From our insanely detailed guide:

Engine stands

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An engine stand is used to support an engine so that it can be repaired and examined outside a vehicle. It is possible to work on an engine without an engine stand, but a stand supports the engine at a comfortable height and allows it to be rotated to access the top and underside. Engine stands are on wheels so that the engine can be moved around the garage.

Even small engines are heavy and difficult to move around. In the video series we worked on a 1.6l MX5 Miata engine and I could just about wrestle the engine block, crankshaft and pistons. With the head installed it was too heavy for one person, nevermind with all the accessories installed.

In the PaulRyan garage we have a top-of-the-line and a cheap unbranded Chinese stand that cost around $70.  

How to use an engine stand

Engine stands are all of the same design. They have a head which usually has four arms. Because every engine is mounted differently, these arms can be adjusted to reach various positions. Generally an engine will be mounted to the stand at the flywheel end, using four of the holes that the transmission attaches to. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got suitable bolts before you start - often the transmission bolts will be too short to fit through the arms of the engine stand.

By the way, if you’re watching the PaulRyan video course, then you’ll notice we’ve mounted the block using holes on the side. This is not a normal way to do it - we’ve done it this way so we can easily show both ends of the block.  

Choosing an engine stand

Compatability with your engine crane

This is so often overlooked that you’ll find dozens of videos on YouTube of people struggling to install an engine on a stand because their engine crane doesn’t work alongside the stand. All sorts of complex (and unsafe) tactics are needed to work around this. Make life easy for yourself by ensuring that your crane will allow you to get the engine fitted to the stand. You should look specifically at the spacing between the legs - the crane and stand need to interlock. 

Capacity

The headline number in specs for an engine stand is its capacity - that is, the amount of weight it can support. You’ll have an idea of the sort of engines you plan to work on - if you’re a dedicated Honda Civic enthusiast then a half-ton (150kg) stand will be sufficient, but if muscle cars are in your future then you’re going to want at least a one-ton stand. Always err towards over-capacity. If you put a half-ton engine on a half-ton stand then it’s going to be right at the limits of operation - that means it’ll be difficult to rotate and wheel around the workshop.

To give an idea of engine weights, a V8 Chevy big-block engine weighs around 300kg (650lb) with all its accessories. Our 1.6 4-cylinder MX5 Miata engine weighs in at 125kg (275lb).

As with all tools, you want to have confidence in what you’re using. A droopy engine stand is not a pleasure to work around.  

Rotating the engine

The head on an engine stand rotates, allowing the engine to be turned upside-down for easy access the bottom.

Pipe and hole

This stand is rotated using a bar which fits through a hole. It is locked in position using a locking pin.

Basic engine stands are rotated using a metal bar, and then secured in position with a locking pin. There will be around six to eight different angles at which the engine can be held. This design works fine, though it can be difficult to rotate large engines using this method. The longer the tube, the better leverage you will have - although a metal pipe can be placed over the handle for extra leverage.

A disadvantage that I’ve found of this type of stand is that the engine tends to rock when you’re working on it because there is a clearance between the locking pin and its holes.

Crank handles

A crank handle, or worm-gear driven head, makes rotating heavy engines much easier.

More professional engine stands will use a crank handle, which turns a worm gear and rotates the engine around. This makes it much easier to rotate heavy engines, and also allows the engine to be rotated to any desired angle. If you’re only working on small engines then a crank handle will actually be slower to use than a simple pipe handle - but we’re talking seconds on a multi-hour engine build.

On the Weitner Tools engine stand that we use, which is in my opinion the best stand on the market, there is no play whatsoever in the gear mechanism. The stand is rock solid at any angle.  

Stability

The stability of a stand is important both for applying torque to fixings, and while wheeling the engine around the shop. Some engine stands come with just three legs and three castors. I don’t recommend 3-leg engine stands because I think they are significantly more unstable than other designs. If you’re working on a very light engine and not moving the stand around then they may suffice.  

Wheels and Castors

Good quality locks are essential to avoid chasing an engine stand around the workshop while you work on it.

Engine stands ride around the garage on castors - well, ride is optimistic… you’ll wrestle them around the garage on castors. The better those castors, the less wrestling you’ll have to do. Stands are available with 3, 4 and 6 castors. As above, steer clear of 3-castor stands. There isn’t a huge difference in stability between four and six castors, but six will tend to run easier because the weight is spread across more wheels.

There should be at least two locking castors on the stand so that you’re not chasing it round the garage while you try to undo a bolt. Poorly locking castors are very annoying to work with, you’ll quickly find yourself trying to rig up stop blocks and wedges.

Working height

Some advanced stands have hydraulic heads that can raise and lower to set the height of the engine. It’s a nice feature to have, especially if you foresee lots of time working on the stand. The Weitner stand we use has this feature and it’s extremely useful for filming. We can also sit on a swivel chair and lower the block for some tasks.  

Ease of assembly

Our cheap Chinese stand came with no instructions whatsoever, just a bag of nuts and bolts. It was actually quite fun to put together but hardly inspiring as to quality. The Weitner stand came fully assembled on a pallet. Obviously there’s a spectrum between these two extremes. It’s something to bear in mind!  

Bonus features

The Weitner has a drop tray that sits underneath the engine. No matter how well you drain the fluids, I can guarantee that every time you rotate an engine, a few drops of oil and coolant will fall out. This drip tray is actually really nice to have. Of course you can do something similar with a plastic box on any stand, but it’s great to have built in. The Weitner also has a couple of trays for storing bolts and tools.


Some engine stands fold up for storage. This is more common on cranes, but if space is at a premium (I’ve never seen a garage where it isn’t!) then it’s something to look out for.

Recommendations

Based in Germany, Weitner make the best engine stands in the world. They are used by Porsche and Mercedes in their dealerships. I’m not suggesting everyone buy one, but it’s always good to know what to benchmark a stand against!

There isn’t a go-to everyday brand for engine stands. There are literally thousands of variants available out of China, all with different brands and colors. I don’t think there’s much to pick between them, but I would lean towards a big-box brand over an unknown one - you’re reliant on their QA processes. If you aren’t buying a branded stand, then you really want to see a stand in person to get a feel for its quality.

Overall, the Chinese stand we have is OK for occasional use - it does what it needs to. And it cost less than the raw materials would cost to weld it myself. But if you’re kitting out a garage for your collection of classic Ferraris, then the world leader for stands is Weitner, so point your private jet towards Germany.

Continue reading: Timing tools

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