Hand Cranking A Model K Flathead. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Make sure its all lubed up

So. Where do I start. Facebook, and my favorite facebook group, Mahogany Hot Rods. Its a fun group and is very well managed by fellow Woody Boater and local pal Jamie Taylor. Some one posted a story on a tool kit found in a 1920’s Chris Craft. COOL, but things got wonky as they seem to do on the internet. The subject of a crank came up, and well, I said it was used to start the engine. Which it is. But then people started saying no it wasn’t, yes it was and so on. So. I wanted to try it out. Honestly I was and still am scared. As Jimmy calls it. An Arm Breaker. Model A’s were famous for that.

Should be easy

But what the hell. Even if I wound up in the hospital, its a better story and can milk that one for a week. I am not a proud man, bring it on. So. First lets talk about the PAWL. Its the mother part on the flywheel that the father crank tip has. A key of sorts that allows it to spin off once the engine starts. Okay. I can do that….

The crank

Okay.. Here is a video..


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Oh, NO ONE MENTIONED THE KICK BACK.. WTF? SON OF A B^$&#*&@. Holy hell. No story is worth this. In my head it was going to go so much smoother. A couple cranks and bam chuck spit spat vroom, Bobs your uncle. BUT HELL.. That kick back is insane, even Jimmy who I double dog dared to do it said no. JIMMY! Ya, Jimmy who in high school rode his chopper through the hallways Jimmy. So guess what? I tried, failed and saved my arm. Hell I only have two of them, and I have a love life to consider.

25 replies
  1. warren
    warren says:

    I’ve used the hand crank on my little Yanmar 2 cyl diesel, but only for bleeding the injectors.
    Can’t remember ever being able to start it even with compression release

  2. Matt
    Matt says:

    I know it can be done. Certain sailboat grey marine engines start this way. Hell, all a starter is, is an arm and courage. UGH.. Not worth the pain. Too old.

  3. Bill
    Bill says:

    you never grab the crank with both hands wrapped around it, you cup the crank in one hand not wrapped around it and lift up, never push down so if it kicks back it will pull it out of your hand

    • Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U P)
      Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U P) says:

      Amen Bill. My Dad taught me that lesson at a young age on our 1940 Allis Chalmers B, that didn’t have an electric starter. This widom has served me well since I still own the tractor.

      • Andy in Middletown
        Andy in Middletown says:

        Matt, you’ll break your arm EVERY time doing it like that. NEVER wrap your thumb around a hand crank. if you place your right thumb in line with your other four fingers, then the crank handle will fly put of your hand if kickback ensues.. Also, it is likely that if you have a manual spark advance, then it needs to be set at a location other than where it is set for electric spark. I’d read a manual. Been crank starting motors since I was 12.. and I’m only 38 now. Never had an issue yet.. Good luck next time you gain the courage.

  4. Scott Ales
    Scott Ales says:

    Keep that thumb from wrapping around the handle!

    After having this expert teach me a few times, I was able to start our car by priming and then turning on the magneto! Pretty cool actually…

  5. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Though I think you “could” start the engine with that crank, (it sounds like Bill has the experience and know how) I would think it is intended more for maintenance situations. (timing, finding TDC, …………..) Most engines that that I have encountered that are made to be hand cranked have some sort of compression release to assist the cranking. Good luck!

  6. Steve in the woods
    Steve in the woods says:

    When in the 5th grade, neighbors acquired a Model T Touring, but no one knew how to start or drive…my grandparents had come to see our new house. I informed neighbors that Mitma learned to drive one of those cars. She came over, put a brick in front of tire, set spark & throttle and went to front of car. She pulled crank to compression stroke. Bunched her skirt and kicked crank. It busted right off, she jumped behind wheel hollering get the brick! 5 or 6 got in and we went for ride! I was so proud of my 5′ tall grandmother giving us All such a demonstration

    • Jim Veal
      Jim Veal says:

      ATTA GIRL GRANNY!! You had every right to be pround She wowed the crowd. I can see them starring in absolute amazement. Get the brick!! Classic!! Thanks for that image.

  7. Dangeruss
    Dangeruss says:

    I would hand crank my 36 Ford V8 all the time just for the novelty of it. I used the technique as Bill mentioned using open hand and always pulling up. People were fascinated it would start in a quarter rotation nearly every time.

  8. Tuobanur
    Tuobanur says:

    My first experience with a hand crank was on my dads old Farmall that he bought new in 1947. It is still in our family and has only been overhauled once.

  9. Tuobanur
    Tuobanur says:

    My first experience with a hand crank was on my dads old Farmall that he bought new in 1947, the crank clips under the seat and is still there. It has only been overhauled once and is still in the family.

  10. km
    km says:

    I had a 6 cyl 970 cu in T-head Sterling that IF everything was in place (mag, fuel vapour in cylinder it would start on its own compression…

  11. Dan Protexter
    Dan Protexter says:

    We’ve had model T’s for years and the one thing you have to do when starting them by hand is to retard the spark or timing. If you don’t they will bite you, also you want to keep your thumb on the same side of the crank as your fingers to keep it from getting ripped off or breaking your wrist.

  12. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    It’s way more fun on a vintage airplane. You get the extra leverage of a longer propeller to help you pull against the compression, with the minor trade off that if things go wrong, it’s not just your arm that gets broken.

    Otherwise listen to Bill. The people who survived hand cranking and hand propping learned valuable techniques that are no longer common knowledge. Learning from them is a much better idea than trying to learn the hard way like their less fortunate contemporaries.

  13. Syd
    Syd says:

    At a cG station we had 2 fire fighting pumps 4 cylinder Wisconsin if I remember right and they were both hand crank.

  14. Cranky
    Cranky says:

    Graymarine made a two cylinder sailboat auxiliary that had a magneto and no starter. The only way to start it was with a handcrank.

  15. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    Kicked the crank at the top of compression with the spark retarded on many a Model A….never get your thumb around it…you know why even today engines crank clockwise? Because most folks, unlike me, are right handed….
    John in Va.

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