Cleaning advice for exotic bearings?


#1

I have spent way too much money on bearings and am continuously amazed by their performance right when I get them or after maybe one cleaning, but many of them severely degrade in spin time after relatively short periods, something like 1 - 15 hours of continuous play, depending.

The longest spinning bearings I’ve had are the YYF Gold Centertrac and the NSK Platinum bearings. Both arrive dead quiet and dry spin on a yoyo hub for 20+ seconds. Now I’m lucky to get 10 seconds after cleaning. My Difeyo KK Ceramic bearing initially worked pretty well (dry spin around 12 seconds) but now I get 2 seconds. I have numerous other ceramics (Terrapin X Wing, Buddha Whipple, Crucial Grooved, etc.) that suffer similar problems.

I’ve been cleaning all these “exotic” bearings the same way. I purchased a large quantity of acetone and compressed air dusters online. I also bought a specialized bearing cleaning container. I place the bearing and acetone in the container, close the lid, let it sit a couple minutes, twirl it around at a moderate speed for another 5 - 10 minutes, then open the container, remove the bearing with stainless steel tweezers (holding the bearing by inserting the tweezers between the inner race and exerting some outward pressure), then spin dry it by applying the compressed air first to the outer race, then to the ball bearings until a high RPM is achieved and the bearing is dry.

This seemed to work for at least some of my bearings, but lately I’m getting dry spin times of <10 seconds after cleaning, which quickly drops to ~2-3 seconds after less than an hour of play.

Any idea what I’m doing wrong? I haven’t been lubricating the bearings on advice from the purchase sites not to, though I did try it on one bearing and it didn’t help. It simply made the yoyo a bit quieter, but not spin any longer.

I’m really confused because I’m cleaning these exactly like the Terrapin X guy said. I’m starting to think acetone sucks for cleaning exotic materials for some reason, but this doesn’t make sense. Is it possible some brands of acetone are better than others? I figured acetone is acetone and as long as it says 100% pure then it wouldn’t make any difference.

Thanks in advance for any advice. This has become a very frustrating problem, where I can get 8-9 minute sleepers when the bearings are working properly, down to a third of that after minimal play time. I’ve spent way too much money on high end bearings and other than bulk ordering a bunch of NSKs and then switching them out I don’t know what to do to keep them spinning like they were when I got them.

I also have a lot of stainless steel bearings and most of them perform just as well as the ceramics, though I can rarely get more than 10-12 seconds dry spin time from them (YYR DS and the one that came with my YYM Agonist being the best). I’ve been cleaning these the same way, not using any lube, which I know is ill-advised for stainless steel, but I’ve actually had less problems with these than the exotic material bearings!

tldr: Can an expert on exotic bearings tell me the proper cleaning procedure for ceramics, gold-plated and platinum-plated?

Thanks! Also I’d be more than willing to review all of these but the review wouldn’t be very accurate until I can sort out why some of them aren’t performing as well as they should.

Oh, one more thing: I play mostly 5A–is this style particularly abusive to bearings or something? I’ve considered this possibility but I have trouble imagining a few drops of the yoyo onto carpet are going to permanently ruin $20 ball bearings.


#2

my hunch is that you’re not letting them dry all the way and once they completely dry they will spin longer, just a hunch.


#3

What you’ve stumbled upon is called “reality” vs. “hype”

First things first, I’ve said this a billion times by now, but I’ll keep saying it… flicking a bearing has absolutely -nothing- to do with how well it will perform. IT IS NOT AN ACCURATE INDICATOR. ONLY testing a bearing under the load of a yo-yo, from a known rpm, will tell you how well it spins. Even then, it removes the variable of the ‘thunk’ at the end of a throw, which can have an impact on how much the bearing slows down at that point.

Now that that’s out of the way, on to your question.

Cleaning bearings is the best way to ruin them.

[pause for gasp and skepticism]

Every time you take your nice, brand new pretty bearings, and dunk them in something like acetone, lighter fluid, etc etc etc. you are -adding- a residue to the surface. They do not evaporate completely, they leave junk behind. That junk will invariably start to collect other junk, and you’ll end up having to “clean” your bearing again.

That isn’t to say it can’t be beneficial. If your bearing legitimately has a bunch of junk in it already, it’s the ‘best’ solution you have available to you.

Want to know the secret of ‘gold’ bearings, ‘merc’ bearings, and many others? They are high quality bearings that happen to come absolutely bone dry… that’s it. They are professionally stripped metals done in a factory setting, using some very, very nasty chemicals that are pretty highly regulated by various safety organizations. The end result is a bearing that is raw metal.

Once you ‘clean’ it, once you get it dirty, once you lube it… it’s over. It’s never going to be as good as it started again.

There are no ‘exotic’ materials being used… they’re just stainless steel (or steel with ceramic balls in the case of ceramics). There is nothing special about any of the bearings out there really, aside from some are just plain higher quality. The exception might be Terrapin simply because he is adding something to his bearings, but in the end it’s no different from anything else really. Oh, and the ‘gold’ ones have an electrolysis gold plating added because it’s pretty.


Now I said all of that to say this, and it’s directed at everybody…

Quit -wasting- your money on expensive snake oil bearings. None of them offer a huge improvement where it actually matters… in actual, real world performance. Take all that time and energy you spend on fiddling with bearings and spend it practicing… your sleep time will improve a lot more, and your skill level will skyrocket… you’ll forget all about bearings.

Kyle


#4

It did occur to me that acetone might be bad for the bearings, but from what I’ve read acetone is a very effective solvent that will dissolve everything but the metal in the bearings. Spinning the bearing dry with compressed air should remove any excess acetone and help it evaporate faster.

If the acetone does build up on the bearing, how do you remove it? Are you saying these high end bone dry bearings are just good for a while and then I should just throw them away?

I think you are right about cleaning bearings with acetone, at least the high end ones. I have three YYF Gold CTX bearings and one of them still performs extremely well. It’s also the one I’ve cleaned the least amount of times. The other two seem basically useless now. I also have two NSK Platinum bearings that came performing about equally well and seemed to last slightly longer. Now, one of them is basically useless, the one I’ve cleaned more. However, the reason I’ve cleaned the useless ones more is because during play they started to screech, sleep 1/4 as long, become responsive, etc.

And there is definitely a correlation between finger spin time and sleep time on a specific yoyo. Whenever a bearing starts to get noisy, responsive, and has poor sleep times, and I take the yoyo apart, I test flick the bearing and every time it spins a couple seconds and then stops. While my yoyo is performing well and I test flick the bearing it spins 10+ seconds, sometimes 20+. My own personal sleep records (8-9 min) are with new NSK bearings with flick spin times > 20 seconds. I have tested about half my bearings for sleep time and it is always, always, the bearings with better flick spin times that get the longest sleep times. I’ve just been using that as a quick estimator to check a bearing’s health, i.e., to see how much friction there is between the inner and outer races (this amount of friction is what causes long or short spins, assuming one’s throw and other factors are consistent). So I have a hard time believing you when you say this has nothing to do with how well a bearing will perform. You could be right, it just flies in the face of my own experiences.

Anyway what do you suggest I buy for bearings? I prefer curved ones but have a lot of flat ones nonetheless. ALL of the cheap ones perform relatively poorly in my experience. YYF CT, CTX, Spec X, Dif KK, One Drop 10-ball, I get terrible spin times out of all of them. The YYR DS is the best stainless bearing I’ve used, but those are just as expensive as the NSK bearings!

And a more fundamental question, why do my bearings need to be cleaned after so little time? It is getting super frustrating. I get the feeling that the super high end bearings work well for a few hours and are meant for competition, and I simply can’t expect to get anywhere close to that kind of performance consistently.

I would take your advice and just forget about what you call snake oil bearings, but
A) I actually noticed dramatic improvements with (some of) them. It’s easier to learn new tricks with longer sleep times and an unresponsive yoyo.
B) I already own a ton of them.
C) I don’t know what else to use.

Anyway thank you for your thoughts Kyo, I don’t mean to be argumentative, I’m just confused and frustrated. Right now I can’t practice for more than 30 minutes without my bearing mysteriously locking up, which is slowly driving me insane.

EDIT: Thought of another question…would an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner work for ball bearings?


#5

Edit: the ultrasonic jewelry cleaner is a pretty good idea…

I can’t speak directly from experience, but have a thought…

My bearings are all CT, CTX, OD10, spec, etc… I have never bought the more expensive ones. Are the high dollar bearings manufactured to tighter tolerances? Meaning less slop between the parts?

If so, then a much smaller piece of debris will lock the bearing up compared to what would have an effect on something more loosely constructed.

I do have first hand experience with larger scale mechanical systems that are machined to tight tolerances. The tiniest little thing can bring everything to a halt. That may be what’s going on with these bearings.

It may be worth thinking about. It also may be complete hogwash. Like I said, just a thought.


(⛷ Noisy Lurker) #6

This all sounds a bit odd. I have only had bad bearings, very few, act as you describe. Are you removing the shields when cleaning?

You most likely are, so:

  1. Move to a cleaner enviroment (sheesh like that’s going to happen)
  2. Try a different solvent.

Good luck!


#7

Why do you need 8-10 minute sleepers? Last time I had fun with a yoyo I did a 15 second trick. I had two prelims set for AZ states and one of them was one throw. For one minute. This was a stock YYF CT I believe, if not a flat spec bearing. Can you see what I’m trying to say?

You’re picky. Find your favorite 7 dollar bearing and get a few. Clean them the way you do now and I believe they will work beautifully.

I would suggest a CT, a YYJ speed bearing, or the YYE bearings. They all play great.


#8

I don’t clean my bearings, unless something sticky gets in them like sticker residue from response pads.


#9

Have you tried the paper cleaning method? It gets any residue out pretty well. I do it around every three acetone cleanings.


#10

First, I find acetone is way to strong for bearing cleaning. I prefer lighter fluid and mineral spirits (in that order). Blow them out good w/compressed air and lightly lube. Blow that out too. That said, I rarely clean/lube a bearing.

Ultrasonic cleaners - yes, they do a good job and were quite popular a few years back. People probably still use them but you don’t hear much about it. If you have one, it can’t hurt but it’s probably not worth buying one just for yoyo bearings.


#11

WARNING: This got rather long.

What you’ve read comes from yo-yo players who have been doing the same thing over and over for the last 15 years. What I’m talking about comes from actual bearing companies, who employ people who are actually experts in the field, and who actually do nothing but think about and design bearings all day.

You shouldn’t throw them away, you shouldn’t even have to clean them to begin with… just that if you do, it may never be ‘quite’ as good as it once was. It IS however, FAR better than anything you’d ever actually need.

When you say “at least the high end ones” it sounds like you are making distinctions that don’t exist. There is no massive difference in materials or anything else between various bearings… the only difference is how well they are made and assembled.

There just isn’t. A bearing on its side spinning without any load on it, is simply not the same as a bearing spinning vertically under the load of the yo-yo. And that isn’t the same as a bearings ability to handle ‘backspin’ when you are doing tricks. Let me be clear, I’m NOT saying the two tests will never line up, I’m saying that they are not direct indicators of one another. How do I know? because I spent -years- testing it on every bearing I could get ahold of. I have something like 250-300 bearing samples from around the world that I’ve accumulated over the years.

As a ‘health’ indicator, you might be able to make an argument for that. If one bearing normally spins 30 seconds and suddenly only spins 3, that might be an indication that there is debris in the bearing somewhere. I still wouldn’t say it’s an absolute indication, but a dramatic change might be an indicator in many cases. That said, some bearings simply ‘break in’ differently over time.

Did you just list dif kk as cheap? or one drop? they are some of the highest quality bearings on the market.

Do you have a habit of playing while sliding down sand dunes? Or do you often yo-yo while scuba diving? Perhaps you have a penchant for yo-yoing out the window of a truck while sliding around in the mud?

Honestly, I’d be exceptionally surprised if bearings truly degraded that fast for you. I’ve been doing this 16 years or so, I’ve never had bearings go bad on me like that, or heard of it happening to anybody else. In fact I have a pile of bearings I’ve been using since the 90s that have never been cleaned… they work great. I have to think some of this is just in your head.

If you can throw multi-minute sleepers, there shouldn’t be -any- bearing that isn’t capable of doing any trick you want and offering as much sleep time as you could ever need.

I’m all for the search for knowledge, and I’m happy to provide as much insight as I can into it… I’ve been doing this a rather long time, and I’ve always had a bit of an obsession about bearings.

If you are truly having bearings lock up for you that fast, there -has- to be some outside factor at play here. There is no way that thousands of players over the roughly 15 years that bearings have really become something to fiddle with, have mysteriously missed something like this going on.


#12

Kyo, do you prefer liquid lube or Dry Play?


#13

I rinse my bearings in water and dish soap and then dry them with a hair dryer. I’ve never noticed this dying in bearig thing.


#14

I don’t need 8 - 9 minute sleepers, but a bearing/yoyo that sleeps that long in my hands will be able to do tricks continuously for 2+ minutes easily, often 3. It makes learning tricks MUCH easier when you don’t have to bind and throw every 45 seconds, especially complicated tricks. With cruddy bearings the yoyo tends to spin out before I’ve gotten halfway through the trick if there are a lot of steps.

Hmmm… this could make sense. I’ve used almost exclusively high end bearings. I’ve tried out bearings like CT, Spec, One Drop 10b, etc., but not for very long because I didn’t like their performance compared to the other bearings I had. When I picked up yoyoing again recently I started with an NSK $20+ bearing in an Ares Star. It was/is dead smooth and slept forever. Maybe I’ve just set my expectations too high and now my bearings have aged or taken minor damage bringing their performance down despite very careful cleaning.

I think a decent ultrasonic cleaner is only around $30, if they actually work it would be worth it for me since I’ve easily spent a few hundred dollars on bearings (and thousands more on yoyos…)

[quote=skitrz]This all sounds a bit odd. I have only had bad bearings, very few, act as you describe. Are you removing the shields when cleaning?

You most likely are, so:

  1. Move to a cleaner enviroment (sheesh like that’s going to happen)
  2. Try a different solvent.

Good luck!
[/quote]
Most high end bearings don’t come with shields. The only ones I’ve seen come with shields are Dif KK Ceramic, Terrapin X Wing, and Crucial Grooved Ceramic. But in any case yeah I remove the shields (usually permanently). For those bearings that come with shields should I leave them on?

I’ve mostly used acetone. I’ve tried two types of lighter fluid also but it seems worse not better. I think acetone is probably the safest and best-working solvent that’s easily available.

I try to keep the environment clean but it’s basically impossible because we have several cats. I always keep them out of the room when I’m practicing or cleaning bearings but some of them are long-hair cats and it’s everywhere. It even floats around in the air though you wouldn’t notice most of the time. It’s quite possible small amounts of cat fur or dander are getting into my high-precision bearings and causing them to get super noisy and responsive. Is this an issue other people with cats have had?

I’ll try out some of the bearings I haven’t used much like YYF Spec X and CTX. Maybe they’ll last for a while anyway.

Thanks for the responses, everyone.

EDIT: Meant to post this last night but hit preview button not post. Will reply to Kyo later. Thanks again.


#15

To the OP, ive had this exact issue. Ive tried using different cleaners/techniques, but after cleaning a bearing i cant get it to spin very long at all. Extremely frustrating!
Edit:

Maybe it is shaking the bearings that bends the rails or spmething and doesnt allow the balls to spin as well, has anyone considered this??


#16

to “bend the rails” do you have any idea how hard you’d have to shake them? yeah that’s not the problem trust me.


#17

People need to start viewing bearings as consumables like string, pads, etc. 10 10-ball concave bearings for $16 from China, play them until they don’t perform the way you like anymore, replace, etc. Cheaper than most 100 packs of string and will last far longer. So much time and energy saved that way.


#18

Spinning the bearing WHILE drying is important. Is everyone doing this?

Lube, dirt, and other impurities are in the solvent that is evaporating from the bearing. As it evaporates, it leaves this gunk behind on the surfaces of the bearing parts (like boiling off salt water leaves salt behind…)

If the bearing is not moved, the solvent will pool at the contact points. So, the places where the balls touch the races will have higher concentrations of impurities deposited as the solvent evaporates.

Using a larger volume of solvent to clean less bearings would cause there to be less deposits. Also, spinning the bearing while it’s drying will keep the deposits from building up in spots around the balls…


#19

Blowing them out w/compressed air pretty much removes the solvent and any remaining gunk.


#20

I really don’t believe the more expensive supposedly high end bearings make much of a difference. I’ve played with cheap bearing that seem to play similar to more expensive specialty bearings.