The first step for assembling the bottom end is to get the pistons ready to go in.
I went ahead and gapped my rings at this point. Most manufacturers will pregap the rings, but it never hurts to check. To check, simply put the ring down the bore of the cylinder a little ways and use a piston to push it flat for about an inch of travel.
Here I push the ring down with the flat side of the piston.
You can see the gap of the ring.
A set of feeler gauges are needed to find the proper gap.
Take your feeler gauges and start inserting thin feelers in until you get resistance, and ultimately can't put a gauge in. You're looking for the feeler that gives the least resistance without being too small.
My Mahle top rings were preground to a .015" gap, but according to their chart, I needed the top ring to be at a .018" gap. The second ring was preground to about a .016" gap, but needed to be ground to about a .021" gap.
Factory ring specs are listed in the S14 service manual, but I'll put them up here.
Ring 1 - 0.20mm-0.30mm with an upper limit of 0.39mm
Ring 2 - 0.35mm-0.50mm with an upper limit of 0.59mm
Oil rings - 0.20mm-0.60mm with an upper limit of 0.60mm
Mahle has it's own set of gapping specs. These are listed on a sheet of paper supplied with the pistons and rings. Some calculation is involved since the specs are based on bore size and whether or not the motor is under forced induction.
To grind the rings, I used this ring grinder. It's a little old and worn, but it gets the job done.
You hold the ring to the backplate like this and push down. The pins will force the ring ends to gether and the wheel has a file on it. Turn the wheel towards the backplate to start grinding. If it's a new grinder, or you're unsure of how much a turn will take off, I recommend only turning the wheel 1/4 to 1/2 turn increments and remeasure the gap of the ring by placing it back in the cylinder like before.
Grinding is tedious and will take alot of trial and error to get the gap set perfectly. Aftermarket rings tend to be made of tougher metals than OE rings, so they will take longer to grind.
If you had your block machined for bore diameter, the shop more than likely honed your block. If you didn't send it off to the shop, then you should hone the block yourself, or have someone do it for you. I don't want to cover the actual honing process just because it seems to be a very touch and go process to me. You have to get a feel for how fast the spin the honing stones and to move them up and down in the block. It's not something I feel I can easily convey over the internet.
If your shop didn't hone the block, I recommend waiting until after you check the ring gaps to hone it. It's a personal preferrence to do it before or after you gap the rings, as it doesn't really affect seasoning of the piston rings. I recommend waiting if you can (I didn't on this build because my shop honed it when they bored it out) only four soundness of mind and you can be absolutely certain there isn't any marring of the hone pattern when you install.
I had dunked my rods in cold carb cleaner and they had cleaned up rather nicely. While I attach a set of Mahle pistons to the stock rods, the process is no different than any other piston/rod combo you can put in an SR20. I did go one step further since I was reusing my old rods; I replaced the rod bolts. Rod bolt failure can be a nasty end to a motor, and while I have yet to see a Nissan rod bolt in an SR stretch and break, it's never a bad thing to be too safe. I had considered ARP rod bolts, but they would have required expensive machining to ensure the rod ends were still round, and by that point, it would have been more cost effective to have gone with a set of performance rods.
I recommend replacing the rod bolts first if you're going to replace them. If you wait till after you've attached the piston, the piston tends to get in the way and make the process clunky.
Clamp the rod in a vise. I like to use soft jaws to avoid marring the rod.
Thread a rod nut on until a thread or two show above the nut. You want to do this to prevent warping the bolt and having it get stuck in the hole. The bolts are press fit and if they're distorted, they tend to not want to come out. Take your mallet, a deadblow is preferred, and give it some good whacks. Once the bolt starts to move, it should come out with a few more whacks.
Remove the rod from the vise and insert your bolt into the hole, making sure it lines up good. A few light taps will get it started and then you can start putting some force into hitting it. The bolts tend to stick the last centimeter or so, so I take a long drift or chisel and use it to finish the job. With the piston not on the rod, you may have some good swinging room to not need a drift.
I had to use my fingers to keep the drift from contacting the piston. When it did make contact, it created burrs that needed to be filed off.
Repeat the process for the rest of the bolts you intend to replace.
Take the supplied wrist pin and test fit it in your rod's small end bushing. If it's a tight fit, take some emory paper and work out any left over gunk and burrs until the wrist pin slides in. You want to avoid any binding
Install one c-clip. The Mahle's are a bit of a pain as they use rounded spring steel for their retaining clips. These clips have no eyelets like the stock clips, and require some finesse and religion to get in place. I had to take a set of flat nose pliers to compress them and then try to wiggle it in place making sure not to launch the clip into orbit, and subsequently a distant, dirty corner of the shop. The first clip is leaps and bounds easier than the second clip as you can maneuver it in sideways and all other positions to get it in it's groove.
If you're using clips with eyelets. I hate you.
Slide the wrist pin into the opening with a c-clip and push it through until it slides into the middle opening. Position your rod so that the front mark on the rod matches the front mark on the piston.
Note: Some pistons don't have a front marked such as these Mahles. They were cut short enough that the skirt doesn't need a cutout for the oil squirter. CP, Wiseco, and Nissan all have a cutout for the squirter. That's why it's important to have the front lined up properly.
Push the wrist pin through the rod bushing and into the other side of the piston. If you run into a little resistance, you can wiggle the rod around to aid pushing the wrist pin in. The last little bit usually requires a drift to finish the job.
Install the second c-clip and you're done.
To install piston rings, you should install them in this order:-Set the oil spacer (accordion ring)-Bottom oil ring-Top oil ring-Second compression ring-Top compression ring
I went by Nissan's ring diagram for positioning even though Mahle's is set up a little differently. It's not a huge issue, so long as your using a known good positioning chart. The primary thing you want to make sure is that your compression ring spaces are 180 degrees apart.
This is the chart Nissan provides for ring position.
To install the rings. Ensure which side of your piston is the front and set your oil spacer ring based on your diagram. Don't allow the ends of the spacer to overlap. They should be touching.
Then take your bottom oil ring and set one end in position while the rest of the ring is bent upwards. This will keep from stretching/breaking the ring and you just have to walk the rest of it in place.
Repeat walking the rings on for the top oil ring and the compression rings. Be sure to watch for what side is up on the rings. They're usually marked in some way.
Setting the crank in is rather easy.
First, install the oil squirters and baffle plate.
Then install the bearings into their spots making sure to line up the oil hole and notch.
Then take some assembly lube and apply it to each of your bearings.
Set the crank in place.
Set the thrust washers in place on the #3 main bearing. The thrust washer minimizes shifting of the crank forward and aft. If you notice, there are two channels on one side of the washer. The point away from the bearing. The best way to get them in place is to lay them on the curve of the journal for the crank and roll them into the slot.
Once they're in, they should be hidden like this. I pointed out which way the large ends should end up.
Snap the bearing cap halves into their holders. Again, make sure you note the notch.
Line up the notchs of the bearing halves. They should be on the same side as each other when you install the bearing caps.
At this point, while the caps are loose, you can set the girdle on top of the caps and start the main bolts. Once the bolts are started, I usually take a mallet and gently start tapping the caps down into place.
You can also use the bolts to gently snug the caps into place.
Once all the caps are snug and in place, go ahead and tap the tops of each cap to help it seat better.
The Nissan manual has the proper torque sequence in it. If you're using ARP main studs, though, use their torque procedure but use Nissan's bolt sequence.
You always start with the middle bolts and then work your way out such as in the following picture
Notice how the middle two are the first two to be tightened, then the pair to the right, then the pair to the left. Finally the outside pairs are tightened last. Always follow that order. This is especially importance since you're working on an aluminum block.
In between each portion of the torque sequence, I tap on the top of each main cap. This helps to keep the bearings seated and will ultimately help them spin freely once you're done.
The first torque setting you should do is 22 lb/ft +- 2 lb/ft (20-24 lb/ft)
Next, if you have an angle wrench then you're good to go. If not, then you will have to make a mark on the main bolt. Then, using an angle finder, make a second mark on the girdle at 75-80 degrees clockwise from your bolt mark. Take a breaker bar and tighten until your bolt mark lines up with your girdle mark. Wipe the markings clear.
Completely loosen the bolts.
Retighten the bolts to 26 lb/ft +- 2 lb/ft (24-28 lb/ft)
Make your marks on your bolts again and measure out to 45-50 degrees clockwise. Tighten the bolts again until the marks meet.
The point of this torque sequence is to stretch the main bolts out to help them grab better. Torque to yield would be the term. We've all heard it before.
If you decide to gauge it by eye, you're doing so at your own risk. I've done it before and have had no ill effects, but not everyone has a good eye for angles.
Now spin the crank (use a wrench on the pulley bolt) to see if there is any binding. If it spins easily, you're ready to put the pistons in.
Install the bearings into the rods and caps, making sure to match up the notches on the bearings to the ones in the races. The rod caps will have markings on the side for which cylinder each rod goes to. You want to make sure the cylinder # markings line up between the rod and cap.
Rotate the crank over so that the journal for the piston you are installing is facing down.
This is my favorite type of ring compressor. It just seems to be much easier to use than the ones with the worm gears.
Apply some assembly lube to the rod bearing and put the piston in the ring compressor. With a mallet handle (again, I prefer wooden handles) tap the piston into the cylinder bore. Once it clears the ring compressor, push it all the way down, being sure to watch out for the oil squirters. An errant rod will break them easily.
Once the rod is on the crank, you can rotate the crank to an angle to make installing the rod cap easier.
When tightening the rod bolts, first tighten the nuts to 9-11 lb/ft. Then either tighten them to 65-70 degrees, or 28-33 lb/ft. I prefer the torque setting as it's easier to do.
Repeat for the other 3 pistons.
Once you have all the pistons in place, rotate the crank over a few times to check and make sure the pistons are all smoothly moving and that there are no clearance issues. If you're running aftermarket pistons, it's especially important to watch for clearance issues.