Smokstak Bulletin Board

Magneto Madness

“I would say that if you think it costs to much to send the magneto out for repair, then you should do it yourself and then after you’re done with it go ahead and send it out for repair.” -- Anonymous

Are there enough magnetos to go around?

I own more engines that need magnetos, like websters and wico eks, than I own that have the correct mags. It seems to me that these mags cost more now than I paid for the rest of the engine, and these are common mags. And, then you may have to buy the bracket, rebuild kit, etc. In the long run, are there more magnetos than engines, less magnetos than engines, or exactly the right amount? Just kinda wondering what you guys think. – Bill

I think there are many more magneto's than engines, they are just buried or go unnoticed. If you scrounge around in all the sheds at any old farmstead you are almost guaranteed to come up with at least one in a pile of rubble. In years gone by I have seen hundreds at farm sales and never gave them a second thought. I am sure many of the mags at swap meets and on the internet priced from $150 and up were bought at farm sales for $1. Funny thing when you see a magless engine for sale they want the same price as one with a mag. But if you buy them seperate you will pay double. – Steve

I'm sure to catch heck for this, but here goes: Not only are the prices of magnetos ridiculous, getting one repaired isn't much better! Look in the supplier catalogs and check out the prices for mag parts, they aren't that expensive. So, why is it so expensive to get one repaired? It's almost as bad as a new mag! Do you have to be a college grad or rocket scientist to repair them? Do you need diplomas or to be "MAG REPAIR CERTIFIED?” They make more per hour than I do so I must be in the wrong business! Would someone please explain these prices to me? – Randy

I would say that if you think it costs to much to send the mag out for repair Randy, then you should do it yourself and then after you’re done with it go ahead and send it out for repair. A very good friend of mine repairs mags and ignitors and is by no means going to the bank everyday with cash for deposit. I have watched him work on some of the mags people send to him and as far as I am concerned, he should charge more. I have seen the sales tickets for the parts he has to buy to repair them, plus you should see all the equipment he has to maintain in order to do the work. I do agree that the cost of buying a mag is getting a bit on the high side but people are still buying them regardless. Maybe you should just consider buying engines that require a battery and coil setup and relieve your stress on the high cost of finding and buying a mag. – Tim

Instead of trying to sell that Chore Boy for 900 dollars, take the mag and bracket off and sell it for $350 and sell the engine for $695. I’ve seen that happen a lot, or you will see an engine missing the oiler, grease cups, mag, crank guard, hand crank, and the owner says, “I might have some of them parts lying around in my garage.” Then, out comes the boxes of grease cups and oilers and a box of crank handles, and on the work bench is 6 mags setting there. I have learned my lesson, butIi just hate to see the new guys get short changed. – Tom

I see lots of mags at the shows although I never seem to find the one that I'm looking for! And I've seen pretty reasonable prices, $15-35 for working unrestored mags. I also lament that the price of parts has gone up, but that seems to be true for the auto and ag industries too. Some guys who rebuild mags are real perfectionists and considering the time and detail they put into their work, they are well worth the price. Others are hatchet men. Its best to know who you're working with. – Harvey

I have several Wico EK's. The most dependable one with the hottest spark looks the worst. It has old burnt looking tape on the coils, big globby looking solder connections, and the cover is missing. It’s the one that several repairmen have told me to throw away and start over with a rebuilt one. It is also the one that is being sold on my Cushman. I probably should have followed my own advise and sold them seperatly. I could have even said it was BARN FRESH!!! – Steve

I had a mag that was in a lot worse shape than that. It had set outside in the weather for years and the whole thing was locked solid. I was told I would never get it working, but after about a week I had replaced the points guide and did a lot of cleaning up, installed a new condenser and it came back to life! I was able to use the original coils which at first glance you would think no way it will work! – Andrew

Bill, some engines have them and others don't. Just look at this bunch of maggies. They belong to an Australian friend of Ted Brookover. That's what I call, some stuff in stock. – JOHN

(Photo by Ted Brookover in the shed of Edd Payne of Gulgong, NSW, Australia in September of 1998)

An interesting feature of magnetos in Australia is that you will find lots and lots of high tension ones and no where near as many low tension ones. The majority of engines to land on these shores were pretty quickly converted to high tension and battery ignition was almost non-existent. Due to the vast distances between townships battery ignition was not practical (where were you going to get batteries) and so most companies went with the more expensive but more reliable high tension magneto and plug. – Patrick

I only got into collecting antique farm engines about 15 years ago. The last 25 years before retiring I was a technical representative for Rockwell International on their twin engine business jet. I have seen the high cost of repairs on components and work done by different garage type shops and professionals. So I realize the cost of equipment, skill and knowledge that it takes to do a proper repair and overhaul. I greatly respect and think the engine hobby is very fortunate to have so many professionals in all aspects of this hobby. Just to mention a few, Ted Brookover, Marks Magneto, Mitch Malcolm, John Rex, Bill Lopolus, Ed Deis, Branson Enterprises and Dan Morgan. My hats off to these guys (and none of them are millionaires.) – Charlie

Hi all. In my opinion, most of the time you get what you pay for in this industry. I have tried the cheap way with a changeover for a magneto and bracket for my Economy by a fellow in the midwest. This included all the necessary repairs to the Webster magneto and all the parts for the changeover. I sent him what I had and a check. What came back was shoddly done and the ignitor trip arm was not even the right one. He finaly sent me the right one, and after quite some time sending things back and forth along with a considerable phone bill, I did get things to work. If I need magneto work done now, I send it to one of the above mentioned repair persons and have been very satisfied with the quality of their work and their costs. If I can not afford the cost of getting it done right then I check out the alternatives as our original owners did. There are some very inovative and creativie working systems now running. – Bob

I am not going to defend myself or anyone else in the Mag repair business. I am simply going to suggest that anyone that thinks magneto repair costs are too high, should start doing their own. Anyone can set up a pretty decent machine shop for 10 or 15 thousand dollars. It will only take a few years to gain what little experience it takes and instead of wasting time at shows running engines and visiting with friends, you can get out there in the field and look for bargains. Then sink all your excess cash into pieces that may set on a shelf for years before you find someone that needs them. Then, when that someone comes along, you can make $15 an hour for your time on it, minus the parts and the lights and heat and taxes and health care and aggravation. – Ted

Getting back to the original question, "Are there enough mags to go around" I would say yes. If anything was saved from a scraped engine, it was the mag, oiler and maybe a brass carb if it came off easily. Look in your own shops. I have a dozen mags with no engines for them to go on and I suspect anyone who has been collecting for 10 years or more is in the same boat! -- Brian

Yes, I know plenty of long time collectors that have them stacked up like cordwood, how about you guys stop hoarding them and let a few new collectors get a few. -- Bill

I recently had a dead Associated Pony mag rebuilt by Mark's Magneto. The majority of the expense was parts. The labor cost me something like $60 for what was a pretty intensive job. I certainly couldn't have done it myself for that. Ask Ted, I probably have $500 in labor in rebuilding the ignitor for my John Deere. Luckily he provided me tons of free advice and a sketch or I would still be fooling with it. I think we're just stuck remembering the good old days when you could buy an Autosparker for $25. My two cents. --Mike

When I got my first engine (a Witte 5 horsepower) it had the Wico EK mag with it, but the front cover was missing and it was a mess. While working on it, I found out that the capacitor was very leaky to the point of being nearly shorted out. It was time to learn about how magnetos worked and the Harry’s Old-Engine Magneto Page was born. The next engine I found was a Fairbanks Morse 3 horsepower type Z and its mag was long gone, replaced by a rigged up spark plug mounting and a kludge of a spark timer. After a long search, I found the Sumter mag and then the igniter at two different engine meets. Each of these cost more than I paid for the engine itself! I think it was at that point that I decided to get only engines that were complete with the proper mag. It’s sad to say that some engines are worth less than the magneto and igniter that's on them. I must admit that I've picked up some extra spares. You never know when you'll need one. -- Harry


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