Speed-Tuning Spinner Bearings

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About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

Make your spinner bearings spin smoother and faster!

This Instructable covers how to disassemble, clean, and reassemble the most common types of skate bearings found in toy spinners.

Skate bearings generally come pre-greased, which is great when they are used under load such as when skating or skateboarding. Lubricated bearings prevent wear and decrease friction.

However, when bearings are used in toy spinners where there is no substantial load, greased bearings do not spin well and feel "sticky."

To speed up your bearings, I recommend removing any lubricant from the bearings and also removing the dust shields. I'll show you how to do this with a few different kinds of skate bearings.

Step 1: Basic Bearing Anatomy

Here's the breakdown of a common skate bearing. From left to right:

  • dust shield - bearings may be single- or double-shielded
  • nylon retainer - this keeps the ball bearings evenly spaced
  • ball bearings
  • inner ring
  • outer ring

Some types of skate bearings can be broken down and reassembled, while others cannot. In this Instructable I'm covering three common varieties of bearings and the details of each.

Step 2: Some Common Varieties

Note that all varieties covered here are 608ZZ style, 22mm radial bearings which are universally used for skates and skateboards.

Pictured first are a pair of crusty, grimy ABEC-3 bearings I pulled out of some thriftstore skates I picked up for a couple of dollars. These are double-shielded, and the shields on these CAN BE removed and then reinstalled if desired (I see no point however, if used in toy spinners).

The second pair are BC Precision bearings I bought on amazon for pretty good price. These are basic, generic bearings and are double-shielded as well, but the shields are NOT replaceable once you remove them.

The third pair are Bones Reds bearings that I paid way too much for. They are single-shielded with a rubber/metal shield that can be removed and replaced very easily.

Step 3: Used Skate Bearings

Let's start with these used ABEC-3 bearings.

The dust shields on these are held in place by a C-ring. One of the ends of each ring will be ground to an angled point, which allows you to poke behind it with a sewing needle and pop the ring out.

With the C-rings removed, the shields will just fall out or can be lifted out with the needle.

Step 4: Metal Retainer

On these bearings, the ball bearings are held in place within a metal retainer that cannot be easily removed . . . and in my opinion, it would not be worth the effort to try.

I tried a few ways to clean this type of bearing, all of which had perfectly acceptable results.

Step 5: Soap and Toothbrush

I soaked this bearing in undiluted degreaser (Simple Green) for about five minutes, then gently scrubbed both sides with a toothbrush, and then rinsed it with water. The bearing was spun to loosen up any stuck debris, and this scrub/rinse/spin cycle was repeated a couple more times, and then the bearing was spinning nice and smooth.

On another of this same style of bearing, I skipped the soak in degreaser and just went straight to the sink with the toothbrush and dish soap. The scrub/rinse/spin cycle was repeated a few times, and this bearing came out equally clean to the first.

Step 6: Solvent and Toothbrush

For another of this metal-retainer style bearing, I tried using solvent to see if it made any noticeable difference.

I soaked it in acetone for about five minutes, then gently scrubbed with the brush, rinsed and spun it. I repeated this a couple of times, rinsing it by bouncing it around in a jar of fresh acetone.

Step 7: Thoughts: Soap and Water Vs Solvent

Perhaps it was in my head, but for these bearings, the one cleaned in solvent seemed to spin slightly better than the ones cleaned with soap and water.

It wasn't a huge difference, though, and both approaches worked well enough for me.

Note that these types of bearings are noisier than the ones with nylon retainers, and they don't seem to spin as long.

Step 8: Generic Bearings

This is one of the generic BC Precision bearings I got on amazon. The shields are easily removed, but they get destroyed in the process.

You could just soak these in solvent with the shields in place to try to degrease them, but the shields tend to slow the bearings down. It's better to remove and just discard them if the bearings are going to be used in spinner toys.

To remove this type of shield you need a small sharp implement, like a tiny precision flat-head screwdriver.

Press the tip of the screwdriver straight downward into the tiny gap at the center of the shield, and then gently pry back. The shield will deform and eventually pop out of the outer ring.

An alternate tool that seemed to work even better for me was a small curved pick, shown in the third photo.

Step 9: Cleaning

These bearings have a nylon retainer that holds the ball bearings in place.

With the shields removed, you can clean these bearings with either soap and water or with a solvent like acetone as shown in previous steps.

A pair of long tweezers is helpful for fishing these out of jars of solvent.

The nylon retainers were not effected by the acetone I used, but other types of solvents may soften the nylon and ruin the bearing. So be sure to test out any alternate solvents you may be using on a single bearing before proceeding with more, just be be safe.

If you use solvents always be sure to have plenty of ventilation to avoid breathing the fumes.

Step 10: Disassembling a Bearing

If you're interested in taking a bearing all the way apart for a really deep cleaning, here's how I do it:

Start by pressing out the nylon retainer with a small screwdriver. It will just pop out with a small amount of pressure.

Rotate all of the ball bearings to one side.

Step 11: Remove Center Ring

Push the center ring to the opposite side of the ball bearings. It will take a little bit of pressure, and it will "click" free from the ball bearings. Lift it out, and all the ball bearings will be free. If you do this on a rag the balls won't roll away.

Step 12: Clean All the Parts

Now you can clean all the parts as desired. I dropped the metal parts into some acetone, let them soak for a few minutes, and then wiped them clean with a rag.

I used a toothbrush and soap to clean the nylon retainer, and then rinsed it in clean water.

All the parts were then dried.

Step 13: Bearing Reassembly

To reassemble a bearing, I've found that a small coin like a US dime is very helpful. The ball bearings ride in small grooves on the outer and inner rings, and the dime holds them up to level of these grooves while reassembling the bearing.

Reassembling a bearing on few layers of rags made from an old t-shirt provides just a bit of squishiness, which is also helpful.

The dime is put in the center of the outer ring, and the ball bearings are placed on top and located to one side as shown.

Step 14: Bearing Re-assembly

The center ring is placed as shown, opposite the ball bearings.

Getting the center ring back into place is the trickiest part of this operation, but the dime and the squishy rag layer make this much easier. This is what I do from here:

  • hold the outer ring in place with one hand
  • with a finger of your other hand, put a small amount of pressure on the center ring sideways against the ball bearings
  • at the same time, put a little downward pressure onto the dime/rag layers. Sideways pressure will keep the ball bearings in their groove on the outer ring, and some downward pressure on the center ring will allow it to to drop down so it will be level with the outer ring
  • When the inner and outer rings are level and the ball bearings are inline with the grooves on both rings, put more pressure on the inner ring against the ball bearings until it clicks back into the group of ball bearings

Step 15: Bearing Re-assembly

Rotate the ball bearings around the center ring to space them out evenly. The nylon retainer ring can now be snapped back into place.

There might be other ways that work to do this, but this is how I do it!

Step 16: Removing Rubber Dust Shields

This is so simple, but I'll mention it anyway.

The rubber dust shields on fancier bearings can be popped out easily with any small sharp implement, like a sewing needle or precision screwdriver. They can also be popped right back in.

With the shield removed, these bearings can be cleaned just like the other styles of bearings.

Step 17: Thoughts

In my estimation, the fancier and pricier skate bearings work exactly the same as the cheaper generic versions.

Once cleaned, the bearings with nylon retainers all seem to spin smoother and faster. The ones with metal retainers are not nearly as fast, but still very good once they are clean.

Across a handful of the nylon-retainer-style bearings, among both the generic and name-brand ones, there are some notably faster-spinners for whatever reason (minor manufacturing differences, maybe?).

But from what I can tell, there are "good" and "better" from both lots.

Now, if you want really ultra-fast, smoother-spinning bearings you'll have to pony-up for ceramic bearings.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. Thank you for reading.

(And yes, I admit it - spending this amount of effort to disassemble, clean, and reassemble a bearing for a spinning toy will likely seem incredibly silly very, very soon!)

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    34 Discussions

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    diagirl1000

    1 year ago

    Super cool and helpful!

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    Antonio C.M

    1 year ago

    Very well done! To clean larger bearings, which I work with, I use gasoline, it does a great job. Not sure about small ones, but I think would do same. After degreased it completely I spray Carburetor cleaner or break cleaner to finish the job.

    8 replies
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    CPUDOCTHE1.Antonio C.M

    Reply 1 year ago

    I think gasoline causes cancer in California. I would much rather use gasoline than acetone as a solvent.

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    Waste Of SpaceCPUDOCTHE1.

    Reply 1 year ago

    Quote: I think gasoline causes cancer in California. /Quote

    What does it do in the other states?

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    DaveBGCPUDOCTHE1.

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hhaahahhahahahahhahahahahahhahahhahahhahaha

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    Antonio C.MCPUDOCTHE1.

    Reply 1 year ago

    Are they still using it there to power cars and lawn mowers?
    Definetely, acetone cause cancer, on much faster pace than gasoline. But again, cancer is on the air already. My wife never smoke, drink, no fast food, thin, no family history, and was diagnosed with C.

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    prrofreaderAntonio C.M

    Reply 1 year ago

    No, acetone is not a carcinogen. Gasoline is since it contains benzene among other things. Benzene is a carcinogen. Acetone is hazardous, as it has a very low flash point, about -17C iirc. And it dries your skin very quickly, so you should avoid skin contact, and of course avoid eye contact.

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    seamsterAntonio C.M

    Reply 1 year ago

    Great comment, thank you.

    Yeah, for industrial applications there are much quicker and more potent options for degreasing.

    For these spinner toy/skate bearings, I tried to use only stuff young kids like mine might have access to and could use relatively safely.

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    Antonio C.M

    1 year ago

    Good point, it didn't occur to me that kids would be the ones doing projects like this one. Plus any gasoline base product is not a good idea for the reason you mentioned.

    1 reply
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    DaveBGAntonio C.M

    Reply 1 year ago

    kids will do what kids do what ever you say it or their friends tell them

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    Charlie Chumrats

    1 year ago

    When I was in my teens, my friends and I found that soaking bearings overnight in straight lemon juice really did a number on breaking down the grease. We would put them 4 to a film canister (because we had them lying around for some reason, even though we all had phones and digital cameras!) fill the cannister almost to the top with lemon juice and then seal it, and shake it a few times whenever we thought about it. Word to the wise, the smell of day old lemon juice and used skate bearing grease is awful, about like the smell when you drain a differential of oil after 100k miles. Also, you can make some awesome graphite powder by buying graphite leads at a craft store and some sanding film from the hobby section- the really really really fine grits are best. Or, you can rub the leads back and forth across a very fine (3000 grit+) honing stone and collect the dust. Then, you can use a coarser block on your honing stone to see where the high spots are and properly level it for sharpening your tools. Clean, crisp bearings, cheap graphite powder, and sharp (safe) implements- triple win!

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    throbscottle

    1 year ago

    I've often wondered how to disassemble a bearing - now I know! Thanks!

    Now, the big questions is, do you have a method for use with metal-caged bearings? (which look as if the cage is welded between the balls)

    2 replies
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    seamsterthrobscottle

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hmm, I'm not sure. Do you mean like the bearings shown in steps 3 - 7, or a different style? Either way, I'd almost always opt for a good soak in solvent and a scrub over any attempts at a full disassembly. I showed it here and have done it a few times, but generally it doesn't seem worth the extra trouble.

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    throbscottleseamster

    Reply 1 year ago

    Oh, actually yes, those ones. I'd forgotten about them by the time I'd got through the others....

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    Laral

    1 year ago

    Good overall tutorial. I wouldn't recommend disassembling the races though. It is not necessary for cleaning and can only lead to trouble. I ruined a Bones Reds bearing by doing that. I think I may have slightly forced it back together and damaged the balls or races. The second time I tried it, I was more gentle and had no problems.

    Acetone works better than any other solvent and can't dissolve the nylon cage or rust the bearing. For really dirty bearings, let them soak a while and then swirl them around in the acetone. Then use fresh acetone for a final clean. Shake off excess solvent, holding the bearing in a paper towel, and then blow off remainder with DustOff or similar or with compressed air. Brushing should not be necessary.

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    Laral

    1 year ago

    Are China Bones Reds Bearings any different from regular Bones Reds? If not, $34.00 for 16 of them is way too high. I recently bought an 8-pack on eBay for $10.

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    andrewty

    1 year ago

    Ball and roller bearings are made in different "speed" grades.
    The lowest speed are the tightest, with a tiny diametrical clearance.
    The highest speed have the largest diametrical clearance.

    One can check the clearance by trying to rock the innner against the outer. A slow version will have very little sideways rocking. After cleaning this will be more easily detectable.

    Cheap bearings will probably have such wide tolerances that testing a group of cleaned versions will give a very wide range of apparent rocking/slackness. some due to balls of different diameters, some due to out of round of thei nner and/or outer and some due to different diametrical clearance.

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    depotdevoid

    1 year ago

    As a professional ball bearing salesman, I must say that this is a terrible idea and will ruin your bearings.

    As someone who has been playing with fidget spinners and messing with ways to clean all that annoying "lubrication" out of his bearings, I think you've nailed it.

    Thanks for the instructable!