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Monday, April 22, 2024
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HomeCruiseDIY: How to Build a Cutlass Bearing Extractor with Scrap Material

DIY: How to Build a Cutlass Bearing Extractor with Scrap Material

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As long-time cruisers we have fallen into the habit of doing (or at least attempting) most maintenance and repairs on our 35 year old aluminum-built S&S 41 “Pitufa” ourselves. Christian’s background is electrical engineering, so it was only logical for him to work on our electronic and electric systems, but over the years he also ventured into neighboring fields of expertise by watching mechanics and other experts at work and has become a jack of all technical trades. Initially the main idea was to go easy on the cruising kitty, but we found that DIY also saves time (good workmen tend to be booked out) and nerves (when our impatience clashes with the “mañana-mañana approach” of tropical paradises).

Block behind the bearing in front of tube. Press on the bearing and threaded bars to tighten the gadget. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Block behind the bearing in front of tube. Press on the bearing and threaded bars to tighten the gadget. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

When we replaced our cutlass bearing 3 years ago, the only model available in the local chandlery then was all-rubber (nitrile). We didn’t think it was a bad idea at the time, but retrospectively we cursed our decision and would never buy one again–the damn thing turned out to be nearly impossible to get out again. Banging it with an array of ever-growing hammers we had to find out that the harder you hit rubber, the more violently it bounces back without budging the slightest bit. We grudgingly admitted defeat and went to find an expert to do the job with a professional extractor. Chasing mechanics we were put off to the afternoon/tomorrow/tomorrow, some never showed up, others insisted that we would have to remove the shaft in order to get to the cutlass bearing—a very complicated procedure on Pitufa that would require dismounting not only the aquadrive and gearbox on the engine side, but also the skeg on the outside! Soon we had half the yard standing around our Pitufa, discussing our problem and we heard advice from freezing the rubber with dry-ice, via melting it all the way, to cutting off the P-bracket and welding it back on. Half of the ideas required gadgets that were unavailable anyway and the rest seemed too extreme—no way would we cut off a piece of our beloved Pitufa and how would we make sure that the P-bracket was welded on perfectly aligned afterwards? No, an extractor still seemed like the most reasonable solution and if we could not find a mechanic with a professional tool, we would have to build one. We spent the evening watching youtube videos and found tutelage: smiling, confident-looking men effortlessly pulling off various designs of cutlass bearings. Neither of them was sweating and/or swearing, piece of cake, we’d simply do the same in the morning.

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Gradually tighten the nuts and counternuts. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Gradually tighten the nuts and counternuts. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

We emptied our spare-part lockers, went through our scrap metal box and finally ransacked the piles of left-over material in the yard, but couldn’t find anything that resembled the sturdy metal plates the smug guys in the you-tube videos had used for their pullers. Finally Christian decided to tackle the problem with his Mad-Max engineering approach that has often proved successful in the past when make-shifting repairs underway. 

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We would simply have to make due with what was available: 2 pieces of wood, 1 piece of steel tube, 2 threaded bars, 4 big washers and 6 nuts. We carefully arranged the make-shift gadget around the shaft, making sure that the wooden blocks were nicely parallel and the tube centered on the bearing. Once everything was in place, Christian slowly started tightening the nuts in turn along the thread, gradually increasing the pressure of the steel tube on the rubber. The nuts seized twice on the threaded bars, the wood started showing cracks and we were close to giving up, when suddenly the resistance was gone and the bearing started moving! Once it was loose, he could hammer against the tube and push it out of the P-bracket. Then he cut it open with a hacksaw and we could push in the new bearing!

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Once the bearing is dislodged, it can be hammered out. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Once the bearing is dislodged, it can be hammered out. Photo by Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

After wasting almost a week running after mechanics, it only took one hour to make-shift the puller and another hour to actually get off the bearing. We could have saved lots of nerves and yard fees, if we had relied on our own skills right from the start instead of wasting time wooing elusive workmen. The new cutlass bearing is made of acetal resin, will last much longer than the rubber model and should come off nicely once it is worn out (in the hopefully distant future).

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Christian and Birgit have set out cruising in 2011 from the Med and have by now repaired and make-shifted their way around half the globe. Learn more about their adventures on their blog www.pitufa.at or follow SY Pitufa on facebook. Their travel book “Sailing Towards the Horizon” is available on Amazon!

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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at
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