November’s Fast Talk with Jeff Smith – Tools Of The Trade

I’ve been spending much of my time in the shop lately, working on entirely too many projects to even begin to list them all. If I did, the list would likely expand even more before I could finish writing it down! Many of these projects are attended to more or less simultaneously, which means very little is ever accomplished despite the hours, days, and weeks spent on them. It’s a great problem to have and entirely of my own doing.

Along the way, it seems like I am forever putting tools away. My friends have been here working on a couple of their cars lately, and they’ve learned something about me. About halfway through a project, we stop work, take a break but instead of me taking a seat with a cold soda (the adult beverages appear only at the end of the day), I’m still part of the conversation, but often at the bench putting tools away.

I was thinking about this the other day when it occurred to me that I must have inherited this from my grandmother; probably during the one summer my brother and I lived with my mom’s parents (I think my parents needed time away from us). Dinner would not yet be complete and my grandmother would already have half the dishes washed, dried and put away. I had to jealously guard my fork if dessert was forthcoming.

This preoccupation is rooted in my perpetual search for missing tools. I know I’m not the only one, but it is uncanny how I can set a tool (or a small part) down for two seconds and then spend ten minutes looking for it. I swear these tools have legs and just get up and scurry off to an obscure hiding spot. To avoid the frustration, I just put the tools back where they belong. The rest of my life may be in a constant state of extinguishing virtual fires, but at least my tool box is organized.

This began a long time ago. I bought my first Craftsman six-drawer tool box when I started vocational auto shop right after high school. The roll-around bottom box almost made it look like I knew what I was doing. Once I started working for the magazines, good tools became essential. I know some car guys who don’t put a lot of effort into their tools. I have a friend who keeps his end wrenches in a large Tupperware container. That might make me lose a fuse.

One of the things about the internet and social software is that somehow I’m now daily Pinterest-ed. One take-away I’ve noticed is I’m not the only one who is a little geeky about his tool box. In fact, I’m not even close to being as obsessed as some of the folks posting photos. I’ve seen some very interesting ideas posted there and I’m always impressed which is quickly followed by the question, “who has time to do all that cool stuff?”

This is my latest acquisition – the DiaTest dial bore gauge. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I immediately started checking every lifter bore in the shop.

Over a dozen years ago, I invested in a nice, big, new tool box from Craftsman. I had completely outgrown my original box and spent a half day choosing new resting places for all the tools. That only lasted a few years before I began the quest for new outside-the-box homes because we were suffering from over-crowding. That’s not something I thought I would ever have to deal with. I’ve now moved the contents of two drawers into cabinets in order to create more space.

I’ve always been a tool geek, but one episode really drove it home. I was still in high school and my best friend wanted to swap rear axle housings in his ’67 Chevelle with one with a better gear and positraction. We had to execute the swap in a rented shop with zero lights or power, and neither of us owned a floor jack. This was back when even the smallest floor jack was a very expensive investment. It took us half a day to swap that rear using lengths of 2×4 to lever the new housing into place. It was agony. Since then, I’ve swapped housings on the floor of my shop by myself in about 90 minutes, but I had all the right tools.

I’ll admit it – I have a tool problem. It’s a little like those country songs where the singer doesn’t think he has a drinking problem. My weakness is tools. I look for opportunities that offer an excuse to buy a new tool. Recently, I wanted to measure charging system current flow for a story I was working on. I started looking at hand-held, digital clamp ammeters and finally decided on a Klein tool that did the job. I’ve used it exactly twice and go out of my way now to look for ways to use it to justify the expenditure.

My latest efforts are currently occupied with precision measurement tools. Several years ago, I met Keith Chauvie, who runs Cornerstone Metrology in Van Nuys, California. His shop performs calibration work for the local aviation community, so precision is his middle name. Through him, I’ve learned a ton about how to accurately measure things like bore diameters. In a recent deep dive into mechanical roller lifters, I realized I didn’t have a way to accurately measure 0.842-inch lifter bores. Keith lined me up with a very cool dial bore gauge made by DiaTest Tools, accurate to 0.0001-inch. It’s very cool.

So just when I thought I’d managed to collect multiples of every hand tool that I will ever need, I’ve now discovered a whole new arena to play in. Good thing all the credit cards are paid off …

About the author

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, a 35-year veteran of automotive journalism, comes to Power Automedia after serving as the senior technical editor at Car Craft magazine. An Iowa native, Smith served a variety of roles at Car Craft before moving to the senior editor role at Hot Rod and Chevy High Performance, and ultimately returning to Car Craft. An accomplished engine builder and technical expert, he will focus on the tech-heavy content that is the foundation of EngineLabs.
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