Hardware Problems: Follow-up

By Shamus Posted Monday May 23, 2011

Filed under: Personal 145 comments


So, I complained that I couldn’t get my lawnmower to work. I spent a great deal of time crouching in the driveway, attempting folk remedies and invoking the Forbidden Words in order to try and coax the device into doing its job. I read the replies to that earlier post, and tried some of the things they suggested. Changed the gas. Flushed out the fuel line. Cleaned out the float bowl in the carburetor. (Which inadvertently led to changing the gas, again. Oops.) Put fuel cleaning stuff in the tank. Cleaned the air filter. Checked some of the moving parts for blockage.

No change. Fie!

In the end, reader Nick was the one with the winning answer:

This is a fuel-air mix problem, if it only runs if you continually pump more fuel in, then it is running lean: there is too much air being combined with too little fuel for combustion. You said the mix screws are missing from the carby, I would say that is your problem.

You may be able to test this be restricting the airflow of the air filter, try covering the air intake partially and see if it runs.

This is the yard AFTER it was cut.  It was so tall, that it comes up to my ankle *even after it’s been cut*. Dang.
This is the yard AFTER it was cut. It was so tall, that it comes up to my ankle *even after it’s been cut*. Dang.

Originally, the air filter had been loaded with oily grime. I’d cleaned it, and returned it to service. I tried the mower with the air filter in place, and without the air filter, but the problem persisted After reading Nick’s post, I went back and inspected it again. If anything, I would have thought the engine was getting too little air, due to all the dirt in the filter. But as an experiment, I took out the air filter and jammed a wadded-up paper towel into the air intake. Boom. Problem fixed.

I wrapped the air filter in paper towel and stuck it back in. I experimented until I found the right configuration of paper towel to properly restrict the airflow. Then I cut the grass.

The machine is still a bit wobbly. The mix screws are indeed missing. I’ve never had the machine apart like this, so I don’t know if they were ever there, or what. But if Nick is right, then I’m getting too much air and not enough fuel. I worked around this by restricting the air intake, but that’s a workaround, not a solution. The machine runs slowly like this, and is prone to stall. (Which makes cutting super-tall grass even more fun!) What it really needs is more gas, not less air.

So, I’ll be getting a new air filter, and seeing if new mix screws can be obtained. I’ll bet that will be a fun conversation at the shop.

“Yeah, hi. I have a mower at home. I don’t know the make or the year or the model, or how many strokes it does, but I know the carburetor is kind of beige. Anyway, I’m missing the tiny little screws that make it do the thing. Yeah. I need to buy those. What size? Oh, pretty small, I’d imagine.”


From The Archives:

145 thoughts on “Hardware Problems: Follow-up

  1. sab says:

    I could have sworn that banging it on the side and/or top would have worked.

    1. “Hit it till it works!”

      It’s how I got my computer to recognize the CD drive back in the day.

      1. Soylent Dave says:

        I threaten my electrical goods.

        It works some of the time.

        1. Alex Richert says:

          4-year degree in IT, and my methods have not changed since high school.

          Neither, I’m proud to say, has my success rate.

          Much like the stages of grief, there are stages of troubleshooting:
          1) Identification
          2) Isolation
          3) Formulate solution
          4) Testing
          5) Lunch
          6) Examine Failure
          7) Test Again
          8) Threats
          9) Physical Violence
          10) Resolution

          100% of the time, all the time.

      2. HeadHunter says:

        Hey, hitting it worked just fine for Han Solo…
        it should be good enough for you. :)

      3. Ateius says:

        In the late 90s I had a Pentium with a bum CD drive. It would hang and stall and sputter, always at the most convenient time. The solution was, in fact, to bash it a few times until the errant gears were jolted into position or whatever (CD drives work via giant, steampunk-esque gears, right?).

    2. Lord_Bryon says:

      Works for old TV’s VCR’s and the Millennium Falcon why not a lawnmower?

      1. krellen says:

        Hitting it ’till it works is actually a legitimate fix for certain mechanical problems (usually ones that involve some catch in the machinery). It probably worked more historically than it does these days, though.

        1. Irridium says:

          Works for my old Xbox. The CD tray gets stuck, and a nice smack gets it working again.

        2. Alrenous says:

          Lead-free solder can produce tin whiskers under cyclical electric fields, which can short-circuit delicate electronics. Striking the device destroys the whiskers, restoring normal function.

          My favourite example of percussive maintenance.

          1. Lord_Bryon says:

            Oooohh Science :)

            1. therandombear says:

              Hitting it until it works…FOR SCIENCE!

              True though… :3

          2. (LK) says:

            “Striking the device destroys the whiskers, restoring normal function.”

            Out of context that is such an amusing sentence.

          3. JP says:

            Percussive Maintenance would be a great name for a band.

          4. xXDarkWolfXx says:

            He besieged my mind with science

        3. Von Krieger says:

          I had a big screen TV that was older that I am in my bedroom as a kid. The picture would occasionally go wobbly and a good smack with my fist on top of the set would without fail remedy the issue.

        4. Ben says:

          A professor of mine has a story about when he worked at Johnson and Johnson he loves to tell. They had built a blood slide analyzer and when it was done with the slide it would drop it into a bin and when the level of slides in the bin got too high the analyzer would start beeping. When they released the product they started getting reports that the bin was filling much faster then they expected. When the slides were being dropped into the bin they all landed on top of each other and made one big tall stack.

          The next release of the product hit the bottom of the bin every time a slide was released.

  2. KremlinLaptop says:

    At a normal shop the man behind the counter will give you that look, the particular look that makes someone not-in-the-know feel as though they’ve stumbled into the territory of a strange and possibly violent tribe.

    At a good shop the guy behind the counter will say, “Oh hey, bring the mower in and we’ll take a look…”

    At a really good shop the dude behind the counter will say the above, offer a beer and you’ll go home with a mower that works too well and now has a bitchin’ flamejob.

    1. tengokujin says:

      Where is the comment like button?


    2. Veloxyll says:

      And if he’s really good, it’ll have chrome pipes on it too.

    3. Irridium says:

      The flames will make it go faster!

      1. krellen says:

        Everyone knows RED makes it faster.

        1. CrushU says:

          A whole one inch further!

          (Racing stripes also help)

          1. Aldowyn says:

            And at a really cool but ultimately bad shop, you’ll get the flamejob but … the mower still won’t work reliably.

            1. CTrees says:

              “You’ll get a flamejob,” by which you mean, it’ll be on fire.

          2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

            Is it a good thing that I understand this comment?

            1. Yonder says:

              I hope so.


          3. Zagzag says:

            One whole inch further PER TURN! That makes all the difference

        2. Retsam says:

          That, and carrying a knife.

        3. Gantidae says:

          +1 to Krellen.

    4. Gantidae says:

      Shamus is going to be one of those people that calls in to tech support complaining that they’re email is now asking for a password. They’ve never had to put in a password before. Why is it doing this? I’ve been a paying customer to Yahoo for years now. I’m cancelling my service. You shouldn’t treat people this way.

    5. SteveDJ says:

      Don’t forget the bad shop, that will claim said screws aren’t available separately, and now you need to buy a new carberator (…and, I’m sure that isn’t spelled right)

  3. TheJollyLlama875 says:

    I’m hardly a handyman, but if you leave your lawn like that, the grass clippings will kill the grass underneath. You’ll have to mow it again because of the clippings.

    Also, if you want the make/model, look for anything written on the mower, and Google it.

    1. Soylent Dave says:

      I’m no handyman either, but surely killing the grass underneath means that you will never have to mow again..?

      That could make it up there with ‘salt the earth’ and ‘replace with gravel’ as one of my top gardening tips.

    2. It rained before and after mowing– wettest May in 125 years. We use the cut grass as mulch for the garden, where it will reside once we are no longer exhausted from mowing a months worth of grass.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I think it’s been the wettest May in a long time in a lot of places. I’m getting really tired of rain. It’s sometimes a struggle to find a dry time to mow…

        1. Mari says:

          If you folks are really that tired of rain feel free to send it down to Texas (I imagine New Mexico wants some, too, but they’ll have to beg their own). We’re in the midst of the driest 7 months on record. For the uninitiated what that means is that we’ve had .3″ (three tenths of an inch) of rain in the past 7 months. The only nice thing I can say about this drought is that I don’t have to mow the yard now.

          1. Here in Ohio it’s rained pretty much every day for the past 3 months. Sometimes all day. Sometimes not. Still, lots of rain. I joke to my housemate that my parents bugging me to move to Seattle wasn’t working, so they sent us their weather.

            1. Brandon says:

              I’m here in Ohio as well, and I’m not sure how they get lawns mown, although they certainly have been doing so, despite the fact that it seems like the mowers should sink into the still-saturated and swampy soil.

              My wife has to wear galoshes half the time to garden. Sheesh!

              1. Chuck says:

                Beats the random weather of Michigan.

                A Ouija board, a coin, or a pair of dice would all be accurate methods for determining Michigan’s weather report for the week.

          2. Josh says:

            Southern Nevada’s in about the same boat as Texas; we usually get a big rainstorm every month or two but we’ve barely gotten any rain for the past five months or so.

            1. Knight of Fools says:

              I’m in Texas, too – We haven’t had to mow for nearly a month, now. It’s pretty nice.

              1. Deoxy says:

                Ditto, and amen to the not-mowing part. Otherwise, drought sucks.

            2. X2-Eliah says:

              No it’s not o.o Nevada is a wasteland-ish desert with naught but gambling towns – I know, I’ve played fallout.

            3. Gantidae says:

              Is this still a drink if we’re not watching SW?

              1. xXDarkWolfXx says:

                I think its time to bring out a catch-all solution to the spoiler warning drinking game.
                It applies wether or not your watching spoiler warning but only if a member of the cast says it

          3. krellen says:

            First you Texans steal our river, now you want to steal our rain, too? It’s never enough for you, is it?!

        2. Fang says:

          Same here in Virginia. It rains like a whole week(not continuous but it would start again at like noon everyday) then BAM. Blistering hot 90oF weather this week. >_>

        3. Lord_Bryon says:

          I live on the (wet) west coast of Canada, sometimes it feels like it never stops raining

      2. Dys says:

        You married him and you still don’t get a gold comment box?
        For shame!

        1. Deoxy says:

          Nah, she shouldn’t get gold – she might get confused as part of the video-production group.

          She should get something better. Shamus, your thoughts?

  4. Piflik says:

    I still think the sheep-solution would have been the best one…

    1. Cody211282 says:

      Dude all sheep do is jump around then explode next to your own team……. I think all my knowledge of sheep come from Worms.

      1. General Ghoul says:

        Sheep just attract creepers. Kill all you see before its too late.

        1. sab says:

          Well, creepers will help you get rid of your grass problem just as well. I say, the more the merrier!

    2. MrWhales says:

      I was thinking goats… My dad had a somewhat similiar problem, except this wasn’t his solution, and since he has a hilly acre lot, with most of it fenced it, i really pushed for the goat idea. I want a goat…

      1. Tever says:

        Pygmy goats are win. I used to know someone who had four of them. If you have enough space to avoid muddiness from little hooves, they make the best lawnmowers.

    3. I agree– I WANT A sheep or goat but sadly would have to et rid of the Shamus (alas serious animal allergies mean we are stuck with a mower.

      1. BenD says:

        Ohhh right I forgot the allergies. Poor The Shamus.

      2. Josh says:

        Hm… Shamus… or a goat.

        Man, that’s a tough one.

        1. Fists says:

          which one do you have less skill points for?

          1. Matthias says:

            That comment made me laugh out so loud I freaked out my cat!

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Well he could carry around both and use neither…

        2. Michael says:

          Why is the only thing I can think of here Hamlet?

          “To keep Shamus, or to get a goat, that is the question:
          Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
          The slings and arrows of outrageous internet critics,
          Or to take arms against a sea of grasses,
          And by opposing end them? …”

          1. Zeta Kai says:

            You have earned [One Internet] for this. Spend it wisely.

      3. gebiv says:

        Is Shamus allergic to wool too? Because as far as I’m aware, sheep don’t shed or have dander (why you can shave them for the wool, I believe) so there may not be an allergy issue…

    4. Will says:

      Chickens work pretty well for keeping the grass trimmed too, and you get eggs!

  5. qwksndmonster says:

    My family has taken to not mowing half of our large back yard. I am unimpressed by this so called “long” grass. Also, I can’t believe you jerks in Pennsylvania have sunny weather. I live about thirty miles north of the Penn-NY border, and I haven’t seen the sun in ten days.

    1. The sun was out for a few hours this afternoon–first time in weeks.

  6. McNutcase says:

    Generally, the make and model of the mower is only loosely correlated to the actual engine, since all you really need is to make with the spinny motion and engines fluctuate in price. I run into similar issues with my car, because even though it’s a given model, there were two completely different engine management systems for that model and year, and parts for one won’t even FIT on the other, never mind that fancy “working” stuff.

    However, it looks like you have some text on the deckplate there, just forward of the engine. That would be handy to consult Google with. Another good idea is good, clear photos; if you have a good parts guy, he might be able to figure out what model the carb is and thus what screws you need for it from a good photo.

    And you need to get the kids out there with a spring-tine rake to get the clippings collected, or as others have noted, you’ll kill the lawn. You can wrap them in a tarp and take them to a dump, or you can just dump them in one place, start dumping food waste from the kitchen there too, and given time and natural processes, you’ll have some really nice compost, which you can dig into vegetable gardens, sell, or just give away to neighbours who know what they’re doing with this whole “outside” place.

    1. ngthagg says:

      Keep in mind that if you kill the grass, you don’t need to mow! It seems like the perfect solution to me.

      1. Deoxy says:

        But it ticks off the wife. At least, that’s how it works at my place – we have grass because my wife wants to have grass. I’d rather have concrete, gravel, astroturf, a moat, dirt… just about anything that doesn’t grow.

        But hey, it makes her (and the neighbors) happy.

  7. Paul Spooner says:

    Usually, the screws are standardized. This means that there will (probably) be screws somewhere else on the mower of the same size. If you can find one that fits then you can take it to a hardware store and get a replacement. If that doesn’t work, take the little metal thingy with the threaded holes (or just the whole mower) to the hardware store and try screws until you find one that fits. If you can’t get the metal thingy off…
    Um… ugh.
    1. Measure the hole inside diameter. This is the maximum value for the Minor Diameter. (This is different from the girth of your underage children!)
    2. Use the Minor Diameter to look up the thread pitch (English or Metric, I included links, but I think that tripped the spam filter)
    3. Buy one of each that is likely to work, and try them all!
    4. Bonus points: Later that afternoon, discover that you had a few of these in an old mason jar on the top shelf in the back of the garage .

    1. Rustybadger says:

      Yes. Most of the small engines on lawnmowers like that use similar parts (unless you go to a country that isn’t still in the weights-and-measures dark ages like the States are). Go steal the screws from your neighbour’s (presumably working) mower, and see if he notices his running poorly the next time he brings it out.

      If more power is what you need, might I suggest getting aviation fuel and using that- you can get it for free from your local helicopter place, as there’s always a few litres left in the bottom of the drums and they’ll let you take it if you have a proper container (YMMV, I live in a rural community in northern Canada…). Some tuning of your engine will be required. The upshot will be a hyper-powered mower engine that suits those flames you just had painted on!

      1. McNutcase says:

        Uh. What.

        Hokay. This sounds like a Very Bad Idea to me.

        First, this will be either avgas or jet fuel. Neither one will do a typical mower engine any good at ALL. Jet fuel is more like diesel than gas, and avgas is generally leaded. If it’s unsophisticated enough, it’ll run, but there really isn’t enough of a benefit, even if you tune the snot out of it, for it to be worth it, and I really don’t fancy the idea of tuning a mower engine into a grenade, whether it’s two-stroke or four.

        1. bit says:

          I think you might be missing the joke, there.

          1. McNutcase says:

            I didn’t see a joke, and I’m not entirely certain Shamus knows enough about internal combustion engines to recognise just how bad an idea running his mower on something other than bog-standard pump fuel would be. Heck, he was running that mower a lot yesterday, and still doesn’t know if it’s 2-stroke or 4-stroke! (Incidentally, if you have to add oil to the gas, it’s more likely two-stroke; if you have to change the oil, it’s more likely four-stroke)

            1. He knows enough to know that practically anything Rustybadger says is a joke. So, joke gotten and we will make no attempts to steal the neighbors screws now will we try to get jet fuel. :)

            2. Milos says:

              I’m as ignorant as they come when it concerns internal combustion engines but I got it was a joke as soon as he mentioned using aviation fuel in Shamus’ lawnmower. There’s a difference between being ignorant on the subject and being too stupid to live.

              Edit: fuuuuuuu- I should have refreshed the page before replying.

          2. decius says:

            Yeah, anyone suggesting using 100LL or kerosene in a lawnmower engine is making a bad joke.

            (100LL is avgas, kerosene is jet fuel.)

        2. lazlo says:

          I would be shocked if a standard issue pushmower had a catalytic converter, so leaded gas shouldn’t kill the engine (though breathing heavy metal is still probably less than healthy)

          I know there’s a station near here that has 5 grades for sale… the normal mix of diesel, regular, mid-grade, premium, and then one more pump for 100+ octane “racing fuel”

          But, regardless of fuel, I would strongly suggest (if you don’t already) getting some fuel stabilizer and adding it to your gas can religiously whenever you fill it up. It doesn’t take all that long for gas to turn into something that won’t actually function as a fuel. Stabilizer helps. A lot.

          1. Sumanai says:

            “though breathing heavy metal is still probably less than healthy”

            Since the context was breathing lead, I think that should win some understatement-of-the-month -awards.

  8. SatansBestBuddy says:

    See, this is why I use an electrical mower, I just need to plug it in, make sure the extension cord can reach as far as I need it to and that I won’t run over it, and mow.

    Granted, the mower itself sucks, it can manage maybe a metre of long grass before choking and nearly stalling, so I have to keep pulling it back so it’ll be rid of the clog inside, but aside from that and the wheels not really working all too well, it’s a fine machine that’s served me well for years now.

    I imagine a new one would be wonderful, though.

    1. Lanthanide says:

      You can get “flymo” electric lawnmowers that don’t have wheels, instead they hover over the ground. Magic, really.

      1. Rustybadger says:

        Yeah, I remember those from when I was a kid. Made mowing fun!

        1. Andrew B says:

          *Alert! Generalisations Incoming! Alert!*

          Of course, electric mowers, and hover mowers in particular, tend to be smaller than their internal combustion driven counterparts. Hover mowers have to be small enough and light enough to, well, hover, which means they’d take ages to cut a large lawn. (And by large I mean rest of the world values of large, so roughly a smallish yard for you North Americans.) That one photo alone has more grass (the cut bit) than my garden does twice over, and I have to empty my Flymo twice cutting my lawn. I dread to think what it would be like doing an American yard with it. Plus, the cable wouldn’t stretch. And it’s really bad for cutting long grass with.

          So, yeah. Stick to explosively powered spinning blades, is what I’m saying.

          1. Bubble181 says:

            We use a mower on Li-Ion batteries. No wire, no problems…And the cut grass is thrown over the side as mulch. Really makes mowing easier :-P

          2. Chargone says:

            explosively powered spinning blades….

            sounds like a weapon an Ork would weild, really…

    2. Deadfast says:

      They’re fun only until you stop paying attention and mow down your cord. Whops…

      As for power, our neighbors used to have a home-made mower made during the communist era. It had a three-phase motor from a buzz saw. I’m pretty sure you could mow bushes with that. On the downside you had to drag an inch thick cord around.

  9. Eric says:

    I find this all absolutely baffling, but I live in the Mojave Desert. I’m not even sure what this “grass” thing is…

    1. krellen says:

      Does living there make you wish for a nuclear winter?

      1. Eric says:

        If it was one of our “slightly chilly and windy” winters, then bring it on. If it’s one of those “oh, here’s some snow” winters, then my answer is a resounding NO (in capitals).

        1. krellen says:

          I don’t get snow haters. I love snow.

          1. Lord_Bryon says:

            I liked snow up until I had drive in it, that and when parties get canceled.

            1. Dovius says:

              I don’t mind driving or biking in snow, it only gets irritating once it’s been flattened by other cars and turns into the slickest ice on the entire damn planet.

          2. Rosseloh says:

            I love snow so much that I wanted to send some of it to all my twentysided friends this last winter.

            Nobody took me up on it, I’m afraid. Too bad, too, we could have done with a little less in the Plains this year… We’re still trying to dry out.

          3. Moridin says:

            The only good thing about snow is that it’s pretty. Last winter I had to move about twenty cubic meters of snow to keep the driveway clear. Try that and see if you still like it.

          4. Jarenth says:

            Luckily for the haters, there’s no snow on the moon.

            1. Lord_Bryon says:

              Do I sence some hostility? :)

          5. Eric says:

            It’s not so much that I hate snow as it is that I don’t have the proper training to deal with it. Neither does anyone else in this town. The entire city practically shuts down whenever it snows (about five or six times in the last decade).

            1. krellen says:

              I grew up in a mountain town; that may be why I love snow so much. Also, since moving down from the mountain (relatively speaking; it’s the difference between 8000 and 5000 feet), I’ve moved to a city that almost never gets snow, and does indeed shut down when we do. But I still love snow.

            2. Soylent Dave says:

              Move to England.

              Our entire nation gets taken by surprise and shuts down whenever it snows.

              You know, annually.

              1. xXDarkWolfXx says:

                The same happens out here in Calgary. The instant it snows people seem to have forgotten the proper way to drive in it, even if the last time it snowed was a week before and the snow had just barely melted away.

          6. Mrs. Peel says:

            Here in Texas, it’s 78 degrees in my house, I’m 6.5 months pregnant, and I still need my fleece blanket. That information should answer any questions you have about why I don’t like cold weather in general…

            (…and why I am SO TIRED of people attempting to sympathize with me about being heavily pregnant in the summer. During the summer, I literally go outside and sit in my car to thaw out because the office is so cold. Believe me, being hot is the least of my concerns.)

    2. HeroOfHyla says:

      Yeah, I’m in the Sonoran Desert, and we aren’t allowed to have grass in our lawns. It’s part of our homeowner’s rules or something; everything has to stay deserty. That means rocks, cactus, and dirt.
      http://i56.tinypic.com/2a66oo1.jpg for example
      People do have some really tall green trees that don’t look native. Dunno if they’re allowed, or if the rules are just not being enforced.

      1. BenD says:

        I now know where I plan to retire. That looks like my dream yard.

  10. At which point is it:
    a) More economical to buy a new mower? or
    2) Get someone in to mow the lawns for you?

    1. pffh says:

      When he starts considering sending the kids out with nailclippers.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Nailclippers? Luxury! We used to have to file the grass back with a warn nail file…

        1. Irridium says:

          Back in my day, we had to cut grass with our feet. Both ways. In the snow.

          And we enjoyed it!

          We’d then go push a hoop with a stick. That was a lot of money in those times.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            I actually know a guy who still mows with one of those rotary push-mowers that doesn’t have an engine on it. Say what you want:he’s been using it for decades, and I don’t think he’s ever needed parts for it.

            1. Sumanai says:

              I actually intended to suggest to Shamus that he should get one of those. From what I’ve heard, if you’re not cutting too much from the top they should be easy to push.

              And if they’re properly maintained of course.

          2. Pickly says:

            Wouldn’t you have some livestock handy during that particular day?

  11. Eärlindor says:

    Oh wow, that’s crazy. Reminds me of the time I had to cut similar wacky-grass AND the yard in question was a jungle. X(

    I feel your pain.

    At least you figured out what the problem is and you got it to run, that’s at least something. :)

  12. kikito says:

    If that is really your full spec, I would recommend going to the store armed with some pictures of the machine in question. It’s easy to do and will simplify the clerks’ life, and they might not hate you.

  13. poiumty says:

    This is one of the reasons why I will never live in anything else than an apartment.

    1. Chuck says:

      Condo’s are an option, too.

      But apartment renting FTW! Except when they cut off the heat and it gets cold in the spring…

  14. OttoMoBiehl says:

    I am envious of your yard as I like the wide open spaces but I must say that is a mighty looking hill in that second picture. Especially for a push mower (non power assist I assume).

    I almost expect to see Gungan’s and Battledroids to appear and make war with each other in that yard.

    1. Yup, hills on 2 sides, thus not being able to borrow neighbors riding mowers.

    2. Shamus says:

      It’s true, that hill is a complete jerk. But I need the exercise anyway.

    3. Jarenth says:

      I was going to say something similar. Is your yard just massive, or is that just a tricky photo that makes it seem larger?

      1. Shamus says:

        I only have half an acre. The green hill in the distance belongs to a neighbor. Yeah, he uses a riding mower for THAT job.

        1. JT says:

          Don’t worry about buying the screws, Shamus. Take the carb back off the mower, write down any information you can find on the motor’s model plate (make, model, serial number, next of kin, blood type, and religious preference), and go to the nearest small engine repair place and they’ll get the right ones. The service people will rough-adjust the screw settings and tell you how to do the fine adjustment when you put the carb back on the motor (take written notes and ask questions). Done deal. Good luck and don’t catch fire.

  15. David Armstrong says:

    Hey Shamus, wanna hear something that sounds completely counter-intuitive and impossible?

    Some brands of air filter are never meant to be cleaned or changed, ever, for the life of the machine.

    My Ford Focus runs a KNN intake and, were I to detach the filter and rinse it, would result in poorer engine performance. Current filter technologies are designed to function in spite of what one would consider undesirable operating conditions.

    If your mind still isn’t sufficiently blown, research fuel octane, and learn that the higher the octane of the gasoline, the less combustible it actually is.

    Engines and general mechanical science is truly the realm of darkness, where the hopes of man go to die.

    BTW: your yard still looks like crap because you aren’t running a bag. You need to collect the cut grass and dispose of it. What if you emptied your garbage can in the kitchen and just spread it over the floor? That wouldn’t look nice either. That’s why your grass is still so tall.

    1. Daimbert says:

      When I first got my lawnmower, I tried using the bag that came with it. The lawn was so thick that I couldn’t get more than a couple of rows before it stalled because the bag was too full. At that point, I abandoned the bag and now I just rake it when I need to (I usually leave my back lawn, and it hasn’t killed it yet).

  16. Squash says:

    Internet FTW (eventually)

    Now all I have to do for my own mower problems is come up with a crazy popular webcomic, my own IT and gaming blog (which I faithfully update almost daily for several years), get a gig with the Escapist, etc. , etc. and then post my mower problems on my own blog and the internet will COME TO ME with an answer. Awesome!

    1. Yar Kramer says:

      Reminds me of a Scott Adams quote: “I don’t like to ask for help, but for some reason I don’t mind complaining and seeing if anyone offers any.”

      1. xXDarkWolfXx says:

        That is very much like my approach to getting any assistance at all. If i complain loud enough someone will help if only to prevent me from bad mouthing there job.

  17. Will says:

    Is it a foam air filter? Those need to be lightly soaked in oil after cleaning to work properly. Soak it well in plain old motor oil then squeeze out the excess.

    Does the carburetor have a manual choke? If you have mixture adjustment needles on the carb, you’ll likely have some kind of manual choke. It’s a small pull-knob somewhere near the carburetor (though it is sometimes mounted remotely on the push-handle). If so, you could run the engine with partial choke. You’ll be down on power, but you can eliminate the paper towel bodge from the equation until you get the right mixture screws. Any old screw won’t do.

    1. Mrs. Peel (aka Mrs. Will) says:

      I can testify that my hubby is very capable of fixing a lawn mower – he had to do a lot of troubleshooting to get my neglected one to run. (Look, it worked the last time my dad used it, ok? I didn’t think there was any reason it wouldn’t still work two years later.)

  18. krellen says:

    In response to Twitter: Not making a follow-up post would have been the blog equivalent to those threads that end with “Oh, I fixed it, nevermind.” So on behalf of your hypothetical readers with similar problems, thank you.

  19. Hitch says:

    I was in the ballpark. I definitely suggested checking the air filter. Of course, I suggested cleaning or replacing it, which in this case made matters worse. But I was on the right street… just facing the wrong way.

    As far as the make, model and year of the mower. They aren’t that important. The engine is the important bit and there are relatively few of those. They’re pretty simple and don’t change often. Different mower companies just put fancy paint jobs on the bits around them to justify raising the price. Somewhere on the engine it should say Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, etc. Knowing that and that it’s for a push mower would probably be enough for an expert to identify the carburetor mix screws you need. (Provided you can find someone who knows small engines and not the chucklehead that I talked to that didn’t know they had air filters.)

    Also looking at those pictures, and having recently started playing Minecraft, I’d say you need iron or better tools. Wood or stone aren’t going to cut it.

  20. Factoid says:

    If it helps, you’ve got a 4 stroke engine. the shop guys wont’ give a crap if it’s a toro or a John Deere, they just want to know what make of engine you’ve got which will be printed on your engine somewhere. Chances are excellent you’ve got either a Briggs and Stratton or a Honda.

    Whether it’s a US or Japanese made engine matters because your carb screws will be either metric or imperial.

    A great way to size the hole for the screws you need is to take a wood pencil and jam it into the hole hard enough that it leaves a ring, which can then be measured or compared with a screw.

    1. David Armstrong says:

      That is a great tip, the pencil trick. Just be sure to err on the side of ruining the pencil.

      1. Factoid says:

        Calipers work better, obviously, if you’ve got them. But almost nobody has calipers.

  21. Kultra says:

    Shamus, Heather I don’t know what I hate more, you for having such an spectacular backyard, or the thought of getting it and having to mow it on the hills o_O

  22. X2-Eliah says:

    Er. I might be the odd one of the bunch here (and I know how obsessed a lot of US folks are with mowing their lawns in general), but doesn’t the first picture with the uncut grass look a hundred times better than that mess in the second pic?

    1. Hitch says:

      Heather mentioned mulching the clippings for the garden, so I assumed the second picture was a work in progress.

    2. Andrew B says:

      First cut of the year always looks bad too, at least in my experience. I guess it’s like growing out your hair for three months then hacking vaguely at it with a clipper set for halfway. A good hairdresser might make it look ok, but the rest of us are going to walk around looking like prats until we get around to doing a second cut set to “scalp”.

  23. Dys says:

    Next time, I suggest napalm. The guaranteed fix for all gardening woes.

  24. theLameBrain says:

    Bla… yardwork.
    Shamus, I vote you ignore it. Let nature take care of her own! (and set fires to keep the critters away from your house)

  25. SteveDJ says:

    I’ve heard of different varieties of grass, that grow MUCH SLOWER.

    Haven’t had the time to research myself — I’m sure the Internet has the answer…, oh, wait… :-)

  26. MaxDZ8 says:

    Man, this seems to be a lot of work for a so little mower!
    I went insane last week dealing with something like this!
    Do you have a trimmer? It’s quite handy when dealing with out-of-control grass.


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