Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Moen Lavatory Faucet Restoration

The old faucet pictured below has seen better days.

It was in our basement bathroom, where it had already seen years of service before we moved in twelve years ago.

It was still working, but its operation was getting balky and stiff, and one could charitably characterize its appearance as 'shabby'; less charitably as 'wretched'.

So, I bought a nice new chrome-plated faucet that I brought home and left sitting in its box for a good many weeks so it could get accustomed to its new address. (One doesn't want to traumatize a new plumbing fixture by installing it immediately.) Needless to say, there came a time when someone other than I decided that it was high time the new faucet got installed, so installed it got.

Now I have an old spare faucet that's just begging me to restore it to pristine condition. A new cartridge is in order, and I found a gloss enamel that's a near match for the colour, so I'll see how well I can refinish it as well.

All that said, on with dismantling it.

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The Knob and the Cartridge Retainer

This faucet is a pretty straightforward thing to deal with. It's a 'cartridge' design wherein a single element does all the valving. The cartridge is supposed to just pull straight out. I ran into a bit of a snag with that that I'll get to shortly.

1) Knob Insert -- i.e. the plastic plug-button in the centre of the knob:
  • Get a dull knife blade or some such thing under its edge and it pries out, giving access to the screw that fastens the knob to the cartridge stem. Here it is having just been removed.

This insert no longer fits snugly, and its decorative inner screw-concealment 'cover' is a ruin. I'll have to come up with a fix for that.

2) Screw
  • It's a 10-24 x 1/2", chrome-plated truss head with a No. 2 Phillips recess. Remove it and the knob can be pulled straight off, bringing you to here.

That stainless steel band with the upward protrusion is called the 'stop tube' -- its protrusion provides the stop points for the knob's extremes of hot/cold setting rotation. (Amount of flow is governed by pulling the knob outward.)

A little further disassembly brings us to here.

The stop tube has been slid off, and a washer and retaining 'fork' have been removed. The washer serves as a backstop for the knob. The retaining fork was the last item in the way of cartridge removal.

Now is a very good time to stop and take a close look at the cartridge's stem. Note that there's a bit of a notch at the end on the top side, and there's a letter and a number etched on the lower flat. Make a note of that to guide you come reassembly. There's nothing in the faucet's construction to prevent you from installing the cartridge upside down. If you do that, the cartridge will still work, but you'll have reversed the proper hot and cold directions for the knob's operation.[1]

Removing the Cartridge

This is where I ran into a bit of difficulty. The cartridge is supposed to just pull straight out, but this faucet's cartridge had been in place for a long time, and it didn't want to budge. See this post for a way to construct a light slide hammer from common iron pipe fittings. A light slide hammer is the ideal tool for dealing with this.

Here's the cartridge out of the faucet.

And here we are with the aerator unscrewed, and the underside cover removed.

All that's left is those two plain-slot screws holding the innards to the shell. With those two screws removed, the innards should just come away, but mineral deposits and the like around the neck of the cartridge receptacle may make removal difficult. A vinegar soak can be helpful. If you need to hammer the thing, stick a length of dowel into the cartridge well and hammer on that. Do not hammer on the end of the cartridge receptacle; you'll distort it.

Here it is fully dismantled.

Now I need to clean everything up and refinish the shell. The bore of the cartridge receptacle looks like it could stand a polishing; I'll have to come up with a harmless way to do that.

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The Cartridge Receptacle's Bore

Here's what I came up with for polishing the bore.

It's a nine inch length of 1/2" diameter dowel, with a slot cut in one end by my table saw. Stuff a small wad of fine steel wool in the slot, chuck the dowel in a portable drill and you have a bore polisher that cannot do any harm.

It's not a great photograph, but here's the best I could do to show the result.

And here's a view of the whole thing after a vinegar soak, and some steel wooling of the copper tubes. A good blow-through with compressed air ensures that nothing of the steel wool stays behind.

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The Underside Cover and the Cartridge Receptacle Retainer

Paint remover took the finish off the underside cover fairly easily. The cover is nicely chrome plated.

I'm tempted to just leave it like that, but a proper restoration should hew to factory practice, so I'll paint it.

Down in front in the above photo is the retaining plate for the cartridge receptacle. It had a poor excuse for a yellow zinc dichromate plating on it that came off when I wire-brushed it, so I'll paint that as well.

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Replacing the Cartridge

The cartridge pictured much further above is a Moen P/N 1225. (There's a similar one that's interchangeable -- P/N 1220.) I got a rather pleasant surprise when I called the local plumbing trade supply house to ask if they had one in stock. The gentleman told me they had, and when I asked the price the man said it's free! It seems that when you own a Moen faucet, you get free replacement cartridges in perpetuity.

The cartridge comes sealed in a little plastic bag. Its O-rings and seals are pre-lubricated,[2] so there's nothing to do to it but get it correctly oriented and pushed into the receptacle. You can temporarily attach the knob to make that even easier to do. Once the cartridge is fully seated, reinstall the retaining fork and that part of the job is done with.

Having gotten this far, I wanted to be able to pressure-test the faucet, so I built this test fixture.

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Preparing and Painting the Shell

Here's a view of the shell after several applications of paint remover.

It's a curious thing about paint remover's effect on enamelled objects like this -- there are always spots left that seem impervious to paint remover. That mystifies me. Anyway, some scraping and sanding and steel wooling is still in order.

I'll give it my usual paint job consisting of a primer coat followed by two enamel coats, all within the span of just under two hours. I get excellent results from that routine.

I'll apply the primer coat to all surfaces, inside and out, then enamel only the exterior. Then I'll set it aside in a safe place for at least a week so the paint can harden undisturbed -- that's another key to a good outcome. Spray paints may 'dry' quickly, but truly hardening is another matter. That takes days.

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Here it is ready for painting, after a couple of hours of unspeakable tedium.

There's some corrosion pitting around the perimeter of the base, and where the stem end of the cartridge receptacle emerges. I wasn't able to eliminate all of that, so this will not be a truly 'flawless' restoration. It'll do.

If you'd care to see what's supporting the thing underneath, this post reveals all.

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And finally, here it is painted.

I'm so glad that's over with. It's so easy to botch a spray-paint job, and I managed not to botch it. Off to its hardening spot it goes.

I still have to paint the underside cover. In a week or so, I can do the final reassembly.

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Final Reassembly

Ok, it's as ready as it'll ever be. Here goes.

Here's a view of the innards back in place, with a bead of clear silicone sealant applied along where the lower portion of the underside cover fits on.

I like to seal that part of a faucet so water can't wick in there.

And here it is fully reassembled.

With the new cartridge in it, it has its lovely smooth feel to its operation back. And after all that, I guess it behooves me to obtain a new replacement for that yellowed, ill-fitting knob insert, if such can be had.

Anyway, it's done -- fit for installation and use.

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Addendum -- New Knob Insert

It turns out that the thing can be had -- for a price. If you go to the Home Depot and hand over the outrageous amount of $5.99 plus sales tax, you can go home with one of these.

So, here at long last is the faucet well and truly done with its new knob insert in place.

The original insert must have shrunk; it was quite a loose fit. This new one fits perfectly.

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I've neglected to mention the mounting hardware bits; those I cleaned up and enamelled. Here they all are ready for installation.

There. Done. Absolutely, positively completed.

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For Sale

I really have no use for this item. It's for sale in the store.

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[1] Moen's literature points out that this feature is purposeful. In a situation where the hot and cold water supply lines were installed opposite their normal positions, the cartridge can be inverted so that operation at the faucet is normalized.

[2] Never lubricate the O-rings or seals of a Moen cartridge with ordinary 'plumber's grease'; they'll swell. If the internal O-rings are so greased, the cartridge's ease of operation will be ruined, and it will likely leak eventually. If the external seals are so greased, the cartridge will be rendered extremely difficult to remove.

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