Do you have chinchilla wheel that has seen better days? Is the inside and/or outside of the wheel crusted with dried urine? The bearings are maybe a bit worn and need to be replaced? Don't feel you have to buy a new wheel! You can fix these problems fairly easily and quickly! The wheel will operate like new and will be clean and sanitary for your chin!
You may be thinking to yourself "how do I know if the bearings in my wheel need to be replaced?". If the wheel makes a grinding or squeaking noise, and you know it's the wheel and not something else on or in the cage, it's time to replace the bearings. Also, if the wheel can tilt on the bracket, and the nut hasn't loosened, it's time for new bearings.
We wrote to the manufacturer/distributor of the Ed wheel about purchasing new bearings and instructions for how to replace the bearings in a couple wheels we had that had been donated to our rescue. After never receiving a reply, we decided that the wheels were useless as they were, and decided to jump in and see what we could do to repair them. We had already replaced bearings in Flying Saucer and Chin Spin wheels, so we knew this would be similar. We have successfully given new life to several Ed wheels, and decided to share that knowledge with others and wrote up the instructions as we were working on one.
The first step, before you even remove the wheel from the cage, is to purchase the new bearings. If you have a Tractor Supply Store near you, that is where we have found them. They are in the hardware department, in the little drawers with all the different nuts, washers, screws, bolts and other fittings. Look for a drawer labeled "radial bearings". These will NOT look exactly like the bearings that are already in the wheel, but they must be the right size. These bearings will have a small flange on one edge. You are looking for 1-1/8" x 3/8" (be sure the two you pick out from the spot ARE the same, people often rummage and don't put things back where they belong!). You will need two of these bearings. When we purchased them last, they were $3.29 each. These are the only parts you will need to buy to repair your wheel.
Once you have your new bearings, you are ready to begin the overhaul.
Bearing replacement instructions for the Ed wheel
1) Remove the wheel from the cage.
2) Using 2 - 14mm sockets, one on the inside bolt head and one on the outside nut, loosen the nut on the back of the wheel (turn counter-clockwise). For the socket on the inside, ideally you will want to use 2 - 3" extensions so the socket wrench is outside of the wheel for easier use. If you do not have extensions, you may find it easier to have someone assist you in getting the nut off the back of the wheel. Crescent or adjustable wrenches may be used but are very awkward to handle. Be careful not to round the edges of the nut and bolt. Getting the nut loosened can be quite difficult because it appears that it has been coated with spray paint once assembled.
3) Once the nut is loose, remove it from the bolt and remove the mounting bracket from the wheel. Discard the lock washer that was on the bolt (a lock washer is a circular piece of metal with a cut in one side). It will not be needed with the new bearings.
4) Using a Philips screwdriver of the appropriate size, remove the screws on the back and inside of the wheel that hold the bearings in the wheel. The screw on the back of the wheel will require a smaller screwdriver and/or considerable downward pressure while turning to remove since the head has been ground down so it wouldn't interfere with the mounting bracket. Discard these two screws. They are not needed with the new bearings.
5) Turn the wheel so it is open side down on a padded surface (carpeted floor, folded up blanket or towel).
6) Using a small flat head (slotted) screwdriver, insert the blade of the screwdriver into the center hole of the bearings, so the end of the blade rests on the edge of the bearing furthest from you. Tap lightly with a hammer a couple times. Move the screwdriver blade to the opposite side of the bearing and tap again. Repeat this process until the bearing falls out.
7) Hold the wheel at an angle with the wood backing edge on the floor. From the inside of the wheel, use the screwdriver and hammer to gently tap the remaining bearing out of the wheel. Be somewhat gentle so you do not tear out the wood on the backing.
Note: If your wheel needs a good cleaning in addition to new bearings, now is the time to give it a thorough cleaning so it's sparkling clean and sanitary for your chin. Follow the directions in the next section before proceeding to replace the bearings
8) Lay the wheel flat on the padded surface, either side up. Use a rubber mallet or a small scrap of wood and a hammer to carefully tap in one of the new bearings, flange side out, until the flange is flush with the surface of the wood. Do NOT put it in at an angle or it will break the wood!
9) Turn the wheel over and repeat the process for the second bearing.
10) It's a good idea to add a light coating of machine oil (3-in-1 or similar, do not use WD-40) to the threads of the axel bolt and nut before reassembling. Wipe off any excess. This will help prevent rust and make it easier to take apart the next time you need to replace the bearings. If the threads of the bolt look grimy, give them a bath in vinegar and scrub with an old toothbrush, rinse and dry thoroughly before oiling.
11) Insert the axel bolt from the inside of the wheel through the center hole of the bearings. While holding the bolt from the inside of the wheel, slide mounting bracket onto the axel bolt making sure that the bolts for mounting the wheel to the cage face away from the wheel.
12) Thread the nut onto the bolt, reverse the ratchets and tighten as much as possible without impeding the wheel's free spin. Hold the wheel by the mounting bracket so your fingers aren't touching the wheel and give it a spin to test that it moves freely.
13) Re-mount the wheel in the cage and your job is complete and you should have a very happy chinchilla!
14) Be sure to check the nut on the back of the wheel periodically to be sure it hasn't loosened. This can be easily checked while the wheel is still mounted in the cage. Grasp the top edge of the wheel and gently pull toward you. If the wheel wobbles a little and the bearings are still rather new, the nut needs to be tightened. Be sure you're seeing the wheel move and not the wall of the cage.
15) Do NOT add any kind of lubricants to the bearings. They are already lubricated. Adding something to them will likely shorten the life of the new bearings, by attracting more bath dust and fur.
Cleaning the metal surfaces of your wheel
Cleaning the grime off your wheel looks like a daunting and time-consuming task, but it's actually quite easy and fairly quick to get it back to looking nice and clean (and sanitary). Be careful not to saturate the wood too much as it will swell and could warp or crack. Getting it damp won't hurt. If you are just cleaning the wheel and not replacing the bearings, be very careful during the cleaning process not to get the bearings wet! They will get ruined!
Ed and Chin Spin wheels:
(Instructions for Flying Saucer wheels are below)
If the wheel has a light build up, just wiping it down with an old wash cloth saturated with straight household vinegar will likely do the trick. It may take several passes over an area to allow the vinegar to eat through the crusted urine, dust and grime. For a stubborn spot, you can simply leave the soaked cloth over the spot for a few minutes.
If your wheel is extremely crusted with urine, you'll want to find a shallow pan or tray of some kind that will allow you to place the wheel open side down inside it. I have found that using a litter tray from a Martin's Highrise is ideal. A smaller item may be used, but the process will likely take longer to complete. Place the wheel, open side down in the pan and add vinegar to the pan. This will allow the outside edges, inside and out to soak. Use a turkey baster (you can get one at most dollar stores if you do not have one) to "baste" the outside of the wheel all the way around (where ever it needs cleaning). This is a good job to do while you're sitting on the floor and watching TV. Just continually bathe the outside of the wheel with the vinegar. You may see the outside edges start to foam...this is the vinegar reacting with the urine and is a good thing, it's cleaning for you!. Once you see that most of the grime is off the wheel, you can use a Scotch-Brite type pad to give it a quick once over which will take most of the rest of the crusting off, repeat basting in areas where it is still needed until the wheel is clean on the outside. If the inside is also grimy, you'll need to hold the wheel at an angle while you baste the inside, turning it to get at all the areas. You don't want to sit the wheel in the vinegar so that the wood portion is in the vinegar for any length of time, because wood that has been soaked tends to warp and/or crack when it dries.
Rinse the wheel with a fresh cloth saturated with fresh water, rinsing out the cloth once and going over the wheel a final time will ensure you have removed the vinegar. Dry with a rag and it's ready to go.
Flying Saucer wheels:
If your wheel has only a light build up, follow the instructions above for the Ed and Chin Spin wheels. If you need to soak a spot, just be sure the vinegar is not trickling toward the bearings, have it fall off the edge instead.
If your wheel is extremely crusted with urine, it will take a little longer to clean, but it's not a difficult process. Place the wheel, over an empty bucket so it rests at an angle. Use a turkey baster (you can get one at most dollar stores if you do not have one) to "baste" the running surface of the wheel as far around as you can but don't allow the vinegar to be in constant contact with the dust cover in the center. This is a good job to do while you're sitting on the floor and watching TV. Just continually bathe the wheel with the vinegar using the baster, reusing the vinegar that is being caught in the bucket. Once you see that most of the grime is off the wheel, you can use a Scotch-Brite type pad to give it a quick, gentle once over which will take most of the rest of the crusting off, repeat basting in areas where it is still needed until that portion of the wheel is clean. Rotate the wheel so the remaining dirty portion is at the bottom and repeat the process. Do not soak the wheel in the vinegar, because the vinegar will seep inside the wheel and will cause damage to the bearings. If the cleaning is being done in conjunction with a bearing replacement, it's ok to soak the wheel and rinse under the faucet, but be very careful to dry the inside with a rag carefully and put it over a heat vent or use a hair dryer to be sure the inside is thoroughly dry before replacing the bearings.