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Easy way to break down boiler.

Recently, I had to break down an "Ideal" 1928 American Radiator Co. steam boiler for replacement. After thinking about how to tackle the job, I came up with a technique that ended up being fast, (relatively) quiet, and something I've not seen anywhere else. I used a 4 ton portable hydraulic ram kit.

Often are referred to as "Porta Power" packs. Although there are many other manufacturers, I got mine from Northern Tool for ~$80. The most useful combination of attachments for me was the 'fork' on one end of the ram and 'spiky square' on the other. The 'threaded shelf' included in the kit let me put the ram between and inside the sections with minimal clearance. The 'spreader wedge' also was useful, but is unable to apply as much force as the ram.

First, I used the ram to separate each individual section - it split sections apart easily without a hammer and chisel. With the section on the ground, I used the ram to break it apart further. This requires a bit more creativity to find angles that can put opposite pressure on the section in a linear manner. I found that breaking down even large pieces was quiet using the ram. When it finally does break, it makes a 'crack' but doesn't shatter in an extreme or violent way.

Although I used a sledge in some cases, the ram made sure I didn't have to swing it as often. All in all, it let me from start-to-scrapyard in less than 4 manhours. If I had to do it again, I would have chosen the 10 Ton ram kit. There were a couple times when it seemed like I was putting too much force on the handpump - but was able to manage.
delta T


  • delta T
    delta T Member Posts: 883
    I am getting one. That is awesome, thanks for sharing!

    I just last week had to break down an old Delco boiler using a sledge and a splitting wedge. 0/10 would not repeat. I've been doing it that way for years, but most of the boilers I have to break apart have small sections that are relatively easy to handle, not this old Delco. 200,000 btu with 4 sections. They were HEAVY! had to break them apart further with a sledge and that old cast iron is tough stuff and it took 20+ swings to even start to crack the end sections. Slept very well that night....
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,456
    That's a good idea and low dollars for what it does.

    I usually use threaded rod with nuts on the inside to force the sections apart.....that usually works pretty good.

    If you can break up the sections with the ram that's a home run!!

    I'm too old for much sledge hammer pounding.

    I usually make a few cuts in the cast iron with a cutting disk on an angle grinder...then hit it with the sledge
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,605
    Wow time for me to get a new tool

    How does that long ram separate the inner sections?
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    [email protected]
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,058
    Excellent. Beats beating spitting wedges to death!
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,605
    Just ordered a 10 ton, can't wait to tackle our next beast

    I'm curious to see the 'spreader' work.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    [email protected]
  • Steve_35
    Steve_35 Member Posts: 546
    We use a light Makita electric jack hammer. I think we paid about $300 for a reconditioned one. Rented one the first couple times. It usually takes about 30 seconds to split sections apart. It is definitely noisy tho. Hearing protection is a must.
  • TMcGroy
    TMcGroy Member Posts: 15
    From a homeowner who literally loves her 1938 steam boiler, why would you destroy one? I know it's inefficient; but mine still works, so it's not going anywhere until it cracks of its own accord.
  • FriendlyFred
    FriendlyFred Member Posts: 27
    edited September 2017
    Splitting the inner sections took a touch more creativity. Essentially, anywhere you can get a good 'bite' to apply linear and opposite forces will work.

    The first inner section, I pushed against the cutoff stub of the supply riser. The second inner section, I added the threaded shelf included in the kit, and put the ram through the top of the steam chest, pushing against the back wall of the final section. (illustrated in image, as attached). It was also useful to push between the stickouts for the coal grate.

    Once on the ground, I popped the 'legs' apart, and used different lengths of ram extensions to break it to something I could lift and move.

    I found limited use of the 'spreader'. Although I used it once to separate the bottom nipples, a small pry bar worked just as well for that task. The best use of it I had was on the rear section of the boiler, to put pressure between the double wall construction.

    However, that brings a word of caution - although the ram itself isn't violent when it breaks the cast, hitting cast under pressure with a hammer can result in violent and spectacular flying shards. As always, common sense and learning from experience applies.

    re: TMcGroy - This one was leaking water into the fire, and steam into the flue.
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,605
    Thanks Fred, yes we are turning our mugs sideways and down when the cast is flying. Stuff flies like a rocket
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    [email protected]