An incident at the sign factory this week has prompted me to bring up this subject for the benefit of those who have joined the forum since the last time it was discussed. I had some screens to move, and grabbed two in each hand. Halfway across the room the two on the right were falling out of my hand because I couldn't keep a grip on them. It's been almost four years since I broke my right arm (wrist) by crank starting stupidly, and I still haven't recovered all my grip. I did it with a tractor, but the same thing can happen (has happened) with cars too. So here are procedures for hand starting safely.
The Prime Directive: Crank ONLY by pulling up the crank from about the seven o'clock position on the left. NEVER go over the top and down the right side.
1. Before starting set the throttle down two or three notches and the spark lever all the way up (starting on battery) or two or three notches down (starting on mag).
2. Choking: with the key OFF, pull out the choke wire with the left hand while pulling up the crank with the right. Experience with a particular vehicle will teach you how much choking, if any, works best.
3. With the key ON, pull the crank up from about the seven o'clock position with your left hand. Use of the left hand is so that in the event of a kickback (guaranteed to yank the handle out of your grip), your hand is likely to be out of the way when the crank comes spinning back around. Being right or left handed here is a red herring. Pulling up the handle does not require any dexterity or fine motor skills. Even for a righty like me, pulling up with the left should be no problem.
4. When the engine starts, pull the spark lever down to advance the spark. A properly timed engine with good plugs and all adjustments set right may start on the first pull. If something is a little off, more pulls may be necessary.
This thread is likely to draw many comments and opinions. Some will be valid and some will be utterly bogus. The most bogus of all is "I've always done blah blah blah and never had a problem." This is bogus because it doesn't end with "yet".
Don't let this happen to you. The pain was so intensely excruciating that I passed out on the ground.
Years ago when stopped in the Model T a guy walks up, pulls up his shirt sleeve and exhibits his "Ford arm". Shure enough between wrist and elbow it had an odd angle. Hadn't set quite straight after the Model T broke it!
I've seen some guy's at shows wind the crank like a coffee grinder. I guess it's their of playing "Beat The Reaper"
I've never heard of anybody ever breaking a left arm cranking a Model T.
When one hand cranks a Model T engine with an after market magneto but no impulse, it must be spun so the hand must go over top center and around several times or it will not start. One must remember to ALWAYS properly retard the spark. Henry hid T.D.C. very carefully, so it is difficult to locate T.D.C. correctly and it must be marked carefully and tested often.
It is perfectly safe to spin a Model T Ford eninge to get it started, your starter spins it but the spark must be retarded after top dead center.
Well,when I first mentioned to my boss at work that I had started trying to put together a Model T truck back in 93 or 4,he told me to start saveing my sick leave and vacation time because I would need that time to recover from a broke arm.
When I was retired out,I had over 130 vacation days and 98 sick days.So I followed his advice.Thank God I aint messed up "YET".But I must admit to be a addict of the "sissy button".That term was first told me by a former Outlaw motorcycle gang member.They used it for folkes that had electric start on ther Harleys.
I know of a guy that had a water leak from the upper hose inlet and it had been dripping on the timer. After the stop on tour, he hand cranked it and it kicked back and he got a trip to the hospital.
"I've never heard of anyone ever breaking a left arm cranking a Model T."
It's probably due to simple statistics; an overwhelming majority of people crank their antique cars - Model Ts and non-Model Ts - with their right hands.
If everyone cranked their antique cars with their left hands, I'm sure you'd be hearing about Ford fractures of the left hand.
You all know I'm a hardheaded right hand crank starter, even though I KNOW it is safer left handed. However, I will make you all a promise. If it ever happens to me, I will be man enough to admit it to y'all.
If you watch me start a cold engine, you will see me "Windmill" it, but I can assure you THAT only happens with the key off. Mine flood easily, so I prime them by richening the mixture a half turn and spin it through two or three revolutions. Get a lot of free starts when flipping they key to BAT. Only if it won't start after priming, will I choke it, and then only one pull at a time, lest I flood it.
Sometimes this video gets the point across.
Not a single handed left hand crank but served the same purpose. Had he used his right hand when it kicked back it would have been more likely to push his hand into the path of the crank handle that was flying around CCW.
David Kriegel takes time to explain it here:
Go left. Your hand is outside the loop. I use either hand doing most things but I could see this T cranking is a left hand for safety. It doesn't seem like it would be that hard for a real right hand person, is it? The choke is in the wrong place but it is a right-handed world.
My '14 is getting a starter next month but it's mostly to make me and my cardiologist happier.
I have a new to me '25 with the button, 6-volt battery and have found no desire to crank it by hand. Love it.
Ken in Texas
I've cranked old tractors that took 2 hands to crank. If they would have kicked back I'd probably have 2 broken wrists. The only reason I cranked them was because the battery was dead or low and had no other choice. I've crank started my TT once just to say that I did. I spent the summer of 72 in a full length cast on my right leg foot starting an old junk Harley Davidson motor cycle.
My opinion on hand cranking is, if you have to do it, that's one thing. You should try to do it the safest way you know how. If you don't have to then why? I'd feel pretty silly breaking my arm starting my model T with a perfectly good starter, just to be an organ grinder monkey for a crowd of people I don't even know.
That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
Oh, by the way Steve, thanks for posting this topic. We all need to be reminded from time to time on things that can screw up a perfectly wonderful Model T experience.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't choke it with the ignition on unless I'm using the starter. I would think using a choke and cranking at the same time by hand with ignition on would be asking for a whoopin'.
Choking would not make the engine any more likely to kick back, only more likely to fire, if it was cold and starved for fuel. What direction it heads in when it does fire is a function of the spark timing. If you believe right handed cranking is the Great Satan, then by all means do NOT crank and choke at the same time with the ignition on. If you believe right handed cranking is safe enough, provided the spark is adjusted properly and fully retarded, then choking it when hand cranking is an acceptable practice, in my opinion. Which is worth exactly what you paid for it.
We have a little over a dozen tractors that dont have a starter. My tt new motor now has a starter due to my health issues. We never had any problems until a good friend and a novice to anything with crank start was going to help dad start the Case CC. He grabbed the crank and started cranking before dad could set the timing. He got a whoopin that would have put an average man in the hospital. I cant get him to crank any of them now. He now carries a tow strap and says thats the only way he is going to start one. Robert
I'm probably an example of caution taken to a compulsive extreme. When I was a student pilot in ground school, they taught us that you can't trust a magneto to be dead even when the switch is in the "off" position. That's because the p-lead (a short length of single-conductor wire whose purpose is to ground out the mag) may have slipped its terminal and fallen off, rendering the system "hot." That lecture was followed by another talk covering the pros and cons of ever moving the propeller by hand. It has sort of a familiar ring to it.
Our old Fords were manufactured at a time when nobody who had spilled hot coffee on themselves while driving had yet come up with the idea of suing the merchant from whom they had purchased the cup of coffee. Likewise, certain other automotive hazards were thought of as just part of the game of life. And if you preferred horses, you occasionally got bit, kicked or stepped on.
Me, I just don't trust Lizzie. Oh, she looks all cute and adorable, sitting there in her diamond-tufted, brass-era quaintness, but I'm not fooled. Not one little bit. Doesn't mean I don't love her--I do--but I sure as hell don't trust her. Pilots (and certain married folk) know what I'm talking about.
So, sometimes I wonder about what can be done to make things a little bit safer. I've been convinced that only operating the crank with the left hand is a good idea, but the placement of the choke loop makes that almost impossible. You pretty much have to crank with the right hand when priming the engine and if you can trust the ignition switch, well, I guess that's safe enough.
Y'know, back in Lizzie's day, some guys used to grease the gears of thought by whittling. It was through this time-honored method of reflection that I semi-consciously came up with a silly little, two-inch, wooden splint that would hold the choke shut and free up my left hand for priming the engine. Hey, it works.
No question about it; I'm compulsive. But I'm also perhaps a little bit less likely to get smacked by the hand-crank than someone who's not.
I saw a guy cranking an old Cat 22 last fall at the Pioneer day parade smack his head on the radiator cap. He did every thing right EXCEPT use his left hand! Lots of blood but no serious injury. When that beast back fired the crank pulled his head down hard.
Use your left hand and stand back from the radiator!!!
I always figured old Henry put points on the radiator cap just to be mean!
Even with the spark lever properly set, just one errant spark (caused by a dirty timer, with metal filings on the inside, or the bolt under the timer installed with the nut on top, that inappropriately grounds the #2 or #4 terminal), can cause a broken wrist.
A broken Right wrist.