Small Engine Project Ideas

Article by Mark Trotta

Sitting under my garage workbench is a Tecumseh 8-hp flathead from an old garden tiller. I bought it for no apparent reason, other than one day using it for a small engine project.

small engine project ideas

I have several ideas, but have yet to decide on which one would be best for this motor.

Go Kart

Everyone who sees an old gas engine lying around says, "Make a go kart out of it!" But this vintage Tecumseh engine is all steel, and much heavier than most other small engines, so it's not the best choice for a go-kart motor.

go kart projects


The second most popular small engine project is a mini-bike. I saw a few ads for used mini-bike frames with no motors, so I gave this some thought.

minibike project

Unfortunately, this motor is too tall for most mini-bike projects, and again, it's weight would be a disadvantage.

DIY Generator

If practicality was a factor, I would design and build a homemade generator. A small generator can charge a car battery (or bank of batteries), and then switch over to directly powering a DC to AC inverter for 120 volt purposes. This would include cell phones and small electronic appliances.

Aside from a suitable engine, you'll need a suitable alternator, belt and pulleys, and DC to AC power converter, and a platform to mount it on.

diy generator mounting plate lawn mower engine Epicenter

As an alternative to fabricating one, you can buy a steel mounting plate from a company called the EpiCenter.

This large eight-horsepower motor would do a good job at powering a DIY generator running a 12-volt car alternator. But the more I thought about making a homemade generator, the more I realized that an old lawnmower with a vertical-shaft motor may be a better choice.



Custom Kart

Nothing beats the thrill of someone yelling, "What the heck is that?" when you're out riding your custom kart! Chris Schultz built this Radio Flyer Wagon completely from scratch, including designing, fabricating, and welding.

radio flyer wagon project

Chris started out by building a go kart for the kids, which led to a barstool racer, then the Radio Flyer wagon. Powering this custom kart is a 6.5 horsepower Honda clone engine, along with a torque converter and electric start.

Cooler Kart

Not to be confused with those electric three-wheeled devices, go-kart based cooler karts can also be built as "toolbox racers".

small engine project ideas

By using a toolbox or beverage cooler for a seat, you have an easier riding position, but you'll lose the great handling of a traditional go kart.

Barstool Racer

Along the same lines as a cooler kart is the barstool racer. I think the 8-horsepower Tecumseh would be a good choice here.

small engine project ideas

The weight of the motor would be a plus, as it would give a little "ballast" for a top-heavy barstool racer. Only downside is, because of the age of the motor, it may not be easy to convert to an electric start.

Here's some other kart project ideas:



Two-Cycle Engine Project Ideas

Two-stroke engines are smaller, lighter, and have less moving parts than a four-stroke engine. They are also simpler and cheaper to rebuild.

Motorized Bicycle

Because they're smaller and lighter, two-stroke engines are more commonly used to motorize a bicycle. There are two schools of thought here -- you can add a motor and keep the bike pedals, or remove the pedals/chain/gears and have motor-power only. Of course, if you remove the crank and gears it's no longer a bicycle, you now have a skinny motorcycle with bicycle brakes and bad steering.

small engine ideas

Having the option of either pedaling or being motorized makes the most sense. You can still pedal (exercise) but having a small engine will help you get farther for more adventure. Also, when facing a long steep hill, pedal to turn the motor on and have at it.

Two-Stroke Small Engine Project Ideas

Small Engine Display Stand

If you really can't decide on what to do with that old small engine, why not just display them?

small engines on display


So it seems that practicality has little to do with most small engine projects. Just use your imagination and have fun!


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