08 May 2013

Nipple lubrication and locking

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Nipple lubrication and locking — this is one of those subjects that arouses a little too much passion. All the methods have merit, after all quality hand built wheels are not falling apart at every turn. I like to think I’ve tried most methods and can make up my own mind based on what smooths my process and perfects my product. 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 into one. My preference is to separate these functions. With an oil lubricant, I can add more during the build if I feel it’s required. I don’t allot a specific amount of time to complete a wheel rather I let the wheel tell me when it’s done. A longer build may call for more oil. That said my preference is for a heavier oil over a lighter one. A heavier oil stays put better. To ensure total lubrication I immerse nipples in Phil Tenacious Oil for 24 hours before building. (Yeah it can be messy but whatevs.)

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. Two kinds of locking include combination lubricant-lockers and Loctite. Lubricant-lockers such as SpokePrep work. But 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 it operates as intended.

For the sake of completeness there are other thread locking strategies. You can use a bit of glue on the nipple but I recoil at anything that prevents future adjustments. Now you can buy locking nipples too. In some cases these just have lubricant-lockers pre-applied. In other cases, such the Sapim Secure Lock 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 Hozan tapered reamer. 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.