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Wire wicks

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fizzy17/01/2022 17:07:25
1840 forum posts
120 photos


new to me

Edited By fizzy on 17/01/2022 17:09:05

Edited By fizzy on 17/01/2022 17:10:05

mark costello 117/01/2022 20:40:45
711 forum posts
12 photos

Amazing what the Old Fellows discovered and put to practical use..

Oldiron17/01/2022 21:35:39
960 forum posts
40 photos

I have a very old stationary engine of unknown make that has wire wick oilers. As it is a non runner I have never tried them but they looked original so left them as is. If it had been a runner I may have thought "what idiot put those in" and changed them to cord. We live and learn. I subscribe to Robs channel and he does expel quite a few myths on brazing, casting and a few other things.  He also builds engines from scratch.


Edited By Oldiron on 17/01/2022 21:36:28

Paul Lousick17/01/2022 21:46:34
2009 forum posts
711 photos

Does a bare wire work as a wick ???? I have my doubts.

Most full size steam engines use the same arrangement but the wire is wound with sheeps wool. The wool is what is used as the wicking material and the wire as a support and used to push the wick down the hole.

When oiling a steam engine, it is good practice to remove the wick each time and dip in the oil to ensure that it is completely wet and replace it in the oiler hole.

The wick works like a syphon hose to lift the oil over the top of the pipe in the oiler and drain it to bottom. If the wick is dry, it may not work. (a hose will not syphen water (or other) if you don't remove all of the air and place the discharge end at a lower level)

Synthetic wool does not have the capilliary properties of real wool.



Edited By Paul Lousick on 17/01/2022 21:49:37

Clive Hartland17/01/2022 22:22:46
2810 forum posts
40 photos

Swiss Chaublin use wire wicks on their 102 lathes. Seem to work well.

Versaboss17/01/2022 22:29:56
482 forum posts
55 photos

They are also used on the Mikron F75 milling machine.


Although I never found out how the vertical head is oiled.I think mine looked a bit different from the picture at Tony's.

Used grease iirc, but I did not know better back then 54 years ago.


J Hancock18/01/2022 08:25:08
832 forum posts

In any bundle of three or more wires there will be a 'void' , capillary action will take place as long as the void exists.

Martin Kyte18/01/2022 10:50:31
2721 forum posts
48 photos

The main reason for using wicks is they deliver oil and leave the grit behind.

regards Martin

Dave Halford18/01/2022 11:45:08
2004 forum posts
23 photos

You need to view the second video to see some of the issues encountered. The first video is all filler and no substance.

duncan webster18/01/2022 13:35:15
3919 forum posts
61 photos
Posted by Paul Lousick on 17/01/2022 21:46:34:

Does a bare wire work as a wick ???? I have my doubts.


There's no point saying it doesn't work, it plainly does, what we need to know is how. Capillary rise doesn't need a tube.

Oldiron18/01/2022 18:19:17
960 forum posts
40 photos
Posted by duncan webster on 18/01/2022 13:35:15:
Posted by Paul Lousick on 17/01/2022 21:46:34:

Does a bare wire work as a wick ???? I have my doubts.


There's no point saying it doesn't work, it plainly does, what we need to know is how. Capillary rise doesn't need a tube.

I am given to understand that once the wire is wetted surface tension drags the oil down the wire. A bit like pulling a string the end will always follow. regards

fizzy18/01/2022 18:51:41
1840 forum posts
120 photos

Pleased to know that i wasnt the olnly one never to have heard about these. I will be conducting a few trials in the near future to determine flow rates etc.

Paul Lousick20/01/2022 07:56:28
2009 forum posts
711 photos

The results of my experiment with oiler wicks..

A bottle cap was filled with motor oil and wicks laid over the side and left for 12 hours

The 1st wick on the left is plain gal wire.

The 2nd plain gal wire but coated with a film of oil.

The 3rd is multistrand wire (bike brake cable) dipped in oil and excess wiped off.

The 4th is wire with a strand of natural sheep wool wrapped around it, dipped in oil and the excess wiped off.

Neither of the plain wire wicks worked.

Both the multi strand wire and wool wrapped wicks transfered oil.


Mike Hurley20/01/2022 09:24:08
305 forum posts
87 photos

A sensible & practical answer Paul! Referencing several of my 'old steam' books, have not come across any mention of plain wire oilers - always tend to the copperwire with pure lambswool twisted in.

I'm sure if plain wire worked properly it would have been used widely. However, it does seem that it was used in several types of machine etc as mentioned in earlier posts - so there's a bit of an enigma!

Paul Lousick20/01/2022 09:41:25
2009 forum posts
711 photos

I've played with old machines, portable steam engines and traction engines for 20 years and have never seen plain wire oilers (not to say that they don't exist) but they have mostly been twisted copper wire and lanbs wool.

If oil will flow uo the side of a piece if plain wire, why would it not flow up the side of a piece of flat plate. If it could, why does'nt a can of oil empty itself if you leave the cap off ?

Are the wire wicks hollow ?

Edited By Paul Lousick on 20/01/2022 09:43:26

Grindstone Cowboy20/01/2022 09:59:45
854 forum posts
64 photos

I've not had any practical experience of wire oilers, but from the OP's video it looks like it's a syphon action (or combination of capillary and syphon) caused by the narrow central tube. So to set things going, the reservoir would need to be 'over-filled' and then the drips would continue until the supply was exhausted. Possibly this is why Paul's experiment didn't show any results for the plain wire - there was no oils already in place to start the flow, nor the relatively narrow tube to keep the syphon effect going.


Edited By Grindstone Cowboy on 20/01/2022 10:00:14

Just managed to get in before SOD wink

Edited By Grindstone Cowboy on 20/01/2022 10:01:44

SillyOldDuffer20/01/2022 09:59:56
8469 forum posts
1885 photos
Posted by Paul Lousick on 20/01/2022 07:56:28:

The results of my experiment with oiler wicks..


Excellent experiment, but maybe flawed?

I think two forces are involved: lifting by capillary action and syphoning.

I suspect the syphon is broken because the two wire examples touch the container lip. It isn't broken in the multi-strand wicks because the outer threads are lifted over the edge. If so, the single wires might work if they were held by a firm base that hooked them clean over the lip.

Possibly the viscosity, weight and how well the oil sticks to the wire matter too. Could be a lighter oil on a different surface would be OK. I've no idea what effect galvanising would have, but I'd expect the rough porous surface caused by rust to destroy capillary action.


Martin Kyte20/01/2022 13:13:56
2721 forum posts
48 photos

Do wire wicks entrain grit ?

regards Martin

duncan webster20/01/2022 13:22:08
3919 forum posts
61 photos

Paul's experimental setup is different in that there isn't an oil filled down pipe. The original link mentions having to splash oil over the down pipe. I'm suspecting that a film (diaphragm?), and a combination of surface tension and syphoning does the rest. If I'm right, filling the container and then inserting the wire wouldn't work.

Either way, it wouldn't transport grit

noel shelley20/01/2022 13:30:10
1278 forum posts
21 photos

Is it a strand of solid wire or a very small tube that siphons, started by capilliary action ? Worstead trimmings were used in locomotives, where by the capilliary action fed oil to a bearing surface from a resovoir. That it does not entrain grit is a very good point I had not thought of. Noel.

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