What is probably the most common item of information we need when we're starting out with an engine for the first time, whether it be our first engine, or a type we've never seen before? How do I start it! While we all like to pretend that when we receive a "new" engine we carefully check it over by taking it apart and verifying it is in a condition to be started, the real story for most of us (me included) is that within minutes of getting it home (or in my case with my first engine I did it where it sat after buying it) we try and make it go. We want to see the satisfying sight of the engine bursting into life to justify the cash and effort we just poured into its acquisition!

This article is the result of a question I posted to the Stationary Engine Mailing list calling for submissions on how people start their various engines. I received a pretty good response, and for my part have contributed starting procedures for each of the engine types I've got running in my possession. Generally speaking, all engines start in approximately the same way - you spin them over until they fire :)... ok so it is not quite that simple with most of them...


Note all of these starting directions skip one key point - if your engine has external oiling through drop oiler(s) turn them on immediately the engine starts to fire so it does not seize up!. For my oilers I use a drop or two per minute per horsepower. For example for a 3HP engine, I use between 3 and 6 drops per minute. If you are getting a lot of oil thrown around during running you're probably using too much and should cut it back a bit. I test the drops per minute with the engine stopped because often you cannot see the drips when the engine is running because the air pressure in the tube splats the drip all over the inside of the sight glass when it falls. If you have this problem you might try putting a check valve under the oiler, or drilling a hole in the sight feed tube to relieve pressure. Remember to close the oiler when you stop the engine or you'll get covered in it next time you start.

If your engine has grease cups, before starting open each cup and top it off, screw it down until grease appears around whatever part it lubricates, open and top off again. Every hour or so I screw mine in a quarter turn.

Before starting I also go over the engine and oil all the stated oiling points. In addition I put a small amount of oil into each exposed gear and other moving bits (like valve stems, the pivot point on a governor etc.). You don't need much oil, just a very thin film. If your engine is throwing oil around while it is running it is probably getting too much from you!

Enough fuel

Nearly all the petrol and kerosene directions talk about closing the needle valve after starting until the engine runs clean. You start with a very rich mixture (lots of fuel) which would quickly carbon up an engine and kill it (not permanently!) if left that way and use way too much fuel. After the engine starts firing, slowly close the needle valve a little after each fire until there is no more black smoke coming out of the exhaust while the engine is running. Stop AS SOON AS THERE IS NO SMOKE - DO NOT LEAN IT OF FURTHER! If you make the mixture too lean the engine will run too hot and die (potentially permanently!).
Submitted by Paul Pavlinovich
  1. Open the needle valve two turns
  2. Close the choke plate on the mixer
  3. Open the fuel tap if you have one
  4. With your hand over the mixer intake slowly pull the engine through compression until fuel runs out of the mixer
  5. Pull the engine through compression hard and it will fire and run
  6. Slowly close the needle valve until the engine runs clean
  7. After the engine warms up open the choke plate a little - you may have to adjust the mixer again…

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Submitted by Larry Evans  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Starting a 1911 50 hp. Fairbanks Morse type RE engine.  This is a 2 cylinder vertical engine running on gasoline.  Engine is a standard 4 stroke cycle, equipped with ignitors and uses compressed air for starting.  This engine is located in the power house where it was originally installed and is directly connected to a 120 VDC 40KW generator.  It supplied electrical power for the astronomical observatory located at Mt. Wilson, California.

  1. Start electric air compressor to fill storage tanks.
  2. Hook up garden hose to cooling system to fill water jackets.  Make sure drain valve is closed and then turn on water.  Keep filling until the overflow water is heard running in the adjacent shower room. Originally this was the only source of warm showers on the grounds.
  3. While the air tanks and water jackets are filling start climbing up on the engine with pump type oiler in hand and start lubricating everything that moves that is not lubricated by one of the built in systems.  There are many different linkages, pivot points, etc. that need attention.  While up on the engine also turn the grease cups on the valve rocker arms in some.   Also check that the reservoir for the drip oiler system has sufficient oil.
  4. Open the proper shutter in the air intake system depending on weather conditions.  The engine can draw air from outside the building, inside the building or from a housing around the exhaust manifold for heated air.  Also close the shutter that is used as a choke.
  5. Open valve in oil supply line from the overhead tank that feeds the 13 dripper manifold.  Open the flipper on each dripper and check for proper drip rate in each of the 13 sight glasses.  Allow to run for a few minutes to pre-lube the bearings then close the main valve but leave drippers open.
  6. Check that the spark advance lever is in the retard position for starting.
  7. Open vents in the fuel system at level of intake manifold and then use manual lever on the cam driven fuel pump to fill glass fuel bowl.
  8. After two minutes of pumping and nothing happens then remember to open vent on fuel tank and also the valve between tank and fuel pump and try again.  Stop when fuel bowl is full.
  9. Open needle valve for each cylinder appropriate amount for starting.  The needles happen to be ground to different tapers so it is not the same for each one.
  10. Move "air start" lever to start position.  This converts one of the cylinders to an air operated motor for starting by changing the valve timing.  The intake valve is kept closed all the time and the exhaust valve opens every time the piston moves up.  There is an additional valve on this cylinder that admits compressed air every time the piston is just beyond top dead center when it is open to rotate the engine.
  11. Open the compression release valve on each cylinder.
  12. Manually turn flywheels until pistons (they move simultaneously) are just past top dead center.
  13. Close compression release valves.
  14. Turn on switch that supplies power to the small motor that turns the low voltage generator that supplies the ignitors and close the knife switch for each ignitor.  
  15. Open valve in oil supply line.
  16. Open compressed air valve and engine should start turning over.
  17. If all is well after a few revolutions the "non converted" cylinder should fire.
  18. Close compressed air valve.
  19. Move the air start lever to the "run" position changing this cylinder back to an internal combustion mode.
  20. Move the ignition advance lever to the "run" position.
  21. Open the choke.
  22. By now the engine should be running on both cylinders and you should twiddle (technical term) the needle valves to achieve smooth operation.
  23. Open the cooling water valve.
  24. Step outside and enjoy the sound of 2600 cubic inches firing through a 6 inch straight exhaust pipe.
  25. For shut down, close needle valves and kill power to the ignitors and then shut off oilers, cooling water, fuel, etc.

Read more: Fairbanks Morse type RE 50hp

Submitted by Elden DuRand This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Two horsepower 1902 Fairbanks-Morse Type T "Jack of All Trades" with ignitor:

  1. Fill the fuel tank with gasoline.
  2. Fill the oiler and oil all external moving parts.
  3. Open needle valve on oiler and let a few drops of oil flow to the cylinder, then close it until the engine is running.
  4. Turn the engine until the fuel pump plunger is all the way out.
  5. Using the hand lever on the fuel pump, fill the mixer until you hear fuel running back to the tank. (If you don't hear fuel running back after twenty strokes or so, you may have to partially disassemble the pump to unstick one or both of the ball-type valves).
  6. Set the needle valve on the mixer to the single mark position on the knob (about 3/4 turn counterclockwise from off).
  7. Turn on the ignition.
  8. Engage the crank pawl into the keyway of the crankshaft on the ignitor side of the engine. (Note that you can also engage the crank on the mixer side but you will be cranking the engine backwards if you do. Been there, done that!).
  9. While holding the intake valve open, crank the engine. Once you have it turning at a fair clip, release the intake valve. If all's well, the engine will fire about the second or third time over compression. Immediately after the engine fires, pull the crank off the crankshaft.
  10. Set the needle valve on the mixer to the double mark position on the knob. (about 1/4 turn from the starting position).
  11. Open the oiler needle until about two drops flow per minute.
  12. If the engine starts after the first try, the operator has permission to stand around and look smug.…

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Submitted by Elden DuRand This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  1. Open the needle valve on mixer about 3/4 turn.
  2. Engage the crank in the keyway of crankshaft.
  3. With the crank in your right hand, use the left hand to cover the choke-plate on the mixer.
  4. Spin the crank until fuel runs out of the mixer.
  5. Continue to spin the crank until the engine fires.
  6. Once the engine fires, remove the crank and adjust the mixer for best running.
  7. To stop the engine, close the mixer needle valve.

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Submitted by Elden DuRand This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  1. Open the needle valve on the mixer about 3/4 turn.
  2. Turn the flywheel backwards until you feel the compression bump.
  3. Press on intake the valve stem and continue to turn the flywheel until the exhaust valve just opens.
  4. Remove your finger from the intake valve and place your left hand over the choke plate.
  5. Turn the flywheel about 1/2 turn clockwise.
  6. Repeat this operation twice more or until fuel drips from the mixer.
  7. With the ignition switch turned on, slowly turn the flywheel clockwise over compression. The engine will promptly start.
  8. Adjust the mixer for best running.
  9. To stop the engine, turn off the ignition.

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