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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Engine Assembly, Part 1: The Cleanup
By Wayne Scraba/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyModerate
Estimated Time180 minutes
180 minutes
Cleaning the Components and
Prepping the Cylinder Block -

For the beginner, assembling an engine at home is most certainly an intimidating prospect. There are plenty of parts that have to fit precisely and there are plenty of dimensions that must be checked and double-checked (and some triple-checked). There are all sorts of seemingly “foreign” pieces that somehow have to work in perfect harmony. For the beginner, it seems like an impossible task to put it all together. We’re here to tell you it isn’t.

Step 1 of Engine Assembly is the Cleanup
Assembling an engine is like any other major project. There are various parts and subassemblies that are completed first then each “builds” upon the last. Building an engine at home is a skill just about anyone can learn. Sure you’ll need a good collection of specialized tools (we’ll help you with tool selection throughout the entire series), but the reality is, anyone can assemble an engine. If you take your time and are meticulous with your work, pretty soon you’ll be rewarded with a complete ready-to-run engine.
What follows is a look at how to assemble an engine properly in your own home garage using tools and equipment anyone can purchase (or in some cases, rent). Once you complete the process for the first time, you might be surprised at how satisfying it really is. You’ll probably want to follow up with another engine build! Check it out:
A Clean Working Environment
While it’s possible to build an engine almost anywhere, a clean environment is a must. In our garage, we stop any activities that create dust and grit. For example, if another project requires grinding then we either move the operation to another spot or figure out another time to get it done.
You’ll also need a workbench. We have one in our garage, and we’d be the first to tell you it’s too small and regularly cluttered. If your workbench is cluttered, clean it off. If you don’t have a good workbench, a sturdy folding table will do. Once the clutter is reduced, cover the bench surface with paper. Some folks use newspaper. Others prefer butcher paper. We use white poster board because it’s easy to spot little parts and it’s a bit more immune to oil spills than newsprint.
When it comes to using tools, we always clean them after use. We’ve found a quick shot of brake cleaner (aerosol) and a wipe down with a clean paper towel goes a long way toward keeping the project clean. It also makes it more enjoyable to work with the tools.
Cleaning the Pieces
When it comes to assembling an engine, one of the biggest mistakes a novice can make is to contaminate the components. Any piece of grit that turns up during the assembly process can (and regularly will) scratch internal surfaces such as the cylinder walls or reciprocating components. We’re convinced contamination is one of the leading causes of premature engine failure. Because of this, once the parts return from the machine shop (obviously something you can’t do in your own garage), they must be thoroughly cleaned and kept clean during the entire assembly job.
So how do you clean the pieces? It’s actually rather simple. Scrub everything with hot water and liquid dish soap or car wash detergent. The catch here is, you have to access all of the oil gallery holes. That means the block gallery plugs should all be removed (as is regularly the case with blocks that have been through a machining process). The folks from B&B Performance have a special 9-piece brush kit designed to work in all engine oil galleries (see the Tools and source list on Page 2). They even include two extra-long brushes for use when scrubbing oil galleries adjacent to the cylinder block lifter bores.
Our backcountry garage isn’t blessed with a paved driveway or even a cement apron in front of the overhead doors. It’s simply gravel. To circumvent grit accumulation during the wash cycle, we always place the block and components being cleaned on a rubber mat. An old pickup truck tailgate mat or bed floor mat works perfectly. Before going any further, you have to make mental note: Once you start cleaning something like a cylinder block with soap and water, you can’t stop until the job is done. The old saying about “rust never sleeps” truly applies here. You need time to complete both the wash and dry cycles.
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