How To – Building A Professional Mechanics Tool Set

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    The old saying that you need the right tool for the job has some truth to it. Whether you are a Mechanic starting out your career or a high end hobbyist that thinks its better to put labor charges into tools and do the job yourself you have probably already found out the hard way that some tools are better then others.

    I say you probably found out the hard way because like most people that start to perform larger and larger repair jobs you probably had more then a few a low end consumer grade tools brake in your hands even when doing work thats not so demanding.

    Tool making is a highly prized profession and there is a lot of skill that goes into making good tools.. but there is also a good amount of skill that goes into making not so great tools in much higher consumer level volume.

    I say that because there really isn’t anything wrong with tools most of us may consider garbage if they fit the needs of a specific task. How many times have you heard someone say don’t open that paint can with a screwdriver use a can opener. Now a can opener might cost 50 cents where your screwdriver can cost a couple dollars or much more. You forget the advice and use it to open a can or use it to pry something off when you could have used a $2 prybar and snap there goes the tip of your favorite screw driver.

    You have to keep these things in mind when selecting tools and you also need to understand that no  matter what tools you end up buying as a mechanic there will be times when you need to modify a tool or even make one yourself.


    Drop Forged – Forged – Cast

    When you look at some tools you may wonder if the word Forged on the side means the design was stolen from another manufacturer … and that might be true but hopefully the manufacturer is indicating that the method of forming the metal into the tool you are using.

    If you took metal shop in school you may have had the chance to use a metal forge and the method you were employing was hand forging. Some tools especially ones you might make on your own are still hand forged.

    Dropped Forged tooling is very similar to hand forging but instead of hammering the piece for hours or days the metal bar is heated and then punched into the shape of a wrench or screwdriver head.

    Cheaper tools that may look the same are cast. Casting is when raw materials are melted down and poured into molds.

    Whichever method is used to get the basic shape the rest of the tooling is done most likely by a CNC lathe or maybe just hand ground to clean up the edges.

    Now the reason I say Casting results in cheaper tools is because it skips the process of compressing the metal and aligning the atoms in the steel to create not only a stronger tool but one that can flex a bit while retaining its shape.

    You may have been unlucky to buy a cheap set of Cast Socket Wrenches and when you tried to get a head bolt off an engine the sidewall of the socket burst open.

    Now this is not to say you can’t force forged tools past their rated strength and that is why they make hardened impact wrench sockets with thick walls vs specialty thin walled sockets that fit into tight places.

    Tool Ratings

    Whether you are buying a set of Socket Wrenches or an air compressor or a floor jack and jack stands the home consumer often skimps on a slightly higher rated grade of tool because they believe the one they are selecting is enough to get by.

    For instance lets look at jack stands. Lets say your car weighs 3200 pounds and you see a sale for jack stands and because you don’t have a set yet you think that four jack stands that are each rated at 2,000 pounds will be fine for working on your car.

    Well this is kinda true. If you ignore that cars have a heavier weight in the front then in the back because of the engine the total weight that all four stands can support is 8,000 pounds. But if you examine the difference in size and footing of the next or even two steps up from the least expensive set of stands you will see that your vehicle will be much more stable while you work on it if you spend that extra $25 -50 dollars.

    So instead of buying a set of stands which would probably keep your car off the ground in hurricane winds or if a bull ran into the side you endup buying the cheapest set of stands and are paranoid each time you are under your car and need to hammer or pry on something that moves the car around.

    In a shop you would have a lift if you are a hobbiest you can buy a lift or if you can’t put one in your garage you can at least buy a decent set of jack stands that won’t make you give a second thought when your under your car.

    Now that is just an example but that is the idea about buying a tool that you know without a doubt can get the job done vs one you are pretty sure maybe it can if you are lucky…

    You need to apply that to all your purchases but keep in mind overkill… if you are working on cars not 30 foot tall caterpillar dump trucks use in the mining industry don’t go buying some special three inch impact wrench that needs a forklift to position it.

    Special Tools

    Specialty tools are those needed for one or only a few specific jobs. You may have an adjustable claw puller that can get ball joints off along with steering wheels and many other things but you may find that there is one specific job where you could use your standard set of tools and take hours to do the work where a special tool could get the job done in minutes.

    Considerations when buying a special tool are…

    Can the work be done with conventional tools?

    How often will I use the tool and could I rent it rather then own it?

    Will the tool make or save me money or could I bring the part or vehicle to a specialist for this specific task.

    How do you find Special Tools

    Aftermarket tool manufacturers sell special tools through a number of retailers but sometimes it can be difficult finding a tool you need.

    Probably the first place that you can ask about a tool is your local dealer. If a special tool is recommended by the manufacturer then they will have it on hand to make the repair.  This does not always mean that they can order you the tool but they should be able to point you in the direction of an official vendor.

    Once you have a vendor’s information you can look for the part online and many national parts suppliers (local auto stores) may have their directory of special tools online but another place to look is Amazon.  Amazon seems to have a full line of parts and tools for most cars and through third party seller things they don’t have are often available but not with free shipping. You can try the YouRepair Store for these items.

    Still not finding what you need then a internet site for car enthusiasts is a great place to ask a question or in a UseNet news group.  Often you will get three or four strange responses and one really great response.

    Building your own Special Tools

    This is something that I have had to resort to more then once. Sometimes the tool you need is just a modified standard tool and sometimes you have to get out the mig welder and some scrap steel or grind down a wrench to fit in a tight area.

    Building your own special tools if you can is a great way to save cash and get the tool in your hand as fast as you can. I have know guys with a water jet and cnc machine that make their own oversized hand wrenches and fixtures.

    I have made screwdrivers, hammers and frame repair tools simply because no company making anything even close to what I needed.

    Other Resources

    You can never count out tools that are used in other industries. Reciprocating saws are used by almost everyone but what about a hand held electric pipe cutter use in the plumbing industry or a fiberglass fish rod used in the electrical industry to feed some speaker wires under your carpet or behind interior panels.

    I remember using rebar metal cutting disks on a circular saw instead of cutoff wheels when I was modifying bodywork and hanging quarter panels. It is so much faster and that means less of that cutoff wheel burning smell. Today there are circular saws dedicated to cutting light metal and can be used for a variety of reasons.

    Final Note

    Building your resources of special tools will have a lot to do with the type of work you do and the industry you work in.  Taking a peek in your coworkers box may reveal years of experience hidden in a drawer.

    Another way is the Internet there are always people talking about how things can be repaired and most people want to give the help you need because they found the answer to a problem they found frustrating.

    When all else fails get a big hammer

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