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Tighten Steam Radiator Tie Rods ?

I am trying to resolve a number of radiator issues.

One is clanging in the radiators when there is no steam being applied.

I think thermal expansion and / or mechanical movement is at work.

They (tube and column types) clang if you walk past them, or if you run your hand across them, when they heat up, when they cool down, when the room temperature changes, or pretty much whenever.

If I can get the paint removed from the threads and nut and if I can get enough penetrating lubricant into the treads, I might be able to tighten the Tie Rods.

They are 70+ years old so I figure I should ask you folks if this is safe or unsafe to do this and whether it has any chance of helping quiet them?



  • Be Cautious

    I'd be cautious about doing this. I wouldn't tighten them more that a flat on the nut. They were originally tightened and the the heat expansion stretched the rods. If you tighten them cold, the expansion will again stretch the rods and possibly break them.

    Leaking it the biggest problem in old radiators so if it isn't leaking don't fix it. :)

    - Rod
  • SteamHeat
    SteamHeat Member Posts: 159

    I'll just pretend it is the trolley going by. :-)
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,968
    Live dangerously!

    Well, no.  On the other hand, if the tie rods are loose enough so that they wiggle, there is the possibility that a section joint could open a little and drip.

    However, Rod is right -- this is definetly softly softly catchee money territory.  I have broken my share of tie rods (and it is a nuisance!) -- but always on getting the nut loose, not tightening them.  As you suggest, get the paint off (but don't round the flats on the nut doing that!) then use penetrating oil.  Patiently.  It may take a couple of days (really) before it does any good.  Perhaps most important, do not use a wrench.  Use a nut driver with a good size screwdriver type handle (use a backup one on the other end -- yes, you need to get both ends clean -- sorry) and try turning the nut both ways.  As it starts to back off, remember to turn it only about a half turn off, then on a quarter turn, and off a half, and so on -- just as though you were using a finicky little die on something (which is really what you are doing -- cleaning the threads).  Take it all the way off, and oil the threads.  Then put it on finger tight, take it off, clean the threads with a towel, then oil again and put it on again.  Just so it seats, and then no more than one flat farther.  That's ample.

    You may want to recheck the torque after a couple of heating cycles.

    Good luck!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • SteamHeat
    SteamHeat Member Posts: 159
    Sounds Like Defusing A Bomb

    Wow.  Would using a small torque ratchet set to a very low number be safe, or are the nut drivers a safety by limiting it to wrist muscle power alone?

    When you say one flat tighter than finger tight, won't that be even looser than it is now?

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,968
    tick tick tick...

    It's not really that bad.  The problem is that the tie rods themselves are rather small diameter, and it's all too easy to twist them off -- usually at the first thread.  But yes, a small torque wrench would work, or just delicate hands for that matter.  I'm not a great one for the 'if a little hammer is good, a bigger one is better' approach to anything!  (although I do have a 4' pipe wrench -- but that's another story).

    If the tie rods are tight now -- that is to say, they don't wiggle at all -- then there is no use trying to tighten them further.  Tie rods cannot be used to tighten up a loose radiator -- they aren't strong enough.  What they do do -- most ingeniously -- is to expand a little slower than a heating radiator does, and contract a little faster, thus keeping the radiator tight at all times once it has been tightened in some other way.  But if they are more than one flat tighter than finger tight now, they're tight enough -- and the trolley car effect is coming from something else!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • SteamHeat
    SteamHeat Member Posts: 159
    Just So I Am Completely Understanding...

    Finger Tight Plus One Flat's Worth of Turn of the Nut On One Side When Radiator Is Cold ?  Not Wiggleable.  Yes ?
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,238
    The tube and column ones always seem to clang.

    Just from the "few" I have seen,  they always rattle if any thing larger than a mouse walks past them. I am guessing this was a reason they are less popular for a radiator choice. If it is not leaking leave them be! If they do leak it probably wll not help tightening them any ways.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
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