When the fix is so simple it’s difficult to see
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- The start
- Owner’s manual a bust
- Here he comes to save the daaaaay!
- Call a real man
- Once upon a time…
- … presto!
- Manuals and aftermarket support
- Analysis of the problem
Most days my blogs come from tests of airguns, ammunition and shooting equipment. They are straightforward and unfold in familiar ways. But ever so often a blog idea jumps up in my lap and licks my face like an excited puppy. That describes today’s report.
It all started about 3 weeks ago when I went to fill my carbon fiber air tank, using my high-pressure Omega Supercharger compressor. I flipped the start switch and the fan came on but not the water pump. The Omega Supercharger is water-cooled and has numerous safety features built in. One of them is the compressor pump will not operate if the water pump is not on. That’s so the compressor pump will always be cooled — a reliability feature.
But now my water pump wasn’t coming on and I had to sort it out. That has happened several times in the past after the compressor has been transported any distance in a car, but I was always able to get it started eventually (meaning in minutes). This time was different.
Owner’s manual a bust
The owner’s manual that came with my compressor isn’t of much use. You basically have to know how to operate the compressor to make sense out of the instructions. And, no, there is no schematic!
I played around with the various safety switches and electrical connections for several days before calling my gun buddy, Otho, for assistance. I thought he might swoop in and fix it with a glance, like he sometimes does with other things that puzzle me.
Meanwhile I took my carbon fiber tank over to AirForce and asked them to fill it with their industrial compressor. It took that wonderful machine only 10 minutes, but the drive over to the plant and back was why I got a compressor of my own.
Here he comes to save the daaaaay!
Last Thursday Otho came by with his multimeter and we took the access panels off both sides of the compressor. I had hoped to find a loose wire that could be attached to an obvious connection, once the insides were exposed. Alas — no luck! Lots of wires, but none that were loose.
Next, we traced the wires from the front panel, where the names of the switches they are connected to told us their functions. Again no luck. I am going to show you a picture of the back of the panel, so you can see what we saw.
Lots of wires that all have to be checked at both ends! This is not as simple as I hoped.
I pulled on every wire at both ends, hoping to find a loose or broken connection. Again, no luck. Everything is wired well and all the wires seem to be doing their jobs.
By this time I had spent a couple hours looking at the compressor and Otho had spent nearly an hour of his time, as well. We decided that the next thing should be a continuity check of every wire in the cabinet — hence the multimeter.
If all of this sounds involved, that’s because it is! Very involved! But how else are you going to do it? How else, indeed!
We put off working on it that day, but knew we’d have to tackle it real soon.
Call a real man
Otho and his wife were over at my house to watch a movie Sunday evening and one of their friends called. He wanted to take them to dinner but when he got to their house they weren’t there. So he came over to my house, and that’s when the lightning bolt struck! Otho’s wife, Marsha, said, “Why don’t you ask Joe to look at the compressor?”
Otho burst into a smile that threatened to separate the top of his head from the bottom. Joe, you see, knows about stuff — stuff Otho and I just putter around with.
Once upon a time…
Actually, war stories don’t begin that way, but this is a family blog and I can’t write the real lead-in for my war story. Other than the intro, though, war stories and fairy tales are exactly the same.
Joe looked at the compressor while I described its operation. Then he looked at the transparent water hoses in the back of the cabinet and noted the large air bubbles above and below what I think he called the water pressure sensor. Then he said, “I think it may be vapor-locked.” Instantly I was transported back to the summer of 1955, standing on the side of the road with my father and mother and sisters, next a hot 1953 Chrysler that had vapor-locked. I knew he was right!
Large air bubbles that were in the two transparent water hoses (were the arrows indicate) were the clue for Joe that the compressor water pump was probably vapor-locked).
The other side of the compressor cabinet holds the heat exchanger where the fan cools the hot water. More transparent water hoses. Now, I know why they are transparent.
“I can hear the pump trying to run but it has no water to push. I think if we just turn the compressor upside down so these bubbles go back into the holding tank, the compressor will run again.” So he did. And it did. And that’s my little story — almost.
Manuals and aftermarket support
This was not a report about an air compressor. They are all different and each has its unique operating quirks. However, by a strange coincidence, Otho’s wife brought me a manual for a Freedom8, a simpler version of the Freedom F10 Shoebox compressor on this same Sunday evening. After spending time trying to fix my compressor, I was pleasantly surprised by this manual. It seems to be very well written and would be a great help to anyone with a problem like mine.
And here is today’s lesson. Manuals and after-sales support are far more important than people think. Sure, with certain kinds of products you don’t really need them. I mean, who needs a manual for an icecube tray? But when equipment becomes complex, users often need the technical information that should go with it to operate it properly, and to know what to do when it quits. Sometimes calling the manufacturer is impossible and the importer may be difficult to contact. That’s when good information comes into play.
Analysis of the problem
My specific problem (what caused the compressor to quit this time) is I don’t use my compressor often enough. I might fire it up once every 6 weeks, and this time it had been more than 3 months since I last used it. In that time, some water will evaporate. By simply turning on the water pump and running it for 30 seconds every week, I can probably keep all bubbles out of the water lines and avoid ever having this problem again. That’s the kind of stuff that needs to be in the manual.