Head Gaskets! WTHG? Can We Do Better?



This summer we in our little gang of three had a 5 head gasket summer. WTHG? “What The head gasket.” Sure head gaskets are head cases on our flat heads. But 5? All brand new. User error? Sure. But 5? So we did a little investigat’n. We here in Reedville are not alone. Like electronic parts made in China. Jina if you are political. Now weather or not this is a real issue, or some hell bent rant to support isolationism, I really do not care if they are made by the TooToo tribe in the Amazon out of shrunken heads. Just for gods sake, make them so they work.

Zip Zip!

One good silver lining of all this. We can change a head gasket in an hr or so now. And sure know when there is a problem. And sadly have several on hand, since there seems to always be a need. Now, how did this happen? Well, economics, and image. What? Image?


We used too have Head Gaskets made by Victor Head Gaskets, part number 1735 were the best, but Victor is a huge global company and needs a min order of a bazillion to make. Not worth ordering 10,000 head gaskets is it? The new ones now are being produced here in the US as well which is good and, sadly not as good. The quality is not as great as can be. WHY? Because we all ask for copper, and the only way they can be made in an cost effective way is what we have. Following me here.


Some people have produced a synthetic modern material head gaskets which are far, far better, but folks want copper, and a high quality copper head gasket cost far more than the stuff we have burned through this summer.. aprox $160 a head gasket, and no one will pay that when a currently made regular head gasket is $120 bucks. So? Now what?

Ya, I did that! But that would have made 6

Torque your head! It’s the main reason head gaskets go. And you have a cheaper head gasket, it requires torquing. Also when you are installing one of the copper head gaskets made today, they rip when installed. You are doomed from the get go. So be very very careful when installing them.

So. Now what? I can tell you this. I am going modern Fiber head gaskets next time. And sadly there will be a next time. In the mean time I will be torquing and praying.  This is in no way a ding to the good folks out there supplying them. They are doing a wonderful service to all of us. Just be careful, and maybe try a newer non Copper Head Gasket? Anyone out there try them?

Looks better new


35 replies
  1. Jamie in Richmond
    Jamie in Richmond says:

    Copper head gaskets require a finer RA (or RMS) surface finish than ordinary head gaskets. The gasket manufacturer can recommend and ideal range. In turn, that will need to be coordinated with your engine machinist.

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Most of the problem is in your heads and blocks. If the surfaces are not flat, stiff, and properly secured, there is only so much a gasket can do no matter who makes it or what it is made of.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    Nothing against your engine crew but I would love to hear some of the engine experts weigh in on this.

    Are there not other factors at play here that can cause head gasket failures like a warped head etc.

    I had a snow blower once that would constantly go through head gaskets and I was convinced that it was the engine and not necessarily the gaskets or installation that was the problem.

  4. Mahoganymadness
    Mahoganymadness says:

    Has anyone tried a solid copper head gasket…a few years back when you could not find a head gasket to save your life, I found a source that produced solid copper gaskets for many motors

  5. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    Try using gasket cement on it. Permatex makes a copper spray. I use old fashioned Indian Head. It helps fill pits and irregularities in mating surfaces . Make sure your using the correct torque sequence.

    • Johnny V.
      Johnny V. says:

      Yeah, I’ve always used the Permatex copper spray and had no issues. But it’s been years since I had to replace a head gasket, so things may be different now. As Dan F. said, the correct torque sequence is important-I usually do it in 10 ft.lb. increments.

  6. Rob
    Rob says:

    Ran our Chrysler M47s twins for 22 years. Never changed a head gasket and only changed the points etc 3x. Oil 2x per season…plain 10w30. About 100 hours per season. Stop fiddling with your engines and they will be fine.

  7. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    I sell most everything to rebuild the Hercules engines. When I ordered the Victor gaskets years ago and told they had been obsoleted by the bean counters I contacted a friend at Victor and asked how many gaskets I would have to order to get a last order in and was told the molds were immediately destroyed.
    The new copper wrapped fiber gaskets sell about the same amount as the old ones did. The manufacturer recommends the numbers go up.
    Clean and check for flatness both the head and block.
    Install the new gasket over the studs and use the head to lower it evenly if needed.
    You can use copper coat if you want.
    Torque the head to half the specification using the proper sequence. M sequence below.
    Torque the head to full specification.
    Have lunch.
    Torque it again.
    It can be started now.
    Check the torque every now and then. I always do it as part of Summerizing. After several years a couple still turn.
    Another note. Be sure the 2 bolts are in the square corners of the block, studs everywhere else.

  8. Bilge Rat
    Bilge Rat says:

    Although this situation is maddening as it causes lost time on the water, having more than one boat water ready is the real plus. I’m still working on the number 2 boat’s readiness.

  9. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I have bought my gaskets from “Fine Wood Boats” and not had any trouble.

    I have mentioned many, many, many times on your head gasket storied that I would not trust your Kobalt torque wrench. There are others on these threads that have agreed with me. If your surfaces are straight there is no reason you should be going through that many head gaskets. What is the common denominator? A cheap wrench that may not be accurate? When was the last time you had it calibrated? Just my thoughts and opinion. Sometimes saving money on cheaper products costs you in other places.

  10. John
    John says:


    On the same page as the torque sequence pic you posted, item 4. on installing the head says ” . . . . The gasket must be assembled with the bead (rolled edge around the combustion chamber) down.”

    Not having bought and installed a gasket yet, does this apply to the current gaskets you sell?

  11. charley quimby
    charley quimby says:

    Jim Staib is right on the money. I use gasket sealer. An old trick back in the Dark Ages of motordom was to coat head gaskets with silver paint, worked very well, but was a devil to separate parts later. With paint formulas being changed rapidly these days I would be wary. When I install head or manifold gaskets, or any assembly requiring torque, I always bring everything together in incements of 1/3. Just for grins I let it all settle in cold for several hours and retorque at the max. Some gaskets require hot torque, but some of the newer composites do not; as a matter of fact these, such as Permatorque caution against it. All solid copper gaskets must be annealed (softened) before installation. I’m just guessing, but the newer copper-sheathed gaskets are thinner in material, and maybe even not the same in alloy and do not provide enough crush to seal block/head imperfections… CQ (former nuclear power machanic)

    • Troy in ANE
      Troy in ANE says:

      The FAA requires aviation techs to have their torque wrenches calibrated every 12 months. Boats, motorcycles, and cars are not as critical, but it gives you an idea of important proper calibration is.

  12. Martin Field
    Martin Field says:

    Perfect cleanliness, flatness and torquing. I agree that torque wrenches can vary enormously and cause big troubles. As an ex user of the Reliant 850cc all ally engine with wet liners and having experience of Coventry Climax all ally OHC racing engines, I can confirm that torquing the right ft/lbs and the right order are the usual issues in gasket failure. But I must say, those cylinders are damned close and I would probably use a gasket helping jollop, especially on those very narrow lands. Failing that I’d make one out of solid copper. It’s so very easy to do.

  13. Midwest is Best
    Midwest is Best says:

    It sounds like whoever is “restoring” the engines isn’t properly resurfacing the head and block.

    We maintain 75 boats annually and rarely see a restored engine’s head gasket fail.

  14. RED Fenders
    RED Fenders says:

    Sorry for the reference to a previous days topic and for this unpopular view from the Devil’s advocate.

    It’s a little bit pregnant. 5200, points/Pertronix and now head gaskets… all non original, but acceptable? Used for practicality, reliability and utility but, unseen so, they’re all really a little white lie. Where are the purists… defenders of originality? Surely these critical items should be huge deductions at a top show? Seems to me they are much more critical to the makeup of a boat than R&P screws, zipper manufacturers or, lack of metal flake in a vinyl product. At some point people need to decide if they own a boat for recreation or as a museum piece. I don’t care which you choose but, don’t go thinking that one boat is better than another because it’s all “original”. Strictly speaking, it’s probably not true.

  15. greg
    greg says:

    Only one hour to R&R a head gasket?! Your prep work is severely lacking. Proper surface cleaning, flatness checking with a precision flat gauge, then establishing a proper surface finish could take as much as a full day, IF, you do not find that the surfaces need to be ground flat, then several days. Most heads I have found need to be ground to establish flatness within tolerances. Blocks, 50% of the time. High pressure gaskets require perfect surface alignment if you expect them to ever last over time. Don’t blame the gasket when you do not prepare the mating surfaces properly. /// 35+yrs mechanic-machinist

  16. Kent V
    Kent V says:

    Spray both sides of head gasket with cheap silver aluminum paint. Let dry to touch and install. My Dad taught me this 50 years ago. Best 6 cylinder mechanic I ever met. Done more than I can count that way and never an issue.

    • charley quimby
      charley quimby says:

      Well, there you go…”silver” paint. When getting a torque wrench calibrated be sure to get a report, and that the cal. is certified traceable to master standards… CQ

      • Kent V
        Kent V says:

        Guess I should have clarified. The “silver paint” was used on gaskets that went down on rebuilt engines with the block and head milled. Did not mean to insinuate “silver paint would cure and existing problem.

  17. Jim S
    Jim S says:

    Is the head gasket breaking in the same place each time? Thats important. Obviously if it is, your heading to a good machine shop.

  18. John m
    John m says:

    I have had custom solid gaskets made by the folks at cometic. For the old goofy cars I work on I often get crappy chineseum mystery metal and poorly fitting gaskets. I avoid it all now and send off the old dead gasket to them and they return a perfect solid copper gasket (in whatever specified thickness) for not much more than a standard replacement….

  19. Jim G
    Jim G says:

    Here is how you do it.

    Parts needed.

    Head gaskets. Jim Staibs are as good as the originals. I’ve used them since you could no longer get the Victor and have not had a problem.

    ARP thread lube.

    One can of Permatex Copper Spray Coat.

    New studs from Jim Staib if yours are originals. New nuts and washers from ARP.

    Thread sealant for the 2 bolts. Same thread sealant that is used for Chevy head bolts.


    Remove and replace the studs if needed. If your going to reuse your studs and nuts. All threads need to be chased with a rethreading tap and die.

    Have the machine shop check the head for flatness. Do not let a machine shop put your head on a belt sander. It must be milled leaving the proper texture for good sealing. Modern heads today have to be completely smooth. Which is what most machine shops do all heads today. This is to smooth for cast iron flat heads.

    Clean all surfaces really good.

    Take new head gasket lay it on the studs and make sure they line up with the holes. If some of the studs are really off hit the stud with a rubber hammer to move it slightly to line up with the hole.

    Pre lube your washers and nuts. Lube one side of the washer and one flat side of the nut. Put a little lube into the nut smearing it around the threads with a small screwdriver or toothpick.

    Hang gasket from a piece of wire through a stud hole and spray with the copper coat. Do one side then the next and repeat until can is empty.

    Once coated place gasket on to the studs. The crimp ring (fire ring) goes against the block.

    Tap it down some so you can place the head onto the studs. Use the head to push the head all the way down. Place washer with the lube side down. Then lube threads on the stud. Then thread nut on with lube side towards washer. Put thread sealant on the 2 bolts and put them in the corner holes on the manifold side. Put lube on both sides of the washers for the bolts.

    Thread all fasteners down until snug. Now you start the torquing process.

    This will very depending on final torque value. So we will say they need to be torqued to 60 foot pounds. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a good torque wrench.

    Your first torque will be to 30 ftpds. You will then go to 40 ftpds. Then 50. Then to 60 ftpds. Let it sit for a few minutes and torque it again. Depending on the final torque number you will want to do 3 or 4 torques.

    The torque pattern for the marine heads is different then the industrial head Jim posted. I will try to post a picture of the correct torque pattern tomorrow evening.

    Now you need to take it to the lake. It doesn’t have to be the same day. Crank it up and run it at speed on a plane for a few minutes. Shut the engine down quickly and retorque. Then run it again for a little longer shut it down quickly then retorque it again. Then run it again and retorque it. By the third time the nuts should barely move if at all. Run it for a good 10 minutes or so then check the torque again.

    You have to have a good even heat on the engine when you go to retorque it. Just drop it to idle and shut it off out on the lake. Do not idle back to the dock as the engine will start cooling down.

    Then at the beginning of each summer run it and check the torque. You will see some copper coat squeeze out the sides and maybe run down the block some when it heats up. Do not worry about this. Just clean it up.

  20. jim g
    jim g says:

    Also on B and K series blocks you will need to put thread sealant on the end of the stud that threads in to the block. If you don’t you will get weeping as B and K series head stud holes are open to the cooling chamber.

  21. Matt
    Matt says:

    Thanks Jim, BTW, we have done all on the list. And yes I was editorializing with the one hr comment. I realize Head Gasket failure is part of the passion for sure. User error is no doubt the largest culprit. But… We had a summer with failures all over the place. Separate engines, separate re-builders, I have an original head gasket that failed years ago, and compared it to the new copper ones. Night and day difference. But I would agree that user error is most likley the issue, and maybe since the newer head gaskets are the way they are, the install is that much more critical. Your breakdown of the process is fantastic, and we will publish it as a story unto itsself. Thanks again.

  22. jim g
    jim g says:

    Also every time a head is pulled off. It must be checked for flatness with a Machinist’s Straight Edge and feeler gauges. If you don’t have a Machinist’s Straight edge (yes there expensive and if you drop it once you need to buy another) take it to a machine shop and have it checked.

    Once clean if you can run your fingernail across the surface and its feels smooth. Then its to smooth.

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