Caster Brakes Overview
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CASTER BRAKES
When you think of wheels, you think of moving something to somewhere else. Wheels, and particularly caster wheels, are great for moving stuff, but any of us riding the teacups with our kids at Disneyland knows that all “good” things in motion need to stop at some point. This applies to teacups or casters alike. This is where brakes come in, and casters have a bunch of different types of brake options to keep your stuff where it belongs. To make sure you get the right caster brake for your business or project, we’ll address the most important types of brakes for casters. We’ll also provide links to other articles and videos connected to brakes and how to apply them. Also, at any given time, one of our Solutions Managers is always ready to answer any questions you might have about brakes if this information doesn’t clear things up for you. Now, let’s get started with the braking.
CONSIDERING CASTER BRAKES
Let’s start with a simple statement: a brake’s only function is to stop. This could be a bike, a caster, or a tank. Brakes stop in two main ways: they either stop something that is already moving, or they stop something from moving. With casters, brakes almost always stop something from moving, and they do this in specific ways. Manufacturers normally group brakes into different classes based off of where the braking mechanism touches the caster wheel or how we apply pressure. There are around a dozen different relatively common types of brakes, but six or less of these are more common for business applications. Remember that each one of these types or brakes has plenty of options to consider as well, and we will provide links to other articles when they apply. Before we get into the main groups of caster brakes, I want to stress that there are a lot of different reasons why a given brake might be right for you, but begin to think about how you are going to use these on a daily basis. Will you be pressing on the brake repeatedly throughout the day? Will you be pressing on the brake and then leaving it there until you retire? Remember, it will be you and your crew who will be enjoying or cursing the brakes each day. This mindset will help you choose the right brakes for your application. Now, here are the main groups.
SIDE LOCK BRAKE
Arguably the most common type of brake for casters of all sorts is the side lock brake. You can find this on all sorts of casters like beds, grills, tool boxes, carts, and everything in between. This type of brake is found, astonishingly enough, on the side of the caster. You can engage the lock with your foot or hand, depending on the size and use. With all types of side lock brakes, the harder you can push, the tighter the brake will clamp down, because it is basically a screw. Start looking around and you’ll see side lock brakes everywhere, but normally on stuff that doesn’t really rely on the brakes too much.
The two most common styles of side lock brakes are top lock and cam lock brakes. Top lock brakes are engaged from the side but use a piece of metal, called an L-bar, to stop the wheels. When you push on the side lever, the L-bar tightens down on the wheel itself. In other words, you apply the pressure with your own strength, so these brakes introduce a human element that determines whether the brakes succeed or fail.
The same could be said for cam lock brakes, which essentially tighten directly against the wheel hub, rather than using another piece of metal to clamp down on the wheel face. Both require someone to push the lever down with varying degrees of force. Out of these two types, top lock brakes are going to be more secure than cam lock brakes, but cam lock brakes are often lower in price and are actually more suitable for large caster wheels at times. Both of these will eventually loosen over time and are not a definite locking brake, which means that there is never a point where they definitively lock into place. This is a major difference between side lock brakes and some of the other options you have, as we will see.
TECH LOCK OR FACE CONTACT (PEDAL) BRAKE
The tech lock or face contact (virtually interchangeable terms) brake applies pressure to the front, or face, of the wheel. The lever that is used to apply pressure locks or engages and provides a definite way to keep the lock engaged. You will see and feel the brake engage with tech lock brakes. In many cases, the mechanism for locking down the brake is a pedal. For this reason, you might hear the term “pedal brake” in some cases, but the pedal simply engages the brake’s mechanism that touches the wheel, and other types of brakes use a pedal as well.
Occasionally, a face contact is tightened with a large T-screw or some other screw. This is a manual process, but at times a tool may be used. In this case, you are not dealing with a definite locking brake since you must apply the force when tightening the brake, and there is no lock or moment of engagement. So, in the end, the main thing to remember with the tech lock is that it is a definite braking system that minimizes the human element from the braking process. There are of course different types of tech lock brakes and different features of these brakes, which could cause problems for you if you don’t select the right ones. In this article and video, you can learn more about these issues.
TOTAL LOCK BRAKE
The total lock brake is used with a swivel caster, or swivel rig. The brake will not only stop the wheel, but it will also lock the swivel rig into place. In this way, the entire, or total, caster is locked down and will not move. Again, we are dealing with a definite locking system, and in almost all cases, you are dealing with a pedal to engage the brake.
Most manufacturers use their own naming conventions when referring to the total lock, so you will run into a bunch of different names to refer to this style of brake. In many cases, this is not simply to be creative since there can be subtle but important differences between different models of total lock brakes. You can learn about some of these differences here. Why would you want, or need, such a secure locking system? The total lock braking system is arguably the most stable of all caster brakes. So, when you are working in a situation where you are using the cart as a workstation or you are possibly transporting heavy products from warehouse to warehouse with the lock engaged, then this is the time to use the total lock brake. No movement, no give, and ultra-security is what you get with total lock brakes. One caution is to make sure that the rig that comes with the total lock system is right for your needs.
MORE SECURE AND DEFINITE BRAKING (important)
Now that we’ve looked at a few braking systems that lock in a more definite manner, we can see why this is so important. The difference between these types of brakes and brakes like side lock brakes can be seen in the differences in daily locking devices you might encounter.
Have you ever taken something out of the fridge and gone to use it or shake it only to find out that the lid had not been tightened enough? You probably received a shower of orange juice or salad dressing. This is like side lock brakes. You have to apply enough pressure to engage the brake, and if you don’t, the consequences are clear. You introduce more human error into the locking system with side lock brakes. Now, after you’ve showered yourself in condiments, you leave your home. You shut the door and push on the door to see if it has been closed. It has, and there is no question about that fact. This is like a more definite locking brake system. Keep this extra security in mind when selecting brakes for your casters.
DEAD MAN’S AND CENTRAL LOCKING
The dead man’s brake is a more complex braking system that normally uses cables connected to brakes on a rigid caster. Its name, rather morbid and extreme, comes from the fact that if someone ceases to hold the lever to the brakes, as if from death, the brake will engage. So, with the dead man’s brake, you must squeeze the lever in order to move the cart that the braking system is attached to. Once you let go of the lever, the cart will not move, since the brakes are engaged. It achieves this effect through a drum brake, which is engaged until the lever is squeezed. The dead man’s brake is particularly valuable if there is any incline at all—even a small one—where a cart might move unaccompanied. This is a more specialized type of brake but serves an important function. In addition to the dead man’s brake, there are times when you need or want to engage all or two of the wheels at once on a swivel rig. A central locking system allows you to do that. The way that you engage the brakes is with a lever, normally a pedal. By stepping on the pedal, you can engage multiple caster wheels at the same time.
A floor lock brake is a unique type of brake, that is normally positioned in the center of the cart. One brake foot extends down, like your foot trying to stomp on a bug. In most cases, it is to a very small degree so that the floor brake can provide enough friction with the floor as to not slide. In other words, the floor lock brake temporarily immobilizes the cart through pressure.
The floor lock brake will not provide as much stability or balance as brakes that come into direct contact with your casters. In virtually every application, there is a better caster braking system than the floor lock brake. Feel free to contact a caster Solutions Manager if you have a specific application in mind.
COMPRESSION AND DECOMPRESSION
Outside of the industrial sector, you might come into contact with compression or decompression brakes. These caster brakes are normally found on office chairs or other similar products.
They all work according to whether weight is applied or not. Compression brakes will not work if there is weight on them. For example, if you sat down on a chair with compression brakes, the chair would not move. With decompression brakes, the brake is applied when there is no weight applied. In this example, a chair would remain in place any time you sat up to get a cup of coffee.
There are a few more kinds of brakes for casters, but those covered above are the main types, particularly for workplace applications. If you’ve seen a brake that you’re interested in that we haven’t covered, let us know. The types mentioned above will work in most applications, and there are a ton of reasons why you would choose one brake over another. Some of the main reasons why you would choose one over another are mostly related to function including longevity, the specific application, and total security. See the table for a quick view of the applications for each type of brake, and remember that if at any point you have questions, we would be more than happy to answer them. Feel free to contact us at any time.
One final thing. Now, you may have already purchased some casters without brakes, and you may be wondering how to attach these brakes. We will be putting together a series of videos to show you how to attach brakes after the fact. If you haven’t purchased the casters yet, you are one step ahead. Time to reward yourself with a ride on the teacups.
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