Making Cylinder Head Gaskets

By Max F. Homfeld
February/March 1989
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One of the problems besetting the restorer of antique engines is that of finding a cylinder head gasket. A cylinder head gasket is a critical part, as it must seal high pressure gas at the combustion chamber as well as cooling water at a number of cooling water passages. Production gaskets have grommets around the combustion chamber and the water passages to prevent blow-out as well as seepage through the gasket material. Grommets aren't easily made in a home shop.

I have found one material that works well without grommets. This is a Fel-Pro material made of asbestos and graphite with a core of stainless steel. The stainless steel is 0.010' thick and has a great many projections punched in each direction. These projections are pressed into the asbestos facings, locking together the three layers. However, it is not easy to cut gaskets of this material with scissors and gasket punches.

It works well to saw and drill Fel-Pro while it is sandwiched between pieces of plywood. To make gaskets this way, you will need the following supplies:

1. The Fel-Pro material

2. Some 1/2 inch plywood. Scraps of sheathing plywood from a building site are fine.

3. Some 1/8 inch plywood. I use scraps of wall paneling.

4. Flat head brads, about 5/8 inches long.

5. Draftsman's tracing paper.

6. A piece of wax of the type used for rubbings. Get from a craft shop.

7. Contact cement.

8. A jig saw.

First, make a rubbing from the cylinder head. Modify the contour in pencil if it shows an area that needn't be gasketted. If the gasket can be reversible, you can cement the rubbing to the 1/8 inch plywood, black side up. If it can't be reversed, you must cement it black side down. Don't worry, being tracing paper, you can still see the rubbing. Sometimes, though, it helps to outline all cuts with a soft pencil.

Now cut a suitable rectangle of Fel-Pro with tin snips. Make two gaskets at once if you wish. Stack the 1/8 ply and the Fel-Pro on top of the 1/2 inch ply. Nail them together with the brads all around the gasket shape. Space the brads about 1-1/2 inches apart. Next, drill the bolt holes; a drill press helps. I often put the cylinder head in position and use it as a drill guide. Some 6d nails around the head will keep it in position. You need not drill all the way through the 1/2 inch ply, just through the Fel-Pro.

Next, drill the ends of the water passages all the way through. Choose drill sizes to match the radii of the openings in the head and cylinder block. You can now saw out the water passages, connecting the holes you just drilled. I use a jig saw for all the cuts as the teeth cut the gasket material against the 1/2 inch plywood.

Now saw out the combustion chamber openings. All that remains is to saw the outside contour. Take good care of the finished gasket. I tape the plywood pieces to the gasket to protect it until installation.

No gasket cement should be used.


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