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Dana 44 axle swap

June 4th, 1999
Before Spring Over After Spring Over


We've all heard the story about the guy who went wheelin' in the middle of nowhere, and broke an axle. He then had to walk 100,000 miles in the rain, through bear country, carring raw steak, during mating season, know the rest. Originaly I picked up a set of 1 peice axles to replace the 2 peice axles in the MODEL 20 rearend that came on the Jeep. But soon I realized that I wanted a locker for the back. ......and front! This would be a sizable investment and I didn't feel right sticking all that stuff into wimpy axles. Even with the 1pc kit, the MODEL 20 it's still so narrow! Plus, the Dana 30 up front is no powerhouse either. So I decided to take the plung, and install bigger axles.

Axle Selection

New custom axles are big bucks. Since I have a welder, and am not in any hurry, I figured I'd find a donor vehicle, and adapt them. I'll make a long story short by saying I decided on a late 70's Scout II. They came with 44's front and real, and are relatively narrow, even though they are about 8" wider then what I have on the Jeep. That to me is a perfect fit. I could certainly use the width. (Maybe I'll have to get rid of my TIPN OVR licence plate!) Another, even better choice, would have been the axles from a Wagoneer. The Scout axles have zero caster, so I'll have to adjust that, but the Wagoneer has about 4 degrees of positive caster. I didn't know this when I bought mine.

I started my hunt for a Scout via what else, the internet. I found a few, but they were all too far away. Then I read an article in a magazine that had the web address for a scout web site. Its I found an ad there from a guy who had a set of 44s from a 78 Scout II for $350.00 that he said were in great shape. After talking to him, I went to Indianapolis, Indiana to pick them up. After 8 hours of driving, I got there and looked at them. They were not what I expected. I was disappointed, but they weren't terrible, just missing stuff. They had been stored outside for eons, and all the brake parts were missing. All that remained were the backing plates on the rears and the part that the calipers mount to on the front. The housing and gears were in eccellent shape. We settled on a price that I am too embarASSed to admit to, but since I had 16 hour of total windsheild time invested, I wasn't goin' home empty handed.

Preparing the Rear Axle

Once I got the axles home, I used an assortment of wire brushs on my grinder and drill to clean the axle housing down to bare metal. Then I spray-painted them with an oil base primer and satin black paint.
Dana 44 Rear
Inbetween coats of paint, I worked on the the rear drum brakes. The axles didn't come with any of the brake components except for the backing plates which weren't in great shape anyway, so I called Giddum Up Scout in Colorado. They were able to send me a complete set of rear brake assemblies, complete with backing plate for $60. I picked up a small parts kit and new shoe at a local auto parts store. The drums I had to order out from Parts America who had the best price I could find at a whopping $75.00 each! I disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the brakes one side at a time, so I could use the other as a guide for reassembly. This was easy, and didn't require any special tools, although I did make a handy tool for getting the washers on and off of the brake shoe loactor springs. It consisted of a socket (about 9/16") with friction tape wrapped around the end and tucked into the socket. It made short work of twisting them little washer onto the pins.
Dana 44 Rear

I took the axle shafts out, and dropped them off at a local machine shop to have new rear bearings put on. They used a cool, heavy-duty bearings used in racing that don't use a seperate race. The guy at the machine shop swears buy them. I also ground-off the welds on the rear spring perches and knocked them off with a hammer. I'm not gonna attach the new spring perches until I have the rest of the Jeep completed, then I'll measure the angles and spot weld the perches and test it out. This is pretty much all that was needed for the back axles.

Front Axle

This is a litle more complicated. First I removed the outer knuckles. I don't plan on reusing any part of the 44's knuckles, instead I'm going to put the complete Dana 30 knuckles on to the yokes of the 44. They are a direct fit. The yokes of the 44 and 30 use the same ball joints and have the same spread. I then pulled the axle shafts and took them down to a machine shop to have new u-joints pressed in. I do no plan on touching the differential at all, so I put rags in the axle tubes and left the differential cover on to keep it clean while I worked on the housing.

Here is the problem with this axle for the front of a Jeep. The Scout axle has no caster. I keep reading on other web sites that I should have 4 or 5 degrees of caster for a spring over suspension. To be honest I haven't the slightest clue what would happen to the driveability if you used a different degree of caster, or left it at zero. One problem you would have is that the pinion would be hitting everything. To adjust the caster, I'll have to grind the welds off of the yokes and rotate them, then re-weld. Since I'm doing a spring-over at the same time, this isn't that big of a deal, considering that I'll have to do alot of grinding and welding on the differential housing anyway.

To determine how much the 30's pinion used to point up, I placed the axle on jack stands and positioned it so the spring perches were level. I then took a degree wheel thingy and measured the angle at the pinion. It points up 9 degrees and that actually was enough to get it to point above the transfer case. Since the spring over will only be raising my Jeep about 2 1/2" higher then it is now, that 9 degree number looks like it will line up just fine. Also, my front driveshaft is pretty long, so I'm not real concerned about the angle anyway. A guess is close enough for me. When I put the 9 degrees pinion angle I currently have along with the 5 degrees of caster I'm supposed to have together, I have to turn the yokes on the ends of the axle a total of 13 degrees. To do this, I ground the welds off of the yokes with a 4" grinder, and proceeded to pound the hell out of the yokes. It took quite a bit of grinding and even more pounding to get the yokes loose. I even had to grind into the yoke and axle housing a little to get the yokes loose.

After grinding the yoke welds off

Even then it wasn't easy, I had to use a sledge hammer to get them to turn. All my wacking left some dandy marks on the yokes, but they're so thick, I don't think it makes much difference to their function. Once I had the yokes turned close to their new position, I placed the axle housing so that the pinion pointed up 9 degrees. I then placed one of the new spring perches I got from Rubicon Express on the divers side of the axle and welded it on to the the so that it was level. (for more information on placement See "Relocating Front Leafsprings" on page 2) I only welded about an inch or so at a time to keep the axle tube from warping.
Measuring front pinion angle Measuring caster
Once I had determined the pinion angle and welded one of the spring perches on it was time to set the caster. I rotated the yokes to exactly 5 degrees of caster compared to the level spring perches, and welded them in position.

A word about welding cast iron:

I was never aware of the potential for disaster that there is in welding cast iron. After reading some other peoples stories about doing this job, some chose to have a pro do the cast iron welding that is required. I searched the net for all the info I could get on this, and heard just about everything. Some say you preheat the entire cast piece evenly to 400 degrees (F) before you weld, some say no preheat, some say this type of rod some say that, some get the point. I then talked to the owner of one of our local fab. shops, and he said I should be able to do it. He suggested that I keep the cast piece as cool as possible by welding only about 1/2" to 3/4" at a time, and then let it cool. He also said I shouldn't get the cast piece so hot that I can't touch it. (Not the exact spot I weld, but the piice as a whole). By doing this, I'm limiting how much the cast piece will expand and there for limit the amount of stress on the finished weld. That is one of biggest problems with welding cast iron. Cast iron expands and contracts at a different rate than mild steel. When you weld it, the weld can crack as soon as you break the arc from this contraction. If you manage to get a good strong weld on the piece, but heat the cast piece too much, you may end up with alot of stress on your finished weld. This may not crack immediatly, but there will be a huge amount of stress on the weld area, causing the weld to fail later. To weld cast iron it helps to have a special type of rod called "ni-rod" which is high in nickel content. The nickel bonds well to both types of metal. I followed the advice I got, and had no problems, but it did take about 3 night to weld the yokes and passenger side spring perch, at a rate of about 5 inches a night.

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