I spent some time in the garage today trying to set the timing on my family’s 1930 Model A Ford. I think it can be done with just one person, but I’m going to have to get some help. As a part of the process you have to put the crank into the front (it’s a very old car) and crank the engine over while pushing on a pin to find a specific point in the engine cycle. Once you find that spot you can adjust the timing accordingly. The problem that I ran into tonight is that I think the pegs on my crank are worn so that I really needed two hands to keep the crank in place, but I still needed a hand to push on the timing pin. I’m going to see if I can get a friend to come over tomorrow to help me out.

Here are some tips on setting the timing on a Model A Ford for any other novices like me. These are all tips based on the instructions for setting the Ignition Timing (pg 2-18) in Les Andrews’ book The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews:

  1. In Step #1, the breaker point gap is the space between the end of the little silver arm (the breaker point arm), and the tiny adjustable screw, under the black plastic disk (the rotor). It was a bad moment for me when I didn’t even know what the book was talking about in the first step.
  2. In Step #2, a really good tool for bending the rotor tab up or down without marring it is a big crescent wrench.
  3. In Step #5, when it says to “fully retard the spark lever on the steering column” that means push it all the way up.
  4. In Step #7, when you have reversed the timing pin and are feeling for the small recess in the cam gear, keep in mind that it is very small, it takes two full rotations with the crank to get back to the same point on the cam gear, and the small recess will be there when the rotor is pointing roughly toward the front of the car. For me this operation took a good deal of time and a LOT of patience. I hope it is easier for you. While you can only turn the crank in one direction, if you go past the notch just a little bit you can grab hold of a fan blade to go back a bit.
  5. In Step #14, when I tightened the cam locking screw, I had to turn the cam a little farther counter-clockwise than I wanted it to end up in order to account for the movement of the tightening screw.
  6. Don’t forget to screw the timing pin back in, and remove the crank before you try to start the car.

In the end I ended up being able to set the timing by myself, it just took longer than it would’ve if I had had someone helping me, or if I had known what I was doing.