There comes a time in every build where it is time to bring it up a level. Whether it is because more funds have become available, or breaking parts is getting old, looking for the proper upgrade still happens the same way.
For Project Redneck, our 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ, the time has come to bring this vehicle up a level to conquer more on the trail. With its larger wheels and tires, winch, and roll cage, axles were next on the list. We turned to Currie Enterprises to help outfit our Jeep.
Instead of showing how everything goes together and the install, we decided to do something different with this build. We want to show the different components of the axles and what to look at when selecting the proper axles and components for your Jeep.
We will cover this in five stages starting with the axle housings, followed by gears and lockers, axle shafts and internals, mock-up and final assembly, and lastly, installation and testing on the trail.
Building New Axles
Everyone knows that two of the weakest links in a Jeep are its axles. For our build and end goal, we decided to go with Currie’s RockJock 44 front and rear axles, but what makes them stronger than the factory Dana 44? We talked to Brian Shepard at Currie to get these answers.
“The small tubes that are found on most Jeep axles are usually a huge weak point,” he said. “The tubes will flex and bend very easily, and the housing center castings crack where the tube sockets meet the center. The smaller, stock ring and pinions fail when used with big tires.”
“There were already aftermarket 44 housings on the market when we decided to introduce two more to the market, so ours had to be something special,” Shepard said. “We incorporated our experiences from our Jeeping as well as off-road racing. The new Currie castings needed to be everything for every customer, and we feel that they are.”
We would be going wider than the standard 44 axle to accommodate doing a coilover conversion. Going wider would give us room to clear the shock without having to notch the frame, as with most conversions on a TJ.
Out on the trail, these are some of the last things you want to see when you look under the Jeep. Currie's RockJock44 center takes into consideration these weak points with added strength.
In addition to going wider, we would be using JK outers. This would not only beef up the knuckles and brakes, but also allow us to run to a local parts store if we ever needed anything; no fancy conversion or break kit, just factory JK knuckles and brakes.
There are many benefits to stepping up to RockJock 44s and we asked Brian about them. “When used inside the recommended parameters, you can off-road with confidence and not have to limit your off-roading fun out of worry that you will break your differential and not get home,” he said. “The RockJock units provide a solid base for your vehicle that you never have to think about again.”
Stepping Up To RockJock 44s
RockJock 44s can be used in Jeeps and rockcrawling applications, and will work with up to a 37-inch tire. They will be the last thing we will have to worry about on the trail with Project Redneck.
The first part of creating the housing was getting the axle tubes cut and prepared for the center section.
The first step in the build process was to measure out the axle tubes. “The RockJock 44 use 3x.375-inch wall DOM tubes, as opposed to the smaller, weaker sizes found on standard, factory Dana 44s,” Shepard explained. “The casting is radically beefed up at every point with additional material, as well as have a huge tube socket and casting gussets.”
The center sections were placed in an oven to allow them to expand and accept the axle tubes.
With the axle tubes cut, it was time to measure the housing centers and get them in the oven. The oven allowed the castings to heat up and receive the axle tubes easier. If the tubes had any issue when sliding in, they were struck on a piece of steel.
Once taken out of the oven, the axle tubes were slammed into place.
“High or low-pinion RockJock 44s only use the newer, larger style JK 44 ring and pinions with the 29-spline, Dana 60 size pinion gear,” Shepard continued. “30-spline standard, 33 and 35-spline 44 differentials are available in some aftermarket carrier styles.”
Both the front and rear axles were tack welded together. The front housing was placed into a jig to mock-up the mounts and knuckles.
Next down the list was getting the proper bracketry on the housing. With the use of a jig, the factory front mounts were added. Everything was just tacked together and would be readjusted once the correct pinion angle was determined during mockup.
“Currie housing brackets are all 3/16-inch laser cut and formed steel as opposed to the stock sheet metal brackets,” Shepard said. “Rearends feature Set 20 or Set 80 axle bearing ends,” Shepard explained. “Frontends with JK inner knuckles feature the new forged inner C knuckles from Currie that replace the factory JK knuckles that have a breakpoint from the factory.”
The last installed part of the axle was the Johnny Joint. This would allow us to connect the front arm and be able to cycle the suspension.
Before our eyes, we were starting to see the making of what would turn out TJ into something completely different. This was just the beginning of taking Redneck up a notch.
The Next Steps
Now that the housings were completed and delivered to the owner, the next steps could be completed. The axles will need to be mocked up and the pinion angle set. To do this, we will be waiting for the arrival of our ORI Struts.
To complete the transformation we will be using Motive Gears, OMIX-ADA factory JK components, Eaton lockers, and ORI Struts.
The rest of the build will include Motive Gears 5.38:1 gears and Eaton differentials. We were able to pick up all of the outer JK knuckles and brakes from OMIX-ADA. Factory JK front and rear brakes will be used to make any necessary trail fixes that much easier.
Keep checking back for more on our RockJock 44 build and install. For more information on Currie Enterprises’ products, be sure to visit their website.