Thursday, March 16, 2017

I'm Starting to Really Dislike Batteries

I'm starting to really dislike batteries because they always seem to be the cause of a lot of problems in my life.  I know I mentioned a problem we had a few months ago where the batteries in two old iPhone 3ses (that's supposed to be plural for 3s) suddenly started swelling, one breaking its case and the other causing the phone to roll off the stand it was on, fall and break open.  I think I mentioned replacing batteries in our current (almost four year old) phones.  I know I've mentioned batteries a lot, and even did a few podcasts on them last year when I was guesting on the Gun Blog Variety Podcast.  I even did a pretty thorough introduction to rechargeable batteries 15 months ago.  And that's just the rechargeable ones; don't get me started on alkalines that leak!

I got hit by that hammer again today. 

Now that the mill enclosure is working, I thought I'd "just" hook up the oiling system "for real" and get oil pumping.  I wrote lots about the oiling system back when I was doing it, but I don't think I mentioned how it works.  The system uses a universal fuel pump for cars that can be found virtually everywhere.  I got this one from a seller on eBay (no connection, etc.).  Hoss recommends a thin oil compared to what others use on their machines' surfaces, a 0W-20 oil, but not knowing any reason not to do so, I picked up a quart at the local auto parts store.  I started trying to get it running yesterday and could not get the oil to pump out of the pump.  Since my tubing is clear, I could see oil moving up the tube until it got to the pump but it never came out of the pump, which must mean it had stopped flowing at that point. 

When I started back on it this morning, I did everything I could think of.  I even took it all apart and looked into the the pump to see if I could find a dead critter stuck in there (hey, I had a dead lizard lodged in my printer keeping that from working... it's not that far-fetched).  Nothing.

At one point, I primed the tubing by injecting some oil into the outlet tube that goes to all the fittings on the mill.  Then I put a little oil into the outlet side of the pump.  Still, nothing. 

As you may have deduced by now, it was the battery.  Starting on the job yesterday, if there was anything I thought was beyond suspicion and didn't need to be troubleshot, it was the battery.  Today, I noticed the sound from the pump, which was loud enough to be rather annoying, suddenly getting quieter.  Some time later, I noticed that when I was done with a troubleshooting step and reconnected to the battery, it started out loud and then got weaker.  That triggered an old memory that batteries can behave like that: deliver a surge of current when you first hook them up, then tail off.  It happens in a lead acid battery that's in bad shape (sulfated).  After a couple of attempts that kept pointing at the battery, I tried my jump starter.  Not only did it sound better, but I instantly saw oil coming out of the pump and moving in the hose.  This jump starter has a button on it to trigger the surge and it stays on for a few seconds.  I hit the button when it stopped to run it again.  After a few cycles, I had oil flowing everywhere.

This is the battery in a picture from that December of '15 column, with the "smart charger" it has been living on for a few years.  As you can read on the battery's top, it's an AGM (absorbed glass mat, lead acid) battery.  Considering the poor performance of the battery, this calls into question just how "smart" this charger really is, as well as how suited it is for AGM batteries.   As a side note, the charger's slightly smaller, slightly younger "brother" that has lived on our boat died about three weeks ago and was replaced with a charger that is for AGM batteries only and supposedly incorporates features that keep the battery healthy. 

Troubleshooting the battery has started, along with trying to ensure it cycles properly.  I put it on the battery charger/discharger that was also featured in the 12/15 post, set it to discharge at a 1A current, but it only discharged at 300 mA, which I think means it can't draw a higher current without depressing the cell voltage too much.  I think I need to cycle it harder. 

Back at the Orlando Hamfest in February, I bought a Computerized Battery Analyzer from a ham radio accessory maker called West Mountain Radio.  Strangely, I had yet to hook it up.  It obviously needs a computer and the best one to use logistically is my CNC computer, but I've been pretty busy with that one.  Today I got that running and tested it out on yet another battery.  It seems to work pretty easily.  What it does is give a plot of the discharge of the battery and measure of its capacity.  I tested it on a 9.6 V, 2.8 AH NiCd battery.  After entering the battery parameters (and it offers some "expert advise" on what to use), it discharges the battery and gives you a plot like this:
You'll see in the legend at the top of the plot that it says the capacity is 2.29 AH, or just over 81% of rated.  Since it suggested (and I agreed) that 80% of that should be considered good, it says the battery passes.  Realistically, it's pretty much at the end of its life. 

On the down side, if things are really so complicated that we need computerized battery analyzers, computerized/smart chargers, battery dischargers/conditioners and a shelf full of accessories to get our batteries to work, it's getting too complicated.  I'm starting to really dislike batteries.


  1. I've got one of the West Mountain Radio analyzers, too. Pretty neat device.

    As far as chargers go, I've had outstanding luck with the Battery Tender brand. My Optima "Yellow Top" deep cycle battery that I use for solar/emergency/portable operation with my K2 has been kept ready to use for a couple of years now, and hasn't lost any capacity.

    Wne the battery in my Jeep went casters up, I dragged the Optima out of the garage, and it fired the Jeep right up, several times, over several days, indicating to me that the little Battery Tender is doing waht it's supposed to do....

    1. Which model Battery Tender do you use?

      I was blissfully unaware that the Schumacher's cycle was no good. I picked the Battery Minder, not Tender, because reviews indicated it was good for reviving and keeping AGM deep cycle batteries in good shape. It has a mode that's supposed to reverse sulfation and it stays in that mode when not charging.

      I have an Optima blue top on the boat that it's hooked to now. When I first hooked it up, it had been without a charger for a week, maybe 10 days, and it stayed on "charge mode" around 10 hours. Since it came with both a set of big clamps and a quick disconnect, I can swap it onto this Werner AGM battery.

      The Werner is on the CBA now, supposed to run at 1.8 AH for a full test. When it's done, I'll put it on the BatteryMINDer.

  2. It's a Battery Tender Plus, model 021-0128, rated at "12V 1.25A".

    I've never put a meter on it, so I don't know what voltage/current it actually puts out.

    Before I'd really looked into the proper care and feeding of AGM/GelCell batteries (yes, I know there are some subtle differences between the two) I was using an old Craftsman charger that was rated 2/10 Amps, selectable with a slide switch. It was one of those really crude types, with an iron vane meter (remember those?) that would wildly swing back and forth a few cycles any time the current changed. I had it hooked up to a Sears "wheel chair" battery that was AGM/GelCell and rated about 35 AHr, and was my main station "12 Volt" power supply for my radio gear.

    It killed the battery in about 18 months by drying it out! I was able to bring it back a bit by popping the cell caps off and trickling in some distilled water, but it never had any capacity left after being cooked alive.

    I've also got a Schumacher Speed Charge SSC-1500A that's my go-to charger for automotive use. It's brought back a couple of "dead" batteries, and I really like it.

    Hot Rod magazine did a test on the Optima Digital 1200 charger, and it performed extremely well in bring back dead, sulfated batteries, but it's a bit pricey.

    1. The one that was on this battery for most of the time is a Schumacher XCS15. A 12A version of the same charger is the one that died. The panel of the SSC-1500A looks pretty similar, except mine have three buttons to pick charge rate: fast charge, slow charge and maintain. They're intended for keeping a battery on a boat or RV through the off season. Now I'm questioning if the one in the boat is good.

      I put this 35AH battery on the CBA and it recommended the C/20 rate, 1.75 A. That was going to take too long and I decided to increase it to the C/10 rate, 3.5A. It wouldn't work at C/10! (Uh oh)

      First, the battery voltage was bouncing around a lot, like it was for the C/20 discharge, and then the bounces would drop the voltage below the cut off point and the CBA would stop and say the battery failed. I put it to 2A rate, so slightly more than C/20 and it has been looking better. When it's discharged about 30% I'm going to put it on the Battery Minder.

  3. I have been giving batteries a skeptical look recently too. I have had several smaller batteries - AA, AAA and various watch sizes - fail and dump caustic too into sensitive electronics. All were from reputable manufacturers and in shelf life. Have also encountered similar batteries dead from an unopened package. Nothing expensive or irreplaceable has been lost but it makes me worry bout...say that >$500 Aimpoint on my rifle. Another justification for backup irons.

    1. DrJim and I have noted we've both had issues with Duracells, which is supposed to be a reputable manufacturer. I've had more Duracell AA and AAAs leak than any other maker, but it could be because I use more of them. I haven't done percentages. I've had issues with watch batteries, too. A while back, I talked about a pair of calipers I bought from Little Machine Shop; two of them came with batteries that leaked and left "white fuzz" in the electronics. Those came with batteries, but they don't seem particularly good.

  4. I never had a problem with Duracells leaking until a year or so ago. I wasn't sure if I got a "bad batch", so I dumped what was left of that pack from Home Depot (counterfeit, maybe?) and bough another pack from a different store.

    Same thing! Once they were depleted, they leaked if you didn't change them RIGHT NOW, and I had a few start to seep even when they had enough left in the to continue to run the device.

    I've gone back to Energizers, which while they don't seem to have quite the service life, don't leak unless they get *really* dead, and you leave them in the device.

    Even then, the stuff they leak doesn't seem to make as much of a mess as the Duracells do, and is easier to clean up.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that Duracell had changed the chemistry slightly around the time this started happening, so maybe that's the cause, but I haven't looked for that reference in quite a while.

  5. I am a little confused (this is normal, btw.)

    Why are you using a battery to power a pump on an electrically run tool? If it is a low voltage pump, can't a transformer be used to supply the power?

    1. Basically what DrJim said, but with a twist. I needed a power supply but I didn't know what the power supply had to be. It's designed for cars so I know it runs on 13.6V, but there's no spec for how much current it takes. The pump probably just sucks down a slug of current when the it does the stroke, and transients can be hard on a power supply. I needed a power supply that would run it and let me measure the current so I can build/buy the right sized power supply. The battery should be ideal.

      I figured I'd run it while using my Horrible Freight clamp on ammeter and use the "max hold" button to figure out how strong a supply I need. It's 3.8 Amps, BTW. It goes down when the pump is running normally, but needs the higher current to get the oil out of the bottle and into the tubes.

      I might need 12V for other stuff, so it's handy to have a rugged 12V supply.

    2. 12 volts is fairly standard for computer power supplies. Just sayin'...

      A 500 watt should do the job fairly well.

  6. He'd actually need a "power supply" of some sort. At the minimum, a rectifier and filter cap on a properly sized transformer would work.

    But if he's like me, he probably had the battery and charger sitting around, and decided to put them to use!