Tecumseh Points Ignition Repair

Article by Mark Trotta

Pull after pull, this old Tecumseh motor showed no sign of spark.

vintage Tecumseh magneto

Time to check the points.

Small Engine Spark Tester

There are several ways to test for spark on a small engine. I often use a Briggs & Stratton spark tester which is quick and easy to use.

Briggs spark tester 19368

Clip one end of the spark tester to the spark plug wire and the other clips onto a ground (usually cylinder head).

Check For Spark

With points ignition, it takes very little RPM (about 350) to produce spark. This is easily done by pulling the rope start. As the flywheel turns, watch for spark in the clear circle on the tester tool.

small engine check for spark

If you see spark, your ignition is working properly.

Flywheel Removal

On old small engines such as this Tecumseh H25, the flywheel needs to be removed to get to the ignition points. Do not try to pry off a vintage small engine flywheel with a screwdriver. Aside from being very old, it's made of soft aluminum and damages easily.

A three-jaw puller (or a specialty tool) is best for this procedure.

small engine flywheel removal

TIP: Put the keyway somewhere it won't get lost.

How A Magneto Works

The magneto type of ignition is the simplest spark-making system out there. It requires only minimum parts; breaker points, condenser, a coil and rotating magnets.

When you pull the starter rope on a magneto-fired small engine, two magnets inside of the flywheel (sometimes outside) revolve around a stationary coil. The current created travels into the ignition coil where it gets stepped up from low to high voltage. From there it travels to the points, which act as an on/off switch for the spark. After that, the voltage goes through the ignition wire, igniting the spark plug.

Once the engine is running, the flywheel keeps rotating, and this cycle is repeated over and over. The magnets keep passing the coil and the spark plug keeps firing.

Early Tecumseh motors have two magnets which sit flush with the inside of the flywheel. An easy testing procedure for checking these is to hold a small hand-held magnet near them. One should attract it and one should repel it.

small engine magneto ignition

Replace Tecumseh Points and Condenser

Early Tecumseh points are housed in a small metal box in the magneto unit. The condenser mounts to the stator bracket. Replacement procedure for both is straight-forward, and is the same for most vintage Tecumseh engines.

small engine magneto

If you still have no spark after replacing the points and condenser, a bad coil may be the culprit. Note that the spark plug wire is not serviceable. It is part of the ignition coil, so if suspect it's bad, you'll need to replace the coil.

Magneto Removal

For restoration purposes, a total strip-down of this vintage small engine required removal of the magneto unit. Ordinarily, it would not be removed unless it's bad. They are difficult to re-align.

The stator and coil assembly is held on by two bolts in elongated slots. The slots are there so the stator can be moved to adjust the armature air gap (see below).

replace points on vintage Tecumseh

Before removing the stator, make a note of the bolt indentations. This will help re-assembly. You should be able to tell where the coil was mounted before by the bolt washer marks.

small engine magneto

There is a removable breaker point cam which slips on and off the crankshaft. This oblong cam opens and closes the points. Rarely do these need replacing, but check for damage and wear. Notice there is an arrow on one side, it should face out towards you.

Armature Air Gap

If you are replacing or re-installing the magneto unit, you need to position it close enough to the flywheel to get a proper signal from the flywheel magnets, but not so close that it's rubbing against the coil. Trouble is, it's hard to see because it's under the flywheel.

The space between the flywheel magnets and the coil pickup should be .0l0" to .012". On the other side of the flywheel (180 degrees) the gap will be about .0125" (1/8").

tools needed to work on small engines

Back in the day, small engine mechanics placed a matchbook cover between the flywheel and the magneto coil, re-installed the flywheel, then pulled the matchbook cover out. Although this may sound nostalgic, a feeler gauge is quicker and more precise.


Related Articles:

Vintage Tecumseh Engine Build
Tecumseh Crank and Connecting Rod Inspection
Tecumseh Carburetor Replacement
Vintage Tecumseh Engine Identification