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Engine Building

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  • Engine Building

    Every now'n then my itch to build an engine (hit'n miss type) flares up. (..but I've been able to resist it so far...)

    In another thread JCH posted a link to Jerry Howell's site. Along with one of the engine descriptions there I saw the caution: "This project is intended for experienced engine builders and should not be attempted by the novice."

    Of course I've seen similar statements before, and in fact seems like most of the kits and plans do include a rating, as to skill level.

    The wording usually implies (to me at least) that it is not really addressing machining experience level, but rather actual engine building experience.

    What sort of puzzles me is this: If the plans and instructions are complete and thorough, and well presented, why would one with competent machining ablilities have any trouble building any particular engine as a first one?
    I'm not taking issue with that notion, at all. I'm sure it's true. But just trying to get an understanding of why that is.

    BTW, for those fascinated with casting, as I am, this link to an engine gallery of the late Bob Shores' works has a really nice verbal and pictoral description of the development of engine castings. To get to that, click on the "Little Devil" block in the lower right corner of the 2-row box of engine types.
    Lynn (Huntsville, AL)

  • #2
    I expect the idea is that building an engine takes a particular set of skills that in some ways is unique, which may not be familiar to somebody with other sorts of machining experience.

    Making a camshaft, for instance.

    That being said, I also think somebody with a sufficient range of machining experience will probably be able to adapt and figure out any new skills required...which can be part of the fun, and the challenge.
    Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
    Don't believe everything you know. -- Bumper sticker
    Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
    There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
    Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
    Don't own anything you have to feed or paint. - Hood River Blackie


    • #3
      If you let that sort of thing stop you you will never develop your machining skills. I am constantly trying new ways to do something, new materials, different tools and different setups. Some work great and are added to my skill set and some are very "educational". You should learn from both your successes and mistakes.
      Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here


      • #4
        Of course it only makes sense to start with simpler projects and progress into the more complex. I was having a hard time imagining what sub-tasks unique to engine building might pose insurmountable problems if encountered for the first time. I guess the eccentrics involved in machining a cam and/or crankshaft could fail in that category.

        Since all those guys' (Jerry Howell, Dale Detrich, the late Bob Shores, et al) invariably offer personal advice and consultation in their ads, I kinda wondered if an element of self-defense was involved too. ...not that I would blame them! I sure wouldn't want to have the phone ringing round the clock with calls from beginners in over their heads.

        Something else I've wondered - are those commercial plans usually more detailed, and offer more hand-holding than the ones published in the HSM articles and the Village Press books? ...or about the same?

        Yeah I agree Evan. Most always, what looks intimidating due to complexity turns out to be not hard at all when taken one step at a time.
        Lynn (Huntsville, AL)


        • #5
          I am with Evan on this one, with the caveat that you should work/practice/experiment on something other than "the grand project" itself.

          Nothing is worse, in a "hobby" then to "ruin" the "dream project" because you are in a "hurry to complete". That is a mind set that carries over from the "work a day" life. If something is a "hobby" and I am not "enjoying" it, I ask why?

          Everything I do "for myself" has many little experiments, so when I do something "important" for someone else, I have a good idea of whats involved and my limits (time, shop, tooling).
          Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there no sweeter words than "I told you so."


          • #6
            The problem may not actually be in turning eccentrics, but turning them on purpose.

            I think some hedge their advertising to prevent outright greenhorns from thinking all they need is a lathe and the plansets to create an engine.

            Some of the plans include building tips and how to's on the trickier set ups, some are only a set of drawings.

            Almost any engine, or any other project is nothing more than a series of machining techniques put together to create an and product. Most people with the basic skills under their belt should be able to handle them.

            A beginner would do very well by getting the "Shop Wisdom of Philip Duclos" or "The Shop Wisdom of Rudy Kouhoupt". Both offer many simple projects as well as clear text to develop basic skills as well as offering more advanced projects. The Duclos book has IC engines and Rudy's book has steam engines. Both use barstock, not castings.
            Jim H.


            • #7
              I have to agree with JC about rudy's books and plans. some of the plans out there are no more than a wing and a pray. With a parts list that you can 't find the items. something neat about rudy,s plans and engines is he has video's about them. and Here is a link to a web site that rents them and a whole lot more. they have rudys hit n miss video.
              They have all kinds of video's to rent. they also have other of his engine video's along with video's on most subjects not rated XXX lol
              Been there, probably broke it, doing that!
              I am not a lawyer, and never played one on TV!
              All the usual and standard disclaimers apply. Do not try this at home, use only as directed, No warranties express or implied, for the intended use or the suggested uses, Wear safety glasses, closed course, professionals only


              • #8
                I built the "Vicky Victoria" stirling engine fom Jerry Howell a couple of years ago. This was my first "engine" and I struggled in a few places but I found that his instructions were first class and was able to finish it successfully. Later on I found out that he rated this one as an "8" out of 10 for difficulty! Had I known this I would have started out with a simpler Stirling unit.

                I think that, if I had not had a set of detailed instructions to go along with the drawings, I would have floundered. So maybe an experienced person can take a set of drawings of an engine and be confident of getting it right without needing build instructions.

                For that reason I can recommend Jerry's plans/instructions as being top rated.




                • #9
                  My buddy & I built 2 engines so far, both from Debolt casting kits. Their drawings are just that, not a hint in most cases as to how to proceed. Paul's comment was, "If you give the prints to 10 machinists, they'll make the parts in 10 different ways". He proved the point while we toured his shop: he had a Vaughn cylinder set up for boring on the lathe; I had bored ours on the B'Port.

                  In theory, if the drawings are correct and you can make parts "to print", you should be able to make an engine from any plans. All of you old-time professionals will laugh, but I didn't find it all that easy to make all those parts to print, especially when starting from a raw casting. Since doing a couple of engines (5 copies total), we're getting better at it, and each one should be easier.

                  The biggest problem for me has been the [in]ability to think a part all the way through. I'll scratch my head for an hour or 3, figure it all out, then start making chips. Only when I'm nearly done do I realize that I neglected one or more parameters. Fortunately, this hasn't happened too often, and I'm getting better as I gain experience.

                  Engines are at:


                  under "Projects".


                  • #10
                    The trick is to machine the part compleatly in your head .Start to finish before you make the first chip.Think Think about what you wont to end up with and how it should look after each operation.Along with what pit falls you could have. Thy to think out how am I going to hold the part ,where an when to start cutting and what could go wrong with the process In other words become the part.Chech the print and the parts against each other . Be skeptical of the print under stand what is supose to happen to and with the part. Do this with each part and they will come out all right and work. Remenber one part at a time and fit them as you go. This is what I have been teaching apprentice`s for years and once they understand the concept they do great. And pich things up fast. Happy machining.
                    Every Mans Work Is A Portrait of Him Self


                    • #11
                      I build and fly model airplanes. I wanted a 1/4 scale Kinner 5 cyl radial engine to put on a 1/4 scale Fleet biplane. I bought a set of plans for the engine for $75. In looking them over I saw some errors and a lack of needed detail. The drafter of the plans had died and the plans were being sold by a friend for the family. In searching around I found out that someone had built the engine and did a 5 part article for Strickly IC magazine. I imediately ordered all 5 magazines. I probably could build from just the plans, but the mag articles are very complete and discriptive. Now, when I start on it I can build it without fear. I have several other plans for engines and don't consider them complete in any way. I bought a set of plans for a .22 cal. Gatling Gun that looks to be very good, but then I haven't started building it yet. It takes some thought and imagination to build from plans. So I would say don't buy any plans thinking they are complete even with castings. The disclammer is for their protection when you get knee deep in it and can't finish it. In my spare time I am machining a verticle steam engine kit for a friend. Just castings and drawings and I know there will be problems. But what the heck, it's fun and interesting.
                      Last edited by Carld; 10-05-2006, 10:07 PM.
                      It's only ink and paper


                      • #12
                        I'd go for it...

                        I'd recommend going for whatever engine suits your fancy. Enthusiasm about a particular engine or project will get you through most of the challenges faced in making it in the first place.

                        From experience in detailing two engine projects for market, to put together what I consider a complete set of drawings and instructions takes longer than the machining of the (prototype) engine. (I probably have 700-800 hourse in the plans set for my 3-cylinder and 400-500 in the single -- not including machining.) Machining the second or third takes even less time since you have the tooling and processes already figured out.

                        I would take the "warnings" as posted for those who are both new to machining and new to engine-building. Keep the tolerances tight where they need to be and everything should come out alright. If you enjoy working in close, you will most-likely have a blast with an engine project.

                        Hoping you can find a project that suits your fancy.

                        Todd Snouffer
                        Littlelocos Model Engineering


                        • #13
                          The cylinder head on the Olds engine threw me for a loop: I measured, sketched, made notes, measured some more. My biggest worry was ending up with the "right" thickness of the top of the combustion chamber, along with the "right" thickness of the flange where it bolts to the cylinder. Finally started making chips. The last operation was machining the boss for the ignitor; I was horrified to realize that I hadn't even considered whether the machined features were going to end up centered on the cast boss. As it turned out, I was close enough and it worked out OK, but it sure scared me for a minute.

                          Another close call was the crankshaft, which we elected to make from 5 pieces (built-up) rather than one piece (turned). I thought I had that all thought through, too. Let's just say that I'm glad we made an extra one in the first place.....

                          I do consider myself pretty good in visualization, always did well in those tests where you have to match the drawing of a solid with the drawing of the "unfolded" part. The main problem is lack of experience and formal training. I won't claim to be entirely self-taught, NONE of us is. I have friends who ARE machinists and who I will consult with as needed, but there's times that it would be nice to have had some schooling and/or a few years actually working in a shop.

                          That said, there's no point in waiting forever if you want to build an engine. As someone else said, pick a project that excites you and have at it. Given the experience of others with incomplete or inaccurate plans, it might be well to ask here about a specific plan set before beginning.



                          • #14
                            Thanks to all for the inputs.
                            I have the Duclos and Kouhoupt wisdom books, as well as most of the "Projects" and Metalworking series. I've spent a lot of time studying almost all the projects in those and doing a lot of "Arm Chair" machining.

                            I've learned the importance of thanking and visualizing ahead on most any part ...much of it the hard way. To the point now that 'how to hold it' for every operation is usually foremost in my mind. I've picked up a lot of that sort of thinking from my machinist son-in-law. It helps too, that I can always get free consultation from him.

                            Actually my biggest hang-up is the never ending list of domestic projects. It's just my nature that something like an engine project would need be undertaken in an almost uninterrupted fashion. If I had to set it aside for a lengthy period I'd probably never pick it back up again.

                            Oh... meant to mention, I enjoyed the tour of your website Jdunmyer. ...especially your sawmill. When I was growing up there was almost always a sawmill operating in the woods somewhere nearby. I spent quite a few hours just hanging around watching the action. They'd usually set up on the top side of a steep hill so the saw dust would be drug over and down the slope. After a couple of years' operation they'd have literally a mountain of saw dust. Some of those piles are still out in the woods there today.
                            Last edited by lynnl; 10-06-2006, 04:48 PM.
                            Lynn (Huntsville, AL)