Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Record Washing Machine for the Vinyl Collector

Those who collect vinyl, foremost quite old vinyl, do not come around in the longer term to own a reasonable working record washing machine. There are now a number of very different functional units in the market. With different technologies the cleaning and the drying process is performed. Some of these devices are made very complicated, expensive, accordingly, these are then also sold for good money. Everyone buying old records needs to think about how valuable his record collection is going to be. How much effort is he willing to contribute to clean his records. Basically a cleaned vinyl record usually runs much quieter in terms of surface noise, also a freshly washed record with still slightly wet grooves sounds significantly better than the same without lubrication (still there are a lot of arguments for the old days "Lenco clean", beside its crystallization when dried in).

My cleaning machine is a compact unit with carrying handle on top, like a service box. All necessary equipment is hidden in the lid, like the ac cord and brushes. So it can be stored away when not in use.

Basically, several record washing machines differ mostly according to two different designs for the drying process: the point vacuum tip and the slot of 10 cm length, which sucks at the complete width of one record side. The cleaning process mostly is based on a cleaning solvent brought to the records surface with brushes or micro fiber clothes. In addition, there are as well machines which use a ultrasonic cleaning bath. A basic distinction between the cleaning technology and drying technology has to be made. The cheaper devices usually clean in a manual mode with cleaning solvents. which are applied by hand or supported with tools and turn the record (the well known Nitty Gritty models are since decades in the market). These machines use vacuum cleaner motors for sucking off the solvent through a slot of the length of one grooved side. The more expensive machines use pumps, turning motors for the record and dedicated mechanic precisely positioned brushes for a more comfortable cleaning process. All these machines do their job quite good, Their increase in the price range is a increase to comfort and speed, but they are very noisy (vacuum cleaner motor). It is impossible to use them during the listening to music.

Some more meticulously designed devices use real vacuum pumps with precisely point-operated sucking nozzles to ensure highly improved cleaning results. Here, the suction pipe must be accurately guided to obtain a improvement, but greatly complicate the effort. The "Keith Monks" or similar devices, like the Loricraft set the value for years. Meanwhile, there are now devices, which drop the records in a solvent bath to thereby use ultrasonic waves for the cleaning process. Some use warm blown air for the drying of the surface. I cannot believe that this will not blow dust particles again into the grooves.

All advanced machines are quite expensive, far in the k-dollare range, so it is a big investment to go for. Some people will argument, the amount is nothing comparing the value of the records, but still a Keith Monks will be more expensive than the most record players in the market. So, if you count your money, only one option will bring you the clean records, you need to build one for your self.

I did so some years ago. When I started to think about (around 1995), I started with a simple wooden box, a build in ball geared cranked platter of label size beneath a sealed under sided slot in the box connected to a tight adapter for the vacuum cleaner to suck of the cleaning solvent (the Nitty Gritty design). It did work quite well, the alcohol/water ruined my vacuum cleaners motor pretty fast and it was very very uncomfortable and noisy. So I decided to built something more complex, like the Keith Monks. For this principle a strong old idler wheel turntable is a good base (like the original Monks). Here are the cheaper ones with 78 r.p.m. with strong torque on demand. The turntable will turn the record for cleaning and drying. Than a pump is needed, which will precisely pump the amount of solvent on to the surface needed to clean one side. In the 90ties the windshield wiper pumps of the well known Citroen 2CV have been a perfect solution. They were available as regular spares and they were cheap. These pumps were pure mechanical ball operated systems, one push and the liquid was exact dosed at the surface. Today I would go for a Ulka pump from almost any espresso machine, they will pump in three seconds exactly the right amount of solvent to the surface, but need AC power, either 110V or 220V. But you can as well bring the cleaning solvent on with a independent spray pump for gardening, this will dramatically reduce the outlay of the machine.

Here you can see the basic first design. Upper left the platter for the record and the fixing screw. Upper right the the slider with sucking nozzle (ball lever op.). The early stage design with teethed wheel lever to dose the filament advance. At the right end of the sliding unit you can see the lever to position the brush and the silicon tube introducing the cleaning solvent through it.
Down from left: the vacuum meter, the push button for the solvent pump, the switch for reversing the direction and the mains switch for the motor.

Once you have pumped the solvent to the surface, you need a fine haired brush or a micro fiber tissue for the cleaning process. With the brush you can introduce the solvent perfectly into the grooves, by turning it forward and backwards parallel to the grooves. After that soaking the dirty solvent a sucking process is necessary. Here the final quality of the cleaning will happen. The best sucking technology will bring the cleanest results. For this reason it needs a good vacuum pump. There are diaphragm pumps available, which can produce a vacuum of -1 bar. These are widely used in several technical applications, so these are quite easy to obtain on ebay.
Next you need to build a guiding arm to move the nozzle precisely over the complete surface of the record, so that it can suck off all the solvent. With a 2 mm diameter whole in the nozzle it will be operated for approximately 30 seconds from the inner groove to the outer rim in order to suck off all liquid. You need to connect the nozzle to a silicon tube (5/8 mm inside/outside) to a collecting container (marmelade jar). With another silicone tube you connect the collecting container to the pump, so this principle makes possible that the pump will not see any liquid, if necessary. On the other hand the contaminated solvent cannot stop the pump housing.

From upper left: the turning motor with gear box, the vacuum compressor. Lower row from left: underneath just a little bit red the (Ulka) solvent pump, the solvent tank on top and far right the intermediate jar glass to capture the used dirty solvent.

Keith Monks has installed at the shaft of the arm a slow turning gearbox and a dc motor, so that the arm will turn exactly that amount in a minute to cross the grooves. Several people I know have used transmissions with rubber rings between shaft and geared motor wheel to find the right speed. Additionally the rubber ring can spin at the end of the record without damaging the record.
The most problematic part of the construction is the nozzle itself and an element keeping the nozzle off the surface of the record, but still very close in order to prevent the right vacuum. Keith Monks uses for this reason a sewing filament. This filament is sucked in together with the cleaning solvent. The supplying bobbin is retarded by a spring. The nozzle itself is made from teflon to prevent surface scratches to the vinyl. It is a quite complicated procedure to follow up. Three motors at different speeds and a pump – I thought there might be other ways to come by?

So I never did built one of this machines for myself, some friends of mine did it in the 1990ties. So I could participate at their experiences. To me it was to much complication to get get working pleasantly.

Read on soon about the use of the machine, Volker

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