Crank handles

By Staff
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After reading the post earlier about someone wanting a crank handle, I thought I would bring it up.

I picked up a little 1 HP Mogul the other day and it came with a crank handle. Not really thinking much about the situation, I tried to start the engine on the tailgate of the truck and it spit back and threw the crank handle inches from my friend’s head. Well, as you may have guessed, I won’t use the crank handle on this engine anymore. But, I see quite a few folks using them at shows as opposed to pulling on the flywheels. By the way, the crank and shaft are both in good shape on the Mogul. How do you guys and gals stand on the issue? Denny

Here’s how I use a crank and I have never had a problem: I hold the intake valve in with my left hand while cranking the engine up to speed with my right. Release the intake valve and remove the crank and hope it starts. With this method I am never cranking against compression and the engine can’t fire and kick back. It’s worked for me for 25 years. Mike

I don’t like to use a crank on a smaller engine, because you might lose some teeth! But I’m a little guy and that is the only way I can start my 6 HP IH M. Those cranks came with the engines for a reason, just be Some seven or eight years ago, a local ‘town-ie’ gave me a call pleading for help. He had inherited a small Stover engine his grandfather had bought new in about 1913. I made some parts for his engine and helped him to do some mechanical work on it.

While he was at my place one day, he noticed a wall in my garage that has about 30 engine cranks nailed to it, and he asked if I had a crank that would fit his engine. I told him I did, but I would not sell one to him because they are very dangerous for someone who doesn’t know how to use one.

About a month went by, and I received a call from him that the engine was painted and ready for me to come over, make final adjustments and teach him how to start it. I went to his place and got the engine going and showed him how to start it. I went through the procedure with him five or six times so he could try to do it himself in the future. Two weeks later, he called me and said he tried to start it, but it wouldn’t run. He wondered if I would come over and help him, but I wasn’t going to be able to help him for at least a week due to my busy schedule.

He was bound and determined to have a crank – even though I wouldn’t sell him one -so he had a co-worker of his make one for him. A few days later, I got another phone call from him. He had tried to use the homemade crank: It slipped off of the crankshaft and hit him in the mouth, breaking two of his teeth and cutting his lip, requiring stitches. It also flew back into the engine, where it got caught between a flywheel spoke and the engine base. The flywheels were spinning when this happened. It ended up bending the crankshaft, breaking the cam gear, fouling up his fancy paint job and hurting his pride. He said he should have listened to me when I warned him about not using a crank if you were a ‘newbie’ to these engines.

I do try to find original starting cranks for my engines, but I don’t generally use a crank unless it is built into the flywheel of an engine. My feelings are that if you can’t start the engine by pulling the flywheels over once or twice by hand, you had better do a little tweaking on the engine because something isn’t right. If the engine is in good mechanical shape and adjusted correctly, you shouldn’t need to use a crank. Ironman

It’s a tool; just like a gun, knife or floor jack. Pay attention and you’ll be okay. Ignore safe practices, and you can get hurt. Rob

I have engines with igniters and low tension magnetos that are not going to start by spinning the flywheels by hand! Making sure your engine is timed properly will save a lot of grief! Bob

A few years ago, I was starting a Stover CT-2 running a cement mixer. It wasn’t easy to start it by pulling over the flywheels, as they are inside the hood, so I used the crank. I started it many times that way, until one morning when it balked and threw the crank into my forehead, opening a gash over my eye.

I learned an important lesson that day. I do have some engines that are difficult to start without a crank, but I always hold the intake valve open with my left hand until I get the engine turning as fast as I can. I then remove the crank handle and release the valve. I still use extreme caution during this process. Dick

There are many views on the subject, but don’t forget there are plenty of big engines where spinning flywheels just isn’t an option, not just petrol (gas) engines, but diesels as well.

We have a big sideshaft Ruston & Hornsby diesel, which has to be started with a ‘lighter’ in the cylinder and the handle. It has a half-compression cam to help, but there is no way these type of engines could be spun by the flywheels. I keep the crankshaft end and starting handle on the Ruston well oiled, as it will stick on the end of the shaft and get ‘out of order’ if not. Peter

Having the crank that came with the engine, to me, is like having the original oiler, pulley, etc. Nice, but I don’t use them. Most of my engines can be rolled up onto compression from the flywheel with one hand, let a little pressure wean off, and pull it on over. One soft puff, then a louder one, and it’s off and running. Eric.

No way, never again. I broke my nose when a crank handle flew off my Schramm while starting it. I pull the flywheels from now on! Patrick

Once upon a time, I felt the same way. I’ve seen people get their teeth knocked out with a crank. Now, to some extent I agree with some of the others, although I only use a crank when it is absolutely necessary for a particular engine.

The magneto on my 1 HP Mogul has to be spinning fairly fast in order to make a spark at the igniter. It is impossible to start by tugging on the flywheels. On the other hand, it’s a very easy starter with a crank. But the Mogul crank left me with a thick scar under my chin.

That incident taught me a lesson: Keep your face out of the plane of the crank’s rotation. Now, I hold the crank at arm’s length when spinning it up. Even if it’s a bigger engine where you have to get in close and lean into it, if you back off at the same time you release the intake valve, the chances of wearing an implant in your face will be much reduced. Orrin

Never at a show! Maybe at home if you want to risk getting hurt. Learn to start the engine without one. Harvey

I try to have an original crank for every one of my Sparta engines, and I seldom use them. I prefer to have my engines tuned so they start easy with the flip of a flywheel, but that has its dangers too, as I found out this weekend!

I went to the Ottawa, Kan., show and took my Spartas with me. The one I have owned the longest is my 2 HP, and it is fully restored and painted. It almost always starts on the first time over – until Saturday. It just didn’t want to start.

I was choking the engine and turning the flywheel (no crank) slowly, when it backfired. I wasn’t able to let go of the flywheel quick enough, and it took my hand backwards with the flywheel, and literally split one of my fingernails in half! Blood everywhere! I’m lucky to still have my finger tip! My lesson – it isn’t really the crank or the engine or the flywheel that hurts you; it’s incorrect use or handling of said item. David

But remembering to retard the timing, especially with a crowd watching, is another story. With an impulse magneto on a tractor you don’t have to remember, unless it’s a magneto where you have to set the trip, then you can get in trouble, too! This usually only happens once per tractor – after that, you remember. Craig

Tractor cranks are different. In many cases they are necessary to get the tractor running. Also, most tractor cranks pass through a long enough opening to prevent the crank from being thrown in case of a backfire, etc. Farm engines, however, are notorious for letting the cranks fly.

My concern is for bystanders: I’m not even talking about owner injury here. I don’t know how many engine and tractor owners I have seen wrapping their hand around the crank and whipping it full circle. When I see this at a show, I quickly walk the other way. Harvey

Just a final note: This thread ‘strikes’ close to home because, as a very small child, I remember my oldest brother trying to start a cement mixer and my parents taking him to the hospital after the crank flew off. Most likely, the magneto was in the running position rather than retard for starting.

Also, be aware that while cranking and holding the intake valve open, you may experience a nasty fire coming out of the air intake! Be sure your face is far enough away. Harry

SmokStak ( smokstak.cgi) is an engine conversation bulletin board with over 50,000 messages on file and is part of the Old Engine series of websites that started in 1995 as ‘Harry’s Old Engine.’ Harry Matthews is a retired electronic engineer and gas engine collector from Oswego, N.Y., now residing in Sarasota, Fla.

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