Zen and the art of lawnmower maintenance (or, How I turned a two hour project into a three day nightmare)

So last weekend, if you follow my Instagram stories, you got to see me endure a three day ordeal with my lawnmower. I knew I needed to do a tune-up – it was overdue for a spark plug, the air filter was nasty, and I wasn’t really sure the last time anything had been done with it. What should probably have taken two hours tops turned into a seeming unending nightmare as I was plagued by all the things that I didn’t know going into it, or that I failed to adequately plan for. With that said, I thought that this would be an ideal time to impart in you, dear reader, how to avoid making my bushel of rookie mistakes.

Always make sure you have all of the parts/supplies you need ahead of time

This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes you need to check supplies again. For instance, realizing after you’d gone to the store to buy the spark plug and air filter that you had used up your last quart of motor oil, which is necessary to replace the oil in your lawnmower. I wound up having to start my Saturday morning going out to get oil instead of starting right away.

Always make sure you have all of the tools

You might think this goes under the first heading, but this is a separate bit. I got home from my outing to get oil and went right to work, replacing the air filter first before going to work on that spark plug. It was not until this moment that it dawned on me—spark plugs require a special socket wrench. A socket wrench that I did not own, nor had I ever really thought I needed. The last time I changed a spark plug, I was using a friend’s tools to do the spark plugs on my Subaru (which, consequently, made me file a restraining order against spark plugs. But that’s another story altogether…) I had to stop work to run to NAPA to pick up the spark plug socket.

Know your limits

So I finally got back, replaced the spark plug, took care of oil and fuel, and I decided to try firing it up to make sure I’d not screwed anything up in the process. I pulled the starter cord three times before the handle snapped off and the remainder of the cord spooled up into the recoil starter’s spool.

It was at this point that I knew I needed to step away from the process to avoid doing something regrettable, like potentially lighting a perfectly good Cub Cadet on fire. I wasn’t even going to mow the lawn that day on account of rain, so I took a deep breath, put down the handle, went  back inside and reset my day, traipsing off to Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage and going for family photos at the state capitol. I would address the handle problem Sunday afternoon after church.

Measure twice, cut once doesn’t just apply to woodworking…

So I went to Ace after church and picked up a “universal” lawnmower pull cord replacement kit. In my mind, I somehow assumed that all lawnmower starters were the same length, and this setup, which came with 44” of cord, seemed like it would work.

Well—here’s a hint. The handle itself? Universal.

The length of cord with the handle? NOT universal.

I took out the recoil assembly and began unspooling the remaining cord, only to discover that my lawnmower’s starter contained about eight feet of nylon cord. The “universal” replacement had less than four feet. So I wound up back at my local Ace hardware.

When I got there, I’d taken a piece of broken cord from the handle end with me to help me pick out the correct cord for my starter. I grabbed what appeared to be the correct cord diameter based on my broken piece, had them cut me eight feet of cord (which makes it non-refundable), and I went to check out, only to discover I’d left my wallet at home in my rush to get to the store (I was trying to cram this repair in between the end of our morning service and the beginning of choir practice).  In desperation I tried using my iPhone with Apple Pay (Spoiler alert – Newberg’s Ace Hardware does NOT use Apple Pay, so I looked like an idiot tapping my phone against their card reader and the girl was content to let me try anyway) before turning around, going home, coming back and paying for my cord.

I should back up and point out that I picked up the thicker of the two types of pull cord you could buy by the foot at Ace. This is an important thing to note, because while I did bring a sample and it was roughly the same size, I took it from the handle end and not the spool end.

Why is this important?

Because. As it happens the handle end was slightly swollen, and when I took off the spool end, I realized that the nylon cord I purchased didn’t fit. As hard as I fought trying to force it through, it did not want to go. By this point, it was 4:30 and choir practice was at 5:00, so my lawnmower ordeal was going to be stretching into another day.

Desperation is the mother of invention

So I went back to Ace on Monday and purchased another eight feet of cord, this time the thinner one. I took it home,  and upon going to try to put it onto the spool, nearly screamed.

It STILL didn’t fit.

It was clearly closer in size to the one that I’d purchased the day before, but I couldn’t thread the cord through the spool. I’m not the type of person who screams obscenities, but I felt like I was about to go full blown Bobby Knight.

It took me a few minutes of trying to cram it through before I noticed the box of nails sitting on my bench. One of those nails was just shy of the diameter of the hole I was trying to feed the cord through. The cord was buckling because it lacked any rigidity. Maybe, just maybe, I could force it through on the point of the nail.

So I patiently sat there, prodding the end of the cord with the nail until just enough peeked through for me to snag it with my needle nosed pliers. I tied a knot in the end, tucked it into the spool, wound it back up, and installed it back onto the lawnmower. After about ten pulls, the mower finally fired back up.

In conclusion…

Lawnmower maintenance doesn’t need to be this difficult. If you learn nothing else from this, make sure you plan ahead before trying to tackle repairing your lawnmower.

Unless, of course, you like taking three days to become well acquainted with your lawn mower. No judgement here, but there are probably better things you could do with that time.


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