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Sal Ammoniac

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The Stationary Engine Mailing List relies on the latest technology for its existence, its members making use of computers and the Internet for information exchange. This month, we experienced a couple of breakdowns in that technology.

First of all, the went quiet for a few days, due to some problems with the main computer that handles the List traffic, resulting in messages disappearing into cyberspace. Most of us on the List are so used to the high volume of mail generated by members that if nothing comes through for a couple of hours, we KNOW there must be something wrong. A couple of days later, I left the comforts of home for a family holiday in the southwest of England. 1 was fully equipped for mobile communications, but that, too, failed on the second day, leaving me isolated from the rest of the world.

Despite having no means of keeping up with List conversations for the last week, I did have the rest of the messages from the past month, and from those I've selected the latest topic for the readers of GEM. Coincidently, given the failures of current technology, the chosen subjects relate to modern-day use of technologies of the past. - Helen

One of the first pieces of literature most engine men acquire is the necessary manual for their particular engine, which is usually a great source of information, from starting tips to useful information for keeping the engine in good running order for as long as possible. One member of the List wanted to see what the others thought about following the repair advice given in his engine manual.

The Economy book says to use one pound of 'sal ammoniac' to a gallon of water to seal up cracks in water jackets. What is sal ammoniac and has anyone ever used this to seal small cracks? Never was any good at chemistry!

The List is blessed with folks from all walks of life, as well as all ages and geographical locations, so responses, both the technical and the practical, came quickly from those who knew this method and had tried it.

Sal ammoniac is ammonium chloride. I have made, in the past, a thick paste of iron filings, ammonium chloride and water to use as a sort of mortar or filler for repairing small holes in castings - it seemed to work.

You've already gotten an answer. I'll chime in and add that I got sal ammoniac in brick form from McMaster-Carr. A brick might be a bit hard to dissolve in water, but you could check to see if they have it in powder form. Sal ammoniac bricks are used for cleaning the tips of soldering irons. I'm sure there are other uses, too.

Sal ammoniac is an archaic term for ammonium chloride, NH4C]. It is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system so be careful if you use it.

Another thing that works very quickly and effectively rusts iron or steel (should be a good replacement for sal ammoniac in this application) is the ferrous chloride solution that results from taking muriatic acid and adding steel wool to it until the steel wool dissolves and no more bubbles evolve. It's a pretty, green solution, and it'll rust iron or steel in no time.

Also, when applied with something like a cotton ball to bright zinc-plated bolt heads and almost immediately rinsed off, it turns them black. The solution doesn't keep well, as it oxidizes and precipitates out a yellow rust sludge. It remains an effective rusting agent, however!

I used it twice and it worked well for me. I ordered the stuff from a pharmacist and got four pounds in a plastic container. I did it another way, warming the solution in the hopper with the help of an immersion heater. I put an air hose in the hopper with minimum pressure to circulate the solution. At 100-110 degrees F, I let the solution go in a bucket and waited for the block to cool down to normal room temperature. 1 did this four times and all the cracks were closed by rust. Then it just needed a good rinse.

How about a good cleaning of the inside of the hopper and using a little Quik Poly? This fast-setting epoxy is like water. It will run into a crack and in a few moments you have a solvent proof, waterproof filled crack. The Quik Poly is good to 300 degrees F, as I recall.

If you plan to use this sort of approach for water hopper cracks or for holes in fuel tanks, the Quik Poly folks recommend using tape on the outside until the Quick Poly sets up. Either that or use a lot of Quik Poly!

I agree that you should attempt to keep the Quik Poly on the inside of the water jacket only and avoid getting any against the outer wall of the cylinder

I see just one problem with this method. When you coat the inside of the hopper, you diminish the effectiveness of the heat transfer. I know this will not be a problem most of the time, as most of us run our engines quite slow. But, something like a shoe-box Fairbanks-Morse D might get way too hot. Just a thought to consider.

As is often the case with this type of discussion, it revived some memories of using this method in the old days.

I remember my late father (a railway man with the Queensland government railways) telling me how the big, square, overhead railway water tanks were built. Their sides consisted of as many square cast iron panels as required, all identical and slotting into each other. They must have been about 4 feet square, and stacked probably two panels high and as many long and wide as required.

The gaps were then 'rust sealed' by ramming in the sal ammoniac and iron filings as you described. The initial (and any later) water leakage did the rest. They would not have been small cracks between the panels, either. This method would have allowed easier transport and handling to erect tanks of any capacity.

Thanks for reminding me about this. I had forgotten.

Thanks for the information from the past. Using sal ammoniac must have a pretty common thing, and used for a long time, to have been noted in the owner's manuals of many engines. 1 am going to give it a try on an engine with a hairline crack in the head. The crack is so fine I did not realize it was there when 1 painted it.

Those who've tried it can vouch for the success of this old remedy. Around the same time as this discussion, someone asked who used his or her old engines for practical purposes. Not belting them up to various items for displays, but genuinely putting them to work. Some answers were more than a little tongue-in-cheek.

I spent all day Saturday limbing up oak trees at the house and cutting those limbs up with the 6 HP Hercules buzz saw. I find the buzz saw a much safer alternative to a chainsaw, especially on small branches that a chainsaw tends to grab and sling into your shins. Besides, 1 can run the buzz saw in shorts and don't have to be all dressed up in protective clothing for a chainsaw, with earplugs and a safety shield.

I'm curious to know who uses their antique engines and accessories to do real work around the house/farm. Tell us about the engines you are using and what you are doing with them.

Not an old engine, but I have a friend who uses an old JD tractor to run a belt-drive hammer mill to grind feed for his cows. He could probably buy it cheaper, but where is the fun in that?

I met a fellow about 15 years ago who had a Stover-powered cement mixer he still used whenever he needed to mix up concrete. Maybe I ought to see if he is done.

We make ice cream using the breadbox Fairbanks. This week I modified the freezer for use with the Lorenz, so we'll be making the first batch with that engine on Saturday. We also use the Fairbanks to turn apples into juice. The juice is fantastic, but there really wouldn't be any compelling reason to make juice if it wasn't an excuse to play with iron.

At one time there was a plan to use our big hacksaw in the garage, but the hassle is just too great compared to the smaller, electrically powered saws.

I use my World War II era milling machine on a weekly basis, and when I was raising a few hogs and had planted corn I used my hand-powered IH corn sheller to shell the corn for the hogs. I also have used an antique post drill in my shop to drill 5/8-inch holes in -inch plate. I also have used my old forge for heating and bending iron from time to time.

It's good to know that some engines are still being used for their intended purpose. Ours, when not being actively worked on, tend to be used only for background music while other jobs are being done.

Last month I promised news of the Tillinghast half-breed's first UK show. Despite the loading process taking a good three hours, we managed to successfully take her out of our narrow entrance and transport her to the show, where she was received with great enthusiasm and interest. She ran for several hours at a time, entertaining folks with the occasional loud crack from her homemade barker! As we were also able to get her BACK into the garden on the first attempt, it was, all in all, an extremely successful weekend.

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England.

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