Archive for the ‘Tools and Equipment’ Category

A Word on Cheap Tools

May 28th, 2009 1 comment

OK, so we all know about -insert your cheap tool store here-  and how incredibly cheap the stuff is. I’d love to be able to say “stay away from there and only buy the best high-quality tools”. But, I’m not made of cash, and as much as I love and  respect good tools and have some of them, sometimes it’s not practical to spend top dollar on something. You have to judge how much you’ll use the tools and how many “cycles” you’ll put them through. With some tools, you have a high tolerance for inaccuracy and some you don’t. With some tools, you’re going to use them 10 times and be done, so you don’t care if they last any longer. For instance, I went to Harbor Freight to buy my sheet metal nibbler. I knew that I would use it probably just for this one project and you know, it was great! I got a great hammer and dolly set there too, for very little money.

Here’s what I would not buy at *cheap tool store*: sockets, wrenches, micrometers, tools that you will use a long time or for close-tolerance stuff.  I think your basic trade-offs will be in the areas of accuracy and duty cycles. Cheap tools will often be inaccurate from one to the next, so I wouldn’t get measurement tools that have to be very accurate. That includes sockets. You use sockets all the time and for years, and you can ruin fasteners with ill-fitting ones.

Here’s what I would buy: anything you won’t use a ton that can handle a degree of imprecision. Or – if you will use it a lot, but it’s so cheap you can afford to just buy another one!

Basically, don’t waste your money on stuff you don’t need! You have more than enough stuff to spend money on if spending is your aim 🙂

McMaster-Carr has good quality cheaper stuff in their economy lines, along with the super-high quality expensive stuff.

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Safety Equipment

May 28th, 2009 No comments

Just in case there is anyone reading this, and looking at the tools post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about safety. If you are planning on undertaking the kind of project I have, you really need to get some basic safety gear. Anyone who’s done a fair amount of work with power tools has probably had some experience that has made it known, on no uncertain terms, that they are to be respected.

Just recently, I was grinding my floor pans. I’d become tired, but persisted, single-minded about getting the dang weld or whatever ground down nice and flat. In a moment of distraction I lost focus and zip! the grinding wheel hit my finger and in a fraction of a second it went through my glove and almost 1/8″ into my finger. I cleaned the hell out of it and it healed fine, as injuries often do, but the point is, this happened in just the briefest moment of distraction. This, I told myself, was the last time I’d buy cheap gloves. Even better would have been to take a rest!

Both presence of mind and safety gear are important, so here is a list of some of the safety gear I have found important:

  • Fire extinguisher – keep one in easy reach whenever you are doing welding, grinding, etc.
  • gloves – good ones. You need to be able to feel, but you also need protection, so you’ll need a selection of appropriate gloves. For welding, it’s important that you have some large welding gloves, probably leather ones. For other tasks, other gloves are appropriate.
  • face shield – I’m talking about one of these clear shields that covers your whole face. So useful for keeping showers of sparks at bay, or protecting you when you don’t feel like wearing goggles
  • eyeware – you need safety glasses and there’s no way around it.
  • Welding helmet – get one that is auto-sensing. Even a cheaper one will do unless you are doing hours upon hours of welding
  • Welding cap – simple little fire-proof cap that covers the top of your head. you’d be surprised how far up the sparks can travel, and how very easily they can burn through your skin.
  • Long leather welding jacket. Like many of these things, it doesn’t have to be expensive. I bought mine from AirGas for $60 I think. It’s long, has snaps around the neck, etc.
  • Welding blanket
  • Good protective shoes appropriate to what you’re doing
  • Ear plugs – I bought a box of a couple hundred pairs for not too much and I use them when I do any impact stuff or other loud stuff. It helps fatigue as well as your hearing.
  • Respirator – get a decent N-95 respirator. Use it while grinding, painting, etc. This is some toxic stuff and N-95 should be good for most vapors and particles (read the label).
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May 24th, 2009 No comments

I’ve ended up with a lot of new tools because of this project. The great thing is though, it often comes out cheaper to buy the tools to do something yourself, than it would be to have someone else do it. Certain tools have proven themselves to be indispensable time-savers.


I’ll list those here:

  • Calipers – decent dial or vernier calipers are indispensable
  • Air compressor – a friend of mine gave me his extra 20 gallon air compressor – score! Whether it’s for operating air tools or just blowing things off, this thing is indespensable. Get one!
  • Air ratchet
  • Air impact wrench – this saves so much time and exasperation
  • Air hammer – this was absolutely key for ripping apart the rusty floor panels
  • Air powered drill – much lighter and easier to maneuver in small places and over long periods than its electric counterpart
  • Long breaker bar
  • 4 1/2 high-speed angle grinder (with cut-off wheels too)
  • Bench grinder – you’ll find more uses for this than you can imagine
  • MIG welder (I have a Lincoln 175 and I love it – I think it can do just about anything)
  • A good vise and soft jaw inserts
  • A work bench – I built a good solid work bench and it’s key
  • Of course a good full set of screwdrivers, sockets (deep and shallow), and various socket wrench extensions, a U-joint, and open/box-end combo wrenches
  • 3/8″ and 1/2″ electric drills
  • An accurate torque wrench – you probably need 2 – one for lighter loads and one for heavier loads
  • Fire extinguisher ready at hand
  • Various pliers, vise-grips and clamps
  • For sheet metal fitting, Cleco fasteners are an amazing help
  • Creeper – get a cheap one and revel in how much better you feel that you’re not always on the cold cement and soaking in oil. I did without one for years and I don’t know why.
  • Files – a decent selection of files, even cheap ones
  • Chisels – again, cheap ones. Get a small set of cheap utility chisels that you don’t care if you bang up. And then, keep them sharp. Dull cutting implements are always a bad idea – so easy to lose control of one and cut yourself instead. If you need to do fine work, there’s nothing like a good quality chisel, but use the cheap ones for rough duty.

I’m sure there are more that are key, but at the moment they escape me.

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May 23rd, 2009 No comments

Some time in 2008 I read Carroll Smith’s “Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing” and I reached a new level of anal about nuts and bolts. I seriously never realized how much engineering went into your average fastened joint. For anyone doing any kind of fabricating, restoration, or any work where you might have to put more stress on a joint than it was originally engineered for – I highly recommend this book! If you’re into cars, just buy all 5 of his books – you’ll want them later anyway – just get them all and be done with it. You should be able to get a decent deal at

Because of the added stress that a lot of my car is going to be under when it’s on the track, I opted to replace some of the fasteners with AN fasteners. For record-keeping, I’ll list them here:

  • Rear leaf front mount
  • Strut-rod to LCA
  • New front crossmember to LCA mount. This piece is an upgrade that I got from Delta Bay Mustang – it reproduces an upgrade that was made to the Trans-Am cars. Stock crossmembers have one bolt on each side, and it fastens the crossmember to the frame rail. This upgraded piece ties into the inboard LCA mount. This extra mount-point, perpendicular to the other mount, adds a lot of flex-resistance to the body.
  • Upper shock mount. The stock shock collar has a captive nut on the bottom. The upper shock mount sits on top of the collar, and a bolt goes down through it and into that captive nut. I’d heard that this nut sometimes strips out or falls out, and these shock mounts can fail under stress, creating a possibly dangerous situation. I knocked the captive nuts out and replaced them with AN nuts, bolts and washers.

I also replaced the shock collar-body fasteners, and the crossmember-frame rail bolts, but with new stock-style ones.