How to unjam a Manfrotto Ball head brass pin

I recently spent some time on Brownsea island. To get there you need to use a small ferry that can carry a dozen people at a time. The weather was a little rough, and I guess a little salt spray got on my tripod on the trip…a few days after returning home I found the brass catch-pin on my Manfrotto ball head had jammed, presumably from some salt crystallisation.

Manfrotto 496rc2 Ball Head with the brass pin jammed. (The grey locking lever has been removed in this photo)

Manfrotto 496rc2 Ball Head with the brass pin jammed. (The grey locking lever has been removed in this photo)

I tried letting some WD40 seep into the gap between the base plate and pin, which didn’t work. I tried adding some vinegar to try and dissolve the salt crystals, this also didn’t work. I also tried pouring hot/boiling water on the pin/area to try and expand and loosen the area, to no avail.

 

As a final attempt at freeing the pin, and saving myself £50 to replace the whole Ball head, I decided to drill a small hole through the top of the pin, and hook it out, which worked quite well. The guide below details this process, in case anyone else should find themselves in a similar situation.

 

 

EQUIPMENT LIST

  • Lubricant
  • Paper clip
  • Dremmel/drill with small drill head or similar
  • Suitable hex screwdriver bit
  • Cotton buds for cleaning

GUIDE

Note
I originally thought that the brass pin was solid. It’s actually hollow, which makes drilling a small hole into it much easier. The hole shouldn’t effect the pins function. The only caveat is that the hole could allow other residues and crud to get in and cause future jams. This could be solved by blocking the hole if you want. I’ve left mine as is, as it’ll make maintenance easier in the future!

I used a leatherman with the correct bit, to remove the locking lever assembly.

I used a leatherman with the correct bit, to remove the locking lever assembly.

The first thing that you need to do is remove the locking lever assembly. This is done by using the appropriate sized hex screw on the back of the lever assembly.

 

 

 

 

lever and bits

Keep these parts safe for now.

 

 

 

 

 

The brass pin should now be much more accessible.

I actually used a small deburring bit to drill the hole.

I actually used a small deburring bit to drill the hole.

 

Using a dremmel with a small drill bit (slightly bigger than the paperclip gauge), drill down the centre of the pin. The material is only 1-2mm thick, so be prepared to punch through quicker than expected. Wear suitable eye protection etc.

 

 

 

With the hole drilled, bend the paperclip to form a small hook at the end.

Paperclip bent into hooked shape.

Paperclip bent into hooked shape.

 

 

Insert the hook into the hole, and (using pliers if it’s really stuck) pull on the wire. With any luck the pin should come out. Keep an eye out for the spring, you don’t want to lose this!

 

 

Paperclip hooked into the hole

 

 

 

 

 

Here the pin has been hooked out of the base plate

Here the pin has been hooked out of the base plate

The inside of the hollow-pin. Note how thin the material is.

The inside of the hollow-pin. Note how thin the material is.

 

At this point I used some vinegar followed by WD40 lubricant to clean out the pin-chamber.

Cleaning the pin chamber

Cleaning the pin chamber, pretty filthy in there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also used a polishing attachment on the dremmel to clean the crud off of the brass pin itself.

Here I've cleaned half of the pin

Here I’ve cleaned half of the pin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before reassembling the ball head, I checked to make sure that the pin moved freely in and out of the chamber. Don’t forget to put the pin-spring back in too!

Checking to make sure the pin doesn't jam any more.

Checking to make sure the pin doesn’t jam any more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most fiddly part of the whole process (for me at least) was getting the spring for the locking lever back in place. One end of the spring fits into a hole in the lever. The other fits into a groove in the back of the base plate.

The locking lever spring in place

The locking lever spring in place

As it only really fits one way, this helps in getting the alignment of the locking lever correct. I found it easiest to hold the base plate and slot the locking lever+spring in from underneath. Doing it any other way resulted in the spring popping out.

 

 

Once this is done, Put the washer on next, and then screw in the hex-screw, and you should be done.

Add the washer next

Add the washer next

And then add the screw!

And then add the screw!

 

 

All Done!

All finished and back to normal!

All finished and back to normal!