Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cleaning and Re-Greasing a Mid-Century GE Fan

Some people always talk about how things aren't made like they used to be. Sometimes that's even true. In the case of this fan, that's both good and bad. It's super quiet, it looks great, it's durable, and it moves a lot of air. The faint whir of those metal blades pushing air sounds like an airplane. But those metal blades also have a sparse guard, which makes it unfriendly for little fingers. Stick your hand in there and you could get hurt pretty badly.

I love this fan anyway, but though it's something you can maintain, that doesn't mean anyone has maintained it. When I turned it on at low speed, it would work hard to spin up. If I wanted it on low, I'd turn it on high first to get it started, then turn it down. I thought it was time to take it apart and see if there was something I could do. (The picture above is from after the cleaning. The shiny brass logo piece was tarnished to the point that it was the same color as the brown wire around it.)

The guard and blades come off with simple screws. In fact, the whole thing comes apart with just a couple flat-blade screwdrivers. That nub hanging off the center contains a wick that carries lubricant up to the bearing, but the wick was hard and the lubricant well was dry. I'm not sure if it took oil or grease originally, but whatever it was, over its decades of neglect it had become almost a hard wax. I filled it with multi-purpose grease when I reassembled it.

Note the almost complete absence of plastic components. The coils are wrapped in what looks like wax paper. The strain relief on the cord is just simple string. Here you can also see the wear on that shaft from the lack of lubricant in the sleeve bearing.

See the heat marks on the rotor. I think the lack of lubricant was overworking the motor.

Once I had the rotor out, I unscrewed the back half. This is the gearbox that controls the oscillation function. If this thing had been better maintained, this might not be necessary, but you can clearly see this could use a cleaning. Otherwise, the cover on the gearbox comes off without swinging out from the main motor housing.

There it is. Nothing but black, hardened grease.

I dug the stuff out with Q-tips, toothpicks and my Gerber multi-tool. I also sprayed in some brake cleaner to help loosen the stuff up, but the black wax seemed near impervious to it.

Most of the gunk had to be removed by manual rather than chemical means.

My wife was kind enough to wash the fan blades and guard for me. Simple soap and water did the trick.

I filled the box with general-purpose automotive grease, and the front reservoir with motor oil. It spins up much faster and operates more quietly than before.

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