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If there's one subject guaranteed to make people cranky, it's the use of cranks for starting. What started off as a fairly innocent thread soon exploded into a wealth of information on starting engines, safety advice and stories of such blood and gore that I thought it better to save those separately and send them off to a scriptwriter for a new Hollywood violence movie. If I remember rightly, it began with someone asking where he could get a crank for his engine.

I bought one for mine, but everyone has told me to throw it away, as it is a wrist breaker. It is kind of dangerous, as sometimes it will bind and not release when the engine starts.

This is one of my pet hates. Before we start yet another 'Those cranks'll kill ya' session, your post has raised the two most important facets of using these pieces of engine equipment, which if properly attended to will render them relatively safe. Remember, that if the manufacturer supplied a starting handle the engine was DESIGNED to be started this way! Properly used and maintained, the crank handle is no more dangerous than any other piece of engine equipment.

Firstly, maintenance. If the crank handle binds or tends to slip, there is SOMETHING WRONG that needs to be remedied for safe operations. Things wear over time and sometimes newly made replacements aren't always the ideal fit. Make sure the driving part of the crank has good square edges so it won't slip off unexpectedly, and apply a smear of grease to the crankshaft so the handle can be slipped off without binding. If it still binds, find out where the tight spot is and relieve it.

If the engine tends to kick back or is difficult to start, then there is SOMETHING WRONG that needs fixing! The timing may be out or the engine may just want a general tune-up. Either way, it isn't the fault of the crank!

Secondly, technique. Crank starting an old engine is a skill that must be learned. If available, follow the manufacturer's starting instructions. You'd be surprised the number of blokes I've met over the years who were convinced they knew 'a better way' to start their engine than the people who made it!

The most important thing to remember is that once you start twirling that crank handle, DON'T LET IT GO until it's off the engine crankshaft!

This does not, of course, apply to engines with the starting handle built into the flywheel. This way even a slightly binding handle won't become a dangerous spinning potential unguided missile. Along with this advice goes the warning that you should avoid getting any of your bodily parts (head, arm etc.) in the rotational plane of the flywheel and crank handle, just in case it does slip off. People who insist on crouching over their engine while they crank it are almost asking for a smack in the chops at some stage.

I know we've gone over these same principles many times before, but it seems that some just don't want to hear them. I still maintain that if these simple guidelines are followed then crank handles are quite safe to use, and in many cases are essential to the proper operation of our old iron toys. A little attention to maintenance and technique goes a long way to protecting your health and enjoyment. If you are unfortunate enough to be injured by a wayward crank, then there is something wrong and it's not a basic design fault! Instead of throwing the crank into the corner and forever labeling it as 'dangerous,' try finding out what the fault was and FIXING IT!

I agree with you. I have run engines for 25 years and the only time I ever got hurt with a crank was my first swing of my very first engine!

It certainly taught me at an early stage the importance of checking the timing of a new engine before you try to start it. The other tip is to pull the engine backwards against compression before you start to swing so you get two turns of momentum built up before you bring it over compression.

A correct crank handle used the right way is of little danger. Some engines can be easily started without a crank handle, and those owners are fortunate. I have a few engines with high tension rotary magnetos and there is no way you can start them without a reasonable amount of speed at the magneto. You are not going to get this by 'flipping the flywheels.'

My 4 HP Buzacott (Fuller & Johnson K clone) has an original crank handle which I use to start it. If I am silly enough to lose my grip on it, its position in relation to the throw of the engine always spits the handle towards the ground (a nice piece of design). I also make sure that no part of my body is near the target zone. Reading the original instructions and practice means that I can now start this engine very easily. I also know (from getting to know the engine) pretty much when it will fire and almost always have the crank clear before that point.

Okay, yes I have been clobbered by crank handles and it has been my own silly fault and I don't make the same mistake twice. It is a learning experience.

I do have engines with flick magnetos and these can be started by the 'flipping' method, but you can also cause injury using this method if you don't be careful and use common sense.

Another point: 'Which is better, a crank with a solid cast round handle that you let slide in the hand as you turn, or a crank with a rotating handle that you can grip firmly?' The rotating handle type means that you can hold it tighter while you pull it off but it allows the end to swing and can catch your parts if you don't watch out.

The factory handles I have are coming up around 9-10 o'clock position on firing. I think that's best. If the engine should kick back, the crank is pulling out of your hand, straightening the fingers, which is less likely to cause injury. The old 'chauffeur's fracture' of the wrist (which is still listed in the International Classification of Diseases 2001 book), more commonly known as a 'Ford Fracture,' is caused by the crank kicking back while it's being pushed by the hand, with the handle in a firm grip between the thumb and fingers. This particular injury isn't as likely with the very heavy flywheels of most of our old engines, but my IHC M kicks back hard enough to cause serious injury if any attempt is made to start it with battery and coil at factory-specified ignition timing. (It needs considerable flywheel momentum to get it past the ignition point and over TDC.)

We need to be aware of the potential hazards and make sure the equipment is both in proper condition and used correctly, rather than making a blanket condemnation of starting cranks in general (which are the proper and maker-recommended method of starting for many engines).

The way one holds the crank handle can be very important. The thumb must never be on the opposite side of the fingers. Keep the thumb on the same side as the fingers so that, in the event of pre-ignition and kickback, the thumb won't catch and let the crank break your wrist.

I've always used a crank handle to safely start my 3 HP Novo S. I hold the intake valve open as a 'compression release,' give her a few fast spins, pull the crank handle off, release the intake valve, and BANG! off she goes. Easy.

This thread reminds me of the first time I saw a Petter crank handle. The closest image that came to mind was a disemboweling hook used by a pirate boarding party! The nice thing about this style of crank is that the 'hook' part only goes over about half of the crankshaft and therefore can't get stuck. However, when the Petter 'hits,' the crank is 'forcefully disengaged' and with the rotating grip tends to swing in a fairly lethal-looking arc in a plane next to the engine. Before swinging up the Petter I always check for spectators and to make ABSOLUTELY sure that MY tender parts are not in that swing arc!!

I would add that this scenario can only occur if preceded by frantic cranking. A well-set-up Petter should start if pulled gently through no more than two revs.

The 15 HP Domestic is a dream to start. The flywheels are rotated until the piston is just past TDC on the intake stroke. Next the engine is primed and (with the priming cup still open) pulled completely through the intake and compression stroke, stopping the rotation at between 45 and 90 degrees ATDC. The priming cup is then closed and the switch connecting the battery to the buzz coil is also closed. At that point all that's left to do is push the button and BANG!

The button was, apparently, a factory option on Domestic engines with a 5 HP (and up) rating. It's ALWAYS fun to ask some 95 lb. woman, some 75 year old, or a child to help me start the engine.

I think there is a big difference between starting a flywheel engine, and hand cranking a tractor or car engine.

On a tractor engine you don't want to spin the hand crank like you're doing the same job that an electric starter does. Tractor mags have, or should have, an impulse that will produce a spark without the engine needing to be turned at speed. The tractor should start by just pulling up on the hand crank a quarter turn to trip the mag. I've had several tractors that routinely take only a couple quarter turns to start by hand. On a tractor hand crank, you get into trouble when you start making full revolutions with the hand crank.

When using a hand crank on a flywheel engine, the technique I use is basically opposite of the one used for starting a tractor. On a flywheel engine the hand crank is used to make full revolutions and get some speed built up.

Hold the intake valve open and at the same time get the engine turning with the hand crank.

With the valve open, there is no compression and it is not difficult to get the engine turning. Also, with the valve open, there is little chance of the engine firing while you're actively cranking it. I then release the valve and disengage the hand crank at the same time. The inertia power stored in the flywheels should be enough to complete the compression stroke and start the engine.

Using this method, you're not holding the crank handle and trying to manually pull the engine over top center. Also, it is not important what position the hand crank is at when the engine fires as the hand crank is not engaged when it fires.

I wish I had gotten this little bit of advice before I tried starting my 2 cylinder Novo Rollr! My first attempts were to try and start it like my flywheel engines. It's got tremendous compression so this involves really hauling on the crank handle. At one point the crank handle slipped off, and my fingers (driven nicely by the heavy crank handle) slammed into the nice sharp-edged cart handle. Blinding pain followed. And later a lovely shade of purple.

Fortunately, an older (and far wiser) engine man saw my efforts and said, 'My boy, you're doing that all wrong. Just come up against compression (with the crank handle conveniently at the 9 o'clock position) and give it a smart quarter turn.' Wow! What a difference!

My Novo Rollr has a Wico A mag with an impulse drive and is sooooo easy to start (if you do it the right way).

That's definitely the way to start an IHC LA or LB, which has a trip mag. Spinning the flywheel will inevitably lead to serious pain when the engine starts, jerks the handle out of your fingers, and spins around fast enough to whack your hand with the still-extended handle before your hand can clear the area. If you do as said above, and let your hand slip off the handle and continue straight up out of the way, no problem.

When I have to resort to the crank handle, I do just as described above. Hold the intake valve in until sufficient flywheel speed is generated.

I AM going to take the advice on simultaneously removing the crank handle when releasing the intake valve. Nice safety touch. I have traditionally pulled it through until the engine fired, scared the whole time!

Perhaps remove that hand crank just BEFORE you drop the intake valve?

Just in case it sticks a bit. . .

Do NOT wrap your thumb around the handle, cup your hand around it. This way if it does backfire, it will not take your thumb off.

The ONLY safe way to use a crank is for a paperweight!

Did big engine come from the factory with hand cranks?

What was the largest engine to be shipped with a hand crank?

Did the manuals for the larger engines include starting instructions that began with. . . 'First locate two strong friends. . .'?

The large R&V engines did not come with a crank. The smaller ones had a handle built in the flywheel. The R&V manual (after going through priming, etc.) says: 'Now put one foot on the most convenient spoke of the flywheel, take hold of an upper spoke and give the engine a rapid turn back against compression.'

More importantly it adds: 'Let go of the flywheel quickly. . .'

The large Galloways didn't have a crank. Several of the catalogs I have show old man Galloway turning over the flywheels by hand.

My 8 HP Olds has a built-in crank handle on the flywheel.

I have seen nothing to indicate that either the 12 HP Hercules or the 16 HP Galloway had a crank supplied with them. All instructions I have seen for larger engines recommend spinning the flywheels over TDC or starting them on the back kick. I've also seen directions/pictures of 'walking' the flywheels in order to overcome the compression.

Hanging a crank on your den wall, or over your fireplace, is another fine use for it. It makes a neat conversation piecebut PLEASE be sure to cut it in half first!

My 10 HP Holland has a hand crank. Use it every time I start it.

Back in the '60s, in a little country powerhouse, we had a row of 30 HP 400 rpm National horizontals which were provided with BIG (two-man) crank-handles. We normally used compressed air starting, but I just had to try them out. Took three of usbut we did succeed.

According to a 1918 Hercules manual, the 9 and 12 HP engines were not furnished with a hand crank.

It should be noted that all the Thermoils up to the 9 HP had hand cranks.

The 20 HP Ruston & Hornsby diesel elevator engine we have came with a hand crank. It normally uses compressed air to start, but there have been times when the crank was used. I have seen two men on it at the same time.

My only bad experience with a crank was one which was supposed to be thrown off after ignition, but got stuck. The engine fired up and ran right up to its 1000 rpm, crank still attached. I approached from the other side of the engine out of line of where I thought the crank would go if it came off, and pushed off the spark lead with a stick. That little 3 HP was bouncing around all over the place. The engine had almost run down to nothing when the crank finally flew off and went right through a brick wall.

I still use cranks on all my engines (including my big ones), but I always oil the shaft and inner surface of the crank first. From time to time, I check both for burrs and clean them up with a file and paper.

So, as you can see, a simple question about where to obtain a crank resulted in much heated and very informative discussion. It's worth taking note of the safety advice. I've never actually taken a poll of injuries caused by engines, but there seem to be an awful lot caused by misuse of the crank, so please take care, play safe, and enjoy a long and happy show season.