Rehabilitating an Old Variac

Variac Rotor Before Fixup
Variac Rotor Before Fixup
Variac Brush Holder and Staking
Variac Brush Holder and Staking
Variac Rotor After Fixup
Variac Rotor After Fixup

So I’ve had this ancient 5 A Variac on the heap for far too long, finally came up with an actual application, and discovered that not only was the line cord shot, it basically didn’t work.

Of course, I had to replace the cord & outlet before I discovered that it didn’t work…

The classic Variac failure happens when the carbon brush wears down to nothing, at which point the holder scrapes on the windings and the whole thing burns out. In this case, the brush still had 3/16″ left, but the sliding holder was firmly corroded in place.

I soaked it in PB’laster, rapped it all over with a small drift punch, and managed to drive the holder out. In the process, the brass sleeve around the brush holder came out, putting the entire problem on the bench.

The rotor had two brass rivets securing the brush contact bar (the part that’s connected to the actual brush holder by a length of copper braid) that would not come out, nohow. After I broke one off (the first picture), I found that they were swaged over on the bottom, so I broke the other one off and punched both stubs out.

I spent a few hours wearing a headband magnifier and gently filing everything to a pair of slip fits: brush holder into sleeve, sleeve into rotor. The rotor is aluminum, so I applied a liberal dose of oxidation inhibitor, slipped the sleeve in place, and staked that sucker down.

Which meant I spent another half hour filing the brush holder to restore the slip fit…

Turned out that the rivets were 40 mils, the holes were 43, and 00-90 machine screws are 43.5. I don’t have a 00-90 tap (mostly because I know I’d break it by looking hard at it), so I just ran a screw into the hole and formed the threads. They must have 10% engagement, tops, but this isn’t a high-stress application.

This is, I think, the first time I’ve ever used those 00-90 screws and nuts. The washers are 0-80 so they reach over the brush contact bar far enough to hold it in place. Dang, those things are small!

The main conduction path seems to be through a brass slip contact, into the aluminum rotor, through the brass sleeve, and into the carbon brush. I’m not convinced the rivets / screws conduct any appreciable amount of current to the contact bar and through the braid, but I shined up the contact patches anyway.

Put it all back together, fired it up, and it worked!

Ought to be good for the next half-century, at least…

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