Stationary Engine List

By Staff
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A great article this month as we cross the digital divide with
an inquiry forwarded to the ATIS (Antique Tractor Internet Service)
Stationary Engine Mailing List from a GEM reader who doesn’t
own a computer. This is exactly why we started sharing discussions
from the List with GEM readers – so people without computers can
enjoy and benefit from the e-mail discussions we hold daily.

This thread started with a letter GEM editor Richard Backus
received from John Edgerton of the Northwest Antique Power
Association in Montana, asking if the list could come up with any
ideas to help him. John wrote:

How does one clean out the dirt and crap that has packed itself
in and under the cylinder of a spark plug-fired 3 HP International
M? I do not want to remove the cylinder liner, for obvious reasons.
Is there a chemical that will loosen up the dirt? I have tried
blowing air through a copper line and have gotten some dirt out,
but there are places I can’t reach with the copper line. What
about drilling holes through the outside water jacket under the
cylinder, and then plugging the holes up once I’m done?

John, it’s a pleasure to offer the combined advice
of engine collectors around the globe! And here’s what they had
to say:

I restored this same engine for a gentleman last year. In this
case, I found lots of scale mixed with years of dirt and spilled
oil. My solution was to don some old clothes, goggles and a hat,
borrow a pressure washer and then jam a thin piece of steel into
the mess while working around the cylinder from the hopper.

I used a serious 10 HP Honda that develops around 3,500 psi.
About an hour later the hopper was clean. Unfortunately, everything
within a 20-foot radius was covered with tiny, gooey pieces of
gunk. My Lovely made me strip in the garage.

The same advice came from a different source, with
further details:

You can use a pressure washer to get a lot of it out, but it
won’t ensure complete removal of the offending dirt, especially
in the head jacket.

Your best bet is to remove the head and, using rods, wire, etc.,
drag as much gunk out as you can through the water holes. Then use
an air hose, a water hose and a pressure washer to remove the
remainder. Do the same thing to the head.

One key point is what sort of access he has to the crud. When I
was cleaning the water jacket on my Bessemer half-breed I had
access to the open end of the water jacket when the head was off.
Back along the cylinder there was a good 10- to 14-inch depth of
what seemed like concrete, a combination of rust and lime scale
that had built up over the years.

I used long masonry drills and drilled long holes in the crud. I
then used a series of homemade chisels to cut between the drilled
holes. I was able to knock some of the looser crud loose with a
length of old speedometer cable chucked in a drill. The key is
patience. That crud didn’t build up overnight, and you’re
not going to get it out overnight, either.

One final point: Rust formation in a space like a water jacket
can crack a casting just like freezing water. Be gentle and look
for cracks as you work.

Once you get an area open, I wonder if a coarse-toothed bandsaw
blade might work. Cut it and feed it under the cylinder from above
and work it back and forth. I’ve never tried, but it might

You might want to leave well enough alone, though. Sometimes
this stuff will cause the water hopper to crack, as suggested, but
quite often it will also seal a crack. If you don’t need the
water flow, you might want to clean it out just enough to get to
the drain plug.

The solution is muriatic acid, but the garbage in the engine may
be all that’s holding the water back. You have to decide how
badly it bothers you, and if it’s going to split the bottom
side of the hopper or not.

There were several suggestions for tools that might be
useful in these situations, and the odd word of warning for using

That suggests another ‘tool’ to add to the kit. One of
those cable saws with a finger ring on each end might be handy.

I would worry about cutting into the cylinder with that
particular tool. At least the saw blade would lie flat.

One of the best things to do is open a can of patience, then
poke around with some home made tools that can reach each corner of
the hopper. Connect a 2-foot long tube of
3/8-inch brass or hydraulic tube to an air
gun and poke and blow around. Remove any loose debris and then make
up a solution of two gallons hot water to two pounds of soda. Pour
this into the hopper and let it sit overnight. Follow this with the
same poking/blowing, and eventually you’ll have a clean

I tried cleaning a gas tank using the electrolysis technique. I
put the electrolyte in the tank and suspended the positive
sacrificial electrode in the tank. It did not work too well, but
probably because I could not get enough sheet metal surface area
into the tank through the little filler cap. This approach might
work on a water hopper with a bigger opening. You would need to be
a little creative in making a coil of sheet iron to fit the

Here’s something that worked for me on a 5 HP Witte that had
a lot of mineral buildup in the hopper: Fill the hopper enough to
cover the cylinder with water and add a quart of muriatic acid.
Fire the engine up and run it to a boil for a while. The only
problem I had was neutralizing the brew and disposing of it, but it
really cleaned out the hopper.

Out here in the country, the best way to neutralize partially
neutralized muriatic acid is to pour it into a plastic bucket of
limestone gravel and let it sit until it quits fizzing. What’s
left is mostly gunk, and it isn’t harmful in small amounts.

Chemicals throw in a whole new set of problems, and I
really don’t want the EPA to go to all the trouble of coming
across the Atlantic to England to arrest me, so I’m going to
assume if you can play with engines without losing too many limbs
you’re capable of handling chemicals safely:

The book ‘Operating Engineer’s Guide Book’ is full
of questions commonly asked by engineers. One question is,
‘What solution can be used for cleaning the scale from the
water jacket of a gas engine?’ The answer they have is,
‘The scale usually consists of lime deposited out of the
circulating water and can be removed by a solution of one part
commercial muriatic acid and four parts water. As soon as the
solution has done its work, the water jacket should be thoroughly
washed out with clean water to prevent unnecessary

I don’t know how that would work on really extensive
buildup, but I would imagine it’s worth a try. I use muriatic
acid from time to time to clean soft metal parts, and as long as
you are careful it works fairly well. Just don’t let it touch
any painted surfaces, as I found out with my lacquered knife
switch. The acid breaks down the lacquer.

When I tried to clean the scale out of my 1- HP M, I prodded,
chipped, soaked it in vinegar and tried to power wash it, all with
no success. Then I found that the cylinder oil pipe was corroded
through where it threads into the cylinder sleeve, and to replace
the oil pipe I had to pull the sleeve. A friend of mine with the
correct tools pulled the sleeve with an air-over-hydraulic puller.
Surprisingly, the sleeve came out easily, leaving most of the scale
firmly attached to the hopper sides and bottom. It took a hammer,
chisel and a lot of patience to remove the scale.

With the tenacity of the scale and the lack of clearance in the
hopper walls, I think it would be close to impossible to chip out a
significant amount working through the top opening. Check your oil
pipe to be sure it is intact before you spend too much time trying
to clean out the crud working through the hopper opening.

I used a hacksaw blade to clean out the water jackets on the
Jaeger. It was about the only thing I could find that would go
along the bottom (I didn’t have access to a band saw blade or I
would have tried that, too). I could put a slight curve to the
hacksaw blade and it would hold its shape to break out all the crap
that was wedged in the bottom.

I could only poke and pry so much from the head side of the
cylinder, and there was no port at the very bottom, so I slid the
hacksaw blade from the top, swiping my way to the bottom. This
engine had been on a construction site cement mixer, so as you
might imagine it was not all that well maintained. I found what
looked like a chunk of keyway stock, the screw portion of a
positive pressure grease cup, and 19 casting jacks. Add in sand and
cement all vibrating together and it was formidable – but I

Hunting down all the contributions to this discussion, I
discovered that the same subject had been mentioned last year, with
a List member asking for advice:

I’m cleaning out the water jackets on the block of a
hopper-cooled, two-cylinder Novo Rollr. Most of the deposits are
coming out nicely, but the two outside water jackets next to the
exhaust valves are really plugged and the deposits are very, very
hard. So hard that a cheap carbide drill bit will barely touch

The response was similar to those we had this time
around, but with some extra information that may be of

Try pouring a little muriatic acid on the deposits. When it
stops bubbling, rinse it off and apply more. It should dissolve all
the deposits. Protect your eyes and skin, and do it outside as the
fumes will rust all the clean metal surfaces in your shop.

John, I hope this helps with your cylinder jacket problem. Thank
you for thinking that we may be able to offer useful advice – it
makes a neat collaboration between GEM and the SEL.

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:

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