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Cylinder Head Remanufacturing

Henchman

Plastic
Joined
Jan 11, 2021
I had a lucrative machine shop in Southern California.
I moved out of that state for a rural farming community and have been unsuccessful at finding any clients.
I have had half a dozen people tell me if I could do engine machining, cylinder heads to be more specific, they could supply me with more work than I could handle.

Seeing how I’m a “Motörhead” and enjoy building engines, this is something I’m seriously considering. I ground valves and seats back in high school but that was 30 years ago.


I’ve got a great big DuFour mill and an angle tilt table. I can get amazing surfaces using this machine and believe it would be adequate for surfacing heads.
I have a Bridgeport I assume I could use for valve guides and valve seat pockets.

My question for the forum is, if you were to start a cylinder head remanufacturing business and maybe eventually a full engine machine shop, what equipment would you purchase?
What valve grinder?
What seat grinder?
What other equipment might I need?

Thank You in advance for any advice.
 

NRDock

Cast Iron
Joined
Jan 24, 2015
As to customers, check with the regional Subaru dealers, and find out what they need. The Subies provide a stead head rebuilding business. My wife's cars certainly did. It was a contributing factor to a change to Mazda.
 

Milland

Diamond
Joined
Jul 6, 2006
Location
Hillsboro, New Hampshire
You may want to get a good granite straightedge/parallel, and use it to confirm straightness of travel of your milling machine table. If this is a classic heavy knee mill (like here: Gaston Dufour Milling Machines) then you might have wear that lets the table drop to either side.

Also, sometimes a "nice" finish isn't what you want for cylinder heads, some manufacturers have specifications for roughness and cut pattern for best head gasket functioning.

Not able to give advice on the other tooling, it's been many dog lives since I did engine work.
 

dalmatiangirl61

Titanium
Joined
Jan 31, 2011
Location
BFE Nevada/San Marcos Tx
Are you looking to build a serious business to make money, or just trying to stay busy in retirement and make a few bucks here and there? I used to build a lot of heads, been waffling myself as to whether or not to do it again. For a modern shop I don't think a mill is going to cut it, maybe with short heads like Subaru. A nice automotive surface grinder ain't cheap, chased one on an auction last month, iirc it went for about 12K, not a bad price if just down the street, transport would have been another 2-3K minimum. I do a little bit of automotive work, brake drum/rotor turning and flywheel grinding, only reason it is profitable is the machines were paid for by 5th or 6th jobs.
 

Garwood

Diamond
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Location
Oregon
I had a lucrative machine shop in Southern California.
I moved out of that state for a rural farming community and have been unsuccessful at finding any clients.
I have had half a dozen people tell me if I could do engine machining, cylinder heads to be more specific, they could supply me with more work than I could handle.

Seeing how I’m a “Motörhead” and enjoy building engines, this is something I’m seriously considering. I ground valves and seats back in high school but that was 30 years ago.


I’ve got a great big DuFour mill and an angle tilt table. I can get amazing surfaces using this machine and believe it would be adequate for surfacing heads.
I have a Bridgeport I assume I could use for valve guides and valve seat pockets.

My question for the forum is, if you were to start a cylinder head remanufacturing business and maybe eventually a full engine machine shop, what equipment would you purchase?
What valve grinder?
What seat grinder?
What other equipment might I need?

Thank You in advance for any advice.

I expect you'd be buried in work if you would do OK looking work for $20 an hour. Old tractor heads and nasty diesel stuff.

The products I make go into and on newer engines. I deal with shops wanting quality engine machinework every single day.

I live and run my shop out of a small town. My strategy has been to become friends with the local engine building shops. I send engine work their way and they hand out my cards to walk ins looking for real machining services. I make decent cash money off driveline repairs and broken bolt removals. All the automotive and heavy repair shops around me have come to use me through this. I also get a lot of calls for people just asking for my recommendation of which engine builder will suit their needs best.

Even if you are many miles from an engine rebuilder you might get to know them. A lot of engine rebuild shops are captive to a chain autoparts store. They have their own pickup and delivery run around people. Even if they are many miles away you might be able to work something out where they drop off machinework to you and you send or even sub engine work to them.

I know a fair bit about engine building operations and processes. If I was contemplating doing that kind of machinework the only way I would buy old stuff is if my plan was to setup a shop in a 3rd world country. The only way to make money is to buy the new fast equipment specific for what you are doing.
 

MrSteve

Aluminum
Joined
May 26, 2014
Location
Boston/North Shore, MA, USA
As to customers, check with the regional Subaru dealers, and find out what they need. The Subies provide a stead head rebuilding business. My wife's cars certainly did. It was a contributing factor to a change to Mazda.

But what percentage of farm type machines use Subies? Not that a set up for them might still be be useful.
 

Forestgnome

Stainless
Joined
Aug 2, 2008
Location
Californeeeah
Take a look at the Storm Vulcan 85B. It does both cylinder heads and blocks with the appropriate riser. Something I looked into a while back. Hard to beat purpose-built machines for automotive stuff.
 

slowmotion

Cast Iron
Joined
Mar 31, 2013
Location
Danville Virginia
There are many automotive shops going out of business these days, mainly because they are either retiring, dying, or have never upgraded their equipment. Don't be tempted to buy any of the old stuff, newer, better, faster and more accurate is available today. Realistically you need a CBN/PCD surfacer, guide/seat machine with 3 angle tooling and adjustable seat pocket cutters(grinding seats is old school), valve grinder (Kwikway is popular), guide liner installation equipment (important), jet wash, glass bead cabinet, soda blaster for aluminum, mag and/or pressure tester, disassembly bench for multi valve OHC heads, and lots of misc stuff. If you have time to hunt, I think $100K would cover good 5 year old or less machines. There are CNC or single point seat machining centers made today but for doing a wide variety of heads, they are not the way to go.

A subscription to the AERA would be worth the investment if you are going to work on current motors. Every motor is different and has it's quirks, it takes years to learn them all. The bulletins that AERA puts out on problems with certain motors can help in that dept. I no longer subscribe to AERA as all I do now is performance or special interest stuff. Doing work for only engine builders is a major advantage to doing work for Joe Public. I stopped having comebacks when I stopped doing work for Joe, best decision I ever made. Now none of my customers ever ask how much, they just want to do the job once.

Your mill can be used for guide/seat/surfacing but it is much slower than task specific machines. As it happens, an equipment salesman friend of mine has developed a cylinder head fixture for just this purpose. They come with
a 10" CBN/PCD milling head. The beauty of the fixture is it has air float. You move the table close to a guide, then air float it to center up on the guide. He is retiring and has 2 new units and one demo left. Over 30 are in the field and he's never sold a replacement part. He no longer has his workshop so they are in my shop currently. You can contact me if you are interested.
 

Milland

Diamond
Joined
Jul 6, 2006
Location
Hillsboro, New Hampshire
Something else to check into carefully before you spend any money is that sometimes people will say that they'll send you a lot of work, when really what they're saying is "I want competition for the guy I use now so I can lower my costs".

Not saying that's what's happening here, but I'd expect (no offense) rural farm work to be pretty low dollar, and unless you've truly got a lot of customers willing to pay for proper service, I think it would be tough to buy significant equipment and be able to service the debt without shorting yourself "pocket money".
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
Bit of good info here .....basically ,thirty years ago there were thousands of engine shops.....now there are very few......There are many reasons for this,but making a go of engine work is getting harder and harder.....and now mass ownership of lekky cars may be only a few years away.
 

gbent

Diamond
Joined
Mar 14, 2005
Location
Kansas
There may be something better out there now, but when I was familiar with the game a Serdi was the fastest seat machine out there. An air float table for a Bridgeport is ok, but you have to check the level for every guide. Serdi's air float table still centers the guide, and the air float head aligns the cutter with the guide.

Farm equipment repair is a hard row to hoe. When times are good, farmers buy new equipment. When times are tough, they don't have money to repair the worn out stuff.

While I don't know what part of Idaho you are in, there are areas that have specialty crops. The specialty crops have much less new equipment available, and much more special equipment that must be repaired as it is no longer available. General machining services will be more useful to these types of operations than wheat or alfalfa farmers.
 

mattthemuppet

Hot Rolled
Joined
Apr 22, 2016
Location
San Antonio
but I'd expect (no offense) rural farm work to be pretty low dollar

maybe, but most of the agricultural equipment I saw in that neck of the woods was seriously high dollar - semi-autonomous combines bigger than my house that worked in packs of 3 or more. Small holdings might be what you're thinking of, but a large chunk of the farmed land in the US is concentrated in a small (relatively speaking) number of very large farms. Not enough of an expert to say one way or another, but you'd be really surprised at how cutting edge alot of farms and farm equipment is.
 

Milland

Diamond
Joined
Jul 6, 2006
Location
Hillsboro, New Hampshire
I have a friend whose dad is in a decent-sized farm cooperative, and have an idea of the cost of the equipment (and the whole "Right to Repair" aspect of it).

My impression of the OP's potential work was not the new Deere and other big-buck machinery, but older, simpler stuff, with (I'd presume) less profit potential.

If I'm wrong I hope the OP will correct me. I do think repair work is a good thing, it's just the idea of buying a lot of equipment while being unsure of the actual profit opportunities makes me nervous...
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
Repairing big stuff is a different game.....pretty sure the OP is referring to passenger vehicle ...and maybe just iron V8s .....The guys who took over my business now have only a part time machinist doing heads and rebores as required ,and the main earner is their one stop/same day head replacement service selling and fitting import heads ,short motors ,etc.(The Chinese heads have a 50-70% markup,and retail priced are typically 1/4 list price of an OEM head)......They have also branched into auto electrics ,and are expanding that side of the business.
 

CarbideBob

Diamond
Joined
Jan 14, 2007
Location
Flushing/Flint, Michigan
...
I have had half a dozen people tell me if I could do engine machining, cylinder heads to be more specific, they could supply me with more work than I could handle.
.

Are you looking to build a serious business to make money, or just trying to stay busy in retirement and make a few bucks here and there? .

Stories of more work than you can handle are stories and not orders or money. Everybody says this but few in life ante up.
Do not buy into this.
Ask them if they can send you $50,000 to 100,000 a year in work. More likely it will be very, very much lower.
If you want to do this work at $10 per hour then yes you can be very busy.

Number two above is a real question you need to ask or know.

I'd not go into this world unless some specialty , McDonalds may pay better.
Sorry to be so brutal about it but I have seen so many go broke and all that life deals out with that.
It can work but the odds very high against you. It was much better world when a auto motor died at well under 100,000 miles.
Now my cars have over 250,000 and still run fine even with a basic oil change done at 40,000 between.

In any of this there is a niche to make money but general auto head shop seems like a nightmare problem to me.
Bob
 

Milland

Diamond
Joined
Jul 6, 2006
Location
Hillsboro, New Hampshire
They have also branched into auto electrics ,and are expanding that side of the business.

That's wise, in ~10 years that's going to be the bulk of the work, at least closer to cities and urban centers.

Unless battery tech does take a good leap, hydrocarbon fuels will still be used in less developed areas, but they may be "carbon neutral" biofuels.
 

Twraska

Plastic
Joined
Feb 18, 2018
Here, and that’s a long way from Idaho, I have a half dozen shops that do engine work. Of them I’ll only use 2-3. Two I’ve had bad dealings (bad work) with, one cannot do bigger stuff. Of the others, my go-to has a two month waiting list. (If it helps, I normally expect to pay $800 on a head rebuild. That’s either for a pair of auto heads or a 7-9 liter diesel head.) I expect the place I use to be a one stop shop, being able to bore a block, do the heads, line bore, check rods for straightness, pressure check, deck the block and vat or caustic wash all castings. If they cannot do all this they better have someone who can, I’m not running all over. Any shop Doing farm or heavy equipment needs to do the 15 liter diesels at minimum

Oh yea, as to grinding seats being outdated, some industrial or farm stuff has hardened seats that need grinding. My two cents and worth what you paid for it!
Tim
 








 
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