Spinning My Tires
is one man's view of the world of cars. Random thoughts, ideas and comments pop up here,
all of them related to owning, driving and restoring cars. I've been doing this car thing
as long as I can remember, and have enjoyed a great many car-related experiences, some of
which I hope to share with you here. And I always have an opinion one way or another.
E-mails are welcomed--if you have thoughts of
your own to share, please send them.
Additional Spinning My Tires
editorials can be found on the Archives page.
A Car Restorer's Holiday Wish List
Every year around this time, my friends and family inevitably
complain that I am a difficult person for whom to buy holiday gifts, and they constantly
ask me for suggestions. I wonder how I could possibly be
construed as difficult, since everyone knows my passion for cars. Get me a tool, a piece
of memorabilia, or something even remotely relevant, and Im happy (heck, Id
probably be happy if the whole Christmas thing went away, too). But somehow, most folks
seem to think that a tubing bender or a powdercoating setup just arent good gifts.
Theyd rather buy me sweaters or a quilt or a set of glasses for my kitchen. Somehow
those can safely be considered "good" gifts. Ill certainly appreciate
them, thank you very much, but they wont be cherished like a fine tool, and
Ill definitely remember you fondly each time I grab my new
So in that spirit of giving, heres a list of the top ten
items that I think no restorers shop should be without this holiday season:
A complete selection of hand tools. A crescent wrench
isnt acceptable on your old car, guys. My father once told me that they are a lazy
mans tool, and I have to agree. You should have a good selection of box wrenches
(metric and/or standard, depending on the cars you have), sockets with quality ratchet
wrenches (1/4, 3/8 and ½ drives), and maybe even some of those neat box
wrenches with the ratcheting endsthose have helped me out of more than a few tight
jams. Get some pliers, including needle-nose and vice-grip. Grab any screwdriver you find
and buy it. Best of all, these tools are usually sold in sets at decent prices, so it
should be easy to amass a good selection of quality tools. And make sure they are
name-brand. With tools, you get what you pay for. I love the tool truck tools (Matco,
Snap-On, etc.), but even Sears Craftsman are decent, and they all feature lifetime
warranties. Thats good enough for me. Oh, and make sure you have a good tool box to
organize them so you can get to them quickly.
- A tool that I
find almost indispensable is my buffer/grinder. With a wire wheel attachment, it
can clean almost anything, and is especially good at knocking the crud off of bolt threads
and unusually-shaped small parts. Itll strip rust and grease without breaking a
sweat, but some wheels on some paints will only burnish the surface, not remove the paint.
With a grinding wheel, parts can be ground and chamfered with a minimum of effort. And
with buffing wheels (like those found at
Eastwood or TP Tools),
you can polish virtually any material to a mirror-like shine. When Im working on the
car, I probably use this thing every day. Buy a good one with large wheels (the little
grinders dont have enough torque to really work hard) and long spindles for
clearance. Baldor makes some nice units, ranging from 1/3 to 1.5 horsepower, with nice
long spindles. Again, you get what you pay for. And always make sure you
wear your safety glasses with any kind of buffing or grinding operation!
- A blast
cabinet. If you cant clean it with a wire wheel, blast it. Its like
sandblasting in a boxno mess to clean up, and the sand gets recycled. TP Tools offers a great selection of these, ranging
from a bench-top model to massive 2-person deals that will clean car doors. The one I
bought for my shop cost under $300, and will accommodate everything from nuts and bolts to
wheels to suspension components. After using one of these to clean parts, youll
never use sandpaper, chemicals or a wire wheel mounted on your drill again.
compressor. This one should probably go at the top of the list, since everything else
in your shop is built around it. You cant run a blast cabinet without one, and you
can use air power for everything from sanders and buffers to air ratchets and metal saws.
Air power is much more powerful than electric, offering more torque for the most stubborn
pieces. You can use compressed air to blow moisture and sand out of small orifices on your
parts. Compressed air is vital to any painting operation, and a big compressor can even
run a sandblaster to clean frames and undercarriages. The most important thing to remember
when buying a compressor is CFM. Dont look at horsepower ratings or pressure
capability. CFM is Cubic Feet per Minute, and is a measurement of how much air volume a
compressor can move. If youre running a hungry sandblaster, your compressor had
better be able to keep up or itll die a hot, painful, expensive death. When
comparing CFM ratings, make sure they are at similar pressure levels. Remember, as
pressure goes up, volume goes down, so dont compare Compressor A with
18 CFM @ 40 PSI to Compressor B with 15 CFM @ 90 PSI. They arent even
close (Compressor B is the better choice), and if you dont
pay attention, youll buy a compressor that is completely inadequate for your needs.
Id say that 12-15 CFM @ 90 PSI should be the minimum for a home restorer, and try to
get at least a 60-gallon tank for good air supply when youre using air-hungry
- Lights and
extension cords. I prefer florescent lights that dont break every time you drop
them. I also like the cords and lights on reels that I can mount on the ceiling and pull
down whenever I need them. That way Im not tripping over them on the floor. And if
youre really ambitious, get one for your air hose, too, just like the pros. Griots Garage has some nice
ones, though theyre a little pricey.
There will be times when you remove parts from the car for further disassembly and
restoration elsewhere. If youre using the kitchen table, your
wife/mother/roommate/life-partner/whatever will probably not tolerate your hobby for long.
A proper workbench is a much better choice. They are available in all different shapes,
sizes, heights and materials. I like the ones with the stainless or galvanized tops so
that spills are easy to clean up. Wood or laminate tops are fine, too. Also, make sure the
working height is right for youtoo high or too low can cause your back to ache after
a long period of working. Add a stool, and youre ready to spend an afternoon on that
carburetor rebuild youve been putting off. Sears offers a good selection for really reasonable prices.
stand and engine hoist. The hoist is probably optional, since you can rent them when
you need them, but make sure you have a safe, secure place to put your engine once you get
it out of the car. A quality engine stand is not only convenient (most will allow you to
rotate the engine 360°), but safe. Weve all seen engines sitting on old tires or
wooden pallets, but if youre serious about restoration, you wont treat your
vintage iron like that. They are quite inexpensive, so get the best one you can find.
Remember, older engines are incredibly heavy (the cast iron straight-8 monster in my
Century weighs 862 pounds dry, not counting accessories and manifolds!), so get the
heavy-duty 2000-pound model.
No shop should be without music. I feel that the atmosphere in your shop will determine
the kind of work you do. I like listening to classical music when I work on the car; it
keeps me relaxed and focused on the work at hand. If something is giving me a hard time,
the music usually keeps me from boiling over. But listen to what works for you. If you
have that old single speaker job with a coat hanger as an antenna, splurge and buy a $100
stereo box at the local electronics store. Itll give you decent service and you
wont care if you spill stuff on it. If you feel ambitious, get one with a CD player
so you can set the music to your mood.
stands and jack. If youre using that old bumper jack from your mothers
77 Granada to jack up your vintage car, and are holding it in the air with
cinderblocks, you probably deserve to have your legs crushed when the car falls on you.
Invest in a quality set of steel jack stands (4 stands, not just 2). Make sure they are
not the cheap stamped sheet metal jobs you get for $20 down at the local auto parts store.
Get good adjustable ones rated for more than the weight of your car. And to compliment
them, treat yourself to a proper floor jack. The better jacks have lifting heights of
twenty inches or more, and offer precise valving that allow you to gently lower the car
without dropping it suddenly. Youll probably spend close to $300 for a good jack,
but itll last forever and youll never think twice about whether you could have
made do with a cheap jack.
Youre going to be taking a lot of parts off that caritll probably take
up 2-3 times more space in pieces than it does assembled. Get some stout metal shelves
that can handle the heavy parts and keep them organized and off the floor. I also like the
little mini drawer bins for small parts and hardware. I have several mounted on my shop
walls with each drawer carefully labeled with whats inside. A few extra containers
for the nuts and bolts you remove will make assembling your prize that much easier when
the day comes.
I hope this has been helpful to you (and to anyone wondering what you want for the
holidays). It certainly isnt the end-all, be-all list of tools youll need (I
think the HotCoat Powder Coating
system from Eastwoodwould probably be number 11 on
my list--are you listening, Julia?), but it will get you started without a tremendous
investment up front. These are only the basics, and depending on what kind of car
youre working on, you may find that there are some tools here you dont need,
and others that are absolutely necessary, so dont E-mail me and tell me that
youre doing just fine without a blast cabinet. You probably are, but I love mine and
wouldnt trade it for anything. At any rate, I hope you and yours have a great
holiday season, and Ill see you next year.
Happy Holidays from HPE!
E-mail me at
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