John Deere Model E Engine Restoration

Jonh Deere Model E: From removing the magneto and igniter to timing the magneto and painting it John Deere green

Crank side of engine. Flywheel removed for clarity.

Crank side of engine. Flywheel removed for clarity.

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The restoration of a John Deere Model E is not much different from most makes of gas engines, however, there are some differences. For the benefit of those who have not had much experience in restoring a John Deere I will explain how I go about it. For this article I will assume that the engine we have aquired has been sitting out in the weather for a long time and that every part on it is stuck. This is the way I have found most of mine.

It is not advisable to turn the flywheels on these engines even if the engine is not stuck. The reason for this is that the magneto or igniter may be stuck even though the rest of the engine is free.

The first step I take in restoration of my John Deere Model E is to remove the magneto from the engine. This is done by first removing the 3 machine screws that hold the magneto cover plate to the crankcase cover. Next, remove the 3 bolts that hold the crankcase cover to the block and remove the cover. Remove the six machine screws from the governor cover (the plate with name and serial number) and remove the cover. If working on a 3 HP engine use care not to lose the spring on the cam follower. It will jump out when the cover is taken off. The 1 and 6 HP engines do not have this spring. The magneto is attached to the engine block with two bolts from inside the governor case up into the base of the magneto. Remove these bolts and set the magneto with gear attached off. If the magneto is not stuck, you can test it with a 6 volt flashlight bulb. I use a 6 volt hunter's head lamp. Attach 1 wire to the terminal of the magneto and the other wire to the body of the magneto. Hold the magneto upright on a flat surface and spin the gear with your hand. If the magneto is strong enough to run the engine, the bulb will burn fairly brightly in flashes. If the magneto is stuck, remove the four screws from the end plate and carefully slide the end plate off the shaft. Remove the nut from the other end of the shaft and using a small gear puller remove the magneto gear from the shaft. Do not use a great deal of pressure with the gear puller. If gear will not come off, spray with penetrating oil and try again in a day or two. When the gear is removed clean the armature and the inside of the magneto body with WD-40 and a cloth, but do not soak the armature of body. Check the collector brush (on top) and the ground brush (in end plate). If these are worn out, replace with new ones. Re-assemble the magneto and if it still does not light up the bulb, take it to a dependable magneto repairman. Caution: The bushings in a John Deere magneto are not pressed in. They are cast into the white metal. Any attempt to press worn bushings out and replace with new one will result in a cracked magneto body and end plate. The only way the bushings can be replaced in a John Deere magneto is for a person with a good turning lathe and a good knowledge of how to use it to turn out the old bushings very thin and make new bushings to fit inside the old ones. Do not attempt to drill out the old bushings with a drill press. The tolerances required for the armature are much too critical for this. If your magneto needs any major repairs, let an experienced repairman do it. You will be dollars ahead.

The next step is to remove the crankshaft and flywheels. First remove the piston rod cap from the piston rod and remove the shims and bearings. Mark the bearings and cap so they can be put back the same way they were. Remove the main bearing caps, shims, and the top halves of the main bearings. Mark all bearings and shims so they can be put back like they were. Lift the flywheels and crankshaft out of the lower main bearings and remove the lower bearings. After this remove the governor and cam shaft. To do this, first remove the speed change nut, then slide the cam shaft follower off its shaft. Remove hookup lever by first removing the welsh plug from the top of the governor case. (under the magneto) Then slide the rod up through the hole under the welsh plug. Hookup lever will then come out. To remove the governor, place a small wooden hammer handle through the spokes of the camshaft gear. This will keep the governor and camshaft gear from turning. Remove the hex nut and washer from the governor. Caution: This nut has left hand threads. Governor will now slide out. It is not usually necessary to disassemble the governor any more than this, but be sure all parts of the governor work freely. Remove the cam shaft from the cam shaft gear by taking off the large hex from the shaft (right hand threads) and using the gear puller, pull cam gear off the cam shaft.

This completes the disassembly of the internal gears of the engine. Now we will work on the head and piston. First, disconnect the gas line from the mixer. Remove the cylinder head by removing the four nuts from the studs. Remove the exhaust lever and spring by taking off the nut on top and unscrewing the bolt that the exhaust lever swivels on. Loosen and free the exhaust lever adjusting screw and free the pivot between the exhaust rod and exhaust lever. Oil the igniter trip bracket, loosen the two clamp bolts that hold it on the exhaust rod and work it back and forth until it slides freely on the rod. Work the igniter trip finger up and down and check the spring that holds the finger up. If necessary, replace the spring with a new one.

Remove the igniter from the cylinder head by taking off the two bolts that hold it to the head. Trip the hammer of the igniter with your finger. If it trips, then push up on the hammer. There should be about 1/32" clearance between the contact points. If the igniter is stuck, proceed to overhaul the igniter as follows. Take the cotter pin and torsion spring off the outside end of the igniter shaft. Remove the nut from the anvil taper pin and remove it. Caution: This is a tapered pin and must be removed from the top. It cannot be driven through. If this pin is very badly worn one can be made from a 1/4" steel bolt with SAE thread and a grinding wheel. Next remove the moveable electrode shaft from the igniter. Take out the stationary electrode and the mica washers. It is advisable to replace the mica washers with new ones. The old ones frequently get enough rust in them to short the igniter out. Be sure to place enough mica washers on each side so that the points will match perfectly when the washers are tightened down. Re-grind the moveable electrode into its seat. Place a small amount of valve grinding compound on the seat of the moveable electrode and grind the seat with an oscillating motion. Grind with a firm, but not heavy pressure. Wash all igniter parts in gasoline and reassemble as it was. Check to see that there is about 1/32" gap in the points when the hammer is pushed up.

So far we have had the easy part of this John Deere Model E restoration. Now for the difficult part. Removing rusty and stuck valves is never easy, but it is possible. If they are not too badly stuck I usually oil the valves well with penetrating oil and drive them out with a hammer. Driving valves out with a hammer usually causes the valve to expand on the stem end and it must be filed down to its original size after the valve is loose and before the valve can be completely taken out. The other method of valve removal I use I do not whole heartedly recommend, because I believe it might damage the head. I have done several this way and never have cracked or warped a head, but I am aware that it may do so sometime. I feel that this method has less chance of damage than the heavy beating required to loosen badly rusted valves. First remove both valve springs, then place the head in a wood fire of sufficient size to heat the whole head cherry red hot. Allow the head to stay in the fire for about 15 minutes, remove it and immediately throw it in a bucket of water. Stand back. Much steam and hot water will result. When the head is cool, penetrating oil and light hammering will usually free the valves. Grind the valves and valve seats if still usable. If not usable, replace the valves with new ones and have a machine shop replace the valve seats. If the valve guides are badly worn they should be replaced also. The engine will never run properly with badly worn valve guides.

The next step is to remove the piston. The method I have had the most success with is to first cut a green hardwood limb or trunk of a tree as nearly the size of the cylinder as possible and about 18 inches long. Shave the bark off with a hatchet if necessary just enough for the wood to go in the cylinder. Be sure wood is cut square on the ends so as to contact the piston evenly. Place the back of the engine block against something solid, like a wall, place one end of the wood in the cylinder against the piston and hit the wood hard, solid licks with a heavy sledge hammer until it begins to move. Once the piston budges even a little use water in the back of the cylinder as a lubricant. Drive the piston on out. Loosen the piston rod on the piston pin with penetrating oil. It usually is not necessary to remove the piston from the rod, but if it is removed, be certain that the set screws engage the holes in the piston pin when the rod is put back on.

Remove the rings from the piston and clean out the ring grooves thoroughly. Replace the old rings with new ones if the old ones are worn or have lost their elasticity.

Take off the gas line by first loosening the small brass bushing then removing the cast iron bushing from the block. Take off the skids, gas tank, sub base, and oil pan next. Check for leaks in the oil pan by holding it up to strong light. Repair pin holes if necessary or if there are many holes it is best to replace the oil pan with a new one.

Loosen gas tank drain plug, replace it, and check the gas tank for leaks by filling it with water, placing it on a level place and check after a couple of hours to see if the bottom is wet. Repair or replace the gas tank if necessary.

Check the gas line to see if the check valve on the bottom of the gas line is functioning properly. You should be able to suck air through the gas line but not blow in the opposite direction. If check valve is not working properly examine the body of the check valve for tiny splits which sometimes occur if the valve body has been screwed on the gas line too tight. Remove the check valve from the gas line, tap out the small dart inside and clean both parts thoroughly. The bottom of the gas line should have a V shaped notch in the end. If it does not, make one about 1/8' deep with a triangular file. This notch is to prevent the check dart from rising and stopping the flow of gasoline. This notch is very important.

Hone the cylinder of the engine. I use an electric drill and a hone with 3 stones. For cylinder hone lubricant I prefer a good bit of water poured into the cylinder at short intervals. If oil is used a film buildup on the cylinder walls will result. When the cylinder walls are smooth, dry them with a cloth and oil the cylinder walls with a light oil immediately.

Wash all of the engine parts in gasoline or naptha and remove all rust, old oil, or anything else on the metal. Obtain a complete new set of gaskets for the engine. This set will not contain a gasket for the gas tank, but I recommend that you make one of either cork or thick gasket material. Put gasket cement on both sides of all gaskets except the head and igniter gaskets before assembly. Now we are ready to assemble the engine. This will proceed quite rapidly in comparison to the dismantling. Re-assemble engine in this order:

Turn engine block upside down and stick the oil pan gasket to the bottom of the block, then the oil pan, then the gasket you have made for the gas tank, then the gas tank itself. Last, put on the sub-base. Put bolts back through this assembly, put nuts on and tighten. Re-mount the skids.

Turn engine right side up. Replace the governor shaft, large washer and left hand thread nut. Tighten only finger tight at this time. Replace cam, cam gear, key, lock washer, and nut and tighten finger tight.

Locate the timing marks on the crankshaft gear. They are small circles about 1/4" in diameter. Sometimes it takes a bit of emery cloth and patience to find them. Put the bottom halves of the main bearings in the block. Place the flywheels and crankshaft in the bearings being sure that timing marks on the crankshaft gear match the mark on the cam gear. Caution: The cam gear has two timing marks, one for the crankshaft gear and one for the magneto gear. When properly timed the mark for the magneto gear will be straight up at the same time the other mark is matched to the crankshaft gear.

Replace the main bearing shims the same way they came out. When reassembling main gearing always place shims snugly against the crankshaft. This may leave a small opening at the rear which should be filled with thick shellac to prevent the escape of oil. Put some shellac in the shim holes to seal the bolts.

Next put on top halves of the main bearings and the bearing caps. Tighten the bolts in the bearing caps. Lift up on each flywheel to check for play in the bearings. If any play is felt remove cap and take out one thin shim and re-assemble. If necessary remove additional shims from alternate sides. Bearings should be snug, but not tight enough to bind. Now tighten the nuts on the cam shaft and the governor shaft.

Next replace the cam follower, Hookup lever, hookup lever shaft and welsh plug. At this point run the speed change screw through the hole in front of the cam follower and put on the speed change nut.

To adjust the hookup lever, see that the governor balls are in closed position and cam follower is pressed tight against engine, then turn the hookup lever adjusting screw until there is between 1/16" and 1/32" side clearance between hookup lever plate and hook up section on the cam follower, tighten adjusting screw lock nut and make sure the adjustment has not changed.

The next step is to replace the magneto cover, magneto gear, key, lock washer and nut on the magneto shaft. Tighten the nut finger tight only. Place the magneto over the bolt holes. Match the timing marks on the camshaft gear with the mark on the magneto gear. Thread the bolts into the magneto from inside the governor case. Caution: Notice that the magneto is held on by a long bolt and a short bolt. Do not reverse these bolts or use a bolt any longer or shorter than the originals as this will push the magneto case apart and ruin it. Do not tighten these bolts overly tight to avoid stripping the threads in the magneto. In repairing the magneto use extreme care not to break any of the white metal parts. This metal seems to be becoming more brittle with age. Now tighten the nut on the end of the magneto shaft. Replace the governor cover and gasket.

Replace the piston and rod through the front of the cylinder. When putting piston in, make sure the oil slot is on top. Also the connecting rod must be installed so that the oil hole in the piston end of the rod is on the governor side of the engine. Replace rod bearings, shims, and rod cap. Tighten down rod bolts and check bearings for looseness. If bearings are loose, remove shims on alternate sides until rod fits snug but does not bind on the crankshaft.

Put the valves in the head and install valve springs. Grease the new head gasket with gun grease and install head. Tighten bolts evenly and after engine has run for an hour or so tighten them again. Install exhaust lever, exhaust lever spring, and exhaust rod with the back end of the exhaust rod through the hole in the governor case. Replace the igniter and igniter gasket. Be sure that the igniter trip finger is below the igniter before tightening the igniter bolts. Tighten the nut on the magneto trip when mark "spark" on the flywheel is level with, or slightly above the exhaust rod, and the exhaust rod is clear back toward the flywheel just starting forward. If the igniter trips before this point, loosen clamp bolts of trip bracket and adjust back towards flywheel. If it trips later than this, adjust bracket ahead. The face of the igniter trip finger must set flat against the igniter hammer when bolts are tightened.

To time the exhaust valve, turn flywheel in the direction of rotation about one-half turn after the igniter trips until mark "Exhaust open" on the flywheel is level with exhaust rod. Turn the exhaust lever adjusting screw until it just touches the end of the exhaust valve, then tighten lock nut.

Time the magneto as follows: First, make sure that igniter trip is properly time then press in the timing rivet marked "L" (in the magneto end plate) while the flywheel is turned slowly in the direction it runs. The rivet should drop into the notch and start out just as the igniter trips. If necessary adjust trip finger slightly until it trips at exactly this time.

Put oil in oil filler hole immediately behind governor cover. Use 1 quart for the 1 HP, 3 pint for the 3 HP, and 5 pints in the 6 HP engine. Put regular gasoline in the gas tank. Filler hole is to the very rear of the engine. Be sure that the small vent hole at the side of the filler hole is not stopped up. The 1 HP engine will hold 3 quarts of gasoline, the 3 HP 5 quarts, and the 6 HP 15 quarts.

Run a spark plug wire from the terminal on top of the magneto through the magnet and to the small clip on the igniter. Fill water hopper 2/3 full of water.

To start engine, open the mixer needle one turn, close the air shutter and crank engine. When the engine starts, open the air shutter and adjust needle until the engine runs smoothly without black smoke from the exhaust.

This is the finest moment in engine collecting, when the rusty old iron springs to life again. To stop engine, close needle valve.

Paint the engine John Deere green and apply decals to each side of the water hopper.