Gentlemen, prep your engines for winte­r

ManLawnmowerHC1411_L_300_C_YMr. Rogers, my junior high shop ­instructor, would probably be upset over my lack of knowledge of small engines. Sure, I ­remember terms such as piston, oil and carburetor, and know that gasoline makes it all run with a spark plug.

In my car, I can put in windshield washer and change a tire if necessary.

But that’s the extent of my ­knowledge of how those engines work. Sure, if I wanted to, I could go online and learn, and ­probably sit through one of those adult-education classes. But it’s like the light switch. Flick the switch and if the lights come on, all is good and right with the world. If it doesn’t, try to remember where the light bulbs are kept.

This all comes to play ­during November, when most of the garden-related small engines are put to rest and the (gasp!) snow blower is ­prepared for the winter.

With the simple garden spade, shovel and rake, all you have to do is clean off the caked on soil and debris, maybe with lots of water and elbow grease, scrub the rust off with some steel wool, and spray a light ­covering of oil on the metal parts. WD-40 works well, but so does sewing machine oil. Then just hang the tool on a hook off the floor.

If you have the time and ­inclination, you can sharpen the ­shovel’s and hoe’s blades, getting a start on next spring. Don’t forget to coat the freshly ground edge with an oily product to prevent rusting during the winter.

Pruners and loppers require the same care, though really there shouldn’t be much to do since you should have been cleaning them after each use, wiping away the debris and making sure the cutting blades are sharp. Of course we all do that.

The power tools require a little bit more care, and this is where that little booklet that came with the tool comes in handy. Yes, you should keep it around, preferably someplace where you can remember.

Most gas-powered mowers, saws, edgers and leaf blowers would ­prefer to have no gasoline left in the engine for the winter, as it can suffer changes during freezing and ­thawing, ­separating and becoming gel-like. Probably a better terms are “icky” and “gunky” though they’re not as technical as most manufacturers would prefer.

That means you should either drain the gas or gas-oil mix, which is much easier to say than do, or run the machine until it ­sputters and dies. The problem with the latter is the need to keep holding the handles to ­prevent the auto shut-offs from kicking in.

Of course, there are ways around that. Bungie cords, clamps and just plain cord can be tied around handles to keep the machine ­running until the fuel is used. This probably isn’t too bad unless you’re dealing with things that can cut off such as ­fingers and other body parts, which to be honest, includes most of the power equipment.

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.
David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.

If you accidentally fill the machine with too much fuel, there are products that ­stabilize the fuel over the ­winter. Those fuel stabilizers aren’t a bad choice even if the tank is only half-full. Follow the directions on the label.

Most gas products can be stored a couple months without ­problems, unless there’s ethanol added, which can destroy some of the rubber and plastic parts in the fuel system.

And don’t store those gas cans in the freezing temperatures either without stabilizers. Otherwise, you may find wonderful layers that don’t mix next spring, and you’re left holding the can wondering what to do with the icky gunky mess.