I get smoke on crank, but no fire!

Warning!  Big Flywheels Engines Are Dangerous!  Potentially more dangerous that an AR15.  Anytime you are trouble shooting, you will have the air cleaner off, and be ready to cut off the air supply at the first sign of over speed.   


How many times over the years have I received this complaint? Well I’ve personally  never had an engine that gave me much trouble for long till this week, and I got a full dose of smoking on the compression stroke but no fire.


Above:  Audio track demonstrates the sound of the ‘clink’ the injector firing..


Clink – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary


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to give out a slight sharp short metallic sound. transitive verb. : to cause to clink. See clink defined for English-language learners » · See clink


It was the perfect situation for study, the engine a complete unknown to me all save one thing, I knew it had been running.  A new head installed, a used injector, used injection pump, and what seemed like enough compression to make it fire.

I tell people it can only be a few things, and most times the delays in finding the trouble are caused by venturing too far away from the simple things that can cause the condition. You need compression, an adequate injection of decent fuel at near the right time, and it’s best you work at moderate temperatures when trouble shooting or testing an engine for the first time.  

In this case, I did know this engine had run well for years, and the timing gears were installed correctly, so I did dismiss the possibility of timing problems at least for the moment.   

It seems every engine is a little different, but if you’re attempting to start one for the first time, it really is best to stick to the rules, and save yourself time and frustration. Check   for common problems during your assembly, and never trust that an assembled part was assembled correctly. One of the newbie errors in working with Listeroids is finding one or two examples of things being right ‘out of the box’ and assuming the next one will be too.  I have seen many posts over the years by people new to slow speed commenting that their brand or choice of Listeroid is best because their one sample was found to be so nice. 

In one case…… could it have been a dozen years back? A would be dealer in the USA posted:  “The engine I ordered is wonderful, I’m taking orders, and will order a container load.”  Later he addressed a forum and said he thought his order had been sabotaged!

Today, there are people convinced that all of India is doing much better, but thanks to contacts in far off places, I hear of similar problems, and just last month, I heard from a friend who ordered a number of Indian petters, and he said it was hard to believe they had sent him so many problems to sort. 

The message you need receive is you will assume nothing, and you will deal with folks that promise to make things right if you get such a lemon, and know what they promise. Returning parts to India for a refund is not going to be a cost-effective remedy for the owner/operator.     

On with the smoke but no fire story.  

Remember, once you get the basics of this old Lister design,  you’ll have an understanding of the multi cylinder engines, they’re pretty much the same, only more elements of the same components.  If I were teaching the basics of ICEs, this would be my choice of class room engines, and planting problems for students to find would be great learning for them.  

A brand new engine can hide troubles you might not think about.. the new filter can hold a bunch of bubbles and give them up slowly. Bubbles in the high pressure line can cause problems, and the first thing we attempt to get is a nice crisp CLINK sound when the injector fires, a CL—–INK  isn’t good enough. But how do you know a good clink from a bad one? It’s a learning process for sure, but bubbles in the high pressure line is a source of trouble.

But maybe I tell you how this engine is acting, and how I attempt to find the  problem?  I couldn’t have found much more wrong!

In this case, I had the luxury of an electric starter, all so rare, and this made  it an easy job to look for compression leaks, and I did feel something at the top of the head, and light piece of paper used as a flag found a wisp of air coming by the washer on the injector.  I pulled the injector and noticed the hold down was bowed! This is a rather generous piece of metal, and takes some serious over tightening to bend it. As one might expect, the washer was squished as thin as a match book cover, and turned over from the original squish.

Do learn NOT to tighten more than you need to stop leaks, and then just a little more.. you don’t need two hands on a wrench here.

I changed the washer and tightened the hold down reasonably, and the problem gone. The last guy had used brute force.  Test the seal with soapy water.. 

I cranked again, and saw a mist coming from the CS plug, could this be loose? Ahhh yes! How did that get over looked? It’s all so easy WHEN you assume an assembled head is ready to run.  I unscrew the plug, check for a copper seal, and tighten same…. all looks good.

We crank again, and no joy, it’s the same.. smoke but no fire.

I stop to beat on the filter with a wooden hammer handle, and with the hose that goes to the injector return in a bottle of diesel so I can watch and see the bubbles purged. It took a bit of banging, but soon we were bubble free, this is an important step in firing new engines.  Next, we go to the injection pump, and remove the high pressure fuel line and unscrew the top fitting, we are careful not to lose the spring, and remove the top of the valve, we turn the flywheel till fuel gushes from the top and the bubbles clear.  We put the valve back in, and screw the top on with the spring.  Next we refit the HP fuel line and we’re careful NOT to make too tight!  It really doesn’t need much torque, and too much splits the ferrel and you’ll need a new HP fuel line! Splitting that ferrel means it leaks forever more till you change the fuel line.  Tight enough not to leak and just a little more is all you need..  Next crack loose the top fitting at the injector and crank with the rack WIDE open for the longest possible pump stroke, as you crank look for fuel to gush by the fitting, and there’s lots of it, slowly tighten the fitting and keep turning the flywheel. Tight enough to stop the leak and a little more.. Don’t use two hands!

A new attempt to start…In my case, we still have smoke and no fire..

I have  the air cleaner, and Muffler removed, make sure you do this!  If you ever have a run away engine, you just need put the palm of your hand over the intake to kill it..

I listen close as the engine is brought up on compression with both hands on the flywheel.. I hear leaks with an ear at the intake port and exhaust.  Are they bad ones?  No, but it takes so little to check the valves, so let’s do it!

The head is on it’s side on the bench in five minutes..  I have a small wooden tool I made to compress the valve springs.  The hole over the valve is large enough to reach in and take the keepers out.. I leave  the spring compressed, and remove the valve.

I blued the face of the valve seat, and put the valve back in.  A screw driver in the slot in this valve allowed me to move the valve back and forth and check for proper contact. It looked ugly! Fact is, the valve fitted didn’t really seem to match the angle of the valve seat very well, so I grabbed another set of valves , re-blued the seat and found them a far better fit.

With Listeroids we assume nothing,  One hundred can be checked and found good, and the next not so good, do not play the game of probabilities or you will get burned. 

These valves and seats were far closer, and it seems the valves found in the head were done on a machine with the angle off a tad?  Maybe the shop boy doing the job?   With the new valves, I added some valve grinding compound, and in a few minutes I had a much better fit.  I cleaned the valves and seats with solvent, cleaned them several times, lubed the stems with assembly grease and put it all together.

With HP fuel line purged, we attempt to crank it over again.. smoke and no fire!

Hmmmmm, but now I’m fairly certain we have great compression, since the engine was running fine at one point in the past, and the inside of the liner looked excellent with the piston at BDC, and not a single skuff or hair line mark found, and no leak heard from the crank case, I assume (for the moment) we have adequate compression.

Since this engine is for sale, why not check the injection pump? Maybe a complete rebuild just because we can? Is it possible this pump has a problem?

In less than two minutes, the pump was off and under the drill press, I used it like an arbor to press down on the bottom of the pump and take out the keeper ring.  On my CD is an article showing this pump apart, and how to assemble it..

I didn’t find anything too alarming inside the pump, but for good measure I replaced the barrel, and plunger, and the delivery valve, that’s pretty much a complete rebuild and the spring felt fine.

I didn’t see an obvious problem, but cleaned it all, and made sure the rack and pinion traveled fully on assembly.

I pulled the roller tappet and checked the roller, I found a good quality roller in good condition, and thought about finding rollers in engines that were never finished! Lumpy might be a good description of the worst ones found.   

Soon it’s all bolted back together, and fuel lines bled.  It’s now late, and the shop doors down to keep the noises in.. We engage the starter, and more smoke.. then pop pop pop! I kill it all, roll up the door and let the smoke out..  We need wait till a decent time to do more..but fire…. we do have fire!

So many things found wrong, and it’s a reminder, that if you leave Murphy half a chance to make you feel foolish, he’ll do it every time. Check it all on assembly!

The real test comes with a load test, and for that you need a load.. Generators are near the ultimate, and I expect to make about 3500 watts at near sea level.  If we don’t make that, we need check more things.  I’ve found that a few degrees of timing one way or the other in this engine doesn’t make a lot of difference, so don’t expect 15% more or less horse power change with a few degrees of timing change one way or the other.  

Next morning, I disconnected  the linkage totally and started the engine, it took some time to clear all the fuel out, but soon it was idling slow and smooth, and slamming the rack open gave a quick response. It’s sounds great!

I  have a nice clear CLINK now, but I’m not sure I found anything bad in the Injection pump. All looks very good.  I am now among those who have fought the condition of smoke but no fire all the way.. it wasn’t exactly a quick fix this time  🙂 





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8 Responses to I get smoke on crank, but no fire!

  1. SW Lee says:

    Hi George,

    just to share with you and all readers that it is my father religion to have the air cleaner/manifold removed so there is an effective way to kill a run away engine before attempting to restart a repaired engine.

    i remember working with him on a old BMC truck stuck on an incline with a jammed clutch many years back. the clutch was freed and he instructed me to remove the exhaust header from the manifold in addition to removing the air cleaner. i could not understand but followed his instruction anyway.

    once started, the driver release the clutch too fast and kill the engine. without sufficient vacuum to activate the brake, the truck now started to roll backward. the driver throw in the low gear in an attempt to stop it and this started the engine in reverse direction.

    and the old engine now run on reverse with all hell breaking loose. it was choking the exhaust header removed earlier that save the engine as the lub pump does’nt work on reverse direction.

    it was indeed a good religion to have this preparation working on any unknown engine. or at least a way to kill an engine effectively in an emergency.

    • George B. says:

      Thanks Lee,

      No suprise to me about your Father, I can’t imagine what he hasn’t seen go wrong over his many years in the field in an area where stationary power was the only power for so long. I went back and made ‘bold’ my reccomendation.

      Some years back, there was a man killed by an exploding flywheel in Australia. We all should know just how much energy can be stored and then released WHEN these flywheels go into serious overspeed. It’s not only the operator who could be cut in half, but people some distance away. There are people ‘cocksure’ they understand it all, and it’s my thought they are more dangerous around machines. It’s the skeptic that has the advantage in near every case. Taking loose the exhaust and giving the example why is an excellent addition to this post.

      NOTHING is more frightening than a heavy Flywheel Diesel in serious overspeed, and the flywheel lined up with the Kitchen with a Mother and children inside. The thoughtful man takes responsibility, and prepares for what could happen. Useful Idiots help to ban any activity that results in injury.

      Who was it that shared that you can’t do your own home wiring, nor store fuel at home in his country? What next? Perhaps we’ll see a law that you need ‘haul it in’ before you zip up your fly?

      I was thinking of all the things we could ban an save money. Dangerous sports of any kind might lead the list, and the ownership of small planes, just how necessary is it that people take such risks? Some minds were born and bred to make rules, and my observations suggest they know just how dangerous they are… and assume other men are just as inept.

      As for anyone who sells a heavy flywheel engine/generator, It’s an excellent idea that you NEVER sell a heavy flywheel engine and tell the buyer it’s ready to run.. In writing you will explain the dangers and tell him that the set is not yet finsihed. He must construct a sturdy cage around each flywheel and have it certified by a proper authority as adequate protection, have him sign it and keep a copy. Never leave him in a position to say he didn’t know. We DIYers need be active in helping to assure that others know of the dangers, and making sure they understand the responsibility of an operator.

  2. bob g says:

    we always used some other object to cut off the airflow to a runaway engine, a clip board, a block of wood, anything that would fit the opening was located and placed within easy reach just in case.

    i have heard horror stories about folks using body parts to cut off the airflow, bad stuff might happen, the least of which is likely a big hickey on the palm of your hand.

    best plan ahead as if you know it will run away, that way it won’t be a surprise if it does!


    bob g

    • George B. says:

      Who could argue with your advice Bob, I know how hard 6/1 clones suck, others could be far worse. In therory, you can catch it before it runs away, crossing that flywheel with a body part is too much exposure if it’s way past operating speed.. so having something on a stick could be wise..

  3. Randall (aka:highwater) says:

    thick metropolitan phone book
    the list goes on

  4. Jetguy says:

    Reminds me of why I like diesels, they are made to run. It takes great effort to make them stop running. They suck huge amounts of air and anything combustible and attempt to stay alive. It’s really actually an amazing thing when youstep back and look at it. Heck, it even fights back at the hand that tries to choke it from it’s fuel or oxygen.

    • George B. says:

      Very True, Diesels like to run, and once we understand they are simple BUT have a few parts precision made, we are in a better position to troubleshoot problems on the fly.

      As for the Lister 6/1 and similar designs, there is one condition that I have seen in the field when burning what I call ‘blended fuels’. This can be near anything from left over mineral spirits (waste from a painters shop) blended with washed and dried lube oil, to used veggie with a thinning agent. I mention this because many of us are attracted to these older machines because of their ability to tolerate a wider variety of fuels.

      Sometimes we go to start the engine and find compression low and no fire. Putting an ear to the exhaust or intake allows us to hear a partially open valve. I have more than once found a clean and smooth rock from the field and used it to ‘tap’ on the valve side of the rocker to dislodge a piece of carbon. Others might strip down to their underwear overheated from manual cranking. A few light taps with that rock at TDC might give you that first compression stroke start AFTER clearing a piece of carbon.

      There are others who have mixed up alcohol and water 50/50 and set up a spray nozzle to ‘mist’ in the mix to clean up carbon deposits at intervals WHEN running ‘blended fuels’.

      There’s so much to experiment with, and I’m sure that Fat Lisa would have objected to most of it…. but it might all be done upstream from you CAT or particle trap. And nothing more harmful than Fairy Dust might come out of the final stage of your combined heat and power plant.

      If you use blended fuels, I like the idea of two tanks, we start on pump fuels, and only when we are up to temp do we switch to our ‘dried (water free) blended fuel with a biocide’.

      We transfer back to a fuel like ‘pump diesel’, and run under load for a bit before we shut down. This might help to avoid sticky valve or dirty seat conditions, and of course parking the engine with both valves closed (TDC) is a good idea.

      One more item worth mentioning….. fuels like straight Veggie can modify the lube oil in less hours of running than some understand, there have been engines lost when the lube oil literally loses it’s ability to lubricate parts. Do experiment with caution..

  5. Pingback: What is a CLINK ? | UtterPower.com

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