Stationary Engine List

By Staff
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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