I have always made an effort to protect myself with the best riding gear I could afford. But often, my attention to safety stopped at the garage door, and I did not follow that same line of thinking while wrenching. It’s easy to jump into a fix, with nothing but your bare skin between you and the incredibly nasty cleaning products, needed to strip these old bikes of their filth. Although there are more and more “Eco-friendly” cleaners on the market, the type of product necessary to get engine parts clean are still highly toxic (and often highly flammable).
The other day I finally launched into a full tear down and clean up of a replacement set of carbs, for my 1976 CB550K. For about 8 months I have looked for the specific model that fits my bike, but unfortunately, these carbs were only made in this configuration for 1976. This made it nearly impossible find, and I never even came across a rack on eBay, which surely would have been overpriced. Then I finally found them on the SOHC forum, and I immediately snatched them up. They turned out to be in rough shape, missing some parts and in need of a good cleaning, but with some heavy chemicals and parts I have lying around, I should be able to make them clean and complete.
The first thing I did was dismantle the entire rack, which involved soaking certain screws and bolts in penetrating oil. These carbs have been locked down tight for 35 years, so getting them free can be a hassle. The penetrating oil I use is in an aerosol can, which loves to spray off in random directions. Perfect for getting a bit in the eye. After a little oil, and a lot of elbow grease, I was able to get them stripped and ready for a good cleaning.
I had purchased some Berryman carb dip for the occasion, and although I never have used this product before, it seemed that it would provide the most thorough clean available. I had a hunch that these dips are toxic, so I made sure to borrow a pair of chemical resistant gloves from a friend. Best move I made!
Which brings me to my point: I always have a box of surgical gloves in the garage, ready for when I want to avoid getting grease all over my hands (honestly, I rarely use them for this purpose, and my hands constantly have the tell-tale signs of wrenching). However, I have been pretty good about using them when I use some acid products to remove rust. But these gloves are thin-walled, and only offer protection against grease, grime and benign acids, but will rip if stressed, and certainly won’t stand up to serious chemicals. So the borrowed chemical gloves were a must, and now after dealing with this carb dip, I now need to go out and buy my own pair. These are a good thing to have around, for days when the cleaners you are using, could bore a hole in steel.
I also realized that wearing protective eye wear would be a smart move for this job. I would be scrubbing and dipping, washing and splashing, and the last thing I need is to spend a day in a Brooklyn Emergency Room, waiting to have my burning eyes flushed. The warnings on these cleaning products, from the harshest to the more mellow, always include a warning about wearing protective eye wear. It’s something I take seriously now, after nearly getting brake cleaner in my eye, while spraying it on the brake rotor. I have a pair of wrap around protective glasses, much like the ones people over 70 wear, which protect me from any stray drops of chemicals. Better safe than sorry.
So I now consider the protective elements of my toolbox to be as important as the quality tools I crave. Granted, they are not as sexy as a shiny new ratchet, but for minimal investment, they keep me working on the things that get the bike to run better, instead of dealing with an unnecessary trip to the hospital.