Wherein the Intrepid Author Shows the Novice Reel Collector How to Clean a Fishing Reel
Part 1: Vibrasonic Baby!
One of the banes of reel collecting is the fact that so many of the collectible reels out there have been abused by the angler; now, this is not one of the epistles about how everything has to be "mint" or a lament that anyone would have the temerity to take out a piece of fishing tackle and actually fish with it. However, of all the items in the angler's kit, the average American angler--both past and present--took very little care of their fishing reels. If you don't believe me, peruse the vintage reel selection on eBay.
Most of this damage could have been avoided if the original owner had taken a few simple steps, such as cleaning the reel after use, properly oiling it, drying it when it got wet, not dropping it in the mud, etc. The hard truth is, however, that their carelessness can be your benefit. Many reels that would sell for far more can be found at a bargain, and with some time and effort, can be restored.
In the coming months I am going to walk you through a number of ways in which you can clean a fishing reel. Keep in mind I am no expert and if you've got some time, I strongly recommend you wade through the discussion on ORCA's Reel Talk Cleaning & Restoration Forum about the nature of cleaning a reel. Keep in mind, not all reels should be cleaned, and that it is always best to start with a low-end model before attacking that Frederick vom Hofe.
There are multiple methods to clean reels. Today we are going to go over the Vibrasonic method--which uses ultra fast vibrating liquid to remove any debris, dirt, gunk, etc. from a particular item. I purchased a small vibrasonic tank from eBay for something like $30, but they run the full gamut of prices.
I decided to test the Vibrasonic on a Montague trade reel marked "Waterwitch" that was pretty scummed up by years of use. The handle knob was frozen, the gears could barely turn, and had hardened gunk (probably dried grease) on the spool. Overall on an ORCA grading scale it rated about a 3/3.
This was a Sears, Roebuck & Co. trade reel that sold in the 1920s for $2.95, making it about 80 years old. Not an expensive model to begin with, the years had not been kind to this model, and so despite reasonable photographs from eBay, I was able to purchase it for under $5.
When I got it in the mail I was certain it could be restored, as it seemed to have no major damage (dents, broken gears, missing pieces, etc.). So I set out to restore it and decided to use the vibrasonic tank to clean the reel.
Like all cleaning, you start with disassembly. The best investment any reel collector (or lure collector for that matter) can have is a fine set of gunsmithing screwdrivers. I love Chapman screwdrivers as the heads are not tapered, and thus can help avoid major problem problems such as buggered screw heads, scratches, etc. They make interchangeable heads of all sizes.
Anyway, back to the Waterwitch. After disassembling, I ran the pieces under water and used an old toothbrush to remove as much of the gunk as I could, both inside and out. Then, it was into the vibrasonic tank with the pieces, making sure they were not touching so as to avoid any scratching.
The unit has several benefits; first, it uses tapwater. I chose to run it with hot tapwater to help loosen the grime, and it seemed to work nicely. Second, it has an automatic shut off mechanism that runs in a three-minute cycle. I ran it for five cycles for 15 minutes of vibrating goodness. Then I took out the pieces, ran them under warm water to clean off any last debris, and dried them. Then I cleaned out the vibrasonic tank (do NOT forget to do this).
After the pieces dried, all that was left to do was to put a coat of Goddard's (make sure you use only a non-caustic metal polish; if you don't believe me I dare you to read this) and reassemble the reel. Here are the results:
Pretty nice, if you ask me. The reel will never pass as mint, but you would never be ashamed of having a reel that looks like this in your collection. And since its a fairly scarce Sears trade reel, I would not have hesitated to pay $30 or more for one in this condition if I didn't already have it. Instead, a $5 investment and an hour of work got me the same reel. Plus, it has the additional benefit of being squeaky clean inside and out--and runs like a top. One side benefit is that the handle knob--which was frozen tight like so many reels you find--now spins cleanly too. That vibrating water gets in almost everywhere!
It doesn't take many cleaned reels like this to make up for the price of a vibrasonic cleaner--depending on how much you pay, of course. Some vibrasonic tanks can cost several hundred dollars and I imagine work even better than the bargain unit I bought. I've used it on a dozen reels so far with good results; the best results have been on nickel-plated reels such as this. Plus you can clean your eyeglasses with it (you can't believe how dirty they are until you've cleaned them once in a vibrasonic tank).
So in my opinion, the vibrasonic tank works best with nickel-plated baitcasters. It did not appear to do any harm to the bakelite handle knob, and I have cleaned a few bakelite sideplates in it with no noticeable damage. Make sure the stainless tank on your vibrasonic is squeaky clean before putting any items in it. Always use the plastic basket so that the metal parts do not scratch the tank and vice versa. I cleaned the gears in the tank but not the screws (which I cleaned by using a screw driver to "tighten" them into a clean rag, which cleaned the threads nicely of old grease).
As a proviso, keep in mind this is only a guide and the author accepts no responsibility for any damage done cleaning a fishing reel based on the method(s) described.
-- Dr. Todd