Plumbing, Bilge, Part 4: Strum Box, Refurbishment

The strum box for the manual bilge pump
One small project that I undertook in my overall project to replumb the bilge on my boat was my refurbishment of the strum box for the manual bilge pump. My work on this bronze strum box for Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, is the subject of this brief posting.
You'll recall that the original configuration for the plumbing of the bilge resembled the lines in red in the diagram below.
The bilge contained one electric pump and the hose and strum box for the manual bilge pump (located in the port side cockpit locker). When I first visited the boat in August 2009, I saw the bilge filled with a disgusting oily liquid.
The owner was in the habit of storing his gas tank in the starboard cockpit locker. Over the years, the fumes from this gasoline had condensed and formed an oily residue throughout this locker, throughout the lazarette, and throughout the bilge.
When I returned to the boat in September 2009, the owner had cleaned up the bilge. Nevertheless, the residue of the gasoline remained.
The strum box was coated with this residue. That problem, in itself, was fixable. A bigger issue was the cracked hose. Bigger than this, though, was the corroded tailpiece between the strum box and the hose. I would later discover that this corrosion was rust, and that this tailpiece was not bronze, but iron. Yes, that's right. The knucklehead who owned the boat before me had used an iron tailpiece (for household plumbing purposes) on a bronze strum box (for marine plumbing purposes) that was designed to sit in salt water.
When I put a pipe wrench on this iron tailpiece to remove it from the bronze, it crumbled into many pieces. That's how compromised it was by the thick rust that surrounded it, inside and out. This was a quick and easy way to remove the tailpiece, but this convenience came at a price. Everything crumbled away except the threaded part of the tailpiece. This circular part remained firmly in place, within the threaded part of the bronze strum box.
In my frustration, I neglected to take any pictures of this rusty iron ring. It seemed that this strum box was ruined. I was determined, though, to do what I could to bring it back from dead. I carefully worked at it for a long time with a cutting wheel on my Dremel. Eventually, I was able to cut through parts of it and break it up.
That was the easy part. The hard part was removing all the remnants of rusty iron threads that clung tenaciously to the bronze threads of the box. If you click on the picture below to enlarge it, you'll see what I'm talking about. To remove this rusty iron, I had to carefully work the cutting wheel along the bronze threads, striving to keep the tool as steady as possible, so as not to damage the threads of the bronze.
After I had cleaned up the threads as much as possible, I cleaned the bronze with soap and water and different solvents to remove the oily residue. It was caked inside the box, and it clogged many of the holes in the bottom of it. These were the holes, of course, through which the water was supposed to flow. In some of the tight spots I had to use an ice pick and an old dental instrument to remove the grime by hand.
Soap and water, solvents,  and fine-tipped instruments alone did not bring this Wilcox and Crittenden brand strum box back to life. No, to bring back the shine to the bronze, I had to buff it.
A small sanding wheel attachment and then a buffing wheel attachment on the end of my Dremel were just right for this task.
This refurbishment of the strum box would not be complete until I purchased a new tailpiece to see if my work on the threads had been successful. As it turned out, it was, but not as successful as I had hoped. The Groco brand bronze tailpiece, though, helped me to clean-up the threads even more. I worked the tailpiece in and out of the strum box multiple times with a wrench until it fit snugly inside of the box.
I was glad that I was able to bring this old strum box back to life. I have no idea how old it is, because the Wilcox and Crittenden company - that great 19th and 20th century maritime hardware company in New England - is no longer in business. Nevertheless, I believe that it has many years of service still ahead of it.
This ends this posting on my work to refurbish the bronze strum box for the manual bilge pump on Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.


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