Mistake into New Tools!
Shackles are one of those simple leaf sprung
suspension components that can easily be upgraded to do a couple
of things for a leaf spring suspension. First and probably
most notable is it can lift the vehicle a little, adding extra
clearance for tires or increasing your break-over height allowing
the vehicle to clear a little more. Secondly, it can help to
improve flex by giving the springs more travel between compression
and extension of the leaf springs. Additionally
swapping shackles for upgraded shackles is a good time to consider
greasable shackle bolts and polyurethane bushings, which will
improve flex and improve the ride of the vehicle on and offroad.
Shackles are also one of those components that are
simple enough in design that someone with a few tools and a little
know how might consider making instead of buying.
|I had a few reasons for considering longer shackles.
First reason was height. My current shackles were
stock stamped steel CJ shackles (pictured to the right) at
4" hole center to hole center. My suspension is a 3½
inch lift BDS YJ leaf springs. With 33" Super Swamper
SSR MT tires, I would get a little rubbing at full
articulation, minor but still, I'd like to clear all
Second reason was to put a shackle on the Jeep that was a
little more stout. The stamped steel seemed to be a
little weak, although I'm sure they would take quite a
|With a spring offroad trip into the mountains only a
couple weeks away, I though I might save time and simple
order a set of shackles. Talking to the sales person
(whom I've known for years) I ordered shackles 1½
inches longer than what I had. For some
reason, the delivery of the shackles was delayed. When
the finally did arrive, they were exactly the same length as
what I had totally defeating the reason for ordering them in
the first place. Needless to say, I sent them back.
Actually a friend dropped them off since he lived near the
|The Offroad Trip into the mountain came and went.
The Jeep did fine with the shorter shackles but I
still wanted a longer set. At this point without
a pressing deadline, I decided to make a set that
would be for the most part, the same as what I wanted
to buy. The only thing I figured I needed as far
as tools go, was a better drill press.
A trip to a local farmers market to a cheap tool
store yielded this bargain drill press pictured to the
right. The best part about it is that the drill
press cost only a little more than those shackles I
bought and returned. For about 150 bucks, I got
this 16 speed, ¾ Horsepower, full
sized drill press with an adjustable deck. It
even had a built in light. Not a bad deal at
It came in a big heavy box
with some assembly required. After putting it
together and testing it out, I was quite pleased with
it. So now it was time to fabricate some
|The first thing I did was acquire some steel. I've
said it before and I'll say it again, if you plan to do any
fabrication of anything on your 4x4, find a metal shop that
will either sell you cheap pieces of stock steel or allow
you to look though their scrap dumpster.
The steel I needed was 4 pieces of 2 inch wide by 3/8"
thick slabs at 7½ inches long. I
had them cut it to length, although an angle grinder with an
1/8 inch cutting wheel for steel with rip right through it
if you get a full length that needs cutting.
|The new shackles were going to be 5¾"
(hole center to hole center) with an overall length
of 7½ inches. I marked the
hole locations at 5¾" center to
center and hit them with a center punch.
|Since I was going to drill these holes out with a drill
press and I wanted all the holes to be equal distance from
each other, I clamped them together using angle iron and
C-clamps as pictured to the right and below.
When you use a drill, you always want to wear eye
protection. The last thing you want is a piece of
metal fragment in your eye.
|Clamp the work piece
Another tip is to clamp your work down
while you drill it. DON'T try to hold your work with
your left hand while you press the drill with your right.
That's a recipe for a broken wrist. A nice big C-clamp
to the drill press deck would do the trick.
|Oil the Drill Bit as
As you drill, apply oil to the hole and
bit. Even back out now and then and squeeze some more
oil down the hole. That will do several things.
First it will help the drill bit cut the metal.
Second, it will keep the bit cool. Third it will
reduce the chances of the bit binding in the hole. It
will also help your bits last longer.
|Drill a Pilot hole
first then the larger hole
I drilled two sets
of holes, a ¼ inch pilot hole (to guide
the larger drill bit) and then the 1/2 inch hole.
Check your shackle bolts to determine your actual size of
|Shaping the Shackles
After the drill was complete, I needed a better shape to the
shackles. Now, you could just bolt the shackles on the
vehicle as is squared off but then if you actually take it
offroad, the squared edges can catch on obstacles. No
to mention they would look kind of cheap.
|Using an angle grinder, I hacked off the corners.
Keep in mind that the bushings are going to ride on the
surface of the shackle so you might want to take a large 2
inch washer and draw a half circle along the edge so you
know how far to cut and grind.
|Once I hacked off the edges, I ran a 1/2 inch bolt
through all the shackles and bolted them together.
|Then I clamped the shackles to the work table to start
grinding on them.
You might want to consider doing the grinding outside if
you work out of a garage. When sparks fly, they can
ignite all kinds of stuff in a garage. So play it safe
and do the grinding outside.
|Use a thick grinding wheel on an angle grinder that is
made for metal.
I kept running the wheel over the surface
creating a nice curve around the end.
|The next step was to clean up the sharp burrs on all the
edges. For this I clamped my belt sander to the work
table upside down and cleaned up the edges.
|A good coat of primer, then paint and they were ready to
sit for a while to dry.
The center hole was to later decide if I wanted to insert
a center tube for stability. Just in case I painted up
a tube I would use for the center tube.
After the shackles had dried for a
few days, they were ready to be installed.
First I secured the vehicle with wheel chocks on the
forward side and the back side of the wheel on the opposite
end of the vehicle while jacking up the end I was working
on. I figured while jacking the vehicle up, I could do
it two different ways.
- One way I could jack up the front or back of the
vehicle and place tall jack stands under the frame and
allow the axle to droop, taking weight off the shackles.
- Or I could use the strength of the bumper and jack the
bumper up while leaving the wheels on the ground.
That way I could lift until the shackle bolt slid out
easily. I chose this method. I took great care
as not to allow the jack from slipping off the bumper and
make sure the vehicle would not roll while doing the
When the bolts slid out easily, I put the new shackles on
top bolt first. Then jacked the vehicle up another 2 inches
until the bottom bolt could slide through.
Overall the shackles came out great. I toned
down the color a little bit (to black) because the yellow
was just too much. But performance wise, they do just
as well as any other catalog bought shackle and in the end I
have a drill press for all those other projects!
Other things to
consider when replacing shackles.
Obviously you can get kits to do the job. Many kits
come with such things as greasable shackle bolts and new
Greasable shackles are basically shackle bolts with a hole
drill down the center and a grease fitting on the bolt head.
Half way down the shaft of the bolt, a small hole comes out
the side, allowing pressed in grease to come out of the bolt
into the tube. The tube should have a small hole in it
allowing grease to come out of the tube, and behind the
polyurethane bushings. The grease will improve ride on
and off road.
If you make shackles, it's wise to replace old bushings with
new polyurethane bushings for a better ride on and off road.
There's only so much lift you can get out of a shackle
without altering the suspension angles for the worse, in
particular the drive shaft angle. The angle change
will depend on a few things like how long your leaf springs
are and what your pre-existing angles are. Although
it's not recommended, shims can correct angle changes.
However most shims are aluminum. Aluminum compresses
over time and can actually loosen up the u-bolts that hold
the axle to the leaf springs. Shims have actually been
known to break in half and spit out of the axle leaving a
very dangerous condition. Additionally you should
never use shims on the front axle because if they ever come
loose or come out completely, you could loose control of the