Thanks for the humility Jim.
Wasn't trying to humble you. Was trying to keep you from damaging your boat, possibly leaving yourself stranded somewhere, possibly putting yourself at the mercy of a boatyard with less-than-honourable intentions for emergency repairs, or expen$ive repairs even at a good yard.
Since the inspection of the packing looked good I hesitated putting in the 1/4. It was a tight fit but I was able to get it in using the side of a wrench.
Without knowing your definition of "tight," I don't know if it was right or wrong. In the end I have to go back to your OP, where you wrote "...3/16 ... didn't quite fill the gap between the nut and shaft ..." and that you basically "stacked" one ring outside the other.
The packing material shouldn't be "tight," per se, but it should
fill the gap between the outside of the shaft and the inside of the stuffing box. Otherwise: How could it possibly seal?
After each strip I tightened the nut up to push it in.
That can work, but it's kind of painstaking, and you run the chance of not ending-up with the joints in each ring offset from one another.
Main Sail, I think it is, recommends fabricating a "pusher" out of rigid PVC. I just pushed mine in, gently
, with a large-ish flat-bladed screw driver.
I got three strips installed and hand tightened slightly.
Sounds right to me!
I'm still unclear what caused the bronze dust.
Probably hard to do, but it sure would've been interesting to see the inside of your stuffing box. My guess is it's real shiny and has an ever-so-slightly larger i.d.
Hope the new packing material has you fixed up, and I apologize for coming across poorly.
You might care to peruse Main Sail's Re-Packing A Traditional Stuffing Box
. Very informative.