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The Homelite chainsaw and string trimmer.

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggit beasties, and things that go |bump' in the night, may the Good Lord preserve us! "This is an eventide prayer handed down in my family for many generations.

The ghoulies and ghosties have eased up a bit, and I haven't been bothered a whole lot by long-leggit beasties since the divorce, but the things that go "bump" in the night really prey on my mind.

Reaching an ill-tempered crescendo under a gibbous moon, strange, unearthly mutterings filter aloft from a small mountain of trash behind the barn. There lie moldering carcasses of ill-conceived farm equipment, which twitch and turn in ceaseless endeavor to find a more comfortable position, each screech, each groan, each thud and thump announcing a new accommodation with a protesting neighbor.

Let's stroll over there and I will introduce you to some of the more noisome residents.

Ah ... here we are. The first thing you will notice -- it looks like an eruption -- is a large colony of lawnmowers cut off in the prime of life by a heavily-jowled, gluttonous Briggs and Stratton Marketing Group. The mower decks, the handles and wheels are like new -- even the blades show little sign of wear, but the engines, the engines... poor unfortunates born with death in their veins, i.e., circa 1926 splash lubrication, the incurable emphysema of suction-valve carburetion, stone-age valves requiring (unpublicized) constant adjustment, and (also unpublicized) unreplaceable main bearings. These engines are so deliberately and unforgivably bad that they deserve (and will be the subject of) a special article in a subsequent issue of Countryside.

Somewhere (dig-dig) in the pile (dig-dig-dig) there are the almost new (puff-puff) Homelite 245 chainsaw and Homelite 17-inch, straight-shaft, heavy-duty string-trimmer/brushcutter -- yeah, here they are. Let's pull them out so you can see what I am talking about, and quick! bury them again!!

The chainsaw came out of the box with the spark-plug wire held tightly to the hottest part of the cylinder. I found this was intentional. Quaint sense of humor those Homelite engineers have. It's even more evident in the carburetion. The saw wouldn't start, of course, since the carburetor is so situated that its inelastic plastic fuel line is sharply bent -- to such a degree that the bend acts as a pinch-valve to choke off fuel completely. I put a stainless coil spring inside the fuel line at the bend, restoring fuel-flow.

You really didn't expect it to start after fixing the fuel line, did you? The Homelite jokesters are more resourceful than that. Here, hold the sparkplug wire terminal while I crank the engine -- don't worry, you won't feel a thing. Well, maybe a light, sporadic twinge now and then, but nothing to wake the baby.

This is the marvelous "electronic ignition" the Homelite hucksters drool over. It is a wonderfully vague term which implies space-age wonders from the secret laboratories of nuclear scientists. In actual, prosaic fact, the only unequivocal meaning is that a lower-cost, albeit maintenance-free, transistorized trigger has been substituted for mechanically opened and closed primary-- circuit breaker-- points. The function of either is to make and break the primary circuit winding of the spark-coil, causing expansion and abrupt collapse of lines of magnetic force across the secondary winding of the coil, inducing a flow of current to, and a spark across the spark plug point-gap just before the engine piston reaches top dead-center during the fuel/air compression stroke. This (flow of current and magnetic force) is the result of, and happens in concert with, the passage of magnets imbedded in the flywheel as they rotate past (with a small air gap) the face of the laminated pole pieces, around which the spark coil (ignition coil) is positioned.

However (this is a biggie) spark intensity is highly variable. If a manufacturer specifies poor quality components from suppliers, or has no effective quality control procedures, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), little or no spark. And you wonder why your engine starts so hard?

Close your eyes and make a mental tour of the Homelite factory -- tell me what you see. Ah, yes, I get the same picture -- ignition components salvaged from old Atwater-Kent radios of the 1930's -- delivered furtively at midnight by ricksha and malodorous honeywagon, impaled upon shards of old rice wine bottles in the first instance, immured in unspeakable muck in the latter.

And the Quality Control Room) "Apparently buried in the dust of centuries, with a mummified inspector slumped in a dark corner. Dark corner? "Yes, the lights burned out in 1953 and were never replaced. "

A good electronic ignition system will incorporate a capacitor. This accumulates the electrical energy swelling within the primary winding of the spark coil, and dumps it in a quick, and even at low cranking speed, intense burst. This is multiplied enormously by the secondary winding, resulting in a very long, hot, crackling blue spark that will fire through even a badly carboned spark plug point gap. This is usually, or at least should be, called "CDI", Capacitor Discharge Ignition, such as is found in Stihl, Echo, Kohler, Tecumseh and a few Briggs engines.

A bad electronic ignition system costs a few pennies less, does not employ a capacitor, and though the spark it produces is negligible, it is capable of causing your ulcer to glow a fiery, incandescent red -- maybe smoke a little. Don't look for a capacitor discharge ignition system on Homelite chainsaws and brushcutters.

This is hard for anyone of Scottish antecedents to admit. Yes, I hang my head... I threw good money after bad. I thought I could salvage the chainsaw. So when it became apparent the spark was too feeble to jump the point gap of the spark plug, I made a methodical trip through the ignition system, first checking the strength of the flywheel magnets. Not really good, but probably sufficient. The air-gap between magnets and pole pieces was too large -- I reset it. The primary grounding wire (stop-switch) functioned correctly in on and off positions. I replaced the new spark plug with a new spark plug. Same feeble spark. The only thing left was the ignition coil containing the previously described transistorized trigger. I had earlier melted my digital multimeter on the hot exhaust stack of the tractor, so couldn't test the coil or trigger and I bought a new coil from the Homelite distributor (about $30) to replace the new coil. I wasn't terribly surprised to see the same feeble spark.

Don't say that! All Scots are not stubborn. Slow to conviction perhaps, responsive to challenge -- Up The Bruce! Sorry about that... it has different connotations nowadays. I should see some display of gratitude. Because of the inherently sweet and generous Scottish temperament, my travail will rebound largely to your benefit.

Be of good cheer, all you Homelite owners out there. You can start your recalcitrant engine after all. All you have to do is make an adapter to fit the flywheel (a welder, drillpress and lathe will come in handy) and crank the engine with a geared-down, 600 rpm half-inch drill. The pitiful spark is intensified enough at this speed to fire the spark plug and permit the engine to run. You don't want to hear that? There's room on my trashpile for your Homelite saw or brushcutter, too!

I hate to depress your spirits further, but there's more. I'm not a fervent admirer of chrome-plated engine cylinders. Chrome-plating (if it stays on) reduces internal friction and by increasing rpms, makes it possible to extract a little more power from the engine (cheaper than refining the design and tooling).

The downside is that if anything goes wrong in the plating process -- oxidation or contamination of the plating substrate, improperly maintained plating bath, insufficient current density, etc., the chrome-plate will sooner or later peel from the cylinder wall, chew up the piston and make a terrible mess. It is not feasible to repair a chromed cylinder.

If this happens to you and your cylinder is not a separate casting (few are), throw the saw away. Don't even think about complaining to the manufacturer. If you do, I will bet you a brand new Stihl 034 AV Wood Boss that the factory will accuse you of putting insufficient or no oil in your fuel. You will be doubly upset but I will have a chainsaw with a deeply impregnated "Nicosil" cylinder that won't upset me.

I specified the 034 AV in the bet, since even Stihl succumbed (in saws of over four cubic inch displacement) to the siren song of chrome plating and the tempting trade off of more power at the expense of repairability.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. The chrome-plating peeled off the Homelite 245 like a wet sock.

Come back here! If I'm miserable, I want you to be miserable, too! Why are you holding your head in your hands? You say the check you wrote for a new Homelite trimmer/brushcutter just cleared your bank account?

Here's what happens next. Stop saying you don't want to hear what happens next... this is for your own good. And just remember, it hurts me more than it hurts you! (There's got to be a couple more platitudes I can get in here!)

The Homelite trimmer has what is glowingly described in their literature as a "tap-and-go" semi-automatic string feeder. It is theirs alone, no one else can lay claim to it. It is true and it is a marvelous device. It is not, however, a string feeder, it is a string welder.

The plastic string cannot feed through the two holes from which the metal grommets popped like Orville Redenbacher's popcorn because the plastic string is hopelessly, irretrievably welded together inside the spool in a sodden lump. You find this out after you have removed the cover with a pipe wrench. You used a pipe wrench because the first tap of the "tap-and-go" on the ground caused the "easily removed-by-hand" plastic capped screw to freeze to the spool cover plate.

If you have a desperate need for welded plastic string, a Homelite trimmer is exactly what you need -- as long as it keeps running. Besides a string welder, it has, you will remember, the same type of ignition as a Homelite saw, and a chromed cylinder, so you may be triply apprehensive about how much grass or weeds it will cut before it needs a heart, lung and liver transplant.

Stand at ease. I hasten to reassure you that the above problems may not be as serious as you think -- at least in comparison with another little quirk, and another little quirk, and another, and another...

Quirk number one is that the Homelite trimmer/brushcutter only has one main bearing on the engine crankshaft (undisclosed in their literature). No, I'm not joking, it does only have one bearing. And the connecting rod crank has no support whatsoever on the other side, so even though the piston and connecting rod are small and light, when the engine winds up at high speed, the crankshaft is going to bend and wave around like a sick snake -- boding ill for engine longevity. You become aware of this ugly, dark secret because of Quirk Number Two.

The plastic crankcase cover is held on... well, almost held on... the crankcase by four small sheet metal screws. That's right, not studs, not bolts, sheet-metal screws that back out every two or three hours of operation. Don't look so surprised. They are not designed to stay in place, not purchased to stay in place, not installed to stay in place, so they don't.

A two-stroke engine must develop crankcase pressure to feed the fuel-air mixture up through a passageway and through a cylinder wall port which the descending piston uncovers just after it uncovers the exhaust port on the opposite side. When the crankcase cover loses its seal, the engine stops firing like it has been pole-axed, and the suddenly unloaded bearing (the sick snake, remember?) hammer alarmingly in protest -- you know you have blown a piston. You haven't but it sure sounds like it. Your pounding heart slowly returns to normal; after all you can turn the engine over by hand without any grinding noises, so it may be repairable.

You discover the crankcase cover is blown partly off, coat the Mickey Mouse sheet metal screws with Loctite and reinstall the cover. It doesn't fit well and there will evidently be leakage, but perhaps not so much as to prevent engine operation entirely -- just an annoying power loss.

The Loctite works, sort of... it now takes three or four hours for the screws to back out of the wallowed-out mounting holes and stop the engine.

Did I tell you how ingenious the Homelite engineers are? They always devise backup problems to the problems, just in case you solve one or two. For example, the third time the crankcase cover blows its seal and you wearily reinstall it, the engine won't start no matter what you do... and you used to teach Air Force Engineering cadets, too -- for shame! What could possibly be wrong?

Strip off the shroud -- there it is! Now it's the cylinder that is flopping around loosely on the crankcase, so reinstalling the crankcase cover did not restore crankcase pressure. A formerly common (pre-Gorbachev) street sign flashes across the mind's eye, "Eto strogo zapreschenno" -- It Is Strictly Forbidden! -- by any engineering test, by the smallest spark of intellect, but what a great joke for Homelite to play on unsuspecting customers! The cylinder (can you believe it?) is fastened -- Haw-w-w, to the crankcase by three Hee-Hee-Hee sheet metal screws. Not studs, not bolts and Ho-Ho-Ho-, Ha-Ha-Ha, only three of the little buggers! Flour paste would have done nearly as well.

With the same warm feeling of confidence you get when going over Niagara Falls in a lead canoe, I put the cylinder back in place. When "Chihuahua" (our affectionate name for the trimmer) spat up a hairball a few minutes later -- carburetor entrails, actually--it joined the chainsaw on the trashpile.

So much for Homelite's finest.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Godfrey, Richard
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:May 1, 1993
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