Introduction: Restoring an Old Riding Mower - and Adding TEETH!!

There is a lot of interest in recycling today, yet one of the most neglected forms of recycling is allowing old equipment to simply deteriorate and fade away.  One of my favorite activities is to find something old and neglected and restore it to a usable condition -- I guess this is my way of recycling.

  For this Instructable I am focusing on an old riding mower that I acquired.  The mower was not running, and had been sitting outside for quite some time.  The chassis was beginning to rust, although it was still structurally sound, and several parts were missing.  I'm not sure how old it is, but its an old Craftsman 10hp rear-engine riding mower, and I'm guessing it is around 12+ years old.

What's this stuff about TEETH, you say?  I'll get to that in a moment.....

Step 1: Tools Required

The tools I used were pretty much standard mechanic's tools (sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters, etc.), a welder,  volt meter, and a continuity tester.  I also used a motorcycle jack to raise the mower so I could work underneath, but a small scissor jack and a couple of jack stands would have worked just as well.

I also used wire brushes, sandpaper, various lubricants, primer & paint, and bandaids -- lots and lots of bandaids!

A lawn mower engine needs three items in order to run:  compression, a spark, and fuel.  This engine had good compression, which ruled out major problems with the rings, valves, block, and head.  Also, the engine bearings were good.  So, all my engine  trouble-shooting was centered on the electrical and fuel systems.

Step 2: Fixing the Electrical System

I found three electrical issues with the mower.  First, the ignition switch was missing (along with the panel it had been mounted on.  Second, there was no electrical continuity from the switch connections to the starter motor.  And third, there was no spark being generated to the spark plug.

The electrical continuity problem was due to a bad wire between the starter motor and the starter solonoid (one terminal had internal corrosion), so soldering a pair of terminals to a heavy duty cable fixed that problem.

I found a "universal" ignition switch that fit the wiring harness, and that allowed me to turn the ignition "on."  That solved the  spark problem, although I also replaced the spark plug while I was working on the electrical system.

I was unable to use the ignition switch to engage the starter because of three heavily corroded safety switches on the mower.  Rather than trying to rig up three new safety switches, I bypassed these switches and wired in a push-button starter switch.   By the way, its not a great idea to bypass safety switches, but I will be the only person using this mower, and I always make sure it is out of gear when I start it, and its not powerful enough to be started with the blade engaged.

The original control panel was missing from the mower, so I fabricated one from the metal case from an  old computer.  Hey, I guess that counts as more recycling!

Step 3: Fixing the Fuel System

No fuel was getting to the carburetor.  I could start the mower by squirting starting fluid into the carb's air intake, but nothing was feeding through from the gas tank.  The tank was surprisingly clean, and fuel flowed through the fuel line and the fuel filter, but nothing through the carburetor. 

Before removing the carb, I took a digital photo of the throttle and choke linkage attachments -- I find a digital camera indespensable when disassembling such things -- keeps me from having to try to remember what thing goes where during re-assembly!

The carb had many problems, including a gunked-up emulsifier tube, and what appeared to be a float that was a wrong fit.  After a feeble attempt to fix it, I finally decided to replace it.  Fourtunately, a Sears Parts Warehouse is within 20 miles of my home, and they had one in stock.  The new carburator fixed the fuel delivery problem.

With the electrical problems and fuel problem fixed, the motor now ran like new!

Step 4: Repairing the Cutting Deck

Removing the cutting deck on this mower is easy -- pull 3 pins and drop the deck to the floor.  While I had the deck out, I also installed a new deck drive belt, and removed and re-sharpened the blade.

The original grass diverter (also called the discharge chute) on this deck was missing.  I could have ordered one, but decided I didn't want to spend the $80 cost of a new one.  So, I fabricated one of steel, hammering steel sheet into shape, then welding all the joints.

While I had the welder out, I also stitched up two tears in the metal deck.  I checked the spindle and idler bearings while I had the deck removed, and they were in good shape.

Before re-attaching the deck, I sanded, primed, and painted it.

Step 5: Rust Removal & Prep for Painting

There was a lot of light surface rust on top of the chassis, but not much pitting.  A wire brush, sandpaper, and a lot of "elbow grease" removed all the loose rust.

I then used a rust stopping primer on all surfaces.  Once dry, the area around the engine was painted with a temperature resistant flat black enamel.

Step 6: Painting

I painted the body with a silver hammered-finish enamel. 

After painting, I added some pin striping purchased at an auto parts store, and while I was at it added the "flaming skull" decals placed at the back.  I have always believed that flaming skull decals are an important part of riding mower resurrection......

Step 7: Finally -- the FUN Part!

Before I finished, I decided to give this mower some "personality" in the form of eyes, a nose, and a mouth with TEETH!

The eye decal came from an auto parts store, and I mounted it on a steel plate and riveted it onto the front of the mower. 

I built the nose from a couple of pieces of steel sheet left over from the grass diverter construction, and riveted it below the eyes.

The mouth was painted on another piece of steel sheet.  i originally planned on painting the mouth directly on the front of the mower, but decided it was easier to paint on my workbench and then attach the mouth to the mower.

Now that I have a mower with TEETH, I'm sort of looking forward to mowing season!

All-in-all I think I spent around $150 in parts restoring this mower, which is not bad considering I now have a riding mower that would cost around $1,200 if bought new.  Plus, a former piece of deteriorating junk that would soon be headed to the landfill is now good for many more years of service.