Wrenchin’ Wednesday: Recycling dead bearings into press tooling

Phillip Thomas

Reuse, recycle, and remember to save those odds and ends from your next project. As anyone who’s built out their first shop space knows, getting the big tools—those hydraulic presses and specialty clamps—is the easy part. Rigging parts to work with them, however, is an adventure in and of itself. There’s an endless list of dies, blocks, and attachments that eventually stack up around the shop just for the sole use of holding a part for the press operation, and all of it costs money. Good thing project cars break things, right?

Phillip Thomas

One of my favorite parts to save after a job are bearing races, the hardened steel inner and outer rings that the rollers or balls of the bearing ride against. Being hardened steel, they’re quite tough and won’t compress, and it’s easy to come up with a variety of shapes and sizes from different bearings. In particular, the lower ball joints of my 1996 Suburban K2500 will protrude through the lower control arm, making the install tricky with most off-the-shelf ball joint presses, as the top of them will eventually make contact with the press, which is perched against the control arm to exert force on the joint. These ball joint press kits do come with several sleeves that will fit, but the clamp can’t open enough to include one above and below (as seen in the picture), so a shorter sleeve or spacer has to be used.

These bearing races actually came out of the 10-bolt axle of a 1996 Roadmaster during a rebuild, but one of the pinion bearings ended up working for this job, fitting the provided tooling of the ball joint press perfectly and spacing it just high enough off the control arm to clear the ball joint itself as it squeezes into the arm. It’s tough to discern the bearing race in this photo, but it’s the silver ring in the stack of the press, and it’s so vital to this job that I keep this recycled bearing race in the Suburban in case I have to do this job road- or trail-side.

They are also wicked handy as seal presses too, giving you a safe surface to hammer on as the seal works into its bore.

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