OK, Start with someone moving the wheel back and forth while you observe ALL the steering components.
Slop in the steering column shaft. This includes the bell/rag joint, and u joint. The intermediate shaft is designed to collapse in a wreck, insure it isn't sloppy at the slip joint.
Movement of the box itself. This can be due to loose mounting bolts or a loose/cracked/broken mount.
Internal movement inside the box. This can be caused by wear, (common on manual boxes) or the box being out of center due to the lift. Re-centering the box should be the first priority prior to adjusting or replacing the box.
Drag link angle. The drag link from the pitman arm to the knuckle/tie rod should be almost parallel with the tie rod. If there is a large angle, then the steering has a tendency to push down before moving the wheels. The only way to fix this is to replace the existing pitman arm with a drop arm.
Bad tie rod ends. any lateral movement of the tie rod ends will cause sloppy steering and indicates a bad joint. Replacement is the only option.
Lateral movement of the shackles is a biggie. Moving the steering wheel will force the body to move over the axle insteadof moving the knucles. This indicates bad bushings. This is one of the reasons extended shackles are generally frowned upon, since they multiply the lateral force on the bushings.
Bad ball joints. These usually are more of a drivability issue than something that causes slop, however, it is always important to check them.
That information is great and will be checking all of your suggestions. How would I know if the box is not centered? There is a lift on the jeep and I do suspect this is the root of my steering issues.
Turn the steering wheel all the way to either the right or left. Count the turns to all the way the other direction. Go back 1/2 of the total number of turns. Are the tires pointing straight ahead? If not, it's not centered. The drag link (link from pitman arm to passenger side knuckle) is what's adjusted to get it centered.
Drive the rig straight.
Drop the tie rod end off the pitman arm.
Rotate the steering wheel left and right, counting the turns lock to lock.
Center the box half the turns.
If the steering wheel isn't in the same place or the drag link won't reconnect to the pitman arm, then the box wasn't at center.
You will want to leave the wheel with the box in the center position, then adjust the drag link to align the tie rod end with the pitman arm. Do not move the tires, just adjust the drag link.
Steering boxes have a "tight spot" in the center to keep steering tight while driving straight. They loosen up (get sloppy) off center to help ease steering effort and minimize wear. Being left or right of center will cause excessive "slop" in the box. Many times folks try to adjust the box to eliminate this, causing excessive drag and binding in the centered position and wearing the box out prematurely.
Boxes pulled off center are a common problem with lifted vehicles, as raising the body off the axles effectively shortens the drag link.
Okay so I had some time today to see if the steering is centered. I had a total of 2.5 turns from right to left. After I came back 1.25 turns my wheels were dead center. I took a picture of my wheels at hard right and left. Do they look correct or should they be turning more. My turning radius is pretty bad but I just assumed this was normal for a CJ8. At each extreme the tires are not rubbing or touching anything. There is at least another 4-5 inches it can turn
My guess is your CJ has a drop pitman arm, which is probably shorter (the horizontal distance from the center of one hole to the other hole) than a stock pitman arm. This results in less swing of the steering arms, reducing the steering radius.
Have you had someone turn the wheel while you look at all the steering components? Also you said you still had some steering left. Ive always adjusted my steering stops to where the tires are about an inch from the springs at full turn.
My 4" drop arm measures 6" hole to hole. That's with the tape held straight horizontal , above the lower hole and below the top hole.
I had to move my box forward 1" to keep the pitman arm from hitting the tie rod as the suspension cycles. I have the steering stops adjusted so the the tires stop 1/2" from contacting the leaf springs.
Don't know for sure, but I read somewhere a stock CJ arm is 5.5" hole to hole.
78 CJ7.. 258.. TH400/Dana18.. SOA/stock YJ springs.. 35" General Grabbers.. Waggy 44s.. 4.88 gears...Spartan/Lockright...Fiberglass front to rear
Go back up to the top of the page and reread jeepdaddys post. When you have someone turning the wheel have them do it slow and steady. Have them hold the wheel at about 10 oclock and slowly turn to about 2 oclock, then slowly back to 10. They need to keep doing this the entire time that you are looking for the bad part. Raise your hood, start the jeep, have someone start sawing back an forth on the wheel slowly, start at the steering shaft, look closely at the u joints, The one you pictured is usually a culprit. Then move under the jeep, look at the two plates that the steering box is mounted to, the mounting bolts and the box. Then move on to the drag link and tie rod. Its kinda hard to explain exactly what your looking for here but I'll try. If the nuts that screw on to the tie rod ends(tre) are loose then the tapered part of the tre will move some. If the nut is tight but the tre is bad there will be movement in the ball and socket part of the tre.
Then move on to the ball joints. Get a jack and place it on one side, look at the ball joints on that same side, start working the jack until the tire is off the ground. Usually if a ball joint is bad there will be some movement in it just as the tire leaves the ground. If you didnt see any movement have someone continue to look at the ball joints while you check the wheel bearings. You might need to raise the wheel a little more to do this. Grab the tire at 12 oclock and 6 oclock, try to move it up and down