Switch rebuilding

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by ferstler posted 11-27-2013 02:00 AM 1146 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 3726 days

11-27-2013 02:00 AM

Topic tags/keywords: tip refurbishing

Most power switches used with moderately large stationary tools (contractor saws, drill presses, 6-inch jointers, thickness planers, etc.) and some mobile ones, too (jobsite saws, bench-top sanders, etc.), are dual-purpose items that have two sets of separate contacts: double pole, single throw. Four connector pins on the back.

The idea with the tool set up to work as a 240-volt arrangement is for the switch to simultaneously deal with both sides of the input. With 120-volt arrangements one set of contacts handles the hot side and the other handles the negative side. The latter is actually overkill, but the switches are dual purpose and it is easier to have them operate that way than to do a special wiring job on the tool, especially if it is designed to operate with either 240 or 120 volt inputs.

Some switches have only one set of connectors (single pole, single throw), and those are specifically designed for tools that can only handle 120-volt inputs, with the negative lead hard wired in place. Two connector pins on the back.

Most such switches are rated at 20 (or 19) amps at 125 volts or 12 amps at 250 volts, and the data will usually be clearly marked on the side of the switch. Most switches of this kind will be one of two types: a toggle type or a paddle type. I call the latter “slap switches,” because in a pinch their strong point is that you can quickly slap them for a shutdown, important with many tools. I am using a toggle type in my illustrations, and it is a single pole type with only two connector pins. Most here are quite aware of what the paddle types look like, and internally they are almost identical to the toggle type.

Anyway, with 240-volt arrangements the switches should hold up fairly well, because the initial arc as the contacts make connections are dealing with reasonably small current flows. However, with 120-volt set ups the initial arc is considerably stronger, and so the switch contact points can gradually pit and burn black, making the connection less than optimal. This also happens with the single pole types. I have had at least one toggle type switch that gets heavy use pit enough that the tool would not turn on. Another tool (an oscillating spindle sander) had erratic speed as the pitted connection was high enough in resistance to cut into the deliverable current flow.

Most of the time, if a switch begins to act up the user will opt to simply replace it. Grizzly sells replacement switches of both kinds (toggle and paddle), and they are generic enough to simply replace the vast bulk of dual-purpose power tool switches available. Even if the mounting plate on the paddle version is not the same as the one with the original tool, it is possible to remove the switch from the mounting plate and install it in the factory plate However, this might not be a viable solution if the user is in a hurry and does not have three to five days to wait for a new switch.

My solution has been to simply rebuild the switch. It is remarkably easy to do, taking maybe an hour if the switch is easy to get to from behind, and I assume that many on this site of ours have done the same thing, especially those with some electrical background training. However, some may not have, and so the info below may help them save both time and money. Note that with some tools getting to the back side of the switch may take more than an hour. However, I have yet to see a tool (and I have quite a few and have serviced the switches on most of the bigger ones) that did not have access of some kind from the back.

If you look at one of the switches, as mounted in a typical panel, it is possible to squeeze the four friction strips on each corner and ease it out of a panel mount on a tool. As noted above, with a lot of models, the original switch is installed in a plastic plate that is mounted to the panel with screws. These are usually the easiest to get to and rebuild, and if that is the case it is not necessary to remove the switch from the panel plate. Just unscrew the plastic plate and disconnect the two or four wires in the back that use standard male/female connectors. Pay attention to which wire goes where, needless to say.

With either a switch removed from a panel with the squeeze trick or with the switch still attached to a removable front plate, all you need to do then is use a screwdriver to pry the grippers on the ends of the friction strips that hold the front of the switch to the back. Most of the time the gripper ends are easy to pry apart, but I have seen those on some Ridgid tools that have an epoxy glue blocking the prying process. This is easy to overcome. Just use a small hack-type saw with a very fine blade to cut SLIGHTLY into the glue area. (Cut too much and you ruin the switch.) It does not take much cutting to make it possible to use a screwdriver to then pop the gripper loose from the rear section of the switch.

Once the grippers are slightly pried apart the switch will practically fall apart, and so it is important to keep the front facing upwards. Elsewise, the one or two (depending on whether it is double or single pole) little “rocker” connectors inside will flip out of position or fall out. You can of course pick them up, but if this is your first switch job it is a good idea to see just how they sit inside of the rear housing and how the housing orients itself to the front of the switch. This makes it easier to re-assemble correctly.

Most of the time the rocker(s) will be coated on one side with a silicone-type grease, with the other side having the contact tab. If you look at the tab you will see that if the tool has been used a lot it will be burned and pitted. To fix this, simply use a small jeweler’s file and buff it smooth. For best results, finish the job by using a diamond file that has a very fine grain. It is likely that metal fragments will get into the grease, and most of the time I just wipe all the grease off and leave it to the grease on the plastic pressure pins on the front section to carry forth the lubrication. Actually, even without lubrication it is likely that by the time that “dry” pressure pins wear out the tab will have been refurbished enough times by you that the switch will need replacing.

The tricky part is sanding off the pitting that will be down inside of the rear housing. I use a small rotary tool and a very narrow sanding or burnishing attachment to reach down into the housing and polish off the pitting. I then use a Q-Tip type swab and some alcohol to remove any metal residue.

Once this is done, the small metal rockers are re-installed into the rear housing, making sure that the contact points on those connectors match up to the housing tabs. This is one reason why it is important to be careful when you first get the unit apart so you can see just how they fit in. Also, pay attention to the way the front housing is oriented towards the rear housing. When the switch is “on” the pressure pins will be angled towards the rocker ends that have the contact tabs. Once you become adept at rebuilding switches this kind of super care during disassembly will not be needed.

The final tricky part is getting the front of the switch re-installed onto the rear housing. A bit of diddling is needed (and some fairly strong finger strength in some cases), and it is easy to jostle the rear section so that one or more of the rocker pieces jump out of position. Normally, I put the rear section in a vice (light pressure, please) and that keeps it from shaking as I carefully force the front section into place until the side grippers seat.

Once the grippers have a good hold on the rear section the switch is essentially fixed. Check it by using the continuity checker section of an electrical meter to make sure on is on and off is off, with both sides if it is a double-pole type. If you assembled the thing backwards you will have to disassemble and do the assembly again, with the section-orientation reversed.

It is easy to reinstall the switch into the front panel of the tool if you had to remove it that way. Just push it in from the front and the side tabs will grip the edges, Chinese finger torture style. Then, re-install the wire clips the way they were when you first viewed the back of the switch, and you are done. With the type that have a screw attachable mounting plate, just reinstall using the screws.

Stand back and turn the tool on to make sure the switch works properly. Even if it had not stopped working and you wanted to check the condition of the switch and spiff it up if needed, had it been strongly pitted it is possible that it will run a bit better than it did before, since the line resistance will be less.

Happy repairing, and if repairing is not in the cards for you make a point of ordering a spare switch or two for emergencies. If you have a special tool with a special mount, get the spare from the manufacturer. Otherwise, Grizzly sells generic types that can be adapted to just about any situation.

Howard Ferstler

4 replies so far

View exelectrician's profile


2328 posts in 2633 days

#1 posted 11-27-2013 06:25 AM

One day in my life about forty years ago in fact I was going down this slippery road you are encouraging our fellow LJ’s to go and I asked my self a very good question – Is my life, my entire future actually, worth more than $20.00???

Of course the answer was so clear – for less than $20.00 I can buy and have shipped to my door the exact replacement switch I need. From. or
It comes with the exact quantity of silicone grease placed in the exactly correct position, also I get brand new silver contacts with the correct spring tension, preassembled and tested!
But most importantly I get a switch that has zero carbon and metal flash coating all over the inside which caused the switch to fail in the first place!

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View Whiskers's profile


389 posts in 2232 days

#2 posted 11-27-2013 07:20 AM

My new grizzly dust collector came with this spiffy government approved safety paddle switch that not only was super safe, I.E. it would not power on, it disintegrated when I removed it from the machine. A new common double throw switch fit perfectly in its place and only set me back about $12. Grainger is a great place for switches of all kinds and many towns have these stores.

View MrRon's profile


5203 posts in 3449 days

#3 posted 11-27-2013 06:41 PM

Howard; Like you, I like to try to repair rather than replace. That has always been part of my 70 year career working with things mechanical and electrical.Today’s “youngsters” (anyone younger than 50) haven’t had the necessary exposure to attempt DIY repairs. Way back, repair parts were not as available as they are today, so it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to piddle about with items that are more easily replaced than repaired.

I must commend you for your very well written topic. I will hazard a guess and say; you are a technical writer and old enough to have a good command of the English language. A good knowledge of the language was necessary for you to be able to write such a well written piece.

View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 3726 days

#4 posted 11-27-2013 08:58 PM

excelelectrician, I can see your point. When I did my work I took care to use a Q-Tip wetted with alcohol to thoroughly swab out the interior of the housing after the polishing work. And these days, the Grizzly 20/12 amp switches can be had for less than seven bucks, plus shipping, so there is a lot to say for just doing a swap without going through the pain of rebuilding. I have used the paddle versions to replace some of my toggle versions in tools I felt needed the added safety of a switch that could be quickly slapped to turn it off.

Whiskers, I can see your point about switch quality. Oddly enough, the so-called 2 HP dust collector I recently purchased from Harbor Freight had a simple toggle-type power switch and I replaced it, as well as the toggle on the smaller GMC version I also have, with the Grizzly 20/12 paddle versions. After rebuilding several switches, I was amazed that nearly all of my 120-volt tools have similar, and sometimes identical power-switch mechanisms – with similar pitting problems, be the tool a big one or a small one.

MrRon, yep, we both go back a few years. About 45 years back I was a USAF bomb-navigation systems technician (B-52B model bombers) and was in charge of the MADRAC malfunction detecting units that had recently been configured to monitor the BN systems on those bombers. The MADRAC had quite a few small (almost thumb sized) cooling fans and they tended to bind up as their lubricants dried out. Our A&E section was ordering many of them, but when I came on board (as an E4 supervising two E3s, irregularly loaned to me from the primary department) I began dismantling the motors, cleaning them, and lubricating them. After that, our need to order new motors dropped to almost zero. I found the work on those motors an interesting challenge in addition to the more basic work I did on the BN systems themselves.

Regarding writing, for a number of years I was an audio commentator and reviewer for several different audio hobby magazines, publishing over 150 articles. In addition, I have published two books on the A/V hobby and published two more dealing with recording reviews, with a stress on sound quality. On top of that, I was the technical editor and technical biographical writer for the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, published by Routledge a few years back.

Actually, my above article about power switches was a fast first draft. In the old days, had I decided to actually publish it in a print magazine, I would have let it sit for a few days and then edited the daylights out of it.

I also read a lot (history, biography, philosophy; and have a degree in history), and those who read a lot can usually write well, too, according to one of my college English teachers, Harry Crews – may he rest in peace.


Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics