Figure 10-268 shows a cross-sectional view of a typical commutator. The commutator is located at the end of an armature and consists of wedge shaped segments of hard drawn copper, insulated from each other by thin sheets of mica. The segments are held in place by steel V-rings or clamping flanges fitted with bolts. Rings of mica insulate the segments from the flanges. The raised portion of each segment is called a riser, and the leads from the armature coils are soldered to the risers. When the segments have no risers, the leads are soldered to short slits in the ends of the segments.

The brushes ride on the surface of the commutator, forming the electrical contact between the armature coils and the external circuit. A flexible, braided copper conductor, commonly called a pigtail, connects each brush to the external circuit. The brushes, usually made of high-grade carbon and held in place by brush holders insulated from the frame, are free to slide up and down in their holders in order to follow any irregularities in the surface of the commutator. The brushes are usually adjustable so that the pressure of the brushes on the commutator can be varied and the position of the brushes with respect to the segments can be adjusted.

The constant making and breaking of connections to the coils in which a voltage is being induced necessitates the use of material for brushes, which has a definite contact resistance. Also, this material must be such that the friction between the commutator and the brush is low, to prevent excessive wear. For these reasons, the material commonly used for brushes is high-grade carbon. The carbon must be soft enough to prevent undue wear of the commutator and yet hard enough to provide reasonable brush life. Since the contact resistance of carbon is fairly high, the brush must be quite large to provide a large area of contact. The commutator surface is highly polished to reduce friction as much as possible. Oil or grease must never be used on a commutator, and extreme care must be used when cleaning it to avoid marring or scratching the surface.

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