Marfield Ultimate Birfield Joint

Marfield Ultimate Birfield Joint

Oct. 01, 2005 By Randy Burleson
In 79-85 Toyota mini-trucks, 84-85 4-Runners, and 69-89 Land Cruisers, the well-known weakest link in the front drivetrain is the Birfield joint inside the enclosed knuckle. That's not to say that this joint is weak, because failure is rare in stock rigs, but low gears, big tires, and powerful engines can cause failure. Where other vehicles snap axles, Toyotas break Birfields, often when you have the wheels cranked to one side and are applying power.

It was thought to be impossible to find a stronger solution than the stock setup because of the limited space available inside the closed knuckle... but Marlin Czajkowski, of Marlin Crawler fame, found a better way and created the 'Marfield' Birfield joint.
To make a Marfield, Marlin fuses a special high-strength steel ring onto a Birfield to prevent failure. The exact metal composition and welding technique are hush-hush for obvious reasons. Unless you have the specialized welding equipment, years of experience, and hours of time, as well as willingness to trash hundreds of dollars worth of Birfield joints to perfect your technique, you should call Marlin to order a set of his super-duty Marfield joints. Installing Marfields requires absolutely no modifications - they bolt right in.

Marlin sells Marfields in three flavors, based on the donor Birfield upon which Marlin works his magic: used, new aftermarket, or new Toyota-manufactured. The prices varies accordingly, and is detailed in Marlin's price list. Marfields based on used cores carry a 6 month one-time replacement warranty*, and Marfields based on new parts carry a 12 month one-time replacement warranty* -- but keep in mind that nobody's been able to make a Marfield fail yet. 

Marlin is so confident in his product that he's offering a bounty on the first broken Marfield. Now this bounty, like the warranties*, applies only to his custom manufacturing work, and not the stub shaft, splines, or drive axle. He'll need the broken unit itself, a picture of whatever unimaginable predicament resulted in failure, and a brief description of the circumstances. What's the bounty? An ARB to fit a Marfield-equipped vehicle... That's how confident he is.

Marlin disassembles, cleans, inspects, and reassembles each Birfield that is destined to become a Marfield. The welding that Marlin does traps the balls and cage inside the Marfield housing, which means that you cannot take apart and rebuild a Marfield. You can still solvent-wash them and regrease them, but you can't rebuild them. With their strength and a good greasing, you should be able to set them, forget them, and never worry about breaking them again. 

Marlin took his Marfield joints to a major test lab to try to determine the force it would take to make them fail. He used a test fixture to apply twisting force to the splines at the inboard end of the inner axle shaft and anchored the splines at the outboard end of the Birfield joint to a test table.

The attached table and graph show results from these tests. Marlin started by testing a used Toyota Birfield in line (no steering angle) with a stock inner axle. That Birfield joint did not fail; it snapped two inner axles - one at 49,694 inch-lbs, and then another at 50,329 in-lbs. In the next test, a new aftermarket Birfield broke the stock inner axle at 53,618 in-lbs.

Material Test Results
Used Toyota (stock) 0 AXLE 49,694 test 1
Used Toyota (stock) 0 AXLE 50,329 test 2, same birfield as used in TEST1
New Aftermarket (stock) 0 AXLE  53,618 test 3
Used Toyota (stock) 30 BIRFIELD 50,502 test 4, same birfield as used in TEST1 & 2
New Aftermarket (stock) 30 BIRFIELD 42,191 test 5, same birfield as used in TEST3
Marfield based on Toyota 30 AXLE 48,251 test 6
Marfield based on Aftermarket 30 AXLE 58,236 test 7: using stronger Land Cruiser axle
* These tests were supposed to break the Marfield!

Marlin was trying to determine the yield strength for stock used Birfields and his Marfield, and was surprised that the inner axles broke before the Birfield joint failed. Marlin had never seen a stock inner axle fail before these tests. This is a testament to the strength of these parts in a straight line, but since breakage was the goal, Marlin cranked the Birfield over to a 30-degree angle relative to the axle angle (beyond what the steering stops will allow when mounted in your truck). Using the same Toyota-made Birfield that had already broken two stock inner axles, Marlin finally broke a Birfield joint at 50,502 in-lbs. A new aftermarket joint bent to the same angle failed at 42,191 in-lbs.

Then he put a Marfield onto a stock inner axle, bent it 30 degrees, and proceeded to snap the inner axle at 48,251 in-lbs. Next he did the same test with a late-model Land Cruiser inner axle (these have a better heat treat and are stronger, but longer) and they broke that stock inner axle, too, at a whopping 58,236 in-lb. With the strongest axles he could find, Marlin was unable to break a Marfield. The pictures show the Marfield that destroyed this hefty inner axle.

These tests show several things:

  1. Axle shafts have varying yield strengths. Marlin recorded inner axle failure on mini-truck inner axle shafts at 48,251 in-lbs, 49,694 in-lbs, 50,329 in-lbs, and 53,618 in-lbs. The LandCruiser shafts, with their better heat treating, pulled 58,236 in-lbs before snapping. Marlin had never seen an inner axle shaft fail prior to visiting the test lab. 
  2. Birfields will fail before the axles only when angled sharply AND powered up. Stock Birfields are stronger than the inner axles when kept straight (not steered). 
  3. Marfields are much stronger than stock or aftermarket Birfield joints, and also stronger than stock mini-truck or late model LandCruiser axles.

What this Means to You on the Trail

If you break a Birfield joint on the trail, you are either in 2WD from there on, or, if you pack a spare, you are in for approximately two hours of work. To swap a Birfield, you must completely tear down the knuckle far enough to extract the broken Birfield and inner axle. In the worst case scenario, the Birfield spreads out too far to be pulled out, and you have to remove the kingpin caps and bearings, then remove the whole knuckle. In the best cases, you "only" have to tear down the locking hub, brakes, axle bearings, spindle, and inner axle, and then repack the housing with grease. Even best case, it is a dirty, rotten job that you don't want to have to do ever again.

Marlin proved that stock Toyota LandCruiser and truck inner axles will fail before his Marfield joint. He also speculates that the inner axle is stronger than the locking hub, which would be GREAT, because that means that the hub will fail before wiping out the inner axle - and the Marfield is too strong to fail at all. That means that if you carry a spare hub, driveline breakage up front is only a fifteen-minute stop to swap a locking hub! You don't have to jack up the wheel, strip down the brakes, axles, axle bearings, etc.

*Limited Warranty only applies to the work performed by Marlin Crawler. It DOES NOT cover the stub shaft, inner or outer splines, inner drive axles, or any other mechanical or otherwise failures that may be associated with this product.

Email: Marlin Crawler
1543-B N. Maple
Fresno, CA 93703
(559) 25-CRAWL; (559) 252-7295 Newsletter
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