Doug’s Hardware How-To: 2-Stroke Maintenance and Safety

The modern two stroke engine can be made into a worthless hunk of aluminum and plastic really easily without proper maintenance and care. This is a waste of your money. Let’s cover some very basic maintenance tips that will keep your equipment in top shape and out of the small engine repair shop.

It’s not your Dad’s fuel anymore! Fuels are a key component in this maintenance. The fuel that we are able to get here in the valley, and over the hill, will be a blend of many of products usually including an ethanol additive. This ethanol additive can reek havoc in our two stroke engines. Debris forms in fuel quickly due to ethanol gumming up rapidly, and then in turn acting as a solvent, releasing that gummy debris, leading to clogged fuel delivery systems. Ethanol fuels break down quickly, this can cause hard starting, and poor performance. One of the biggest issues we have here in the moist redwoods is with the new ethanol fuel blends . . . . .

Excessive water is appearing in the fuel. The Ethanol actually attracts or wicks moisture from the atmosphere and causes phase separation, or water in your tank. Bottom line, don’t use fuel over 30 days, even if you add a stabilizer, or your oil mix says contains fuel stabilizers. Another solution is purchasing premix fuel from a small engine repair facility, this fuel contains no Ethanol, it’s over 89 octane, and has a two year shelf life. It’s a slightly a greener alterative to traditional fuel and mix. I know my saw and blower love this ready to use product.

Let’er breathe! Your blower and chainsaw are like your old Volkswagen, they are cooled by the air. Every saw and blower should have an air filter that is clean and in good condition. Refer to your owner’s manual for its location. Where the rope (pull cord) is located to start your equipment is a bunch of vent slots for cool air to enter and help your saw or blower maintain correct operating temperature. These slots should be clean.  There are fins on the aluminum head of the motor these should be clean for proper air flow. Use a small nylon brush to clean these slots. Once the air is inside it needs to get out too, this happens at the muffler, there is a small screen at the muffler called the fire screen. Sometimes carbon will clog this, not allowing your equipment to breathe. This should be removed and cleaned with a wire brush then reinstalled. Your unit should never run with out this important safety feature, or you might burn down the valley!

Spark it up! No, not what you think, we are talking about spark plugs. Make sure your plug is in good condition. If the plug looks black, sooted over or burned, don’t second guess it, don’t clean it, just replace it. It’s a small investment for better fuel usage and proper running.

“Complex Carburetion”, say that ten times fast! The carburetor’s job still is to deliver the fuel with the correct air mixture to create combustion, but modern carburetors are much more complex then in the past. Some modern two stroke engines use electronics, and may be unserviceable but by factory service techs with the correct tools and training. Be aware that improper carburetor adjustment can cause serious damage to your equipment, including its demise!

Don’t let your chain be a pain! Proper chain maintenance will not only make your work easier but will help your saw run at its best. There are full text books and I have taught entire classes on just chain. But honestly it’s only so interesting to most folks. Here are some chain basics. Avoid the dirt; it dulls a chain in less than a second. Keep it tight on the bar, but moving freely, it should not hang off the bottom. Keep it sharp! Sharpening your saw can be done in the field with practice or you can have it professionally sharpened. If your chain smokes while cutting or you feel you have to push the saw to cut: Stop! It’s time to sharpen. Make sure your getting oil to the entire chain too. This can be done best by pointing the bar tip close to a clean surface while running at high speed. A stripe of oil should appear in less than ten seconds. Use a bar oil in your saw, modern saws can not use old motor oil, no Dad we can’t do that anymore!

Green is the thing! From the ready made premix like above, to soy based bar oil, there are some greener options out there now. Don’t forget that just having your equipment run well helps with cleaner emissions for our forest.

Take a moment for shop safety”-Norm Abrams. A chainsaw is a very dangerous power tool. Read and be familiar with your tools owner’s manuals. With saws, be sure to understand reactive forces and personal protective equipment that is needed. Even blowers can easily cause eye injury if eye protection is not used.

Of course there are many more maintenance topics but these are the most common issues I see come into our small engine shop, maybe you can save a penny or two and try these maintenance tips at home. Now there’s even less excuses not to deal with the duff after that mammoth wind storm! Be safe out there neighbor!

For more how to tips and local advice be sure to “like” Boulder Creek Hardware on Facebook or visit our website at

Doug Conrad, owner of Boulder Creek Hardware is power equipment factory trained at the highest level. He teaches power equipment operation, maintenance, and safety classes to municipalities and private organizations. He can be reached at or 8-6833.

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