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Making the Most of Winter

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As members of the Stationary Engine Mailing List in the Northern Hemisphere got their first taste of winter weather, a couple of relevant subjects came under discussion. While winter is generally recognized as being a time to work on engine restoration projects, there are some things that are hampered by the cold weather, such as painting. But, if your shop is heated by a wood stove, can that be put to use in your efforts?

I've been wondering, how do you all paint your old iron in the winter? It sure makes a mess in the shed, and that modern paint is pretty nasty - I do wear a respirator. I have some ideas, but thought I'd ask the List, first. Right now I'm glazing the Economy 5 HP, and I'm wondering if you can warm up the metal and shoot it outside, at say 20° to 30° F above?

I can't offer much info on painting at 30° F. One option would be to find a body shop with a heated paint booth. If you have everything prepared and ready, the good guys will spray your stuff for you for a reasonable cost. I have done this in the past for some of my projects, and it has really helped out.

Personally, I like it to be as warm as possible when painting. What we do in the winter is heat up the shed early in the morning and warm up any parts we're going to paint. We then take our parts out of the shed (just the other side of the door) and give them their first coat of paint. Then it's back to the stove to warm up. Repeat this as often as needed and your parts will stay warm enough.

As usual, some comments are more helpful than others!

No, none of that works. Send it over to Australia. We will paint it in the heat to your liking and you can come and see it anytime you like. It's the only real solution

Winter in Australia is the best time for me to paint. My shed gets to about 20 - 25° C. Just try painting here in the summer months. If it's 40° C outside, it's not unusual to be 50° C inside my shed - gotta get up real early to paint before it warms up. Mind you, you can get your second coat in pretty quick!

I cheat a little when I'm painting in my shop. I picked up some cheap blue tarps; one goes on the floor, and the rest are strung on cables around my painting area, with one overhead like a second ceiling. Makes it easier to keep the place clean. My exhaust fan has a long, flexible tube that is tucked in one corner toward the floor. For heat I use a salamander-style rig, set outside the door and under a cover, that pipes heat in through stovepipe. Keeps me warm, and it keeps the ignition source outside.

I also thought about getting a propane trailer furnace. The ones they are using now do not use interior air for combustion, and you can find cosmetically damaged units that are pretty cheap. I figure on putting it up in the attic and hooking it into some ductwork. With a little closet around it, and maybe venting the closet to the outside, I can use the same heater all the time.

Thanks gang! You've given me some good ideas. I now have the base, cylinder and hopper on a roll-around cart. I have a small, 8-foot overhead door on one side of the shed, which will give me a fine framework for a temporary paint booth using that cheap blue tarp. Fumes can be evacuated outside using the wood shop dust collector. You know, the more I think about it, it could be somewhat permanent, maybe use draw curtains like they use in welding shops. Hmmm ... I like it.

Seeing as I use floor radiant heat, I plan on installing another zone and using a fan-driven heat exchanger for quick recovery. That way I won't have to keep the thermostat turned up all the time.

So, if you've got the stove in the shop all fired up to dry paint, might as well find another use for that heat while it's there! How about rust removal?

I have two rusty engine heads here. Both of them have the valves rusted tight. I plan on putting them in my wood stove tomorrow, keeping them red hot for the day, then letting the fire go down over night. The house will be heated enough I won't need to build a fire the next morning, and I can let them cool very slowly.

I burn pallets, so my ashes are 80 percent nails and hold heat a long time. Any suggestions on how long I should keep the heads red hot would be greatly appreciated.

No need to go to red heat. Merely heat the heads to 800° F or so for two hours. I do not know what your stove looks like, but maybe try suspending them by coat hanger wire from the top? My guess is you run a risk of the heads cracking on cool down if you get them red hot.

I've never done that, but I would be cautious about leaving the heads in the fire (especially red hot) for too long, mostly because of oxidation.

You'll only need to heat the heads long enough to ensure the metal is hot all the way through. It doesn't take long to break down the rust. By the time the metal gets almost red hot the rust will turn to powder.

Whenever I use my stove for this kind of thing, I put whatever I'm working on in when I go to bed and let the fire burn out. When the part has cooled down a reasonable amount, I'll pull it out. I'd let a head cool down quite a bit before pulling it out.

I have a two-cylinder Cushman that sat outside for about 50 years with one spark plug removed. The pistons and valves were stuck solid and the valves were a fright. I built a firebrick enclosure around the engine, brought it up to just barely red hot with a propane weed burner, and let it soak at that temperature for around three to four hours. At that point I turned off the fire, closed off any openings in my 'oven' and let it cool until morning. The valves came out with a few gentle taps from a small hammer. Using a home-built all-thread puller, the pistons came out without any trouble.

I've never had much problem with excessive burning or corrosion of the metal, but all day in the stove might be overkill. Of course you already know this, but for this technique to work you'll need to let the fire develop a good bed of hot, glowing coals. I find that a good load of smallish chunks of wood and a good air supply works best.

All I did to the last head I had with stuck valves was heat the guides up to a nice red color with the torch - after cooling off they punched right out. It was quite rusted, with one valve stem completely rusted off on the outside.

I'll go get the heads now and set them by the stove for tomorrow. I can put them in the stove in the morning and watch until they start getting red. Then I can just let the stove go out. Who cares how cold the house gets if I get these heads freed up!

It's always constructive to hear the results of a particular experiment that has been under discussion, and, via the Internet, results can be shared almost as they happen. In this case, we heard the following day how things had gone.

Well, I had limited success with cooking the heads. The stuck valves came out of the unknown head nicely. The valves and rocker arm came off the Witte head and the needle valve came out of the mixer. I got the butterfly valve loosened up, too. What didn't come loose was the mixer - it's still rusted in the head. I am going to build a mixer to use with this head so I have to get it loosened up.

I guess I will mount some bolts in something and heat the head up without getting the mixer as hot. Then I'll cool it a bit and bolt the head down so I can put some muscle into it.

Several days later, another list member was inspired by these suggestions and had a go with the technique.

A few days ago someone mentioned placing parts in a stove to free them up. The weekend of the Asheville show I picked up an igniter mag bracket for my 8 HP Famous. Looked nice on the outside, but the inside had been exposed to a cylinder full of water for decades.

Needless to say, the moving contact was completely frozen in the igniter body. For the past month, I have squirted Gibbs on it and lightly tapped on the moving contact every day for about 20 minutes. No movement at all. Last night I put it in the wood stove we heat the house with and cooked it for 12-plus hours. It was glowing red by 8 p.m. and I'd guess stayed that way until 2:00 this morning. I dragged it out of the ashes and I'm happy to report that the moving contact is just that, moving!

I've got a Hercules piston/rod/pin to try next in the stove. They've been soaking for a couple of years in mineral oil and are still stuck. So give the wood stove a try, guys!

I often loosen up small parts by boiling them in distilled water. Things like that cylinder head would get to sit in the toaster oven for a while at 450° F.

My personal experience has been that castings grow the most from ambient temp up to about 400° F, after which any change is not so noticeable. Toaster ovens are great for this sort of work.

This should have provided you with two good reasons to get out into the shop to do a little restoration work this winter. Or maybe, you could just bring those stuck parts inside to the fire and sit in the warmth of your shop, reading your GEM with your feet up, content in the knowledge that you are working hard to free up some long-suffering and very stuck parts.

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at: