Hand cranking, left versus right hand

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Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by otrcman » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:13 pm

Charles Whitehouse posted pics and a description of his unfortunate broken arm. His thread eventually drifted to hand cranking safety and left hand versus right hand. I'd like to pick up where Charles' thread left off on the subject of cranking. So here's my take the left versus right issue.

I was taught by my father some 60 years ago to use my right hand and never to wrap my thumb around the handle. So I accepted his example and didn't question it. In more recent years we've learned that cranking left-handed is probably safer as far as avoiding the dreaded broken arm/wrist.

I'm left handed, so it sounded fine to me. But when I tried it, I found that I couldn't get a nice, decisive spin. The first two-thirds of the spin went OK, but I seemed to run out of power just as the engine got to top dead center. Further practice didn't seem to improve my technique any.

As an experiment I asked my physical therapist daughter in law to watch me turn the engine over and see if she saw anything significant. She did. Rita observed that the crank handle (in my car, at least) doesn't really travel from 7 O'clock to 12 o'clock. It's actually going from more like 8:30 to 1:30. Which means that the operator isn't lifting straight up through the entire stroke; he's initially lifting straight up but then transitioning to an "up and to the right" pull.

Rita then pointed out that I wasn't actually using arm muscles to pull the crank; I was using primarily leg muscles by starting out with knees slightly bent and then straightening out my legs to turn the engine. When I cranked with my right hand, my right arm was across my chest and I was leaning my body slightly to the right during the pull. That geometry afforded a continuous pull on the crank handle.

But when I tried cranking left handed, my left hand and shoulder started the stroke on the left side of the engine center line, in more of a straight-up direction. As the crank passed through vertical, my leg muscles were unable to move my upper body in the needed crossways direction. At that point, my left (cranking arm) began trying to "drag" the crank through the end of the stroke. That transition from leg muscle effort to arm and shoulder effort came just as the engine went over top dead center, resulting in a much weaker completion of the stroke. For me at least, left hand cranking was clumsy and still left me in a vulnerable position for a backfire.

Bottom line was that I went back to right hand cranking in spite of being left handed. Perhaps if I were a larger and more powerful person I'd be able to turn the crank with shoulder muscles alone and the left hand would work fine.

It would be interesting to hear from others who have given the left hand cranking business a try and found it clumsy and ineffective as well. Having a second person observe my motion as I cranked was most informative.

Your results may vary.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by otrcman » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:17 pm

Editorial comment on my initial post:

I used the unfortunate word "spin". But I didn't mean to imply that I was spinning the crank to start the engine. I'm only doing quarter turns.

Unfortunate choice of words.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by thom » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:24 pm

I've only had our T for three years. I use the electric starter a lot, but when I do hand crank it I use my left hand, holding the front fender with my right. The only time I use my right hand on the crank handle is when I'm holding the choke ring out with my left. And I know not to put my thumb on the opposite side from the fingers. ;)

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Scott_Conger » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:30 pm

If you will pull with left hand about 1/3 of the way through compression and then reposition crank as compression bleeds off, you will have 2/3 of the compression stroke left, and a much shorter pull, which will go through TDC just slightly before 12 o'clock on crank. If the engine has good compression and is thoroughly tuned, you don't even have to pull hard or quick...just pull from 7 o'clock to about 11 o'clock.

I start my '15 on mag (no battery) and do just this and in fact "throw" the crank past 12 o'clock like skipping a stone on a lake when it's cold. Simply lift it through briskly when warm.

Choking, of course is done with right-crank, left choke...but the key is off and I never choke during the starting pull.

It was awkward at first and is now second-nature for me
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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Dallas Landers » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:45 pm

My Rpu and the TT give free starts after a couple priming pulls cold often enough I expect it. Sorry to say Im a right hander with thumb tucked beside fingers.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by DanTreace » Sat Aug 31, 2019 11:09 pm


Interesting story, and detail of your methods, you may want to explore where the notches of the hand crank ratchet line up on the crank pin, or perhaps your crank handle might be bent?

As for training, my father taught me 60 years ago to only crank with the left hand. And to never wrap the left thumb over the crank handle, nor to lock the fingers, but to 'cup' the crank handle in the left hand and pull swiftly up and pull your hand away at the same time.

Have only experienced one 'bark-back" from a T, and that dang crank handle did spin around! But my hand was well away.

Years ago Jim Thode posted these photos, so I file saved them. He described the red circle ....highlighted....as The Circle Of Hurt.....has always been in my mind, and has been for years. That crank handle will spin around with a backfire.
Really liked his effort to make these photos...correct and valuable information for the Ford owner IMO.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Bob McDaniel » Sun Sep 01, 2019 12:32 am

I used my right hand up till this year and yes it felt wrong at first but now it is normal. I still prime it with the right hand and pull the choke with the left but only with switch turned off. Here is a short video I did when I was first able to go for a short ride back in March. I was still recovering from being sick all winter and should not have been out but could not wait till spring!

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Jeff Hood » Sun Sep 01, 2019 2:02 am

A lot of guys seem to think that they need to really jerk the crank and generate some speed, this isn't the case! I learned watching a 90+ year old who made a couple of priming pulls, and then turned on the key and gently pulled 7 to 11 two times and his T started right up.

I have been at shows where people wanted to see a crank start, and as T's usually do, it wouldn't start when someone was watching, but someone asked what the buzzing was, so I explained about the coils, and started pulling the crank very slowly so that they could hear the different individual coils. I pulled a little and one buzzed, a little more, and the next one buzzed, a little more and it roared to life! I wasn't pulling hard, jerking, or spinning, just slowly pulling to hear the coils. If there is fuel in the cylinder in the proper mixture and a spark occurs, the engine turns. If spark is retarded, then the engine rotates in the proper direction, but if it is advanced, it will rotate in the wrong direction (BACKFIRE)!

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Allan » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:32 am

The key word in any post is PULL. If you are pulling up on the handle between 7 and 11, a backfire will PULL the handle out of your hand, either left or right. The danger is when you PUSH. When the backfire comes, it will PUSH the load back up your arm, either left or right arm, or leg if you chance it.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Loftfield » Sun Sep 01, 2019 6:39 am

One other consideration. When pulling up the crank with the right hand the head faces away from the crank. When pulling up with the left hand the face looks at the crank. My grandfather lost his front teeth while hand-cranking a Dort. Admittedly he was a short fellow not long off the boat from Norway, but for my money I will still face away from the crank.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Charlie B in N.J. » Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:19 am

A lot of you watch Chasing Classic Cars I presume. Believe it was the Model T House Car episode I saw recently. Wayne is right hand cranking pushing down on the crank from the 3 o'clock position. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and let an audible "Oh God" slip out. Loud enough that Wifey asked what was up. later his Lead mechanic does almost the same thing. Made me really wonder about that show. These guys seem to handle a large ammount of crank cars of various makes & years. Im sure they've had some bad experiences and apparently haven't wised up.
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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by It's Bill » Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:18 am

When I got my first brass car, a 1912 Buick, I thought about this left/right thing a good bit mainly because of the potential for injury and because I am a chicken when it comes to broken arms. It seemed to me that a left hand pull gets your hand out of the way better. I am right handed, so it is harder for me to crank with the left. Being new at this, several times I forgot to retard the timing and got my hand slapped anyway. Thank goodness I was pulling lefty. It took a little while but eventually the feeling came back in my hand. Eventually I got in the habit of fully retarding the timing every time I shut her down. I recommend this highly. FWIW, Bill

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by aDave » Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:52 am

With heartfelt thanks to Mike Robison for posting steps listed below, I will tell you readers that I have a 1915, hand crank engine (maybe well worn, and perhaps a little "tired")in my 1915 Touring. The coil box houses Ron's coils, commutator is roller (maintained as per Royce's instructions), timing adjusted per Mike's steps below, and the carb was rebuilt and adjusted by my local mechanic friend (also named Russ).

I do NOT choke. (this engine/carb floods VERY easily).

I S L O W L Y lift the crank handle from about 7:00 to 11:00...sometimes the engine fires and runs when the coils buzz the first time...sometimes the second time...A L W A Y S runs on it's own by the 3rd "buzz". (There - I've probably jinxed myself, and it won't start after a dozen pulls :( ).
I N E V E R spin, nor wind - and there is a well know, very highly respected Maineiac who does so, and each time I see him doing so, I cringe.

I am trying to share with you, dear reader, that many, many folks - much more knowledgeable than I, have encouraged me to have well adjusted coils, plugs and timer to assure easy, trouble free starts. And they are CORRECT.

Again, thanks Mike...and for others, (sure - there is more than one way to skin a cat, but Mike's instructions work for me) here are his instructions:

How to Time a Model T by Mike Robison:
1. Turn crank shaft around until crank pin is horizontal
2. Turn key to Batt.
3. Retard spark
4. No coils should be buzzing
5. If coil buzzes go to step 8
6. Advance spark rod 3-5 clicks on quadrant a coil should buzz; If coil doesn’t begin to buzz go
to step 9
7. Retard spark, coil should stop buzzing everything okay!
8. The timer control needs to be lengthened return to step 3
9. The timer control needs to be shortened return to step 3
10. Coil should buzz and quit buzzing every time you advance and retard the spark!

Good Luck all!


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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Norman Kling » Sun Sep 01, 2019 11:05 am

Starting a cold engine. With key off, right hand on crank, left hand on primer. Pull up twice. Leave crankshaft just after top dead center. Turn on key and get "free" start. Warm engine, with key off pull crank to just beyond top dead center. Then turn key on "free" start. I should add, key is on Battery. After it starts quickly advance spark and switch to magneto.
If you don't get "free" start, use left hand and quickly pull up and slightly past dead center raising your hand out of the way.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Drkbp » Sun Sep 01, 2019 1:55 pm

Interesting post.

Although I'm not quite 100% ambidextrous, I use whichever hand is "most convenient" to whatever I am doing; wrench, screwdriver, hammer, drawing etc.
Years ago when I brought my first T home, a 1914, I had to crank it to get it off the trailer. I used the left hand which "seemed" to be the most convenient standing in front of the car.
The only disadvantage I found was the choke rod was in the wrong place. :?:
So, for the first couple of months, I used a clothes-pin to hold the choke open. :idea:

After several months, a friend came by to help me with starting the car. The timing was too retarded and made it sooo hard to start. He fixed that in short order!
That is when I saw why the choke was where it was.....He cranked right handed! :shock:
I told him I could use either and he said keep doing what you are doing....left hand cranking is safer. :D

I still do.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by ryanf1023 » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:04 pm

I don't often get the chance to crank start a T, but when I do, I've exclusively used my left hand until recently. I was always able to start with left, until I encountered a weak 1914 that eventually wouldn't start from anyone. This happened again, and I found my left hand weak and awkward. I tried going right and it became so much easier (thumb tucked away, of course). When it comes to bigger brass era cars, I don't know if my left hand will have the strength, especially if it is difficult with a T.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Henry K. Lee » Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:42 pm

Always something we need to use correctly.., our body in motion.

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Practical demonstrations of ergonomic principles
Human factors and ergonomics (commonly referred to as human factors) is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the (engineering and) design of products, processes, and systems. The goal of human factors is to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety and comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between the human and the thing of interest.[1]

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Les Schubert » Mon Sep 02, 2019 2:28 pm

I’ve been crank starting using my right hand for 45 years. On my 13 I am very “fastidious”about ensuring that the timing is fully retarded as I have a Trufire. On occasion, of course I do get a “push back “. I ensure that I am ALWAYS ready for this eventuality. I have my fist fully wrapped around the crank and my arm muscles ready!!
On this car I just pull up and over and it usually starts on the first pull because I it has a really HOT spark and it has a OF carb (original never rebuilt)
On my 27 I have taken to crank starting on magneto. It I spin it as I want a good hot spark at TDC AND I want plenty of FORWARDS inertia in the rotation. I feel much safer this way.
This works for me, but then again I solder gas tanks with gasoline in them!!
All the best!

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Jugster » Mon Sep 02, 2019 3:42 pm

The worst possible way to crank is with the right hand in a full circle with your opposing thumb enclosing the crank.
Why is it bad? Well, going past the 12 o'clock position is universally recognized as a bad idea, even by those who are proponents of right-handed cranking. This method leaves no escape for your arm and wrist in the event of a kick-back. Nobody argues that point.
In the case of using the opposing thumb of your right hand to enclose the crank handle in the same manner as holding a hammer, if the engine kicks back, the first thing the crank handle will do is dislocate your thumb. The second thing the crank handle will do is pop entirely out of your hand, swing around and perhaps, strike your wrist or the back of your hand after the infinitesimal microsecond it takes to whip around 360 degrees. And it may hit you more than once.

While it may not be that left-handed cranking which does not go beyond the 12 o'clock position is entirely fool-proof, there is no denying that the geometry of this method is such that the crank absolutely cannot pop out of your left hand without first making a motion in the direction of flinging your left hand out of the crank's circle of travel (the action being that of a forceful shove instead of a sharp impact). I suppose it's possible that the crank will still sting and maybe bruise the soft tips of your left hand's two longest fingers, but that's way preferable to taking the hit squarely on the bones of your wrist. Oh—and the bonus of this method is that it absolutely cannot dislocate your thumb, so if you forget to "tuck your thumb," it doesn't really matter.

Now, I've been admonished by highly skilled and experienced genuine experts who insist that they've been cranking right-handed for as long as I've been alive with no mishaps. They insist that it does not matter which hand you use. That being the case, what's the harm in using your left hand?

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Les Schubert » Mon Sep 02, 2019 4:12 pm

This makes me think of the “correct oil “ debates!

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Erik Johnson » Mon Sep 02, 2019 4:35 pm

In my opinion, it does not matter which hand you use to crank your antique car.

I have seen a lot of bad cranking technique over the years - both right-handed and left handed. Most left-hand cranking that I have witnessed is really atrocious and what I would call "up and over," using mainly body weight with the left arm still fully extended at the end of the stroke.

Here is the number one rule regarding hand-cranking an antique car, Model T Ford or otherwise: NEVER crank an antique car that does not belong to you. You never know how the other guy has his car set up. Just because the spark lever is in the retarded position does not guarantee the ignition timing is actually retarded.

When observing people cranking their cars (Fords and non-Fords), I notice that many people appear to be afraid of their antique automobiles.

Two examples of bad technique and fear of the car:

The frantic, two-handed "hot potato" - notice how he "throws" the crank handle at the end of the stroke:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DtRFs4H ... re=related

The left-handed "leap away" - note that he tells the guy in the driver's seat to "pull the timer half-way down" (yikes!). Also, if you need to hold something to steady yourself, put your free hand on the tire, the fender or headlamp, not the hot radiator.

These folks below are comfortable with their Fords (most likely because of proper ignition timing) and have good right-hand technique:

Good example, except forgot to set hand brake:

Nice, slow stroke:

My favorite, Royce's dad - note that the object is to just get the cylinder to fire. Cranking is just putting the piston in the proper position so internal combustion can take over. No fast lifting or spinning required, similar to the example immediately above.

PS: if you are adamant about cranking Model Ts with your left hand, make sure you use your right hand when cranking a Brush, as Brush motors rotate counter-clockwise.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Susanne » Mon Sep 02, 2019 5:22 pm

I've never had a problem either starting a T right handed or even occasionally "spinning" the motor... on mag. If your car bites back on mag, and you have your levers set right, something is wrong somewhere.

The rare times it's bitten back (on battery) the motor is turning over really slowly, and if it decides to mess with me, I can (and have) let the thing go. Just keep your "situational awareness" on high - usually if a car is going to bite, you'll know (or feel) it before it does.

The one thing you really DO need to be aware of, left or right handed, spinning or not, is proper body mechanics, as it's really REALLY easy to throw your back starting a car if you're using your back muscles rather than arms and legs.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Henry K. Lee » Mon Sep 02, 2019 5:41 pm

I can tell Les is having fun. We better quit before Canada runs out of Depends!


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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by J1MGOLDEN » Mon Sep 02, 2019 7:32 pm

Actually, I always thought that the engine was designed that way because most people are right handed and cranking early engines often resulted in a broken arm or wrist, so it was easier to get along without your left hand broken.

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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by TRDxB2 » Mon Sep 02, 2019 8:17 pm

Hand? The FORCE on the starter I use, you see.
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Re: Hand cranking, left versus right hand

Post by Scott_Conger » Mon Sep 02, 2019 8:35 pm


your advice to walk away from someone else's car and not crank is some of the soundest advice I have read in a long time.

There are enough hammer/chisel mechanics setting things up that you can never really know what you're getting into, particularly if the car is a starter car with a low battery and the owner is oblivious to where/how the d@#$ thing is timed. The last time I was asked, it was in front of a crowd at a large tour, and someone who should have known better really worked at shaming me when I walked away. I was the town bum, but I didn't get hurt, either. Ultimately, the "hero of the day" rapidly spun the engine 720 degrees before it started, and rolled his eyes and shook his head as I left the area. Good for him, I say.

My first car was a '13 with ignition timing problems that I was unaware of initially, and got whopped too many times sorting that random failure out. I have pretty good arthritis in my right hand thumb joint that I attribute to the serious thumping I got over a 3 weekend period years ago. I crank with left hand now and it is second-nature.
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