Nothing undermines the legitimacy of a connecting rod maker more than a deficient batch of rods. He agonizes constantly about heat treatments, high revs, heavy pistons, heavy pins, the number of race laps between rebuilds, but probably most of all whether or not nitrous is being sprayed. It’s a complicated business determining minimum weight while yielding maximum strength, enough to withstand the abuse sustained by the average race motor.
Dyer’s Top Rods overcomes these special problems with their connecting rods by forging them in 4340, a very tough material with high nickel and high molybdenum content. In fact, the chemical constituents of the rods are almost identical to the dies from which they are forged. Probably the chief reason they consistently withstand high impact loads at high temperatures is because they are subjected to a special heat treatment, a painstaking process closely governed in a batch furnace. To this end, controlled quenching and elaborate racking procedures maintain the stability of the connecting rods during the procedure.
Though Magnaflux testing (which uses dust in a magnetic field to reveal cracks on the rod’s surface) has been in use for decades, “It was sonic testing that had the most profound effect on the quality of Dyer’s Top Rods,” says company president, Roger Friedman. In use for most of this decade, sonic testing is characterized by a sound wave transmitted through the metal, revealing any hidden internal inclusions. Under high stress conditions, inclusions or ‘cold shuts’ can be fatal to the connecting rod’s longevity.
For performance as well as practical and economic reasons, most competition small-block V8 engine builders use cranks with Chevrolet pin journals. These accept two connecting rods each .940in wide and a pin diameter no larger than 2.100in. Of course, smaller journals reduce bearing surface speeds and also present a lighter rotating mass (crankpin and connecting rod), which requires lighter counterweights and enables the engine to accelerate faster. But perhaps the chief advantage of selecting this crankpin size is that it provides access to an exceedingly wide range of racing bearing ‘under’ sizes. Also cranks with 2.100in pins offer more useful stroke lengths than any other and they are usually less expensive.
Here in the following sequence of pictures are the 23 major operations undertaken in the production of Dyer’s Top Rods.
Dyer’s connecting rods are formed from 1.875in diameter 4340 alloy steel bar. Cut into lengths they are conveyed to an induction heater and in seconds their temperature escalates to around 2,275 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a malleable, plastic condition, not a molten state, the material is handled by tongs and placed in each of three con rod impressions carved into a die block. As the hammerman runs the hammer, he displaces the soft, white hot metal into each impression, gradually forming the connecting rod. The hammer, which imposes a force of 3,000lbs, impacts the material one strike per second. Three strikes of the hammer and the con rod is forged.
After the hammer process, the forging is removed by conveyor belt to the hot trimmer where the flashing (the ledge of excess steel around the forging) is removed. The flashing is recycled.
The next stage is called piercing where material is removed from the center of the forging.
The first machining operations include face milling the big and small ends and machining a flat on one side of the big end that acts a locator for subsequent machining operations.
This flat is also used for temporary identification marks, used specifically for re-uniting the rod and its cap after the parting tool makes it cut
Using 4340 alloy steel forgings Dyer requires a consistent hardness throughout the connecting rod and calls for a reading of 26 to 30 on the Rockwell C-scale. Testing the hardness involves pressing a steel or diamond penetrator against the surface of the connecting rod and measuring the resulting indentation.
The next operation is to bore the small end of the connecting rod, which acts as a reliable locator for sculpting the outer profile of the cap and later for boring the big end.
De-burring, blending, polishing, and shot blasting are all crucial operations in the making of a competition connecting rod. Here the small end, bored to .986in., is being de-burred
Centered on the small-end bore, the forgings are fastened to a tombstone where the outer profiles of the con rod caps are machined. For strength Dyer favors twin ribs between the bolt centers rather than a single rib. Note gold colored carbide-tipped slotting tool used to create the twin ribs. A rounding tool contributes the finishing touches.
Bolt holes are bored 3/8in or 7/16in. The lighter track-tested 3/8in option is favored by many of today’s racers. Because of potential deflection in the carbide drill bit Dyer drills the bolt holes on the beam separately from the caps.
The parting tool with carbide tipped blades is about to separate the rod beam from its cap
After the caps are end milled, they are drilled, bored, and chamfered for the locators. The machinist then interpolates and rough cuts the bore of the big end, already clamped in place behind the cutting head.
Three engine sets of Dyer connecting rods await caps to be fastened
Observing the age old convention; indenting (dotting) the beam and cap confirms correct alignment of both parts. The earlier set of identification marks (on the bolt boss) have vanished during the machining processes.
Next step is to machine the outside profile of the beam to size and complete the recessing operation with a ball-nose end mill, giving the I-beam rod its configuration. Carbide cutting tools are renewed after machining 96 rods.
Pressing home the locators
‘Cheeking’ is the term used to center the little end in the piston, which is achieved by machining an offset on the big end. To accommodate the offset a large chamfer is also machined on the big end, which is always adjacent to the radius of the journal.
With a dial gauge micrometer, measuring to the fifth decimal place, Dyer measures rod width. Rod width is designed to allow two rods to be placed on a crankshaft journal and when each rod is moved toward its journal radius a clearance of .016 to .018in exists between them (measured by a feeler gauge). This is called side clearance; more side clearance is preferable to less.
The piston pin housing is bored, honed with a cross-hatch pattern, and press-fitted with an Ampco 45 aluminum nickel bronze alloy bushing. The bushing, which is initially longer than the finished size, has a .001in interference fit and is press-fitted into place with a 10-ton press.
Roller burnishing with taper rollers squeezes the aluminum nickel bronze bushing in the small end of the rod into its bore by almost .001in, thus preventing the bushing from rotating under severe conditions—heat and pressure.
After burnishing the bushing grows around the edges, hence it is trimmed to size and chamfered.
Honing the big end; the outer diameter of the bearings must be slightly larger than the bore of the con rod’s big-end. This slight but critical difference between the two is known as bearing crush. Without bearing crush the bearings would spin in the bore. A crankpin journal of 2.100in requires a housing bore of 2.225in to accommodate the thickness of the bearings and to provide sufficient bearing-to-journal oil film clearance. Finally each rod is checked for center-to-center accuracy before dispatch.
Dyer’s Top Rods Forrest, Illinois 800-867-7637 www.dyersrods.com