Small-Block Chevy Valve-Train

Gen-1 small block valve-train assembly includes lifters, push rods, rocker arms, rocker nuts, and rocker balls. Supplies needed will include moly lube ( the same stuff used on the camshaft) and a squirt can of motor oil. All components get lubricated prior to assembly. This is necessary so that there will be no bare metal rubbing on metal during start-up.

valve-train assembly small block Chevy

Install Lifters

Most SBC rebuilds include camshaft and lifter replacement. If the lifters are new, they can go in any order in the block, but if you're re-using the old ones, they must be put back in the same bore they came out of. If you put used lifters back anywhere, they'll wear out much quicker once the engine is running again.

On every engine rebuild, parts go from static to running, which is why it's essential that during small-block Chevy valve-train assembly all parts are lubricated. Use the same type of lubrication that you used on the cam lobes on the bottom of the lifters. Oil the sides with motor oil. The lifters should drop right in.

small block chevy valve train

Install Pushrods and Rocker Arms

If you used a valve-train organizer tray, place it near the engine. Like the lifters, old push rods need to go back to the spot they ran in. Put a dab of assembly lube on each end before installing.

SBC engine parts

Find SBC Chevy Parts at Ecklers Corvette

The #461 castings on this 327ci engine are pre-guide-plate heads. Guide-plate heads have large round holes as the plate keeps the pushrod positioned. On early small-blocks, a rectangular hole with semicircle is all that was used.

valvetrain assembly 327 Corvette

Before the rocker arms go back on, lubricate the side where the push rods sit, the tips of the push rods and the tips of the valves.

small block chevy valve train

Lubricate the rocker balls too, before you put them in. I'm upgrading to grooved rocker balls, which hold additional lubrication for better protection against galling. Tighten the rocker nuts only finger-tight for now.

Valve Adjustment

Adjusting valves with hydraulic lifters does not require shimming and is quite simple. Hydraulic lifters contain a small hydraulic piston, which is pressurized by engine oil. The piston acts as a hydraulic spring that automatically adjusts the tappet clearance according to the oil pressure. This makes the valve actuation self-adjusting and there is no need to shim the rockers.

valvetrain assembly sbc

Hopefully, you left the engine on Top Dead Center before you installed the cylinder heads. If not, use a breaker bar and socket and turn the harmonic balancer so that the "0" mark lines up with the timing tab. To check that you are on #1 cylinder, the lifters on #6 will be rocking (intake just opening and exhaust just closing).

With the engine at the TDC, tighten the rocker arm nut on cylinder #1 only until the slack between the rocker arm and push rod is gone. Then tighten 1/2 turn more.

Next, turn the engine 1/4 clockwise (facing the front of the motor) so the #5 cylinder lifters are rocking. This is TDC on cylinder #8. Repeat the above procedure. Continue turning the balancer 1/4 at a time, and adjust cylinders 4, 3, 6, 5, 7, and 2. You will turn the balancer around twice and make four stops each pass (2 x 4 = 8 cylinders).

Be careful not to over-tighten, all you need to do is take that play out of the push rods, and the little hydraulic piston in the lifter takes up the rest.

You will soon see a pattern emerge. Remember that early SBC Chevys use a firing order of 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2, each cylinder gets adjusted when the valve-train is 180 degrees out. Example: cylinder 1 gets adjusted while 6 is rocking, cylinder 8 gets adjusted while 5 is rocking, etc.

Valve Adjustment Order for SBC


Adjust this cylinder - when lifters on this cylinder are rocking.

1 ------------ 6

8 ------------ 5

4 ------------ 7

3 ------------ 2

6 ------------ 1

5 ------------ 8

7 ------------ 4

2 ------------ 3



After all 16 rocker arms are adjusted, bring the engine back to TDC (#6 lifters rocking again). This is where you need to be for the next step in engine reassembly - installing the distributor.

327 small block chevy valve train

read Small-Block Chevy Build