Way To Go, Stud

I thought this evening I’d grab my slingshot and spool of fishing line and rig a 73′ ham radio wire antenna when we returned to our trailer this afternoon. We’d been at a wonderful luncheon with our local unit of the Wally Byam Airstream Club and I told them what I wanted to do when we got back. I’d love to have that great antenna working in the morning between 7am and 9am for the daily 40 meter net session. But something more appealing came up after the luncheon before we even left Winston-Salem.

Yesterday morning one of the two gas struts supporting my truck’s tonneau cover broke. The gas strut’s fine but the attachment at one end broke from the tonneau cover’s supporting arm. Hatch doors on SUVs and SAVs and some vans have two gas struts to lift and hold that hatch door. One won’t do the job. It’s the same with my tonneau cover – two gas struts, working properly and together, just barely get the job done. One strut alone leaves you with a truck bed cover that you’re going to need a prop stick for, if you can even get the tonneau cover open.

Pretty much anything with gas struts has ball studs. The ball studs are the attachment point for the ends of the gas strut. The ball studs are under a tremendous force and may break off. Mine did over a week ago (after a mere eleven years daily service). I sort of fixed it but the repair didn’t hold and yesterday I realized I needed to find the right parts to really fix this.

8mm ball studs

A good friend suggested I might find at an AutoZone auto parts store the gas strut ball stud I needed for my tonneau cover. I’ve never bought one before. I didn’t even know how they’re packaged or who would sell them. Last night I searched on line and found it’s sort of a specialty item despite tens of thousands (way more?) cars and trucks use this. But Randy is right (by the way, he says Camping World also sells these). AutoZone on Country Club Drive in Winston-Salem had one package of 8mm ball studs. A pair of them set me back less than $4 with tax. Thanks Randy for the spot on referral.

I didn’t realize what the 8mm or 10mm label on ball stud packaging referred to or I might have worried I wouldn’t have the tools I wanted. Turns out, the measurement refers to the threaded portion. Not realizing this, I pulled out my grab bag of threading taps and found one to match the threads on the ball stud. Guess what, it’s an 8mm tap. The correct drill bit size is embossed on the side of the tap. I was delighted to find the requisite 17/64″ drill bit (very slightly larger than 1/4″). I have a drill, bit, and tap. Okay, what I didn’t know or plan hasn’t hurt me so far.

One of the gas strut’s ball stud had yanked clean out of the tonneau cover’s hinged support arm. The hole was too small for the 8mm shank of the new ball stud. I could have drilled out the hole to 5/16″, slid the new shank in and secured it with the included nut. But I decided it would be stronger (and a little bit of fun) to drill and tap the support arm for the 8mm shank to thread into plus put a nut on the extra length of shank on the other side. It looks like this:

ball stud threaded through support arm and secured with nut

The gas strut snaps onto the ball after I pry the spring release open. I made a mistake and pried too far. The spring popped off and landed in the truck’s pretty messy bed. Once I found it I realized what a mistake it was to pop it off. Much harder to put this spring on than to open and close it. I’ll be more careful in the future to only pry it open enough to release from the ball. Here’s a picture of the gas strut snapped properly onto the new ball.

gas strut snapped onto new ball

I’m no mechanic. I’m just lucky enough to have some tools I’ve collected over time and a tiny bit of mechanical aptitude. I’ll admit I have no idea if this installation method, tapping threads in the support arm, is better than making a larger hole and slipping the threaded shank through. But it was fun to do this and, like a puzzle completed, it’s satisfying to have the pieces fit together. This took me 15 minutes to complete once I had the tools out and the drill plugged into the power receptacle. Here’s a picture of the not so many tools I needed and used today for this quick and easy project to keep my tonneau cover easy to lift and hold open.

all the tools needed for this job

The oddest thing is to figure why I have an 8mm threading tap. I guess it’s from 1978-79 when I was keeping my Toyota Hi-Lux truck going. I never thought the tap took up space I needed for something else. It’s approx 5/16″ diameter by 2.5″ long. Of course, this is one of how many threading taps I have in the toolbox? Debbie doesn’t worry too much about what’s in the truck or under the trailer as long as I find things to do outside when she wants inside space. And you wondered how two of us live full-time more than ten years in this small Airstream trailer?

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