Build Your Own Parts-Cleaning Tank

If you're a tinkerer, there have probably been a lot of times you wished you had a parts-cleaning tank. Our researchers have come up with one you can cobble together at a fraction of the cost of commercial units.

| May/June 1983

  • parts cleaning tank - closeup of tank basin with part under hose
    Washing a mechanical component.
  • parts cleaning tank - individual components laid out on shop floor
    Components of the parts cleaning tank include a barrel, a sink, a pump, assorted hoses, and electrical power.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • parts cleaning tank - man in blue coveralls working at tank
    Man at work.

  • parts cleaning tank - closeup of tank basin with part under hose
  • parts cleaning tank - individual components laid out on shop floor
  • parts cleaning tank - man in blue coveralls working at tank

Any handyperson who's had the pleasure of using a real parts-cleaning tank has probably developed a bad case of the "wants" as a result of the experience. By comparison, the bucket-and-old-toothbrush method leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, however, the steep prices of commercial parts washers put these devices out of the reach of most tinkerers; even the tiniest units start at better than $200, and the more useful 30-gallon models run $300 and up.

The dedicated recyclers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS research center, however, recently decided that the frustration of trying to pick and scrape away decades' worth of slime from their ongoing supply of scavenged "treasures" was too much to bear. As a result of that necessity, we're able to show you their invention. We've dubbed it a "made from recycled parts" recycled-parts washer. For the assembly instructions that follow, refer to our Assembly Diagram.

Over a Barrel

If you examine a commercial parts-cleaning tank in a catalog, you'll note that its two major components are a reservoir for storing the fluid and a basin in which to do the scrubbing. So, in the spirit of "research and imitate," our team dragged out a used 30-gallon drum to serve as the former and bought a castoff stainless steel sink (one of the big single-basin models) for $15, from a local hardware store's scrap pile, for the latter.

As it happened, the sink covered the top of the drum neatly, so three rubber shock cords have proved to be sufficient to hold the assembly together while still allowing the basin to be removed easily for tank cleaning or other service.

Keep a Lid on It

The sheet-metal cover for the basin does help limit the evaporation of the expensive solvent, but its major purpose is to contain a conflagration in the event that the flammable liquid ignites. The lid on our tank is formed from a sheet of 22-gauge steel and is held open, from behind, by a tower made from 1/2" electrical metallic tubing (E.M.T.). That stand is secured to the back of the sink with a round electrical box cover that has a 1/2" E.M.T. connector screwed to it. The tubing itself is attached to the connector with the setscrew, and has a bend which prevents the lid from being raised any higher than 5° short of vertical. Consequently, the lid will automatically fall closed unless it's actually held open.

The latch consists of a loop of 1/8" rod, connected to the E.M.T. tower, which fits through a 7/8" hole in the lid. We're using a small birthday candle, slipped through the hook, to hold the cover up. In the event of a blaze in the basin, the wax will melt and the lid will slam closed.

9/2/2014 2:59:23 PM

Nice industrial-quality parts washer. An oldie but a goodie! We've got this one featured in our Parts Washers category: .

6/4/2014 12:02:10 PM

This article was written in 1983 and the Chinese tool revolution had yet to develop. Harbor Freight sells A part's washer for around 75 bucks with there 25% off coupon. It has UL safety equipment installed and, given what insurance companies have become, I do not wish to explain why my jury rigged part's washer burned down my house to them. Also, there are now good water based degreaser's available such as Purple Power. This would eliminate the fire hazard but if you don't have A heated shop the stuff gets tough to pump around Christmas!!

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