Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Special Tools the Car Hobby Guys Need in His Home Shop

If you can use your tools and keep you tool set looking
 like the above example you are a better man than me!

The Special Tools the Car Hobby Guy Needs in His Home Shop

-Alan Arnell

In the movie “Gran Torino” starring Clint Eastwood, Walt Kowalski,(Clint Eastwood) gives his new young neighbor and protege Thao (Bee Vang) a starter kit of tools.  They were a can of WD40, vice grips and roll of duct tape. Walt says, “Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone.  If there is anything else you need just go out and buy it.”  Thao looks at all of Walt’s tools in his garage workshop.  Thao sadly comments, “I will never be able to put together such an impressive collection of tools.”  Walt says, “You don't buy all these tools at once, it’s something a man accumulated over 50 years.

If you are just starting out or been at the restoration car hobby you know that you will need a good set of tools. Tools make the job easier.  Most certainly a good mechanic can make and make do in a pinch with a tool substitute.  For example, when I was 19 I had to change the brake shoes on my 1969 Chevelle on a Friday night to be able to drive to Chicago to see my girlfriend who is now my wife of 36 years.  I never throw anything away.  

The trip scheduled was a 300 miles round trip.  Of course driving home from work earlier that day I had stepped on the breaks and heard a grinding noise.  I had been ignoring the squealer warning devices for quite some time due to my financial situation.  Still, I was afraid to drive that far with grinding brakes.  


When I got home all the auto parts stores were closed.  For a quick fix, I remembered my friend Ron had just done a brake job on his 1968 Chevelle.  I went to his house and he had not thrown away the old brake shoes.  I garbage picked the shoes for my car.  In the middle of the night I put the springs on the brake assembly with screwdrivers, needle nose plyers and vice grips.  Those tools did the job but at a great loss of time and loss of mental health.

Buying and obtaining tools is one of the few manly joys left in this world.  I enjoy getting new tools.  I am of the sort that I mainly do not go out and buy snap on or other high quality tools. If you are a professional mechanic, I believe you should have the best tools.  Tools to a professional are their bread and butter.  You want the best tool to do the job and a tool that will last a long time giving a good return on your investment.

Me, I’m a hobbiest.  I buy the cheapest tools I can find.  Really, I like to buy my tools used at estate sales etc.  Even better get them for free.  I inherited my dad’s tools.  Some of his tool are 70 + years old.  My most prized possession of my father’s is his electrician’s folding knife he got in the Navy in 1945 to work on seaplanes during the big one WWII.  Many people disagree with me but one of the reasons why now later in my life I buy the cheapest tool is because I generally only use the tool once.  The other reason is because I’m a cheap old fart!

By the time you have had several classic cars over the years to work on you will have a reasonable core set of tools, such as wrenches, sockets, pliers etc.  Unless you're  independently wealthy budgetary constraints, unfortunately, almost alway limit the size of a personal tool collections. Therefore, it is important to choose wisely when making tool purchases for the workshop.

After 30 plus years of fixing and restoring cars, I have come to depend on certain specific hand tools to help get the job done correctly while practicing my chosen car hobby.  I consider the following specialty hand tools to what the beginner in the hobby needs to start tearing cars apart and hopefully putting things back together.

The first custom tool you must have:  I can not tell you how many time this tool came in handy.  I have at least a different sizes in the corner of my garage.  And, I can truly tell you that I got them all for free. This tool is simply a piece of steel pipe I put on a ratchet or wrench for added torque for those pesky bolts and nuts that want to stay at their place of rest.  I started with a bumper jack post as it fit many of my tools inside its oblong open center.  The last time I used the what I call the wrench extender was when I had to set the crush bearing on the pinion gear of rear differential of my 1957 Chevrolet non Bel Air-150-2-door sedan.  The process requires 90 pounds of torque.  The extender was the only way to get the torque wrench to click the correct twisting force.

Home made pinion yoke holder

My next point.  Necessity is the mother of invention and with tool collecting.  Every shop should have a few homemade tools and other odds and ends.  Such as, pieces of heavy steel of different sizes and shapes.  Be certain to keep these homemade tools in your collection because you never know when you will need them.  You never know when lift a car body of the frame to put a spacer in place or nudge an engine over a fraction of an inch needed to get a bolt hole to line up.  My pipe extender and solid metal pry bars have more than earned their keep by getting the different tough jobs done safely and efficiently.  

My custom wrench and ratchet power extenders and long punches

Torque Wrench:  Torque wrenches are expensive, but worth the cold hard cash.  Many guys think, “Do I really need one?”  Experienced mechanics, in particular, some think they have a good enough feel to judge when a bolt is at just the correct torque setting.  I am sure that there are people out here that can do just that but really how can the hobbiest get that experience? And, really why take a chance?  If you were working on a Model T I would believe you but from 1918 to 1950 engeneering came a long way.  My friends Model T repair book had little or no torque specifications. The manual states that main bolts be handed torqued and  tightened enough more to line up the cotter pin holes. Tolerance were by today's standards so loose back then that it really didn’t matter all that much. Also, In the book it told you to set the ignition points with a well worn dime.   

Image result for Model T repair book

Any car built after 1950 it is absolutely necessary to set some bolts at the correct torque. If not properly torque suspensions, steering, braking and driveline applications will fail during use if incorrectly torqued.

Soft-faced Hammer:  My favorite saying is, “Just get a bigger hammer!”  A hammer is needed in every tool box.  The problem with hammers is that sometimes they can fix something for good.  Yet, there is no dethe importance of hammers while working on old cars.  

Among the different hammers in your toolbox, you should own at least one soft face hammer with a soft face.  It is not recommended to hit hard metal against hard metal.  Instead it is suggested to use a hammer made from brass, plastic, rubber or some other type of soft hammer head.

My soft-faced beater collection

Short Handle, Flexible head, Universal Joints,  Extension Bars, and different sizes of Ratchets:  For engineering reasons unbeknownst to me many classic car nuts and bolts are hard to get to for service  The short handle quick release ratchet gets into those tight spaces. This ratchet wrench is ideal for quickly removing and replacing most threaded fasteners in hard to reach places. Besides the small handled I would suggest collecting as many universal joints, extensions in every size of ratchet drive.  ¼” ⅜” and ½” drives are recommended.  Start with the ⅜” drive as it is the most versatile.  I had a friend who said, “If you are afraid of twisting off a bolt use a ¼” drive and it will never over torque and break a bolt.”

Short Handle, Flexible head, Universal Joints,  Extension Bars, and different sizes of Ratchets

Hook Tools:  A hook handle is really a screwdriver-type handle with some type of bend or hook on its end.  If you have one you will be surprised of it many uses. I always use it for removing all types of stubborn hoses, pulling out cotter pins, prying apart stuck parts, picking out  rust or dirt etc.

Hook tools in my arsenal
Specialty Pliers:  Specialty pliers such as a bent needle nose, lock clip and the most important the spring clamp or snap rings.  Ever try to remove an internal snap ring with an ice pick.  I have, not fun.  I got it out but could not replace the ring without snap ring plyers I had to go out and buy.  

Specialty Pliers

Multi-Bit Screwdrivers:  Fix a variety of projects at work or around the house with 22 of the most common precision screwdriver bits. Each bit is held magnetically in the ratcheting precision handle with easy switch forward and reverse motion. The clear case lid provides easy visibility to all tools inside.  Bare bones bits:  slotted bits, Phillips bits, Pozi bits, hex bits and  star bits.  It is nice to also have a ree turning end cap allows constant finger pressure while turning a comfort grip ratcheting handle.  And, if you are a Tri-Five Chevy guy like me you have to find at most Tri-Five venders a clutch head bit.

Odd-Shaped Wrenches:  If you own a Classic Chevy you know you can not loosen the distributor clamp nut wrench without a vehicle specific wrench.  Another example would be the side post on late model batteries.  As you see these pre shaped designs ar for a specific application but you imagination will find new uses for them.  

Odd-Shaped Wrenches
Precision Measuring tools:  Proper measurements of different classic car procedures is essential for proper assembly.  Mostly used for engine building but can be used in many other areas of repair or restoration as well.  One way to go for a precision measuring would be a micrometer.  Or, in my mind’s eye, a more versatile non engine building precision measuring is the dial caliper or vernier calipers.                                                  

Precision Measuring tools
Modified wrenches and other tools to suit your needs:  I had some friends over to my garage to help me repair a leak in my 1957 Chevy’s A/C unit.  I have have a small drawer in my stand up tool box of broken tools.  As one of my helpers open the drawer he judgmentally asked me why I did not throw away this junk.  I’ll tell you what I told him. “You never know when something weird comes up and you have to make a tool to fix something.”  For and example I had a 1980 Chevy Citation that had a fuel line bolt that was underneath and set back under the car’s body.  If I had a crowfoot wrenches that are specially made  open-end sockets that come in handy when reaching around obstacles I would have had no problem removing the bolt.  However, I did not.  What did I do? I took an old broken wrench and custom bent and welded it so it would get at the stupid bolt.  And, it worked.

Some of my special made tools.  
Ball Joint Separator:  I placed this tool on the list because I have used it for many custom removal operations while wrenching on my cars.  I never had the tool until I had to change out the ball joints on my Chevy.  Now it is my favorite pry bar and demolition separator.  Ball joint separators are designed to be used to help replace worn-out ball joints and to remove CV driveshafts on FWD vehicles. They feature heavy-duty alloy steel construction that's heat-treated for long-lasting use and durability. They have a long, sturdy handle for easy grip and operation.

Ball Joint Separator and pry bars
This is my top ten essential specialty hand tools.  Over time you will have all these tools and more, but this a good beginning and I really had more of my tools to show you, but I can't find them. Where is that body hook and dead blow hammer????????

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