Hardware: Know your grades

Publish Date: 
Jun 27, 2012
By Dave Koshollek

TWO POPULAR TRENDS in the vintage business involve pulling crusty old bikes from the brink of despair to resurrect them into cool café or bobber machines. It kind of reminds me of my own early years of customization — both the good and the bad.

One “bad” is the lackadaisical approach to sourcing hardware that holds things together. Did you know: Not all fasteners are made the same, and buying them from just any old convenient source could be disastrous.

Because my knowledge of the world of fasteners is pretty basic, I contacted Jerry Havrinche at Gardner-Westcott Co. for some expert advice. Havrinche and a partner started Gardner-Westcott almost 40 years ago and have been manufacturing motorcycle fasteners ever since. Some of the best customizers in the business use Gardner-Westcott products, which include an inventory of thousands of different motorcycle fasteners for Harley, Victory, three British bikes and the big four Japanese brands. Options within these offerings include fasteners for both vintage and late-model bikes in chrome or zinc-plated steel and stainless steel. All of their fasteners and washers are Grade 5 or higher in strength (most are Grade 8 and higher), and this is where our fastener education begins.

A common mistake shops make when working on vintage and custom machines is running down to the local hardware store to procure the fasteners needed for the job. Unfortunately, much of the “bin” hardware out there is a lowly Grade 2, which means it’s not even hardened (Tip: never use Grade 2 fasteners on a motorcycle). You can’t always trust the markings, either. With many of the big-chain hardware stores getting their fasteners from offshore suppliers, it’s best to consider their products suspect unless you actually know the manufacturer.

What if you’re willing to pay a little more to buy Grade 8 fasteners from the local auto parts store? Sounds good, but if you inadvertently use Grade 2 washers or nuts (commonly found), the combination is no stronger than the weakest link. (Note: We’re talking about U.S. fastener grades here of 2, 5 and 8, but the same applies to metric or British fasteners, which come in different classes of strength.)

After torquing the fastener to spec, a soft washer will crush, and a soft nut or bolt will stretch. When the soft parts give, they lose their torque, causing a leak or a squeak or something worse; a part may break or fall off. A common problem Havrinche has encountered lately are custom bike builders using substandard fasteners or washers to mount rear wheel sprockets. Failure here could cause the wheel to lock up — now, that will ruin your day!

The embrittlement problem. Another route is to take OE fasteners (used or new) to the local chrome shop for a little splash of cosmetic appeal. That sounds good until you consider that the used hardware may be worn or overstressed. Then realize that whether new or used, the plating facility will polish the fastener, which can remove or distort the piece, and then they’ll probably plate the hardware with dissimilar parts like bumpers and plumbing fixtures.