Two-stroke engines do not have valves,
which simplifies their construction and lowers their weight.
Two-stroke engines fire once every
revolution, while four-stroke engines fire once every other revolution.
This gives two-stroke engines a significant power boost.
Two-stroke engines can work in any
orientation, which can be important in something like a chainsaw. A
standard four-stroke engine may have problems with oil flow unless it is
upright, and solving this problem can add complexity to the engine.
These advantages make two-stroke engines
lighter, simpler and less expensive to manufacture. Two-stroke engines
also have the potential to pack about twice the power into the same space
because there are twice as many power strokes per revolution. The
combination of light weight and twice the power gives two-stroke engines a
great power-to-weight ratio compared to many four-stroke engine
The Two-stroke CycleThe following animation shows a two-stroke
engine in action. The spark-plug fires once every revolution in a two-stroke engine.
This figure shows a typical cross flow design. You can see that two-stroke engines are ingenious little devices that overlap operations in order to reduce the part count.
You can understand a two-stroke engine by watching each part of the cycle. Start with the point where the spark plug fires. Fuel and air in the cylinder have been compressed, and when the spark plug fires the mixture ignites. The resulting explosion drives the piston downward. Note that as the piston moves downward, it is compressing the air/fuel mixture in the crankcase. As the piston approaches the bottom of its stroke, the exhaust port is uncovered. The pressure in the cylinder drives most of the exhaust gases out of cylinder, as shown here:
As the piston finally bottoms out, the intake port is uncovered. The piston's movement has pressurized the mixture in the crankcase, so it rushes into the cylinder, displacing the remaining exhaust gases and filling the cylinder with a fresh charge of fuel, as shown here:
Note that in many two-stroke engines that use a cross-flow design, the piston is shaped so that the incoming fuel mixture doesn't simply flow right over the top of the piston and out the exhaust port.
Now the momentum in the crankshaft starts driving the piston back toward the spark plug for the compression stroke. As the air/fuel mixture in the piston is compressed, a vacuum is created in the crankcase. This vacuum opens the reed valve and sucks air/fuel/oil in from the carburettor.
Once the piston makes it to the end of the compression stroke, the spark plug fires again to repeat the cycle. It's called a two-stoke engine because there is a compression stroke and then a combustion stroke. In a four-stroke engine, there are separate intake, compression, combustion and exhaust strokes.
You can see that the piston is really doing three different things in a two-stroke engine:
On one side of the piston is the combustion chamber, where the piston is compressing the air/fuel mixture and capturing the energy released by the ignition of the fuel.
On the other side of the piston is the crankcase, where the piston is creating a vacuum to suck in air/fuel from the
carburettor through the reed valve and then pressurizing the crankcase so that air/fuel is forced into the combustion chamber.
Meanwhile, the sides of the piston are acting like valves, covering and uncovering the intake and exhaust ports drilled into the side of the cylinder wall.
It's really pretty neat to see the piston doing so many different things! That's what makes two-stroke engines so simple and lightweight.
If you have ever used a two-stroke engine, you know that you have to mix special two-stroke oil in with the gasoline. Now that you understand the two-stroke cycle you can see why. In a four-stroke engine, the crankcase is completely separate from the combustion chamber, so you can fill the crankcase with heavy oil to lubricate the crankshaft bearings, the bearings on either end of the piston's connecting rod and the cylinder wall. In a two-stroke engine, on the other hand, the crankcase is serving as a pressurization chamber to force air/fuel into the cylinder, so it can't hold a thick oil. Instead, you mix oil in with the gas to lubricate the crankshaft, connecting rod and cylinder walls. If you forget to mix in the oil, the engine isn't going to last very long!