08 May 2013

Nipple lubrication and locking

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Nipple lubrication and locking is a subject that arouses a little too much passion. Most methods have merit — after all wheels aren’t falling apart at every turn. In the past I’ve used linseed oil, different brands of anti-seize, grease, Wheelsmith SpokePrep, light oil, heavy oil and DT Spoke Freeze.

Products such as linseed oil and SpokePrep combine lubrication and thread locking in one. That’s convenient but I prefer to separate these functions. With an oil lubricant, I can add more during the build if I feel it’s needed. If you let the wheel tell you when it’s done, then some builds will take longer than others. And sometimes I have to leave a wheel and finish it later. With oil it’s no problem. My preference is for a heavy oil over a lighter one since heavy oil is more likely to stay where you put it. To ensure total lubrication I submerge my nipples oil, which is messy but effective.

In theory thread locking isn’t necessary but life is real and stuff happens. If you want low maintenance wheels that can handle a breadth of conditions, thread locking helps. I use DT Swiss Spoke Freeze, a product made in collaboration with Loctite. You might think Loctite acts like a permanent glue and without oil it does. But, combined with oil, Spoke Freeze locks nipples while leaving wheels serviceable. Soaking my nipples in oil ensures this outcome.

There are other thread locking strategies but I reject them for one reason or another. You can use a bit of glue on the nipple but at the risk of preventing future adjustments. You can buy self-locking nipples. In some cases these have thread lock compound pre-applied. In other cases, such as the Sapim product, nipples are manufactured with deformed threads that cause friction and prevent unwinding. A neat idea but increasing friction can induce windup during the build.

Nipple seat lubrication

It’s also important to prepare the nipple seat for building. On a rim with eyelets I use a drop of light oil. On a rim without eyelets, which I prefer, I first deburr the nipple seat with a light touch from a handheld drill bit. Then I lubricate the area with a small amount of grease. These steps help nipples turn freely and reduce the possibility of damage from friction during wheelbuilding.