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The Top 6 Characteristics You Need To Have To Rebuild An Engine

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Paul Olesen

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I hope you’re all having a good fall and are getting excited for the holidays. It snowed for the first time this year here in Wisconsin and I’m getting eager for the lakes to freeze over so I can get out and ride the ice. I need to set aside a good 7 hours to stud my tires and set up my bike before that can happen though!

 

Today I want to talk about six characteristics that are necessary to have when one sets out to build an engine. I’ve detailed how to tackle many different jobs, but honestly that is only half the battle. If you’re in a rush or lack the desire to understand the reasons behind what you’re doing, you will make mistakes and miss out on important things. Listed below are the traits that I believe can help you take your build to the next level.

 

1. Being Detail Oriented
What’s worse than getting started on a build only to realize you didn’t buy an important replacement part? Focussing on the details of a project can feel tedious at times but can pay off in the grand scheme of things. Before I get started on a project I spend a hefty amount of time researching what parts I’m going to replace and where the best prices are. Also, I will have a solid idea of the sequences I’ll use for disassembly and assembly. Another good habit for the detail oriented is to take notes throughout the build, which you can use at a later date should the need arise. When you have an appreciation for all the small details that go into a build, it will make for a much smoother project.

 

2. Having Patience
Have you ever been in a rush to do something and after you’re done you realize if you had spent just a bit more time the project could have turned out much better? I was this way with so many of the things I did when I was younger, but have learned to slow down and be patient as I work. Engines don’t go together instantaneously and being patient throughout the process, especially when things aren’t going as planned, is very important. There is nothing worse than making a huge mistake because you’re in a rush. Imagine finishing a build and realizing you left an important part on the table, depending on where the part came from, you just bought yourself another few hours of work. Trying to skimp on time more often than not costs you more time in the long run. Have patience and enjoy the process.

 

3. Being Observant
Just about every mechanical thing is gleaming with a story, and that story only reveals itself if you know what to look for. An engine is no different. From the parting lines on a component left by the casting tooling used to create it to wear patterns on a piston, there are hundreds of observations that can be made while working on an engine. As you work, keep an eye out for subtle anomalies that may tell you why something failed or broke. For example, things like snail tracks across a gasket, raised edges on gasket surfaces, or covers that don’t sit flat on a table - these are all good indicators of why a particular part was leaking.

 

4. Being Curious
Perhaps more appropriately titled, “a desire to understand mechanical workings”. It is incredible how much can be learned about the engine just by studying how specific parts interact within it. An engine is composed of many different subsystems and they must all work in order for the engine to function. By looking at the various interactions of the parts within an engine, the condition of the parts and reasons for any failures can be more easily understood. The next time you build an engine, challenge yourself to learn how all the different subsystems of the engine work. Once you learn this, diagnosing problems and identifying all the faulty parts becomes much easier.

 

5. Being Meticulous
The necessity to be thorough and meticulous throughout a build cannot be overstated. Whether it be taking extra steps to inspect components, measuring new parts, or taking extra time to ensure the condition of surrounding subsystems are okay, having meticulous tendencies can pay off. As an example, on more than one occasion I’ve purchased new parts that have been mispackaged or out of spec. Had I not made the choice to carefully measure the problematic new parts, I could have ended up with an engine that was destined to fail. While it may take more time to be meticulous throughout a build, there is a lot at stake, both in terms of time and money, making it all the more important to ensure everything is done correctly.

 

6. Having Ambition
Building an engine can be hard, things can go south unexpectedly, and projects can easily stall. Being ambitious and having a can-do attitude is important to ensure the engine doesn’t sit half torn apart in the garage never to be completed. Until you tear into the engine, you never know what you might find. I’ve disassembled engines many times in the past only to find I need to replace a lot more parts than I had planned (this seems to be my luck when I shop for bikes on Craigslist as of late). This can be a huge downer, but keeping the end goal of getting back out and riding in mind and having the desire to push through any and all obstacles is a must.

 

Do you have any engine building characteristics you want to share? Leave a comment below and tell everyone what you think it takes to build a great engine!

 

For those of you that believe you possess the characteristics of a good engine builder, be sure to check out my book, The Four Stroke Dirt Bike Engine Building Handbook, to learn more about the how and why behind engine building. Whether you want to be taught about the relationships between all the various parts within an engine, you are in need of pointers on picking the right performance parts, or you would like to see examples of wear patterns found on engine components, my book is here to guide and help you throughout your build.

 

With the holidays coming up, I want to extend a special four day offer to you for the handbook and all the other products at DIY Moto Fix. Between November 27th and November 30th if you purchase anything from DIY Moto Fix you will save 30% on your order. If you’ve got a significant other trying to do some holiday shopping for you, be sure to send the site their way before Monday the 30th ;)

 


Save 30% and check out the book and other products by clicking this link: DIY Moto Fix


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2 things I would like to add here:

1) Cleanliness

All too often do I see people working on gritty, nasty engines.  Working on an engine should be thought of like open heart surgery.  would you want dirt inside you?

2) Correct tools

I see people trying to use a hammer and punch to get a clutch nut off, or wedging coins between gears to hold things.  this will damage parts and the proper tool (although will add to initial cost of rebuild) is worth its weight in gold

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Dont be afraid of failure!  Learn from it.  Education costs money, you either pay for the classes or pay for parts after you screw up.

 

2 things I would like to add here:

1) Cleanliness

All too often do I see people working on gritty, nasty engines.  Working on an engine should be thought of like open heart surgery.  would you want dirt inside you?

2) Correct tools

I see people trying to use a hammer and punch to get a clutch nut off, or wedging coins between gears to hold things.  this will damage parts and the proper tool (although will add to initial cost of rebuild) is worth its weight in gold

Nice additions to the list!

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Don't be frustrated when you have to go backwards a few steps during re-assembly, it happens to everyone.

The most important thing I can recommend (and I have been building engines for many, many years and I still do this) is to take A LOT of pictures throughout the process.  You;d be amazed how many things seem so obvious when you take them apart, but when you go to put it back together days or weeks later you may not have a clue as to how one piece goes, parts are aligned etc.  With as easy as it is to take and store pictures on a phone, take a lot of pictures of all the areas of the assembly as it's coming apart.  In my experience it's the images I never thought I'd need that I end up referring back to sometimes.

Trust your gut, if something doesn't feel right, STOP!!  If something feels like it's binding, misaligned or stripping it probably is and you can likely save a lot of grief and money by slowing down and correcting the issue.

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Don't be frustrated when you have to go backwards a few steps during re-assembly, it happens to everyone.

The most important thing I can recommend (and I have been building engines for many, many years and I still do this) is to take A LOT of pictures throughout the process.  You;d be amazed how many things seem so obvious when you take them apart, but when you go to put it back together days or weeks later you may not have a clue as to how one piece goes, parts are aligned etc.  With as easy as it is to take and store pictures on a phone, take a lot of pictures of all the areas of the assembly as it's coming apart.  In my experience it's the images I never thought I'd need that I end up referring back to sometimes.

Trust your gut, if something doesn't feel right, STOP!!  If something feels like it's binding, misaligned or stripping it probably is and you can likely save a lot of grief and money by slowing down and correcting the issue.

Excellent advice, I especially like what you wrote regarding stopping if something doesn't feel right.

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