Backyard Restorations

Tips on Taking it Apart and Getting it Back Together

| July/August 2002

The back yard of a townhouse in suburban Washington, D.C., is an unlikely place to restore lawnmowers and small walk-behind garden tractors, but that's the setting for my hobby of restoring these machines for fun, show and the occasional sale.

Getting Started

For much of the equipment I restore, exploded parts lists showing individual parts and how they work together are generally either not available, hard to find, or very expensive. But with the availability of digital cameras, I've found that problem is easily solved.

First off, try and take a 'before' picture, something I too often forget to take. That first photo will give you an overview of how the item should look when completed. I also begin trying to determine what color(s) of paint I'll need during picture taking. Often it is not hard to determine the basic color, but shade may be a problem because of fading over the years. Often times the item is 'painted' in basic rust. I only use commercially available spray paints, so most of the time my color choice is limited and I guess at the closest match.

Leonard's Snappin' Turtle after his 'backyard' restoration. Just goes to show you what can be done even within the confines of a town home.

During this early stage I start taking digital pictures from all angles; right, left, front, back, under and over. I take close-ups of any sub-assembly as a reference of what it looks like assembled, just in case I forget how it's suppose to look once taken apart - this is especially true for drive belts, chains and clutches. Digital 'film' is cheap, so take lots of pictures. You never know what you might forget once the equipment is in pieces and eight or nine months have passed since it got that way.


All that old, oily grease is a pain to remove, but it's also your friend. That oily grease has probably kept those nuts and bolts free, and as a result, not much effort is required to remove them. Than again, sometime more than one nut or bolt may be stuck, and sometimes they all are.