Hydraulic cutters and crimpers are key to modern termination techniques.

Hydraulic termination tools are arguably the largest and most complex devices in a contractor’s gang box. They’re certainly not in the same category as expendable tools like 3/8-in. variable speed drills. In fact, they’re more costly to replace than almost all hand tools. It’s no wonder good preventive care and maintenance are essential to extended tool life and increased worker productivity. By investing some time in staff training and a nominal amount of money for maintenance, good hydraulic tool performance will repay you many times over in the long run.

The following three tips should help you maintain these valuable tools.

Tip 1: Keep them clean. The primary cause of premature hydraulic tool failure is dirt and contamination. Usually, pistons and rams are the areas on a remote head where dirt and contaminants enter (unless you leave the hydraulic fluid reservoir open, which we don’t generally recommend in field operations).

To combat dirt and contamination, make sure you follow these preventive maintenance steps.

• Brush and wipe clean all hydraulic connections before you insert them into a hydraulic pump or remote head.

Always use fiber brushes when cleaning your hydraulic tools—never metal-bristled brushes. Metal can score a piston, creating an area for dirt and other contaminants to collect and migrate into the hydraulic fluid. This increases the chance of compromising your tool’s rings and ball seats as well as the tool pump itself.

• Clean hydraulic heads with non-petroleum solvents whenever possible to reduce contamination of traveling surfaces and hydraulic interfaces.

Not all makes of hydraulic tools have the same type of seals. For example, certain petroleum-based products may negatively affect rubber or neoprene O-rings on pistons and ram followers. In fact, some tool manufacturers will require the use of specific solvents while others will restrict the use of these same solvents.

Non-petroleum based solvents, however, are safe to use in virtually every application. If you’re unsure about what solvent to use, double check with your tool manufacturer.

• Clean your hydraulic tool daily when you’re using it in adverse conditions.

Working near salt water is probably the worst situation. While most hydraulic tool manufacturers test their products in salt-spray chambers during design and certify they can withstand such exposure up to 24 hr or more, it’s still important you clean your tool after each use in such an environment.

Most manufacturers recommend flushing the tool with clean water and wiping it down with a recommended solvent. If you fail to do this, you can expect long-term damage. Also, the “dirty” tools might contaminate other tools stored in your gang box.

Tip 2: Use them properly. Misuse and abuse are strong causes for tool failure. Using hydraulic tools for hammering or prying is an obvious misuse; however, many manufacturers report this type of equipment abuse as a common sight during repair and reconditioning.

Other reports include the obvious field installation of extension handles (commonly referred to as cheaters) to improve a tool’s performance. Actually, these handles don’t increase performance at all because the tool’s output force is fixed. Basically, you’re just placing undue stress on your tool with these handles. More importantly, you’re compromising its dielectric properties, since the extension handles may cut into your tool’s insulation.

Manufacturers also report instances where an operator used a soft-metal hydraulic cutter to cut reinforcing bar or some other very hard metal. This is very dangerous! Besides tool failure, individual pieces can shatter and break away, potentially causing injury. (Even when you’re using a hydraulic cutter or crimping tool properly, always wear eye protection.)

Finally, manufacturers talk of obvious incorrect selections of tooling, dies, and connectors. This negatively impacts tool performance. For example, if you use a connector from Manufacturer A with dies from Manufacturer B in a tool from Manufacturer C, you certainly would have compatibility problems. More importantly, the resulting connection is questionable. This brings liability into play. Here’s what you should do to ensure compatibility:

• Verify your tool’s acceptance of available dies and/or connectors.

• Check with the connector manufacturer’s published data and verify which tools and dies it recommends for a specific connector.

Tip 3: Be sure to follow maintenance schedules. Your self-contained hydraulic tools will last five to 15 years with proper care and maintenance. Make sure you check their system operation yearly.

You can expect the same life expectancy for electric-powered pumps. You should check their system operation yearly as well. The best preventive maintenance procedure for pumps is an annual hydraulic oil change.

You need to make a yearly check of hydraulic hoses (both insulated and noninsulated) for cracks and leaks. Most electric powered crimping tool manufacturers have hydraulic hose care manuals. Make sure you refer to them before and after tool usage. Do not attempt to repair a hydraulic hose. Contact your tool manufacturer, and replace it with a new one.

Brunelli is a former group leader at the Application Tooling Section with FCI Burndy, Manchester, N.H.