mobil changed the formulation of Vactra about 10 years ago at the request of the metal working industry so that the oil was more compatable with synthetic and semi-synthetic coolants. The printing industry complained and the old Vactra is available as Vacuoline. The generic name for Vactra #2 is; ISO-68 medium way oil.{reference:|}

1.2 - Spindle Oils

Bearing and spindle oils and greases get more confusing. When somebody asks me to spec a spindle oil for them, I always ask, what's max RPM, what RPM do you run at most of the time, and what type of bearings, how are the bearings lubed, and what does the factory reccommend? Most of the time, I will get them a generic unless they ask for a specific brand. These generics are usually a R&O (rust & oxidation inhibited) stabilized, hydraulic recirculating oil, like Mobil DTE.{reference:|}

1.3 - Spindle Grease

Generally speaking, babbitt bearings should not be lubricated with grease. Grease will not properly lubricate a spindle running at high speed on Babbitt. With that said, some slow speed babbitt bearings will operate fine with grease. However, do not assume that just because the babbitt bearings on your machine were acquired with grease fittings that the machine was intended to run on grease. Many times, unknowing machine owners will insert a few grease fittings on a machine, give it a squirt of grease from to time and "let her run". Unless you have documentation from the manufacturer that a babbitt bearing was intended to run with grease, it is probably better to assume that you should be running it on oil.

2 - Centralized Lubrication Systems

This section is based on a write up in: Machinery's Handbook, 11th Edition. 1943.
Various forms of centralized lubrication systems are used to simplify and render more efficient the task of lubricating machines. In general, a central reservoir provides the supply of oil, which is conveyed to each bearing either through individual lines of tubing or through a single line of tubing that has branches extending to each of the different bearings. Oil is pumped into the lines either manually by a single movement of a lever or handle, or automatically by mechanical drive from some revolving shaft or other part of the machine. In either case, all bearings in the central system are lubricated simultaneously.

Centralized force-feed lubrication is adaptable to various classes of machine tools such as lathes, planers, and milling machines and to many other types of machines. In modern machine tools used to their full capacity, the pressures on certain bearings are relatively high and under such conditions, pressure lubrication is most advantageous. Furthermore, it permits the use of a lighter grade of oil, especially when the pressure on the lubricating system is sufficient to assure complete coverage of the moving parts.

The planning of a centralized lubricating system must be done in accordance with the character of the work, the prevailing pressures, and the type of machinery to be lubricated. On milling machines, the installation of oil reservoirs of sufficient capacity or of independent force-feed lubricators simplifies the problem of design and construction. There are other types of machines, however, for which flood lubrication is regarded as a practical necessity. These machines are equipped with self-contained oiling systems, the lubricant being pumped to the bearings, gears, and slides by means of a pump, placed either in the oil reservoir itself or at some convenient external point.

3 - Gravity Lubrication Systems

Gravity systems of lubrication usually consist of a small number of distributing centers or manifolds from which oil is taken by piping as directly as possible to the various surfaces to be lubricated, each bearing point having its own independent pipe and set of connections. The aim of the gravity system, as of all lubrication systems, is to provide a reliable means of supplying the bearing surfaces with the proper amount of lubricating oil. The means employed to maintain this steady supply of oil include drip feeds, wick feeds, and the wiping type of oiler. Most manifolds are adapted to use either or both drip and wick feeds.

3.1 - Drip-feed Lubricators

A drip feed consists of a simple cup or manifold mounted in a convenient position for filling and connected by a pipe or duct to each bearing to be oiled. The rate of feed in each pipe is regulated by a needle or conical valve. A loose-fitting cover is usually fitted to the manifold in order to prevent cinders or other foreign matter from becoming mixed with the oil. When a cylinder or other chamber operating under pressure is to be lubricated, the oil-cup takes the form of a lubricator having a tight-fitting screw cover and a valve in the oil line. To fill a lubricator of this kind, it is only necessary to close the valve and unscrew the cover.

3.2 - Operation of Wick Feeds

For a wick feed, the siphoning effect of strands of worsted yarn is employed. The worsted wicks give a regular and reliable supply of oil and at the same time act as filters and strainers. A wick composed of the proper number of strands is fitted into each oil-tube. In order to insure using the proper sizes of wicks, a study should be made of the oil requirements of each installation, and the number of strands necessary to meet the demands of bearings at different rates of speed should be determined. When the necessary data have been obtained, a table should be prepared showing the size of wick or the number of strands to be used for each bearing of the machine.

3.3 - Oil-conducting Capacity of Wicks

With the oil level maintained at a point 3/8 to 3/4 inch below the top of an oil-tube, each strand of a clean worsted yarn will carry slightly more than one drop of oil a minute. A twenty-four-strand wick will feed approximately thirty drops a minute, which is ordinarily sufficient for operating a large bearing at high speed. The wicks should be removed from the oil-tubes when the machinery is idle. If left in place, they will continue to deliver oil to the bearings until the supply in the cup is exhausted, thus wasting a considerable quantity of oil, as well as flooding the bearing. When bearings require an extra supply of oil temporarily, it may be supplied by dipping the wicks or by pouring oil down the tubes from an oil-can or, in the case of drip feeds, by opening the needle valves. When equipment that has remained idle for some time is to be started up, the wicks should be dipped and the moving parts oiled by hand to insure an ample initial supply of oil. The oil should be kept at about the same level in the cup, as otherwise the rate of flow will be affected. Wicks should be lifted periodically to prevent dirt accumulations at the ends from obstructing the flow of oil.

3.4 - How Lubricating Wicks are Made:

Wicks for lubricating purposes are made by cutting worsted yarn into lengths about twice the height of the top of the oil-tube above the bottom of the oil-cup, plus 4 inches. Half the required number of strands are then assembled and doubled over a piece of soft copper wire, laid across the middle of the strands. The free ends are then caught together by a small piece of folded sheet lead, and the copper wire twisted together throughout its length. The lead serves to hold the lower end of the wick in place, and the wire assists in forcing the other end of the wick several inches into the tube. When the wicks are removed, the free end of the copper wire may be hooked over the tube end to indicate which tube the wick belongs to. Dirt from the oil causes the wick to become gummy and to lose its filtering effetc. Wicks that have thus become clogged with dirt should be cleaned or replaced by new ones. The cleaning is done by boiling the wicks in soda water and then rinsing them thoroughly to remove all traces of the soda. Oil-pipes are sometimes fitted with openings through which the flow of oil can be observed. In some installations, a short glass tube is substituted for such an opening.

3.5 - Wiper-type Lubricating Systems:

Wiper-type lubricators are used for out-of-the-way oscillating parts. A wiper consists of an oil-cup with a central blade or plate extending above the cup, and is attached to a moving part. A strip of fibrous material fed with oil from a source of supply is placed on a stationary part in such a position that the cup in its motion scrapes along the fibrous material and wipes off the oil, which then passes to the bearing surfaces. Oil manifolds, cups, and pipes should be cleaned occasionally with steam conducted through a hose or with boiling soda water. When soda water is used, the pipes should be disconnected, so that no soda water can reach the bearings.

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