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Garage tools
What a pretty assortment from ratchets and sockets (short and deep) to wobble drives and extensions.

Project Garage Part VII: Garage Tools

By Sarah Forst

During my college years, my student budget limited me to quality just above a Fisher Price tool set. While kids toys are adequate for playing doctor (wink, wink), playing mechanic was getting more difficult. As I changed oil using a scissor jack and a prayer, I realized a good set of tools would make everything easie r- saving me the pain and aggravation I was experiencing, and maybe even my life! It’s time to grow up and graduate to the big boy tools.

There's the obvious - wrenches, ratchets, and sockets - and the selection is endless. Cheap sets are available from Husky to Harbor Freight (yes, I love that store; no I don't own stock there…), but cheap breaks.  Often.  Usually when you have your car torn apart and it's midnight, and your finger is stuck in a hole but your cell phone is on the other end of the garage.  Or so I’ve heard. Cheap tools are great for carrying in your car if your lug nuts aren't tight or your cold air intake becomes loose, but nothing beats good quality. Stalk the Snap On guy. That red truck to me is like an ice cream man to a seven year old kid.  Just don't follow him drooling over his long thick wrench mumbling something about wanting to get your hands on it - it'll make future tool buying a little uncomfortable.
 
Screwdrivers and hex keys
It's my OCD organized tool rack, from Phillips on the left to flatheads on the right, wtih snap ring pliers and hex keys in the middle.
 
Let’s state the obvious- screwdrivers are always handy. Flatheads have one straight blade. Phillips have a cross pattern (4-tipped) tapered blade with a sharp tip. Get both in varying sizes. Use the correct size that fits securely without overlap to prevent damaging the screw slot. Torx drivers have an internal socket six-point star shaped screw design and come in sizes from T1 to T100. They are designed to provide more contact with the head and prevent over-tightening or stripping a fastener. Torx drivers are offered as either internal drive (screwdriver style) or external drive (socket style) tools.  You can buy all screwdrivers in sets. Quality and price are simply a matter of tensile strength and sometimes ergonomics.
 
Screwdriver tips
Check out my handy dandy guide to screwdriver tips.
 
Nut driver
A nut driver (heh...) is kind of like a screwdriver with a socket on the end, used for tightening nuts and bolts.
 
Get some good sockets. You'll need at least a set of 6mm to 32mm, as well as thin walled ones for tight spots, deep sockets for getting bolts embedded within a component (often suspension) or for taking a nut off a stud, and flex sockets for interestingly angled jobs. You’re more likely to find metric fasteners on our cars but depending on the parts manufacturer, there may be some combination of SAE fasteners as well.  Both types will often come in handy, especially since you can never be sure a mechanic or the previous owner has replaced the bolts with the correct size.
 
Sockets are available in 6 (hex), 8, and 12 (double hex) point gripping ends. 6 point sockets are less likely to round off a bolt.  You should also have a set of impact sockets to use with air tools. Crowfoot sockets are either flared or open ended box wrenches that can be used with a ratchet and extension.  These are handy for working in tight spaces where you can't really rotate a socket wrench, such as power steering or clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder jobs.  Pick up some extensions from 1" - 12" in case your ratchet isn't equipped with Go Go Gadget arms as well as a few wobble drives, which allow the socket to pivot around 15 degrees for better access to bolts.
 
Sockets
Sockets come in many different sizes, lengths, and thicknesses.
 
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Comments
ElkyDori
ElkyDorilink
Thursday, February 23, 2012 9:31 PM
The "crow's foot" has always been a confusing term for me. I've heard it used to describe a flare-nut wrench, like pictured here, but more commonly as an open-ended attachment for a square-drive ratchet. Can anyone shine some light on this for me?
Sarah Forst
Sarah Forstlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 4:34 AM
My bad, I should have labeled that a flare nut wrench (fixed).
I have no idea how to insert a pic in a comment.This is more accurately a crows foot:
Crows Foot Wrench

Hey Guys
Hey Guyslink
Friday, February 24, 2012 5:23 AM
Dear Sarah Forst,

Thank you for this well written, informative article. I really enjoyed reading it.

Signed,
This guy
dj06482
dj06482link
Friday, February 24, 2012 6:04 AM
Great article, glad to see some tools that look like they've been used! As someone who doesn't currently have a garage, I have a Stanley 150 pc tool kit that comes in a plastic case. Between that and a small Craftsman toolbox that I use to hold auto-specific tools, I have a portable set that allows me to do about 80% of typical jobs.

Looking forward to the next article!
Burninator
Burninatorlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 9:55 AM
In my part of the country at least we call "adjustable-end wrenches" "crescent wrenches", and "monkey wrenches" are what we call "pipe wrenches".
speedball3
speedball3link
Friday, February 24, 2012 12:39 PM
Man, this makes me want to go to Sears and blow money on Craftsman tools.

Another handy tool to suppliment the mechanics gloves are rubber gloves. I totally drenched my mechanic gloves with brake fluid the 1st time I tried bleeding my brakes, and my fingers stayed covered w/the stuff until after I finished the job.

Sarah, what do you recommend do when you already have parts of a multi-tool combo set? For instance, I have a metric set of Craftsman box/open combo wrenches, but nearly all large tool packs include the same wrenches... do I spend more money for individual/smaller tools packs or buy the big one and have duplicates?
Scott Helmer
Scott Helmerlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 3:28 PM
Nice Tri-Y on the first page, is that a Spin Doctor? That thing is nigh upon invaluable when you work on bicycles. Learned that the fun way when I worked at a certain bike store chain (pun absolutely intended) that opened a new location near my house, which involved being one of 3 guys doing the pre-final adjustment assembly of the entire in-store inventory for the grand opening. That, a philips head screwdriver, and a thin 13mm wrench'll get you most of the way through everything from a kids bike to a $4k Focus carbon fiber road bike, aside from the finer adjustments of course ;).
Scott Helmer
Scott Helmerlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 3:35 PM
Oh, and a quality grease for the pedals/some handlebar assemblies. Gotta be all nice n'lubed up to reduce pumping losses and failure when you're doing that all-important reciprocating motion xD
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 5:20 PM
@ speedball: buy the bigger set. The duplicates can always be ground down into "custom tools" for especially stubborn fasteners... :)
Iron Giant
Iron Giantlink
Friday, February 24, 2012 6:11 PM
@ElkyDori You might be confused because there is such a thing as a crowfoot flare nut wrench (and it tends to be more common then the basic open end flare nut wrench). Crowfoot means a very short wrench with a square drive to attach to an extension/ratchet. Flarenut is a style of the end of a wrench that's almost a box end but with a small opening to pass a line (A/C, P/S, etc.) through.
TnF
TnFlink
Saturday, February 25, 2012 4:59 AM
Remember to write about the special sockets that allow you to unscrew a bolt with a damaged head(damaged from the normal hex shape to a circular one which doesn't let you apply torque) and banana/elliptic wrenches. The first one allowed me to remove one bolt of the steering rack when i was changing bushings, and the second one allowed me to install tubular low-mount turbo manifold to a ca18det while in the car..Saved me so much hassle!
Sarah Forst
Sarah Forstlink
Saturday, February 25, 2012 3:23 PM
@ speedball, like Rockwood said: Duplicates usually come in handy (and may end up slightly ruined...) so unless you need just a few singles to complete your collection, it's probably cheaper to buy the bigger set. If you just need a few custom sizes (like for a 36mm axle nut), get them individually.

@ Scott: isn't the Spin Doctor like the Leatherman multi-tool of bikes? I did those drawings in Excel ;)
SixCylinders
SixCylinderslink
Saturday, February 25, 2012 8:03 PM
I usually buy my tools in 10 or so piece sets at a time, usually because I'm damn near broke and I need 1-2 sockets but 2 sockets cost 2/3s of what 10 do (what is the logic behind that?). I mostly have greatneck brand tools because well...if I spend 20 dollars 5 times I get $20 at autozone and one of my ASE certified friends insists that you get a lot of tool for a little price with them (and I tend to agree having used them for 2 years since my craftsman set got stolen). My biggest problem with sets of tools is lets say I buy a metric set, it starts at 8-10mm and goes up to 19mm. 19mm is too small! My lug nuts are 21s and I don't want to pay $5 for a single socket

If I had the dough and no tools I'd probably spring for the largest set I could find that didn't have useless tools in it. I dislike traditional screwdrivers for example because of how much space they take up as opposed to a bit driver.
Fly'n_Z
Fly'n_Zlink
Sunday, February 26, 2012 6:32 PM
I'm really fortunate in having a father who was a Snap-On Tools sales rep when I was young... He's got a pretty extensive Snap-On collection and on Birthdays or Christmases there's usually something new from Snap-On under the tree for me :D

Seeing all these cool tools reminds me that I still have a little ways to go in fleshing out my toolbox.
hallskiwallski
hallskiwallskilink
Monday, February 27, 2012 7:32 AM
I recently picked up the craftsman universal set expecting greatness but was disapointend to see the quilty was right on par with harbor frieghts. Needless to say I'm just too poor for snap-on, I think I own like one orange dead blow hammer from them. Maybe one day I'll win the lotto and be able to afford a proper garage!?
3 Beam S13
3 Beam S13link
Thursday, March 01, 2012 1:57 AM
This Series of articles is great. I cant seem to find part 5. Ive read 1-4,8 so far.
Sarah Forst
Sarah Forstlink
Saturday, March 03, 2012 1:11 PM
7 articles so far: Part 5 is actually air compressors but I think there are two Part 4's. I'll have to see about fixing that title- thanks for pointing it out.

Trust me- I don't spend a lot on tools either because I never won the lotto (or it'd be an 8 car garage or something). It just takes time to accumulate so many. I usually buy the funky tools when I give up trying to use basic tools for interesting car jobs. I wish I had a Snap On sales rep in my family!
destrux
destruxlink
Tuesday, March 06, 2012 8:06 PM
One thing I want to add is that if anyone is buying vice grips... buy the real Vice Grips brand ones. They work much better than the other brands (especially the no-name ones that are made of butter). They aren't expensive so there's no reason to buy cheaper ones anyway.
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