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Really Clean That Lead Screw!

By Roy L. Lang

I really don’t like cleaning the lead screw on my 13 year old lathe. It constantly attracts bits of swarf and gunk that seem to take an inordinate amount of time to remove. Contemplating the unhappy state of the lead screw and the time to clean it, I was reminded of the trick of using a flattened nail to clean a mill file. Something similar should work on the lead screw…in theory at least.

The first attempt at using the edge of a piece of broken MDF worked pretty well. A little more thought led to the following method:

Using a piece of MDF or soft pine, cut one end to a long tapered edge, similar to a wood chisel. The size is not too important, just make sure the business end is wider than the lead screw and there is enough length to hold securely and safely. (I used an 18” piece of soft pine.)

With a round file or rasp, make a curve in the newly cut chisel edge. We now have our “thread chaser.” The thin curved edge should fit nicely between the threads of the lead screw and keep the tool in place.

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The cleaning process starts with the application of your favorite de-greaser. Let that sit while adjusting the lead screw gears to about 4 tpi or so. Run the lathe at about 150 rpm. This should give a comfortable speed for the cleaning process. Chase the threads using a little pressure to clean difficult spots. The final pass should use a bit of paper towel held in place with the chaser. Make sure to keep fingers and clothing away from the screw while doing the cleaning. Apply a coat of your favorite oil and you are all set!

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