Rebuilding a

Wilcox  Crittenden Navy Bilge Pump

The Wilcox-Crittenden manual piston bilge pump is a lovely piece of hardware, and with a bit of effort it can be restored. 

1. First, You may have to remove the cabinetry so that you can access the body of the pump, namely a large cylinder.  At the bottom of the cylinder is a bronze casting screwed on to the cylinder.  The pump intake hose is on that bronze casting.  With a large pipe wrench, unscrew the large nut to detach the intake hose. (Do not use a wrench on the cylinder.  It is very thin and can be damaged easily.)

2. On the top of the bottom bronze casting, you will see that there is check valve.  A small bracket holds the valve in alignment, and it is held in place by a couple of (bronze) screws.  Make sure all these parts are working properly.  On my boat the little mounting screws had deteriorated and were not holding the valve in a correct position, so that water would not be held up in the cylinder.  I got some bronze machine screw and this fixed the bottom valve. It might be helpful to use a bit of grinding compound to ensure that the valve seats well in the bottom casting.

3. To continue dis-assembly, lift the handle about 8 inches to expose the shaft.  Put a vice grip on the shaft right under the handle and see if you can unscrew the shaft from the handle.  Heating with a blow torch may help.  After you can get the shaft separated, hold it in place and have someone else go below and carefully try to pull the shaft down and out of the cylinder.  Maybe you'll succeed; maybe there is stuff in the way.

4. If there is stuff in the way, see if you can unscrew the cylinder from the top deck casting.  Note that the cylinder has a very thin wall, you can't put a pipe wrench on it.  You have to treat in very carefully so you don't dent it.  I put on some foam padding on the top and held it tightly with both hand and eventually with a plastic strap wrench.  If you can unscrew it, then slide the cylinder down.  Mark the top, and put it somewhere safe.

5. At the bottom of the shaft, there is bronze disk screwed on. The top surface should have a piece of leather that seals a second valve.  If that leather has deteriorated, or if the rivets have corroded, the leather may not be held in its correct position.  In any event, make sure that the leather is held in the correct place.  (I had a thicker disk made and replaced rivets with bronze machine screws.)  On my boat, this bottom disk spontaneously unscrewed itself a couple of times.  I finally used lock-tite when I put in on.

6. Above this bronze disk is a bronze cup that slides up and down.  When you pull the handle up, the cup goes down and seals water and lifts it up. When you push the handle down, the cup slides up and allows water to flow above the cup so it can be lifted on the up-stroke.  Make sure that part is working correctly.

7.  The last important part is the leather cup that seals the valve assembly to the outside cylinder.  The leather cup is held to the bronze cup by a bronze threaded ring.  Once that ring had slipped off, so the leather cup was not held in position and ended up stuck on the inside of the exterior cylinder half way up.  Another time the leather cup wore out and did not seal.  Under these conditions, the piston could not create a vacuum and suck up the bilge water.

You can get a replacement leather cup from: 

A-1 Leather Cup and Gasket Co.       tel: 817-626-9664 
3336 Stuart Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76110

Size: 2 1/2 inches
Inside hole:  In practice, you need an inside hole of about 1 15/16".  The supplier might cut one specially to this size.  Otherwise get one with a smaller hole and enlarge it to fit, using a dremmel sanding drum and some other tools.

8. If all this looks right, you can reassemble the parts.  Use lock-tite on the bottom of the shaft to secure the bronze disk.  When screwing on the large external cylinder, use some waterproof grease on the threads to seal the joints and to ensure that it will be easy to disassemble in the future. Be careful not to over-tighten.  The threads on the cylinder are very small and probably easy to strip.

It is very difficult to push the top end of the shaft up and into the hole in the deck fitting.  It helps if someone is on deck with an ice-pick to guide the shaft into the correct position.  Additionally, you can file off the corners of the top of the shaft, and  taper  it a bit, so that it will get into the hole in the deck fitting more easily.

If all these parts are working correctly, the pump should work fine for another several decades.

Doing all this seems like a lot of work, and it is. But doing an overhaul once every 35 or 40 years doesn't seem so bad.  Furthermore, how much work would it be to install some other hand bilge pump in the cockpit? And where can you find another pump that will last 30 years?



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Nov. 13, 2011