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HOW TO

Steering Column Rebuild

The Second Chance Garage has recently taken ownership of a 1952 Ford pickup, compliments of one of Dr. Crankshaft's aging friends. The situation couldn't be more advantageous, since we were in need of a general utility vehicle and the price was right: free.

Of course, the old Ford is in "as is" condition, meaning it is in need of a total restoration. During that restoration we are going to substitute its old, clunky, worn out 3-speed transmission with a newer T5 unit from a 92 S-10 Chevy Pickup (using an adaptor to connect it to the original flat head V8). Since the T5 utilizes a floor shift and the old tranny was shifted by a column linkage, we've opted to remove the linkage and "re-make" the column as if it always was designed for a floor shift.

This is where we started...
This is where we started...

That led to one of those "might-as-well" situations frequently encountered in restoration: since we're going to do some cosmetic work on the column, why not take apart the steering box and do a rebuild while the column is out? So, here we are...

The steering column assembly in the old Ford truck is a simple design. We started disassembly at the steering box, after a "serious" cleaning of the exterior with mineral spirits. Once the parts came out we cleaned them thoroughly and inspected the worm and segment gear teeth and the ball bearing support. Surprisingly, neither showed any measurable wear.

The first step is to get as much of the grease off as possible. A bath in mineral spirits along with some steel wool did the trick.
The first step is to get as much of the grease off as possible. A bath in mineral spirits along with some steel wool did the trick.

Moving on to the column, we removed the steering shaft from the top of the column, noting that the little bearing at the top was completely worn out due to lack of lubrication. Once the column was stripped we removed the shift linkage (this was accomplished by a combination of hardware removal and a hacksaw).

After using a hacksaw to remove the shifter, we used a grinder to smooth out the remaining metal.
After using a hacksaw to remove the shifter, we used a grinder to smooth out the remaining metal.

While new gaskets and parts were being ordered, we turned our attention to the necessary metalwork required to make the top of the column "round" again. We decided that the best way of doing so would be to fill the voids with weld and then grind off everything that didn't look like a steering column...

We added weld a little at a time, letting it cool between each pass so that the column would not overheat and warp. Alternating between welding and grinding, we built up a smooth surface.
We added weld a little at a time, letting it cool between each pass so that the column would not overheat and warp. Alternating between welding and grinding, we built up a smooth surface.

This part of the work isn't pretty. It's a case of weld-and-grind, weld-and-grind until the metal looks correct. Final application of body filler and sanding produced a pretty good "original" look. Total time for this exercise was 2.5 hours, including the painting process.

On the left, some minor grinding is still required. Afterwards, we filled in remaining pits with plastic body filler, sanded and painted. Finished steering column is on right.
On the left, some minor grinding is still required. Afterwards, we filled in remaining pits with plastic body filler, sanded and painted. Finished steering column is on right.

We decided to paint the steering box in a cast-aluminum finish. It isn't original, but it looks good and will show up any future leaks better. Also, it adds a nice contrast to what will be a big, black engine bay. The top cap on the steering box is pressed steel, and we wanted it to contrast somewhat with the box itself. Therefore, a few minutes of buffing yielded a nice, shiny, nickel-plated look. Clear enamel will protect the finish.

Ready for re-assembly.
Ready for re-assembly.

Assembly of the steering box/column was quite straightforward due to its simplicity. First we covered the nicely-painted column with Saran Wrap to protect against scratches and greasy fingerprints. We then lined up the components, "dry-fitted" everything to be sure they went together correctly, and then greased the pieces for final assembly. We put a little RTV on the gasket surfaces to ensure against "weeping" or leaking, then tightened the fasteners.
Note: Since the shop manual didn't give a torque setting for the fasteners, we consulted our "Nuts and Bolts About Nuts and Bolts" article to get a suggested torque for the size and grade of the hardware.

Dry fitting the parts to be sure that everything fits properly.
Dry fitting the parts to be sure that everything fits properly.
Packing grease into bearings and inserting them into steering box.
Packing grease into bearings and inserting them into steering box.

On the left, we experienced difficulty removing the old bearing at the top of the column, so we pushed it out from the bottom. On right, gasket sealent is being applied.
On the left, we experienced difficulty removing the old bearing at the top of the column, so we pushed it out from the bottom. On right, gasket sealent is being applied.

On left, installing column onto steering box. On right, the finished project.
On left, installing column onto steering box. On right, the finished project.

Once everything was put together and tested for smoothness and full range of motion, we loaded the steering box with the proper lubricant and adjusted the worm/segment lash just enough to remove sloppiness. We will have to do the final adjustment when the entire steering system is installed and the truck is sitting on its wheels.
Tip: If you don't refill the component with lubricant at the time of assembly, be sure to wire or tape an index card to it, with the card saying "No Lubricant." Otherwise, we guarantee you will forget to fill it later.


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