The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Addictive traits of Starting Fluid spray

Can of Starting Fluid Spray in action

can close up of starting fluid sprayWhen we first got our used tiller it worked fine for the first season, but when I went to get it going the next year it wouldn't seem to start, so I used a couple squirts of Starting Fluid spray and off it went. I only did this a few times, but that was enough to get our innocent Statesman tiller addicted to Ether, which is the main ingredient in this wicked spray. Now it won't start without this high end boost.

Don't get me the hands of a qualified expert a short spray of Starting Fluid can be used to safely troubleshoot several specific problems.

The trouble happens when a back yard mechanic like myself was never told in Health class how repeated use of Starting Fluid begins to wear off the oil that usually coats the inner walls of each cylinder, which leads to accelerated wear on the rings, piston, and the cylinder itself. This creates a decrease in compression and explains the increased difficulty in starting.

Is there any kind of rehab center I can send my tiller to? I would assume a complete engine rebuild would be in order to get the compression back where it once was.  Maybe one of those expensive oil additives might rejuvinate things back to normal? It's been a couple of years since I've had to till up new ground due to our no-till method of growing and the tiller repair is way at the bottom of the "fix me now" list.

Image credit of the close up shot of Starting Fluid being sprayed goes to dazecars at

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

Wow... you've got a tiller with a four barrel Edelbrock? Nice.... :P

Anyway, for future reference, WD-40 often works as a milder version of starting fluid without as much cylinder damage.

Comment by Shannon Sun Jun 27 13:19:46 2010

Some general things to do to help with engine starting 1. Use new fuel, old fuel is bad for engines 2. Check and clean or replace the spark plug every year with proper electrode gap 3. Drain or run engine until it's completely out of gas at season or usage end 4. Drain and replace oil every 25 hours or before the start of a new season 5. Make sure any gear reducer has proper lube.

Old fuel, low or dirty old oil, and dirty or improper spark gap will make for no starting or bad running engine.

If it does indeed need an overhaul, make sure you price a new engine as sometimes the difference in price isn't that much, so a new engine might be very cost effective.

Comment by vester Sun Jun 27 17:07:24 2010

You might get away with just new piston rings and possibly a new piston. But this is somethig for a mechanic to assess. He'll need to measure the distance between the ends of the piston ring with a gauge, and the size of the bore and the size of the cylinder with micrometers to check if the wear is within tolerances.

If the cylinder is worn out as well it will need reboring and honing (cast iron cylinder liner, usually on older engines) or replating (nikasil or equivalent coating). Replating is pretty common on motocross bikes because those eat a lot of dirt. It might be that replacing the cylinder is cheaper than reconditioning it.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Jun 27 17:28:53 2010
Good advice! One of these days, I'm bound and determined to learn about small engines so that I'll know stuff like that, but it never feels as pressing as permaculture. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Jun 27 19:12:57 2010
When it's time for the rebuild I've got your guy! T & E Small Engine here in Floyd VA. It's only a 5 hour trip but he's so good the local farmers ("tightwad" is an understatement about these guys) won't work on their own small engines. He's also a nice guy and we've got locavore beer and pizza that's unbelievably good.
Comment by mrs fuzzy Sun Jun 27 20:14:09 2010

I was going to say to "fix the problem instead of fixing the symptoms", but Vester more or less spelled that out in practical steps. :-)

Some minor additions; if your engine isn't using an electronic ignition, check if the contact points aren't burned in, and generally check that there is no moisture in the electrical system.

While it is relatively easy to do routine maintenance on engines, like changing spark plugs and changing the oil on a fourstroke engine, doing serious repairs is best left to a specialized shop. Repairs usually requires special tools. Like a timing light for checking the ignition timing, or a collar to help get the piston rings to fit into the bore, the pliers for fitting circlips, a torque wrench for tightening the head bolts. And outside and inside micrometers to check the wear on piston and bore. None of these are standard tools for the hobbyist, and some of them (like micrometers and good torque wrenches) are very expensive.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 28 10:52:47 2010

Mrs. Fuzzy --- You don't happen to know Everett, do you? He's one of our regular blog readers who lives outside Floyd. Thanks for the engine repairman recommendation!

Roland --- That's precisely why I want to know more about small engines. The person who first turned us onto starting fluid spray clearly wasn't of the school of fixing the problem not the symptoms, but we just didn't know any better!

Comment by anna Mon Jun 28 13:17:38 2010

On the engine you should be able to find a type plate with information about who built it (not necessarily the people who built the tiller; they could have bougt one off-the-shelf) and what type it is.

Then look on the internet for a workshop or repair manual. That should give you an idea what maintenance you can do with the tools you have. Such a manual usually also has a flowchart or something for narrowing down the cause of faults.

in general older engines will probably be easier to work on. They'll probably be two-stroke engines which are pretty simple.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 28 18:45:37 2010

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.