tragedies #12: fixing my dryer's tensioner

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 03-26-2010 10:30 AM 2715 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 11: the back yard fence saga Part 12 of tragedies series Part 13: Chinese elm logs and the forces of nature »

I mentioned my broken dryer in my last post. It’s not woodworking, but it’s ‘making,’ and I thought it might be of mild interest here.

So a few months ago I heard a loud bang while doing laundry and soon realized the dryer was no longer spinning. The motor was running, but the belt had popped. Not knowing how to access anything, I must have spent an hour fighting it away from the wall and digging through internals, unscrewing panel after panel, hitting dead ends, before realizing you can just forcefully pull away the bottom front panel to get to where I needed to be. The tensioner was something of a tavern puzzle to me, and must have taken 15 minutes that first time to comprehend and get refitted.

Flash forward to this week, another bang revealed the tensioner had popped again. It had been riding rough ever since the previous fix, and this time, finding the pieces sprinkled around the inside, I was unable to get them all back together. I decided the brass bushing in the plastic tensioner wheel had ground away on one side, creating a conical through-hole that no longer fit the axle, the pegs on each side of which too no longer well fit the bracket holes. I’d have to build something.

I used a gear puller to press out the worn central brass bushing from the plastic tensioner wheel. I found some aluminum rod in my collection that was slightly wider and turned it down to fit very snugly. I drilled a small through hole and eventually found some thin brass rod to fit through that to act as an axle. Brass wears nicely, so I figured that would do it. The pin was just wider than the bracket holes, so I hammered on them to ‘smoosh’ the brass into the holes, which worked, but also bent up the rod inside the new aluminum bushing, making it spin terribly on the brass pin. It also peened out the brass on each end, locking the whole thing together with the bracket pressed tightly against the wheel sides, so it didn’t spin well at all. I fit it and the wheel wouldn’t spin. I drilled out the brass pin and hammered it free of the aluminum bushing. I fit another length and had it working great, then one tap to lock the brass made it all seize up again. I sort of had it working, but the central hole hadn’t been drilled concentrically from one end to the other, so the wheel was bouncing back and forth on one side so loudly I had to immediately turn the machine off in disgust. It would tear itself apart. I gave up for the day.

Today, renewed by sleep, I went at it again with a new idea. I had peened the aluminum bushing I’d made so it would stay in place in the plastic wheel when hammered in – something I learned from the peening on my planer’s cutterhead shaft. I had to use the gear puller to get that back out, as even a hammer and rod wouldn’t budge it. That’s actually good, as I wanted that part locked to the plastic wheel. I decided today to walk to the hardware store and pick up some nesting tubes and just build up the bushing in the middle. I got a handful of nesting brass tube, as well as a small stainless steel tube, and stainless pin that would fit in that and seemed about the right size to work as an axle through the bracket’s holes.

At home I found several brass tubes in a bin that were the same as what I’d bought, and realized I hadn’t gotten tubes up to the size of the plastic wheel’s through-hole. No matter. I chucked the aluminum bushing in the lathe, used a Sorby micro tool holder and largish drill bit to manually drill a hole through the middle, large enough to get the lathe’s internal turning tool in there, then turned it up to the OD of one of the nesting brass tubes. I cut that tube to length, then another brass tube for inside of that. Now I was down to the stainless steel tube size and used a pipe cutter to cut that – harder than brass, but it worked pretty fast. Then it wast the stainless pin’s turn. I marked it a bit wider so I could trim down the sides’ ODs to fit the bracket holes, and gave up when the pipe cutter wouldn’t get through it. I cut it with a Dremel with cutoff disc, cleaned up the cut in the lathe, then turned the ends down a bit to fit the bracket holes. It all went together well, and because of all of the nesting tubes, and slippery brass, it spun beautifully. Fitting it all back together, the dryer made very little noise – back on par with how it was when I first moved in a few years ago. I did 3 loads of laundry.

Here’s a shot of the mess following the making of the whole thing this morning:

mess at lathe

Here are the nesting pieces, and note the aluminum bushing I made that’s pressed tightly into the plastic wheel:

nested axles in dryer tensioner wheel

Closeup – the shoulder of the little dovetailed end is normally flush with the rest of the nested tubing ends, but is being pushed up by the surface upon which the wheel rests:

nested tube axles in dryer tensioner wheel

Everything fitted together, ready for reinstallation in the dryer:

wheel fitted into bracket, ready for installation back into the dryer whence it came

Back in the (old, internally filthy) dryer, it works!!!

fixed dryer belt wheel

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

12 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4455 days

#1 posted 03-26-2010 12:04 PM

niice saved
and I´m with you
this year everything´s
seems to fall apart
even my own body
had said stop for a while :-(
but at least I can enjoy
being on L J

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4449 days

#2 posted 03-26-2010 01:34 PM

Nice break down Gary (as in post, not the dryer). You added a few digits to the credit column to offset those tool purchases. Real life events that prove that justification one battles with before picking up the tool.

Good Job!


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4399 days

#3 posted 03-26-2010 02:05 PM

Isn’t disassembling a washer or dryer fun. I almost totally disassembled my washing machine before I realized that I could have gotten to the parts I needed in about 3 steps. Before you spent all of that trouble and time to make your own parts, did you inquire as to the cost to purchase new – factory – parts for your dryer. I have repaired both my washer and dryer with similar types of problems and the parts were cheap. Usually, the small mechanical parts are not expensive at all. I think I spent $15.00 for the parts to repair my washing machine. That was after I had attempt to “fabricate” something and realized it wouldn’t work. When I found out how cheap it was, I had a Homer Simpson “doh” moment.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Jimthecarver's profile


1124 posts in 5126 days

#4 posted 03-26-2010 02:59 PM

Two thumbs up on the repair Gary, but I do agree with doc. Those parts are very cheap.

-- Can't never could do anything, to try is to advance.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4449 days

#5 posted 03-26-2010 03:37 PM

Gary will have to answer, but I think in this particular case it was not about the bucks but about seeing if that metal lathe can be used to machine the parts that are needed. Way cool when you can play repair man and replace the parts that are needed. Way cooler to machine the parts you need and work it up from scratch. Personally, I would prefer to practice that technique on parts that are accessible then wait until a part breaks that I cannot find a manufacturer for.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5068 days

#6 posted 03-26-2010 05:32 PM

While this was an impressive fix, here is one more idea. Why not build a drying rack? This method results in $0 of energy costs each time you have items to dry and it keeps your house cooler in the coming summer months. Don’t get me wrong, a dryer is a wonderful thing to have on occasion, but I love my drying racks. They also don’t wear out your clothes as fast (all that lint generated by the dryer is just worn away material). Just an idea.

View lew's profile


13488 posts in 5096 days

#7 posted 03-26-2010 05:36 PM

As David said, with all these successful experiences, you may well have started down the path to a new career. I’ll bet there are plenty of building managers looking for a good maintenance guy. Should be easy work for a problem solver like you!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View davidpettinger's profile


661 posts in 4541 days

#8 posted 03-26-2010 08:01 PM

Yeah, I agree with Doc, but nice save and interesting blog. Bookmark this page for next time though, they even have manuals.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4722 days

#9 posted 03-26-2010 09:46 PM

Well, the parts may been cheap, but it’s true – it was fun to get it working, and I had the fix a lot faster than I would have ordering it and waiting for it to arrive. I was able to get laundry I desperately needed done so I could go out in the world as a clean person again :)

Hokie – don’t you need to iron after drying them on a rack? I definitely don’t iron! I pull them right out of the dryer and put them on hangers :) I think I might go through clothes a bit too fast to wait for the rack, actually. My clothes are big (2XL shirts, size 46 pants, and it’s hard to understand in pics how tiny my little house is. I’d have laundry all over the place if I went the rack method. I don’t even really have room to hang them up. There’s a little hook in the laundry room, but when I hang up a shirt on it, it droops to the sink basin below, draping partly into it, and the sleeves touch the racks over the machines, and the shelving on the adjacent wall. Everything butts up against other things here. It’s like living in Japan.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5068 days

#10 posted 03-28-2010 07:04 PM

well, i haven’t ironed in a couple years now. I mostly hang things like towels, washclothes, jeans, t-shirts, socks. t-shirts (plain white) tend to have another shirt over top so as long as you go that route, some small wrinkles will never be seen
socks – obvious
towels tend to flatten themselves out due to weight and they get folded anyway which tends to get the rest of the wringles out.
jeans seem to be able to shake their wrinkles in about an hour after putting them on. Most things can be dry in a day by hanging, even indoors. I’m not trying to twist your arm into making/buying one (-: Just explaining how I work it. I don’t want you to think I’m walking around with wrinkled clothes.

View 308Gap's profile


337 posts in 4343 days

#11 posted 04-04-2010 11:15 PM

After a 1 1/2 yr stay in boston I found clothes racks are more of an east coast thing, along with rotarys, shopping carts called carriages, oil heat, smog is called haze ( more PC that way ), dunkin doughnuts every 20 feet, no street signs because its always been that way, rust in the tap water, and they dont have ding dongs they have ring dings. My stepsons love my clothes dryer and a house not filled with clothes racks.

-- Thank You Veterans!

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 5053 days

#12 posted 05-02-2010 09:27 PM

With two kids and Jenn and myself (and my picky uniforms) we would be hard pressed to use drying racks, that and the dog would probably shed all over them (especially the uniforms or anything of mine ;-)

I completely agree with and understand the fixing it yourself idea. We once had a huge family one weekend and my Dad, older brother and I spent (in retrospect) way too long ‘fixing’ the home made barbeque when we could have run into town, bought the required parts (for less than it cost us to make them in the shop, probably) and driven back home if far less time and for far fewer dollars than it actually took and cost us; but we did it ourselves and that was worth the difference to us. My $0.02 worth :-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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