Dimensional Inspection (Part Five)

in Engine Maintenance and Operation

Piston Repairs

Piston repairs are not required as often as cylinder repairs since most of the wear is between the piston ring and cylinder wall, valve stem and guide, and valve face and seat. A lesser amount of wear is encountered between the piston skirt and cylinder, ring and ring groove, or piston pin and bosses.


The most common repair is the removal of scores. Usually, these may be removed only on the piston skirt if they are very light. On engines where the entire rotating and reciprocating assembly is balanced, the pistons must weigh within one-fourth ounce of each other. When a new piston is installed, it must be within the same weight tolerance as the one removed. It is not enough to have the pistons matched alone; they must be matched to the crankshaft, connecting rods, piston pins, etc. To make weight adjustments on new pistons, the manufacturer provides a heavy section at the base of the skirt. To decrease weight, file metal evenly off the inside of this heavy section. The piston weight can be decreased easily, but welding, metalizing, or plating cannot be done to increase the piston weight.

If ring grooves are worn or stepped, the pistons are normally replaced. Small nicks on the edge of the piston pin boss may be sanded down. Deep scores inside the boss, or anywhere around the boss, are definite reasons for rejection. It has become more economical to replace pistons rather than reconditioning and reusing old ones, especially during overhaul.

Cylinder Grinding and Honing

If a cylinder has excessive taper, out-of-roundness, step, or its maximum size is beyond limits, it can be reground to the next allowable oversize. If the cylinder walls are lightly rusted, scored, or pitted, the damage may be removed by honing or lapping.

Regrinding a cylinder is a specialized job that the powerplant mechanic is not usually expected to be able to do. However, the mechanic must be able to recognize when a cylinder needs regrinding, and he or she must know what constitutes a good or bad job.

Generally, standard aircraft cylinder oversizes are 0.010 inch, 0.015 inches, 0.020 inch, or 0.030 inch. Aircraft cylinders have relatively thin walls and may have a nitrided surface, that must not be ground away. Nitriding is a surface hardening process that hardens the steel surface to a depth of several thousandths of an inch. Any one manufacturer usually does not allow all of the above oversizes. Some manufacturers do not allow regrinding to an oversize at all. The manufacturer’s overhaul manual, or parts catalog, usually lists the oversizes allowed for a particular make and model engine.

To determine the regrind size, the standard bore size must be known. This usually can be determined from the manufacturer’s specifications or manuals. The regrind size is figured from the standard bore. For example, a certain cylinder has a standard bore of 3.875 inches. To have a cylinder ground to 0.015 inches oversize, it is necessary to grind to a bore diameter of 3.890 inch (3.875 + 0.015). A tolerance of ±0.0005 inches is usually accepted for cylinder grinding.

Another factor to consider when determining the size to which a cylinder must be reground is the maximum wear that has occurred. If there are spots in the cylinder wall that are worn larger than the first oversize, then obviously it is necessary to grind to the next oversize to clean up the entire cylinder.

The type of finish desired in the cylinder is an important consideration when ordering a regrind. Some engine manufacturers specify a fairly rough finish on the cylinder walls, that allows the rings to seat even if they are not lapped to the cylinder. Other manufacturers desire a smooth finish to which a lapped ring seats without much change in ring or cylinder dimensions. The latter type of finish is more expensive to produce.

The standard used when measuring the finish of a cylinder wall is known as micro-inch root-meansquare (micro-inch rms). In a finish where the depth of the grinding scratches are one-millionth (0.000001) of an inch deep, it is specified as 1 microinch rms. Most aircraft cylinders are ground to a finish of 15 to 20 microinch rms. Several low-powered engines have cylinders that are ground to a relatively rough 20- to 30-microinch rms finish. On the other end of the scale, some manufacturers require a superfinish of approximately 4- to 6-microinch rms.

Cylinder grinding is accomplished by a firmly mounted stone that revolves around the cylinder bore, as well as up and down the length of the cylinder barrel. [Figure 10-30] The cylinder, the stone, or both may move to get this relative movement. The size of the grind is determined by the distance the stone is set away from the centerline of the cylinder. Some cylinder bore grinding machines produce a perfectly straight bore, while others are designed to grind a choked bore. A choked bore grind refers to the manufacturing process in which the cylinder walls arc ground to produce a smaller internal diameter at the top than at the bottom. The purpose of this type grind or taper is to maintain a straight cylinder wall during operation. As a cylinder heats up during operation, the head and top of the cylinder are subjected to more heat than the bottom. This causes greater expansion at the top than at the bottom, thereby maintaining the desired straight wall.

Figure 10-30. Cylinder bore grinding.

Figure 10-30. Cylinder bore grinding. [click image to enlarge]

After grinding a cylinder, it may be necessary to hone the cylinder bore to produce the desired finish. In this case, specify the cylinder regrind size to allow for some metal removal during honing. The usual allowance for honing is 0.001 inch. If a final cylinder bore size of 3.890 inches is desired, specify the regrind size of 3.889 inches, and then hone to 3.890 inches.

There are several different makes and models of cylinder hones. The burnishing hone is used only to produce the desired finish on the cylinder wall. The more elaborate micromatic hone can also be used to straighten out the cylinder walls. A burnishing hone should not be used in an attempt to straighten cylinder walls. [Figure 10-31] Since the stones are only spring loaded, they follow the contour of the cylinder wall and may aggravate a tapered condition.

Figure 10-31. Cylinder honing.

Figure 10-31. Cylinder honing.

Deglazing the cylinder walls is accomplished with the use of a deglazing hone. A cross-hatch pattern must be placed on the cylinder wall to allow for piston ring break-in. This is accomplished by a deglazing hone turned by a drill being moved in and out of the cylinder rapidly. [Figure 10-32]

Figure 10-32. Cross-hatch pattern on cylinder wall.

Figure 10-32. Cross-hatch pattern on cylinder wall.

After the cylinders have been reground or deglazed, or both, check the size and wall finish, and check for evidence of overheating or grinding cracks before installing on an engine.