The National HRO NPW Dial and Gear Drive

The gradual (and selective) acquisition of vintage radio parts here continues, as I hone in on the perfect tuning dial and drive for my next regen, I’ve been wanting to find a really nice National HRO Micrometer dial and drive for the purpose, and have finally found it.  I had to purchase 4 dials and 3 drives to get exactly what I wanted though.

As well as selling their gear drives with built-in variable capacitors, National also sold the stand-alone PW and NPW drives which could, with the use of a shaft coupler, be used to drive any variable capacitor the builder desired. The PW drive, in which the drive shaft ran Parallel With the front panel, was also known as a right-angle drive, as the drive shaft came out of the gear box at right angles to the tuning shaft. The drive shaft of the NPW drive was Not Parallel With the front panel, and was also known as a straight-through drive, as the tuning shaft and drive shaft were in the same plane. For many builders, myself included, the PW drive is not ideal, as the variable capacitor would tend to get in the way of the other front panel controls and parts. On the other hand, with the NPW drive, the main tuning capacitor sits directly behind the gear drive, leaving room either side of it for the other front panel variable capacitors, potentiometers, switches etc. From the National Radio Products catalog for 1947 –

The NPW drive was my holy grail, and I set about watching eBay for one. The first such acquisition was listed thus, “has dings,scratches and scuffs – knob has spring and turns, gear turns properly”. The dial had definitely seen better days and although the gear box did look to be a little scuffed, I figured that it was most likely in good working order, and would only need a through cleaning and re-lubrication to put it in working shape for the next few decades. I paid a little more than I wanted to for it but darnit – I wanted it, and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived to find that it was in fair condition. I haven’t pictured the dial, because it was in pretty rough shape but that was of little concern, as I already had a very nice dial. It was the gearbox I was looking for. This one didn’t end up quite making the cut for my next regen, but it came close. These photos are the way it was on arrival, before I cleaned and lubricated it –

The grease was old and although the gears did turn smoothly, I couldn’t help wondering if they’d turn a little smoother with a complete cleaning and re-greasing. The grease was getting a bit dried up, and it was time for this gearbox to receive some TLC –

I wasn’t able to find as much online documentation on this gear drive as on the right-angle drive (the one that uses a worm gear). This makes sense, as the National HRO receivers used right-angle drives – there seem to be more of them floating around than these “straight-through” drives. The only place I found any info on the NPW drives was here. However, after disassembling and lubricating a right-angle drive, this one was easy to figure out. It has more moving parts, but is a very simple arrangement. You may not be able to figure it out from looking at these photos but if you see one in real life, after turning the shafts and seeing the gears turn, it’s operation becomes very clear –

You can’t see the eccentric nature of the hub too well in this picture. I probably didn’t capture it from exactly the correct angle. However, you can see that it had been removed and replaced upside down. Note how the word “top” is at the bottom. This was probably so that the gear drive could be positioned upside down in it’s previous installation (whatever that was) –

Time to take it apart, and thoroughly clean all the old grease off. This was achieved with an old toothbrush, many squibs of WD40, then a great deal of dish soap, scrubbing all the time with the toothbrush, before rinsing and drying. A hairdryer at maximum heat helped the drying process. It was surprising how hot the metal casting became after a minute or two under the hairdryer. Here’s the fully cleaned and dried gear box, before re-assembly, I didn’t remove the gear that was attached to the drive shaft, though this would have been quite easy –

Two closer views of the eccentric hub with the spindle and 2 fiber washers –

The cleaned and re-assembled gear box, before re-lubrication. It’s not too clear in this photo, but the gear on the right is tensioned with a spring to eliminate backlash. You can see the spiral spring near the center of the gear. When re-inserting the tuning spindle, you should use your fingers to tension the gear by just one or two teeth before engaging the tuning spindle. If you tension this gear too much, there will be too much resistance when you try to turn the tuning knob. All you want is enough tension to eliminate the backlash and no more –

A view of the cleaned gearbox from above. What a difference!

And the gearbox cleaned and assembled, but not lubricated (it will have to be partially disassembled in order to be lubricated) –

For lubrication, I use Mobil 1 synthetic grease, applied with a small (1 ml) pipette (the type used to administer medicines to pets), a toothpick and at times, my fingers. After applying sparingly, I turn the gears to distribute the grease and with the toothpick, remove any surplus. Once any grease has been pushed out of the gear teeth and to the side, it’s never coming back,so why keep it around? Grease should be applied in every place where metal moves in contact with metal, but you don’t need a lot. This includes the inside of the eccentric hub, through which the tuning spindle passes (the spindle that is connected to the dial), as well as the outer part of the hub, which comes into contact with the micrometer dial –

In the following view, the anti-backlash spring on the left-hand gear is visible. You can see one end of the spring poking through a hole in the gear, and the other end held in place by a collar around the spline –

Here’s a final view of the assembled and lubricated gearbox. I forgot to install the 4 screws on the top cap but other than that, it’s complete, and ready for many more years of service –

The dial that came with this gearbox has seen better days. Although I have certainly seen gear drives of this type in better external shape, this one does operate smoothly.  You can spin the dial and it continues spinning for a turn or two, even with a variable capacitor attached. Not long after cleaning up this drive, I found another one in particularly nice condition, which will be the main tuning control for my next regen. I’ll  show you that drive in the next post. In the meantime, this one will go on the shelf in a box, waiting for the right future project to come along.


3 thoughts on “The National HRO NPW Dial and Gear Drive

    1. That’s good to know. Thanks Mikey! Depending on the other feedback I receive, I may go back and gradually “retrofit” the rest of the blog (or at least the more popular posts), and apply this approach to all newer posts too.


    2. Based on other feedback, I have changed it back. Still not sure how to proceed in the future though. Sorry Mikey 😦

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