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Rebuilding a Single Mantle Lantern

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Part Two: Cleaning and Preparing for Reassembly

Cleaning time! We're going to work over the different parts of the lantern now. The sequence is not really important but we'll start off with a couple of pieces that will take some time to finish. We're not going to talk about buffing wheels and bead blasters so you should already have everything you need to complete the job.

The first step will be the pump plunger assembly. After years and years of being inside the pump cylinder the leather pump cup at the bottom of the plunger will form to the size of the walls. It also may dry out completely, get hard and/or dryrot. So first inspect your pump cup. If the leather is completely inflexible or if it has any cracks that are all the way through leather you'll need to replace it. But this is quite rare; most pump cups are just formed to the cylinder or dried out and still good.

Fig 15A

Fig 15B

Take the pump cup and pull it back. This will open it up like an umbrella (Fig 15A). It may take some convincing to stay in this position but it will. Look again for deep cracks in the leather. If none just take the "opened up" pump cup and submerge it in motor oil (Fig 15B). It needs to soak at least an hour so just let it sit.

Next we'll replace the filler cap insert gasket. If your lantern has a filler cap that does not have a screw in the center, or if you are going to replace your current cap with a new one, you can skip this step and continue on.

Earlier we broke the filler cap down to three pieces: the cap, the center screw and the insert. The insert has a small gasket fitted inside that over the years will harden and crack and render itself useless. This is one of the most common problems with old lanterns and with a bad gasket they will not hold pressure.

Grab your eye protection, insert, fire extinguisher and propane torch and go outside. Find an appropriate spot to burn the insert on. I use a fire brick but a well-hidden spot on concrete will work. Just a spot where you won't start a fire! The old gasket may spit at you and it will be very hot so ensure you're wearing your eye protection when you do this.

Fig 16A

Fig 16B

Set the insert down on the burning surface with the gasket facing you (Fig 16A). Light your torch and start heating up the insert. It is brass so don't worry about the heat damaging it. Apply direct flame to the insert and watch the old gasket get real uncomfortable (Fig 16B). It should move and turn like an old dying snake. Once you see it lift and crack and begin to turn to ash it is probably done. The insert may glow by now and that is okay. Leave this to cool for quite awhile because obviously it got pretty hot. Once you can stand to hold it in your fingers, continue on.

Fig 17A

Fig 17B

The old gasket should be pretty easy to remove now. Use a very thin and sharp tool to remove the crisp remains. I usually us a dental pick for this and it works real well. The tool shown in Fig 17A is probably close to something you can find in your tool box. You have to make sure you get all of the old gasket out. Don't stop until the groove is clean-bottom and both sides. A wire brush will assist you at the end. Fig 17B shows a prepared insert with a new gasket, ready to install.

Fig 18

Putting in the new gasket is fairly easy. When completed it will sit completely flat all the way around. The new rubber has a tendency to want to lift around the edges, or twist. Just work with it and it will finally all sit down flat and tight. When done it should look like mine in Fig 18. Once you're done with this step set the insert aside.

Fig 19A

Next comes the hardest part of a single mantle lantern: removing the old valve stem packing. If you can, get your valve nut and look closely at it. The inside is threaded-you can see this all the way up to where the end of the packing is. Well, the entire nut is threaded inside. When that packing was installed and tightened down it formed itself to the threads. This makes removal rather difficult. Figure 19A has two pictures so you can see what I'm talking about here.

Fig 19B

What you have to do is break the old packing into many pieces so you can get it all out. To do this, set the valve stem nut down on your work bench with the larger end up. Take a small-to-medium sized flat-tip screwdriver and place it on the edge of the old packing. Refer to Fig 19B for this but rest the edge of the blade against the threads in the nut.

Fig 19C

Now take your hand and hit your screwdriver hard and "chisel" down through the old packing. Once you have done this once, and well, turn the nut 180 degrees and do it again, creating a slot in the old packing (Fig 19C, left).

You've split your packing into halves now. Spin the nut around 90 degrees and cut it again...and again...breaking the packing into smaller and smaller chunks. You'll see the "dust" from the packing falling out...pretty soon larger pieces will fall until the entire thing is gone. As shown on the right side of Fig 19C, the packing must all be gone from the bottom end of the nut. If you leave any of the old packing here the new one won't seat properly and it may leak. You can take wire brushes and the like down does not have to be perfectly clean but no pieces of the old packing should remain. When it is clean set it aside.

Next we're going to take some parts and soak them to remove all the soot and other fun things that adhere to exposed brass. Get yourself an oblong dish of sorts, something deep enough and wide enough to completely submerge all the parts we want to soak. In a Coca Cola or Pepsi bath, soak the burner tube and cap, "U" tube and venturi, generator nut, etc. These pieces are all brass and the soak will clean them pretty well. This is an overnight soak... Now if the bottom of the lantern frame is really cruddy you can put it in a large dish and fill the Coke to a point where it just reaches the upper lip of the frame bottom. But remember that the frame is not brass and it may react differently to the air when it comes out of the bath. That means rusting.

Once the brass pieces have soaked they will appear much more like brass. Wash them off with water and then dry them off with a towel. Set them aside as we'll do some more (and faster) cleaning in a little while.

On to the fount. There will undoubtedly be some rust inside. If you shake the fount real hard you'll probably hear it. The amount of cleaning depends on the amount of rust inside, obviously. Hold the fount upside-down and shake it, allowing the rust flakes to come out the valve hole and the filler hole. Shake and shake and shake until there is nothing left to make noise inside. If there is a whole bunch of rust inside, as in a complete layer of it, you can put some shotgun BBs in there to loosen it all up. Keep in mind that more rust means less metal and too much rust will render the fount unsafe to use.

Look at the filler cap hole. There is probably some rust and corrosion on top of it and around the inside where you can see. Shoot it with carburetor cleaner and go after the rust with a rifle bore brush or wire brush. A light scratching with a flathead screwdriver may be required. Be careful not to scratch the paint or nickel around the hole. Some of the rust will fall inside the fount-just shake it out again.

Once you have all the rust that you can hear out, time to blow it out and wash it. If you have compressed air, insert your nozzle into the filler hole and point the valve hole away from everything. Blowing into it like this will give you a thick stream of rust-dust. After doing this, or if you don't have a compressor handy, fill the fount about 1/4 way with clean gasoline. Cover the filler hole and valve hole and shake the fount real well. Pour out the gasoline into your "bad gas" container. Repeat this step over and over until the gas you pour out is clear. Don't snitch on this step...your lantern doesn't like rust being pulled up into the fuel & air tube.

If you have a nickel plated fount there are a myriad of hand-buffing pastes and liquids out there for you to use. I have tried BrassO and silver polish-they seem to work okay, none significantly better than the other. The amount of time you spend on a nickel fount is proportional to the shine you want.

We can treat a painted fount just like an old car, one that has been sitting in the sun for 30 or so years.

Fig 20A

Fig 20B

After many combinations and cleanings I have come up with what I think works best for founts: a good cleaner (I LOVE Simple Green) and rubbing compound. First spray the entire fount (bottom too!) with cleaner but shy away from the three holes in the fount. Let it sit for a moment (Fig 20A) to loosen the heavy build-up that may be on the very top If the fount has a lot of loose dirt on it, wipe it down now and re-spray with cleaner.

Now spray some cleaner into your dish of rubbing compound (Fig 20B). Rubbing compound can be really abrasive, which is good, but we'd like it to be a little less so and the puddle of cleaner in it does the trick.

Fig 21A

Fig 21B

Now you clean the fount just like you'd wax your car (Fig 21A). The cleaner/compound mixture will remove most of the black spots and residues and such. If you rub too hard or too long in one spot it will also remove paint so be careful. You'll note that your rag starts to take on the color of the fount. This is the oxidized paint coming clean. The area around the filler hole and the plunger cylinder are hard to get to so take a stiff tooth brush after them (Fig 21B).

Fig 22A

Fig 22B

While the compound is covering the fount we'll take the time to clean out the plunger cylinder. I use carburetor cleaner for this--do NOT use brake cleaner! Spray some carb cleaner down in the cylinder and try to get the sides where the corrosion has built up (Fig 22A). Take a rifle bore brush or a small wire brush and clean the sides of the cylinder (Fig 22B). Once you've done this turn the fount upside down to drain the spray. Then, with the fount still upside down, spray the cleaner up into the cylinder to remove all the grit from the check valve hole. When the liquid pouring out is clear feel the inside of the cylinder-it should be smooth. Repeat as necessary to remove that dirt build-up.

Fig 23A

Fig 23B

Now go after your fount again, this time with a soft cotton rag (Fig 23A). If the compound has hardened and is really hard to get off you can give it a light shot of cleaner to assist you. Use a new toothbrush for those two areas. When you have it all off you should have a very clean and much brighter fount (Fig 23B). Set it aside.

The last part that will require a real thorough cleaning is the fuel and air tube. These pictures are of a double-mantle lantern F&A tube but the procedure is the same... The F&A tube spends its life in the fount and often times in bad gasoline. Depending on how bad, and how long, the tube will grow a hard shell of corrosion around it and at the bottom. Most of the time the F&A tube can be cleaned rather than replaced.

First you need to go after the outside of the tube with some steel wool. Take care not to bend the soft brass tube but rub the entire outside to remove all corrosion and to give the brass a soft shine. Make sure you get the very bottom of the tube also.

Fig 24A

Fig 24B

Now you need to clean the inside of the tube. You can use carburetor cleaner or brake cleaner for this. Hold the tube in one hand and spray your cleaner down into the large end (Fig 24A). Spray enough so that the other end of the tube (the small hole) gets damp from the liquid. Let it sit for a few seconds. Now grab the F&A rod with your other hand and insert it into the bottom of the tube (Fig 24B). What we're doing here is plunging out the small bottom hole of the tube with the rod which is a perfect fit. Make sure you don't bend the rod and plunge the hole numerous times to ensure any corrosion built up around the inside base of the tube is broken free. Remove the rod and spray some more cleaner into the large end. If you have an air compressor, blow air into the little end to remove the cleaner and all the pieces of corrosion. If you don't, shake the tube violently with the large end down to remove as much cleaner as you can then let dry. Wipe off the little end with a clean rag and then blow out from (the little end) with your lips.

Fig 25A

Fig 25B

The F&A tube rod is soft brass so exercise extreme care here not to bend and destroy it. You may note a bit of build-up at the end of the rod. With steel wool, carefully remove it (Fig 25A). Get the rod to a soft shine and then wipe it off with a clean rag to remove all dirt and steel wool particles. Now grab the spring. Over the years, sitting in a compressed position, the spring will lose length and won't be able to apply sufficient force to lift the rod up out of the tube. Gently pull the ends of the spring to extend it. It will only be about 1/2" long-pull just enough so there is a slightly noticeable length gain. Now put the spring onto the rod (over the small end) and then place the rod & spring back into the tube (Fig 25B). By pushing down on the rod's large end with your finger it should go down without bind and the spring should push it back up without bind. Set it aside.

To clean the remaining metal pieces of the lantern you can use a steel brush and steel wool. The brass parts you have left un-cleaned like the valve, valve stem and frame parts may have a black "gook" on them. Remove this with the brush and then shine with the wool. Take the steel wool after the frame and it will come out nice too. The frame rest can be cleaned and shined with 0000 steel wool or a metal polish.

Fig 26A

Fig 26B

The direction disc can be a problem. The direction disk is the silver disk that is on the valve wheel and says "Open 1/4 Turn..." Any aggressive cleaning on the disc will remove the writing so we need to be gentle with it. Hold it in your hand with the lettering up and spray it real good with a cleaner like Simple Green (Fig 26A). Let it sit for a few minutes and keep it damp. Then use a finger tip as the abrasive and gently rub the dirt off (Fig 26B). If you get crazy here the lettering will come off. If some of the dirt is too hard to remove let it alone. Better to have a dark spot then to lose all the lettering around it. Clean the back side in a similar manner and then pat dry with a soft cloth. Shoot some cleaner on the valve wheel and clean it with a tooth brush and wipe clean. Set them aside.

If the brass pieces ("U" tube, burner tube, cap & screen, etc.) you have soaking in Coke or Pepsi have been there long enough, go wash them off real well with water and dry them.

Next we need to clean the frame-inside and out. The lower edge on most frames is plated so take a good cleaner after it. Most of the frame will come out nice with a combination of cleaners, brushes and steel wool.

Fig 27A

Fig 27B

The inside of the frame's air intake tube will be clogged with spider webs and dirt clods 90% of the time. Take a flexible rifle bore brush, as shown in Fig 27A, and give the tip a little bit of a bend. This is so the brush will fit up into the crook in the air tube. Then take the brush and work from the bottom up, through the bend, and clean it out real well (Fig 27B). Then take the brush and go in from the top and do the same. Blow it all out with compressed air, or blow into it hard. When you do this place your finger over the generator hole in the air tube so all remaining dirt and dust exits a bigger hole.

The last pieces are the glass and the ventilator. Use warm soap and water for both.

Your lantern is now cleaned and ready for re-assembly. It should all be out in front of you and clean, except for the pump plunger which is still soaking in oil.

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