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How Should I Go About Learning [Small?] Engine Repair?
March 11, 2010 1:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I go about learning [small?] engine repair on my own?

I'm looking for books, videos, web sites - whatever it takes to set me up with some interesting projects that I can learn from.

There isn't a goal outside of gaining some interesting skills. I'm not trying to keep a chainsaw in good repair or anything, it's just for the sake of knowledge, so completely-impractical-yet-educational approaches are welcome.

Some googling makes it sound like lawnmower engines are a good first step. Do I just take apart a broken one and try to put it back together in working order? What do I move on to after that?

Would these skills transfer to something like a moped? A motorcycle? Imagine I have plenty of time and plenty of desire, it's just a matter of knowing what path to take.

Oh, and the reason I'm not looking for classes is that I'm planning on doing this with a group of other people - like an engine repair book club.
posted by soma lkzx to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why not start with a beater motorcycle? There's likely a lot more in the way of books and manuals and online forums to help you on your path. Get an old single cylinder, like a dirtbike or something.

(I am a very very novice mechanic, to the point where changing my brake pads is still super exciting.)
posted by mollymayhem at 1:13 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, a lawnmower engine would be perfect. It's how my cousin and I taught ourselves when we were kids. We'd trash-pick mowers and tear them apart, and canabalize parts to create running engines.
posted by fixedgear at 1:22 PM on March 11, 2010


For engines I recommend How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, the classic 'Hippy VW book", as the ultimate beginner explanation of engines and greasy mechanicals. The illustrations are awesome, the explanations are straightforward and well-written and it is FUN to read. Although a lot is specific to old VW's, the engines are simple enough that a lot of the general info you learn will transfer over to other things.

This was the first mechanic book I ever read and understood. Since I bought the book I've owned three bugs and a Porsche, and went from barely being able to set my valves to doing a top-end engine rebuild. It's got a special place in my heart, for sure.
posted by Skrubly at 1:34 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really liked these 2 superbly interesting books from gutenberg.org - Electricity For Boys and The Boy Mechanic.
posted by goml at 1:51 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd highly recommend buying a busted up motorcycle. They're cheap, the engine is no more complicated than a lawnmower, but a fair bit larger and thus easier to work with. And also, if you manage to get it back into working order, you've got a fucking motorcycle.

search for "project" in the motorcycle section of craigslist. A few examples from Philly:

http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/mcy/1637716280.html
http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/mcy/1632194434.html
http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/mcy/1602353730.html

or even:

http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/mcy/1638370435.html
posted by 256 at 2:27 PM on March 11, 2010


Is it specifically engines that you're interested in, i.e. pistons and pushrods and valves and such, or are you similarly curious about all the other parts that go with engines?

I started out with carburetors because the carbs on my first motorcycle didn't work so well. For all sorts of neglected small engines, being able to disassemble, clean and reassemble a carburetor has turned out to be extremely useful, because carbs get gummed up with old fuel and stop working much more frequently than internal engine parts fail.
posted by jon1270 at 2:31 PM on March 11, 2010


Why not start with a beater motorcycle?

I'd highly recommend buying a busted up motorcycle. They're cheap, the engine is no more complicated than a lawnmower, but a fair bit larger and thus easier to work with. And also, if you manage to get it back into working order, you've got a fucking motorcycle.

My roommates are going to hate me, but this sounds like a great idea. Am I going to be able to work on this sort of thing outside? I have a backyard, but no garage.

Is it specifically engines that you're interested in, i.e. pistons and pushrods and valves and such, or are you similarly curious about all the other parts that go with engines?

Everything! "Engines" just sounded right, but maybe "mechanics" is a better umbrella term.
posted by soma lkzx at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2010


Nthing the lawnmower idea. Actually a chainsaw or other two stroke engine might be a very easy and simple initial try and then move up to the four stroke. Haynes puts out a bunch of (insert type here) basics manual, amazon should help you out here. You will also need tools. Good tools make all the difference in the world. Start off with good handtools (craftsmen is about your least expensive good tools). Stay away from power tools until you know what you are doing. Power tools mostly allow amateurs to screw stuff up, hand tools are slow enough you can usually fix/repair your screw ups before too much damage is done. Used quality tools (mac, snapon, matco) are also worth the money but it is a substantial amount of money. Working on stuff with cheap tools mostly just frustrates you and will never develop a good feel with your hands about how tight a bolt is or how much play the mechanism has in it (and whether that is too much or not enough). The most important tool(s) for serious internal combustion engine work is gauges. Feeler gauges, mics, calipers and such are absolutely essential for building/rebuilding engines and machinery. Engines are touchy and a suprisingly small part out of spec will screw it up.

Backyards are fine, but rebuilding engines successfully(to at least as good as factory condition)require a clean building enviroment, this means at least not out of doors where dust and moisture levels are uncontorlable. if you are just interested in learnign the nuts and bolts of how it all works the backyard is fine.

A suggestions for a good used beater motorcycle that is easy to work on are the 70-80 CB singles series from Honda. I learned engines off a 200 cc one. If you want to move up to cars the 1600-1800 subarus are simple,light easy to work on cars and readily available as well as cheap. When you are done you have a awesome beater/off road car (as long as you get the 4wd model). They are awesome off road for the same reasons the early jeeps (military and through the cj-5, and the late, lamented suzuki samurais). I don't like the station wagons due to ascetic reasons but they are just as good and the most common.

Learning a little about how the world around you works is priceless and well worth the busted knuckles.
posted by bartonlong at 4:05 PM on March 11, 2010


You should really have a look at this site: Notes on the Troubleshooting and Repair of Small Gasoline Engines and Rotary Lawn Mowers .
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:21 PM on March 11, 2010


Haynes, the auto repair manual publishing house, also has a small engine repair manual. Haven't looked at it, though, but other Haynes manuals are usually pretty good.
posted by Harald74 at 10:36 PM on March 11, 2010


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