Monday, January 17, 2011

A Tale of Two Snow Blowers - The Craftsman - 1 of 2

I was told once that a Tahoe local has owned two snow blowers. And their second one is a Honda! I guess that makes me a local.

On the third place rental house I lived in, snow removal was the renters responsibility. The local plow company had several different tiers of service they provided. Basically it was going to cost $1000 for the season for snow removal. The year prior I lived in a house down a 1/4 mile dirt road and no plow service available at all. The owners of the house left an old, but operational, Honda snowblower for us to use. Since the current place required 1/10th the snow removal, I figured I could do it myself.

After the first large series of storms I attempted to shovel out my driveway. After hours of toil, I had successfully shoveled out the driveway and one of the three parking spots. This was not going to work, I needed mechanical help and decided to buy a snow blower. It was late fall: the worst time to buy a used snow blower. I knew that in general Honda made the best blowers. But I was sure that some of the top models of Craftsmans, Arnies, MTD, or Snapper performed well. But none of the other brands are known to throw snow like a Honda. The only draw back is that a new Honda was going to set me back $3k. Since I have always trusted Sears tools, I looked into getting a Craftsman.

Since I was not getting a top of the line blower, I made sure to get one that was slightly larger and more powerful. Snowblowers are often classified into two catagories. Single and dual stage machines. All larger blowers are two stage, with a auger to bring in the snow and a second one to throw the snow. I found a Craftsman blower with a 9 hp Tecumseh Snow King engine, a 28 inch clearing path, 6 speeds, and tire drive. The whole deal cost me $1000. I ordered it and it was shipped to the Sears store in South Lake Tahoe (Zephyr Cove). Picked it up and within an hour of getting it home, had it put together and fired up. Went outside and rammed it into the snowbank and watched it shoot snow in the air. What a great feeling.

The engine fired up on the first pull or two of the cord. There is also a electric starter. Unlike a car there is no battery and the electric starter needs to be plugged in. This is only needed if the engine becomes hard to start; after it has been sitting for the summer for example. On some reviews, there were complaints that the plastic chute was weak and broke. But over the three years I used this blower I never had an issue with it. I assume most problems arise when the chute is frozen and forced to turn. The 6 forward, and 2 reverse speeds are ok but can be improved with lower gear ratios. 1/4 speed, 1/2 speed, 1,2 and fast would be a more usable spread. 3,4, and 5 are too fast for snow blowing. Only one reverse speed is really necessary.

Snowblowers come equipped with shear pins. These are pins that are designed to break if it encounters a solid object, like a large rock. Instead to destroying the gear box or the auger, a shear pin will snap and the disconnect the auger blades from the drive shaft. I ordered a five pack of shear pins when I got the snowblower, not knowing that it came with two extra pins. The craftsman pins are very strong and I only ever broke one. In fact I think that the pin is too strong. When I attempted to throw a large rock once it broken the pin. But before the pin broke, it slightly bent the auger housing and jammed the unbroken portion of the pin within the hole. I needed to use a small punch to drive out the remaining part of the broken pin, then gently tap the new pin in the slightly deformed hole. A shear pin that was designed to break easier should have been specified.This particular blower was equiped with drive tires/wheels instead of tracks. Tires made steering the blower easy. Traction was adequate for most applications. I was tempted to add a set of tire chains to improve the traction but never did.

The "West" is known for its heavy wet snow. And Tahoe snow is a perfect example of that. Winter storms often blow in warm, with rain instead of snow. It is common for the snow that does fall to be on the verge of rain: wet and slushy. You can squeeze water out of this type of snow. It is a snow blowers worst nightmare. This was the Craftsman shortcoming, and the reason that it made it into the tale of two, as the lesser of the two. When the snow is wet and slushy, no snowblower can blow it, not even a Honda. This type of snow would jam the chute. When the snow was a little dryer but still heavy, it would be able to throw the snow only about 5 feet from the blower. Five feet is not enough range to clear the width of the driveway. Once you throw the snow once, you were not able to scoop up it up a second time to throw further. Thus on heavy wet snow days the snowblower was almost useless. On average days the snowblower was ok, and on dry snow days the snowblower was a champ.

I assume that the designers and testers of these snowblowers lived in the mid West, where the cold temperatures usually resulted in very light snow. And therefor did not design the blower for "western" or coastal snow. This was short sighted on the part of the eningeers. I assume that a faster spinning aguer of the second stage thrower, was all that was required to make the snowblower work in the heavy wet stuff.

Other than shear pins and gas, there is one more consumable item. It was one that I had not replaced yet: the friction wheel. This is basically the clutch. For the three years of regular use, I never wore mine out. On occasion the drive wheels did not engage when the lever was. Releasing the lever and re-engaging it always did the trick. There was is an adjustment of the control cable that could have solved the issue, but I never needed to examine it in more detail.

The Techuseh Snow King Engine was the best part of the snowblower. It started up on the first full pull. It ran strong and never bogged down. Over the summer prior to storage I ran it out of gas, and poured a table spoon of oil into the cylinder through the spark plug hole. When fall came, I filled it with gas, and it started on the first pull.
The craftsman blower was very basic. It did not have a lever to control chute discharge height. It was ususualy on the highest. It did not have scraper depth adjustments. But it was a bargin and would have worked for smaller driveways.

1 comment:

  1. This is very well written. I have had the exact same issues with my Craftsman. I have had mine for 10+ years, and it is time for me to get a new one. Need something that will throw the snow farther. Leaning towards a pricey Honda.