So my sweetest Jean calls me at work and says that the kitchen sink started spraying water everywhere and when she got Benjamin’s attention, he turned off the taps under the sink while she held the handle and mixing valve assembly in place… and this situation will prevent the dishes from being washed, because the dishwasher is on the same taps… should they do the dinner dishes in the bathtub?
Along with “going to work” and “paying taxes”, you can add “hours-of-darkness plumbing repairs” to the real list of “Adult Subjects”! No, I’ve never seen this stuff in any movie or book either…
Now we’ve been around this bend a couple times already- there’s a disconcerting ‘loseness’ in the handle and then the whole business comes off in your hand and water from the supply pipes is shooting up and bouncing off the valve. There’s a retaining collar that holds the valve down on top of the common gasket for hot and cold in, and the path out to the spout. When the collar backs itself out, it, the valve and the handle are free… and you have to disassemble the combination before you can put it back where it belongs.
Fortunately, it was a weekend and daylight the first time this happened. By trying every other possible tool, I determined that the grub screw holding the handle to the valve is a Torx #10, and took it apart. A low-quality stamped steel ‘wrench’ purchased for large plumbing threaded stuff can sorta get a grip on the retainer’s flats, helped by a dishtowel to protect the pretty, chromed, brass retainer that can’t really be seen once its all togther. I go to finger-tight with my fingers first- really oughta buy a wide, wide, spanner set or adjustable wrench. My beloved brother Ian, a far more accomplished constructor, mechanic and fix-it guy than I, calls the Crescent style adjustable wrench, “The wrong tool for every job”. And he carries ’em in his tool boxes just like I do… but I digress.
I had a feeling that the valve and its faucet would require more maintenance after the first time it came apart, if for no other reason than the thick, heavy, rubber seals for in and out flows in the valve body are far from pristine looking… but nothing blocked the flow too bad, and the sink would be ‘down’ if I took the valve off to the hardware store for new seals… so I never did. This kind of procrastination seldom actually fixes anything, or prevents the wear and tear of the physical world, and so it was in this case. I’d probably enjoyed taking it apart and putting it back together 2 or 3 times before this latest one.
But this time was different. Sure enough, the retainer had backed out and I found the Torx set and started working on it, but I noticed that the handle didn’t move as freely as I was used to… and sure enough, when it was all apart, no question, the valve was binding when the handle rotated or moved fore and aft to open or close the common flow passage… and that’s how it was coming undone- with a little binding, torque exerted to move the valve was finding its way to the retainer, and unscrewing it.
Ok, that explains that, now what? The valve is a clear-plastic gizmo with three rubber-bushing-sealed holes in the bottom, and a set of bumps and indendations that prevent it from rotating against the common gasket in the spout column. The outer casing is more than one piece of clear plastic, glued together, with a pair of ceramic plates, the lower one fixed in place, with two input and one output hole through it. The upper plate moves, and has indentations, but not holes through it. Lining up the indentations in the top over the holes in the bottom allows water to flow. The two ceramic surfaces are so flat and perfectly fitted to each other that they prevent water flowing unless an indentation is over a hole, but can slide back and forth.
Ours, however, weren’t sliding, and it was easy to see why. Some black or dark gray plastic piece that had been in the top of the cartridge was wearing out and its remains were stuck in the space at the top that the lever moved in. Black stuff had also built-up in on the ceramic sealing surfaces, so operating the valve with the handle was difficult, and just about impossible without the handle for mechanical advantage.
To make a long story short, this valve “cartridge” follows the (loose) conventions for “European” 40mm single-handle faucet cartridges- it is, for example, 40mm in diameter. There are a number of different cartridges and cartridge parts for sale in Berkeley and Oakland, at Ace Hardware stores, Orchard Supply, etc, but I haven’t found any American Standard 40mm “European” style replacements yet. Have to look harder, try the internet I suppose.
So here it is, midnight, and I’ve got this thing in my hand and the sink doesn’t work. Two choices- put it all back together as is, not functional, and turn on the water so the dishwasher can run, or try to fix it here late in the night. Of course I opted to try to fix it.
There’s a pair of bosses that the lever passes through and a roll pin serves to keep it all in place and provide a pivot. I drove the pin out with a bamboo teriyaki skewer, and had more loose pieces, but wasn’t any closer to the guts where the trouble was. It was time to apply wisdom others have taught me.
My friend Ted Brattstrom is a great tinkerer and taker-apart of old stuff. Long ago he taught me that if you find something that’s not working, and looks dirty or in need of cleaning, taking the thing apart and cleaning it gently but thoroughly, then re-assemble it. In better than half the cases, the item will work when re-assembled. Maybe not well, maybe you’ll know its got only a bit more useful life, maybe you’ll know to be VERY gentle with it, but it will work. But I couldn’t get inside the clear plastic bit to clean out scraps of plastic junk that was getting in the way, nor could I figure out how, precisely, the valve worked. Eventually I concluded there was no alternative to cleaning it as best possible as it was, and trying to understand it, and perhaps if that worked, the faucet would work too.
So I filled the open spaces and my palms with liquid soap and started trying to separate all the crud off the good pieces and float it out. I poked with my bamboo skewer. I flipped it over and saw all the black plastic bits that had built up on the ceramic surfaces, and scraped them with the bamboo. Between soap, scraping and flush-outs at the bathroom sink, I got the sliding surfaces clean and most of the junk out of the top. A little work with tweezers and long nosed pliers got the rest. Now the valve was clean, moved as freely as it ever had, and I was confident I’d missed not possible way of takingit apart. I put the biggest piece of removed plastic back on a ‘nose’ sticking out from the upper, moving, ceramic piece, which was guided by the plastic ‘glove’ over this protuberance. I had to trim off some damaged pieces, and rinsedin the hottest water I could stand, put it all back together, and at about 2:30 started the dishwasher, secure that we could run the sink next morning.
A few days later if failed again, and the remains of the little plastic bit that guides the upper ceramic plate were now gone. Without the plastic’s guidence, the plate can rotate and the ‘nose’ can get entangled with other stuff inside the cartridge.
I sorted through all my considerable stash of plastic bits and pieces, but coulnd’t find anyhing right enough to replace what had worn out. Then it occured to me make something not exactly like the old part, but formed of bent styrene and capable of cushioning the parts without binding them, and guiding them gently. Alas, there wasn’t space for the pieces of plastic I had.
Then the penny dropped and I thought- Oh Yeah! I got a srip of brass the same width but thinner than the plastic I was using- .5mm or less, vs .75 or more for the plastic. It took two tries to bend a suitably shaped sheet-brass replacement bit, and it works great.
I still need a new cartidge, but I’ve brought this one back form the dead 3 or maybe 4 times now.