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Engine Crank Handles - yea or nay?

After reading the post earlier about someone wanting a crank handle, I thought I would bring it up. I picked up a little 1 horse 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 friends head. Well you might have guessed it the (widow maker) will not be used by me anymore on this engine. But, I see quite a few folks using them at shows as opposed to pulling on the flywheels. By the way the crank and the shaft are both in good shape on the Mogul. How do you guys and gals stand on the issue? -- Denny

The way I look at it a crank handle, it is only good for a paperweight or a sinker. About 3 years ago I split my upper lip in two and let me tell you, it hurt like heck. So no more cranks for me! (This was not the first time I have ever used a crank either.) – Dave

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 been working 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 am 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 careful! – Smith

I posted here a while ago on this subject: They make GREAT wall ornaments and that's where they belong -SECURED to a wall where no one can use them! -- Craig

Some 7 or 8 years ago, a local "townie" gave me a call to plead for help. He had inherited a small Stover engine that his grandfather had bought new in about 1913. It had been sitting on the dirt floor of a shed for many years, and it had sunk into the dirt several inches. Some of the cast parts had gotten extremely soft from the moisture in the ground. You could practically peel the metal off with your fingernail. Anyway, 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 one that would fit his engine. I told him that I did, but I would NOT sell one to him because they are very dangerous to someone that doesn't know how to use one. I was afraid he would end up hurting himself or his engine. About a month went by and I hadn't heard from him because he was going to paint the engine before contacting me again about starting the engine up. 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 let it run for quite a while to seat the rings and valves a bit. I then shut it down and showed him how to start it. I went through the procedure with him 5 or 6 times so that 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 go there 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, hit him in the mouth (breaking two of his teeth) and then it flew back into the engine where it got caught between a flywheel spoke and the engine base. The flywheels had still been spinning when this happened. It ended up badly bending the crankshaft, breaking the cam gear, fouling up his fancy paint job, and hurting his pride (and his two broken teeth and a cut lip that required stitches). He said that 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 quite right. If the engine is in good mechanical shape and adjusted correctly, you shouldn't need to use a crank on it. I have to agree with Craig- the cranks belong decorating a wall in the garage. – Ironman

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

I have engines with ignitors and low tension mags 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!! Ladders are unsafe too! – Bob

A few years ago I was starting a Stover CT-2 In a cement mixer. It wasn't easy to start it by pulling over the flywheels as they were inside of 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 then release the valve. I still use extreme caution during this process. -- Dick

I have a couple of boxes full where I can't get to them. I don't even hang them on the wall. Nice to have with an engine if one came with it. If it won't start easily, fix it so it does. That's all I can say - bitten once, not again. -- Paul

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 side-shaft 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 well oiled on the Ruston as it will stick on the end of the shaft and get well 'out of order' if not. See Rob’s comments above. – Peter

My FMZ and Sattley both have handles as part as the flywheels so they won't fly off. But I am careful how I crank them. I spin it fast with the intake pushed in and let go of everything and let it spin to start. However, that said, how come you folks with big engines don't consider pony engines? Perhaps kick starting a Maytag and letting it start your engine would be the safest way to go? -- CG

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 then it’s off and running. Always makes me smile when they run like that. I just saw a couple engines at a show where the guy's where sweating cranking and cranking. I just like it my way I guess! -- 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 Junkologist and BobRR, although I only use a crank when it is absolutely necessary for a particular engine. The mag on my Mogul 1 hp has to be spinning fairly fast in order to make a spark at the ignitor. 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 underneath 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 one has 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! At home if you want to risk getting hurt. Learn to start the engine without one. Hang the crank on the wall! – Harvey

Some of my engines (Cushman Cubs) have hand starting cranks built into the flywheel, but I still try to start them by the flywheels. At least these handles can't go flying off! For the other Cushmans of mine that have a separate starting crank, I have one for every engine - but for SHOW purposes. It makes the engine more complete. -- Jim

I have a 4 HP Fairbanks-Morse type H with an ignitor and a Sumter rotary magneto that has to be spun fast to start. It is the only one I use a crank on. On engines that have a starting handle built into the flywheel, I remove them wherever possible. – Al

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 it's dangers too as I found out this weekend! I went to the Ottawa KS show and took my Sparta's with me. The one I have owned the longest is my 2hp, 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 have my finger tip still! My lesson - it isn't really the crank or the engine or the flywheel that hurts you, it's incorrect use/handling of said item. --David

I hope the non-users never venture into the tractor world, because we would look silly hanging our cranks on the wall. Learning to time a engine is a challenge but worth the effort. -- Mike

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 mag 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

I know someone who started a 10-20 Titan Tractor without retarding the timing. Sure put a bend in that two foot crank handle. Six weeks later, the Doctor took off the cast, and said your arm will be as good as new, in a few more weeks. -- Paul

The ONLY way that could happen is that he forgot to trip the impulse dog, and it's easy to do! You need to check it after EVERY impulse on those KW Model T mags to be sure it's still set! Or, he never had it timed right in the first place. I get a "kick" out of the AC guys always saying how their little B's and C's will kick. I always tell them if they have the magneto correctly set that won't happen. Live and, learn if you're lucky. – 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. Somebody should teach a course on how to crank-start engines. -- 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, BEWARE 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


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