Beadlock5-5.jpg (44718 bytes)

Installing Rockstomper DIY Beadlocks
By Bill aka: "Billavista"

I researched beadlock wheels to death before I made my decision. In the end, I chose Rockstomper because:

  • They are designed for off-road use, not racing use
  • They are big and beefy with 1/4" steel rings and 32 3/8" bolts
  • They are cheap (relatively)
  • The do-it-yourself approach appeals to me as I can do the welding my self, re-use my existing wheels (with custom backspacing), and save $$

    Read on to see all the details, from opening the package to driving the Jeep; the good and the not-so-good.

    Beadlock1-1.jpg (51737 bytes) This is what the poor UPS dude has to drop off.  This is actually 2 complete sets (one for me, one for my wheeling buddy Chad: 8 locks = 16 rings) and weighs 130 lbs with all the nutcerts, bolts, and washers inside.
    Beadlock1-2.jpg (43819 bytes) The crack in the fiberboard shows it was not treated well by the shipping folks.  Probably dropped and it's own great weight caused the damage.....the cracked fiber board is of no consequence but ..............
    Beadlock1-3.jpg (28740 bytes) ........ the unfortunate problem was, as it was packaged, the fiberboard didn't fill the gaps completely between the next-to-outside and outside rings.  As it was obviously dropped, it's own weight caused one of the outside rings to warp where there was no fiberboard.  As Chad was leaving for Xmas when they were delivered, he kindly offered to take possession of the warped ring, and work it out with Scott at Rockstomper.  I don't know the final outcome yet, but here's a quote from Chad that he posted on POR just before Xmas

    "I sent pictures and explanation to Scott, he has said he will send us a new ring and then go after shipping agent (UPS) for the damages. While I haven't actually got the ring yet, I am confident that this will be done. I am also confident that the damage was the result of shipping damage, I simply can't see how else it could occur."

    Beadlock1-4.jpg (56316 bytes) Open up the package and look at all the goodies inside!  A total of 256 grade 5 3/8" bolts, 256 Grade 5 washers, and 256 3/8" nutcerts.  Personally, I would much prefer to use Grade 8 hardware for its superior strength, but this would likely increase the price, and so it is not surprising that Grade 5 is shipped - and it's probably fine.

    The rings are all 1/4" mild steel.  The inner and outer rings are identical in dimension, except that the inner rings have larger holes for the nutcerts to seat in.  Both have one edge that is slightly rounded.  This is of no consequence on the inner ring, but is nice on the outer ring, as the rounded shoulder seats against the tire.  All the rings are completely smooth and burr free, and all the punched holes are of exact dimension without burrs.

    Beadlock1-5.jpg (53787 bytes) They are really very easy to install, but it does take some time.  First clean up the outside edge of wheel with a wire brush in an angle grinder or similar.  Next, the inner rings are simply placed on the outside edge of the wheel.  Since they are exactly the same outside diameter as the rim, it is easy to center them by "fingertip feel and eye".  If the wheels are used, there may be some little gaps where the wheel is dented a bit,  If they're not too large, they can easily be welded up as the rings are welded on, with the added bonus of "trueing up" your wheels at the same time.  I did this, and so when the ring was placed on, I tacked it in place as it sat, without clamping it down to force it to conform to the not quite true wheel rim.

    Hey - does my ass look fat in those jeans?

    Beadlock1-6.jpg (40647 bytes) To prevent heat warping the wheel, I welded them on in stages, laying a bead as shown at left, then rotating the wheel 90 degrees and repeating until I was done.  I used my trusty Lincoln SP125+ MIG machine with Argoshield (20% Argon, 80% CO2) and .023 L-56 wire.
    Beadlock1-7.jpg (35352 bytes) Another shot of the bead.  Note you can see the tack welds as well, and the little gap I filled where the rim wasn't completely true.
    Beadlock1-8.jpg (35754 bytes) One thing you have to be very careful of when welding in stages like this, is integrity of the weldment  where the beads join.  Especially in this case, since the weld must be 100% airtight - any tiny pinhole will leak like crazy.  In the pic you can see the heat affected zone, and where it narrows at the ends of the beads.  Once all the beads had been done, I went back, ground down the joins a bit, and re-welded them all until the heat affected zone appeared equal all the way around.

    I tested my first one as follows.  Take any liquid with a high "creep", such as diesel or penetrating oil, and pour a little in the crack between the edge of the wheel and the inside of the inner lock ring.  Roll the rim around a while.  If any liquid creeps through the weld, air will surely leak.

    Beadlock1-9.jpg (23437 bytes) Once the ring has been completely welded on, it's time to insert all the nutcerts. First you just drop them in the holes, make sure to drop them in the right way round, shown in the picture.
    Beadlock2-1.jpg (49845 bytes) Here's the installation technique.  Take one of the bolts supplied, place on it one of the washers and a spacer of some kind.  Thread it into the nutcert,  then grasp the nutcert with vice grips to stop it spinning, and hit the bolt with the impact.  It only takes 30-40 ft lbs to cinch them up and seat them, so don't go crazy.  They aren't the sturdiest of things, and you can strip them or break the threads loose from the housing fairly easily.  An important tip - don't clamp the vice grips on the nutcert until after  you've threaded in the bolt, otherwise the jaws of the vice grips can deform the nutcert and it's threads - they're steel, but fairly light and weak, and if you crank the vice grips on them, they will squish.

    My set of locks only came with a total of 3 spare nutcerts, and I ruined 5 during the install (2 were my mistake - I cruched them with the vice grips, 1 had bad threads, and 2 came apart while being installed), leaving me 2 short.  I chose not to wait, so just welded a coupe of 3/8" nuts on the back of the ring.  A few more extras in the package would be nice.

    Beadlock2-2.jpg (41874 bytes) Here's the fancy installation tool I used, just a big nut with one of the supplied bolts and washers.  Another tip - you need a nice smooth consistent impact gun for this for best results, but they can be seated by hand - it's just a LOT more work.
    Beadlock2-3.jpg (27835 bytes) This picture shows an unseated nutcert (red arrow) and one that has been seated (blue arrow).  Note that the threads don't pull all the way up flush with the top of the ring.
    Beadlock2-4.jpg (46392 bytes) Another shot of the installation process, but really just a poseur shot of my purty welding job :-)
    Beadlock2-5.jpg (58614 bytes) Here's the wheel with the inner ring welded on and all the nutcerts installed.
    Beadlock2-6.jpg (55697 bytes) Here they are, all done, and just hanging around with the un-mounted Swampers, waiting for paint!
    Beadlock2-7.jpg (59821 bytes) Here are the outer locking rings hung up waiting for paint.
    Beadlock2-71.jpg (44687 bytes) Here's the paint I used.  A good zinc self etching primer is a must for the bare metal.  The Car Quest enamel didn't impress me much, so I shall be returning to using Tremclad next project.
    Beadlock2-8.jpg (44656 bytes) Here's one all painted up
    Beadlock2-9.jpg (37291 bytes) And the outer rings all painted and ready for installation
    Beadlock3-1.jpg (56704 bytes) I painted over the weld as well.
    Beadlock3-2.jpg (52494 bytes) All done and drying.
    Beadlock3-3.jpg (58989 bytes) I've never done any kind of "manual" tire changing before, always used the big machine at the Military Auto Club before, so I didn't know how easy or hard it was going to be to get the tire over the outside edge, especially with the extra profile of the new weld.

    First step was to liberally apply hot soapy water to the tire bead and outside edge of the wheel.

    Beadlock3-31.jpg (55862 bytes) I went shopping for some tire spoons, but they were almost $50 each for the big ones at the trucking place, so I bought a couple of plain old 36" wrecking bars for $6 each.
    Beadlock3-4.jpg (54722 bytes) Flop the tire over the wheel, and start the bead over the edge.
    Beadlock3-5.jpg (61106 bytes) Work it around, then place knees or feet (red arrows) to keep on part that is already on, on while using pry bar to lever the rest of the bead over the edge.
    Beadlock3-6.jpg (61629 bytes) Eventually it will pop over the edge and look like this.
    Beadlock3-7.jpg (55231 bytes) This is what it looks like from the back side with the inner bead of the tire over the outer edge of the wheel.  The inner bead of the tire will seat on the inner bead surface of the rim when it is aired up later
    Beadlock3-8.jpg (41856 bytes) In order to install the outer locking ring, I picked up the tire and wheel, and placed it on the top of an overturned 5 gallon pail.  

    But before I locked down the outer ring, I had to insert my new homebrew "inside the tire balancing" material.

    Beadlock4-0.jpg (39159 bytes) I chose to use 8-9oz of good old Daisy BBs.  Bought a carton of 3000 for $8 at Walmart
    Beadlock3-9.jpg (48540 bytes) I had no idea what they weighed, so here is my ridiculous homebrew scale.  I suspended a stick from a wire, and placed 8oz of wheel weights in a bag at one end, then just poured BBs in the other end until it balanced.  the margarine pots didn't work because the BBs rolled around too much!  It turned out that 8oz was just shy of a quarter of the carton, so I used a shot glass to divide the carton into 4 equal amounts.
    Beadlock4-1.jpg (30561 bytes) But how to get all those BBs in the tire without spilling them everywhere?  Simple (and silly too).  I made 4 little Kleenex baggies by wrapping them up in a tissue.  Now I could easily drop them all in at once, without spilling, and the tissue will break up inside the tire, allowing them to spread out.

    I'm as nutty as a fruitcake!

    Beadlock4-11.jpg (43021 bytes) Next, clean the tire bead well....you don't want any leaks.
    Beadlock4-2.jpg (50993 bytes) And then install the outer locking ring with the rounded shoulder down, against the tire.
    Beadlock4-3.jpg (39158 bytes) This is how the tire centers.  The outside shoulder of the outer ring fits perfectly against the tire bead, centering the tire on the outer ring.  And the outer ring is centered on the inner ring, and therefore the entire wheel, by the 32 bolts.  It's simple and effective.
    Beadlock4-4.jpg (40768 bytes) Now it's time to get happy with the bolts and washers.  Start by installing 4 in the clock positions, centering up the ring.  For the first few, you have to squeeze the rings together a bit to get the bolts started (at least with thick beads on a Swamper you do)
    Beadlock4-5.jpg (39909 bytes) All the bolts installed. Arrow indicates where the tire centers on the ring.
    Beadlock4-51.jpg (49346 bytes) Now it's time to torque the bolts to spec.  Rockstomper recommends 10-20 ft / lbs.  I chose 15 ft lbs, and used my beam style torque wrench as it is more accurate at this low setting than my "click" style.  The first one I did I was very careful, tightening them down a little at a time, using a big star pattern, and carefully marking each one with the pen.  What a pain in the ass.  By the fourth one, I was zipping them up with a gun, and only applying final torque by hand.  Even then, it takes about 5 complete goes around them all with the torque wrench to get them all close to the same spec.

    The reason for this is the one big weakness in the design (more on this weakness and its affects below too).  Normally, in a bolted joint, the materials being bolted are far more "rigid" than the bolt, and therefore, as the bolt is tightened, the joint initially compresses a bit, then the bolt stretches, and as the rigid joint is clamped, torque reading will go up sharply and evenly after the slack is all taken out of the joint.

    Not so when clamping a steel ring over a piece of rubber, and especially when less than half the ring sandwiches the rubber.  The result is an almost endless cycle of tightening one bolt, which compresses the rubber, which loosens the adjacent bolt, which is then tightened.....and on and on...round and round all 32 bolts.  Using a star pattern helped very little.  The trouble is, the rubber is just too compressible, and the ring doesn't clamp evenly over it.  Like I said, I went completely around the circle of 32 tightening each one FIVE times with the torque wrench (and this was only the final step) before they were any where near all at 15ft / lbs.

    Beadlock4-7.jpg (70911 bytes) The other effect of the design is the so-called "coning" of the ring, again caused by the fact that under about 1/3 of the ring is a big fat rubber bead, while there is nothing under the rest.  This means that the ring doesn't clamp down evenly, the bolt heads do not sit flat on the outer edge leaving the bolt shanks unevenly stressed, and the ring takes a shape much like a banked race track.

    These next 2 pictures clearly show the unevenly seated bolt heads.  On the inside there is a big gap while......

    Beadlock4-8.jpg (44745 bytes) ....on the outside the bolt head is up tight.
    Beadlock4-9.jpg (49628 bytes) Red arrow shows outside of bolt head up tight, blue arrow shows space under inside of bolt head.  Many of the pics on Rockstompers site show the same affect.

    Theoretically, this is not a good way to load a bolt.  I'm a bit concerned about the bolts ability to stay tight with only half the head experiencing any friction, and with the rings not clamping evenly.

    However, sometimes things work out better than it seems, so time will tell if I have problems with broken or perpetually loose bolts.

    Beadlock4-91.jpg (36769 bytes) These next 2 pics show the deformation of the outer lock ring caused by this uneven loading.  I had to disassemble one of mine immediately after airing it up because one of my welds had a pinhole leak.  The bolts had been tightened to 15 ft / lbs and were in place for about 5 minutes.  On the right is a never installed outer ring, that lies flat, on the left the just removed ring that shows the deformation or so-called "coning", evidenced by the gap (red arrow).
    Beadlock4-92.jpg (50332 bytes) Here the deformation is clear as the installed ring sits on top of the flat never used ring.

    This doesn't really worry me, the ring went back on very easily (it wasn't at all difficult to line the bolts back up as I had thought it might be), but it is something to be aware of.  In the end, all 4 tires are completely leak free as of initial installation (no miles).

    Beadlock5-1.jpg (47820 bytes) Here it is, all installed and leak tested
    Beadlock5-2.jpg (35775 bytes) Oooooh - look at all those bolts :-)
    Beadlock5-3.jpg (58338 bytes) Mmmmmmmmmmmm - beadlocks !!
    Beadlock5-4.jpg (64878 bytes) This one is super -  size...you really can't have too many pics of new beadlocks !
    Beadlock5-5.jpg (44718 bytes) Kicker is.....when my wife got home, she came in and said "Honey, the new wheels look great"...and she HATES my beast!
    Summary:  Well, time will tell I guess.  Everything is great except that I'm really not happy with those bolt heads like that....but it may not become an issue, we shall have to see.  I will update this article with results and data as I get them.  They look great, were cheap and pretty easy to put together, best of all they are thick and tough looking, and should hold up really well under trail abuse.

    Click here to visit Bill's website

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