Previously on Wrenching Tips, we outlined a number of online suppliers that help fill the void left by the extinction of non-chain hardware and auto parts stores. The Speed Shop isn’t dead, it’s just gone online.
This week might seem a bit silly, but still falls in line with our central theme of making hoopty ownership a more feasible and pleasant experience. We’re talking about the difference between “clothes you don’t mind getting dirty” and legit workwear.
Daily-driving a classic has taught me to perform a number of light mechanical tasks without dirtying my corporate cube jockey uniform. Checking fluids, changing tires, even minor carb adjustments are doable in khakis and a blue button-up if you’re careful. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today’s about getting a pile of clothes together that’ll do more than just fall apart as you put them to work.
That said, anything you’re planning to wear while wrenching should already be written off as grubby/grimy/greasy/expendable. Once you slide under the car in that shirt, it’s unlikely it’ll see “regular” wear again.
The obvious pick for wrenching clothes are just older clothes that you don’t need or care about any more: the previous pair of running shoes, faded cargo shorts, shirts with holes in them. This certainly makes sense, but I contend that dropping a few bucks for real work clothes is a worthwhile investment.
Let’s start from the bottom up. If I just need to get dirty, my one-generation-retired Chucks are the go-to wrenching shoe. The high-tops laces keep stuff from falling into and accumulating inside the shoes. In black, they mask just how filthy they really are. Also, they provide a modicum of upper foot and ankle protection, as evidenced by a big mid-ankle gash from my angle grinder. Better Mr Taylor’s hide than my own.
My boots are actually a year older than I am, handed down by my dad. They’ve survived 3 summers as a Goodyear tire monkey, countless hours of yardwork and my escalating wrenching activities over the last 5 years. They’re not particularly comfortable, but I always wear them to the junkyard or on any other occasion presenting a risk of Big Heavy Thing V. Tim’s Foot or that might require furious kicking to get the job done. They’re a critical tool when swapping engines or attempting to line up big suspension components.
Movin’ on up, anatomically speaking, I highly recommend a pair of Dickies, Carhartt or Ben Davis
pants/shorts for being actually durable, whereas old Dockers will shred under the briefest of heavy uses. Dickies tend to be the most reasonably priced and have a slide/hook style clasp instead of a button to prevent scratches to whatever you’re leaning on. Also, the lack of a buttons or rivets on the pockets makes for more comfortable rolling around on the ground. If you’ve gotta wear a belt, I suggest putting it on rotated by 90 or 180 degrees, preventing the buckle from scratching your fender while leaning in on the car.
99% of the time I wrench in old short-sleeve t-shirts. Preferably black ones that hide the accumulated stains. Certain ones (a Wells Fargo freebie and my Marshall’s Industrial Hardware shirt) seem to be made of thicker, more durable fabric. If I’m doing welding or grinding, I break out either an expendable long sleeve cotton shirt (now full of small burn holes) or my recently acquired welding jacket (no burn holes…funny how that works). I still have a few old Goodyear shirts, complete with my name patch, but I never found them to have any advantage over an expendable t-shirt.
Should you need some actual warmth, an expendable sweatshirt is nice, but a thrift-store-sourced mechanic’s jacket is better. Look for a place in your town that specializes in institutional uniform type stuff, and you’ll find rack after rack of blue jackets in various states of disrepair. Pick a level of holiness that’s appropriate for your use model.
Obviously I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, but cleaner hands have their benefits. Five minutes of scrubbing so I can deal with a crying kid without leaving hand prints isn’t really feasible. Secondarily, showing up for work at my medical device company day-job with perma-grime embedded in my skin and nails can be awkward. Last but not least, ultra-callous perma-grimed hands tend not to be a big hit with the ladies, particularly in certain situations.
With these things in mind, I wear rubber gloves whenever I can while wrenching, but never while using a high-speed tool like a grinder. It’s too easy for a rubber glove to catch and either (hopefully) tear or (worse) yank your hand into the tool. Be sure to get the best ones available at your local store (I use Diamond Grip), as the crappy ones bring nothing but frustration. When grinding, torching or welding I break out the mechanic’s gloves (or Mechanix®, if you choose) for an extra layer of non-melting protection. I tend not to use them for other jobs as the fingertip seams hinder dexterity and they tend to soak up fluids and never let them go. I’ve lost at least two pairs to oil-soaking incidents (it just never comes out).
Topping things off (sigh…), a hat is a wonderful thing. It keeps grime from accumulating in your hair, provides a storage cup for keys and/or cell phones and minimizes head wounds from sharp corners. Every. Single. Time I work on my Falcon, I smack my head against the hood latch in the engine bay. With a hat on, it’s a two on the Salty Sailor cursing scale; more like a seven without. I like my black flex-fit hat not because I’m claiming on Volcom surf wear, but because the black hides grime and the flex-fit means to plastic strip when I rest my head on the ground.
There’s something to be said for getting the aesthetics right. When dressed in Serious Business work clothes, people seem to take you more seriously at the parts counter or junkyard. The leftover civilian clothes just leaves them unsure if you’re working on your car or actually a homeless person. Obviously you can just use your least favorite clothes for wrenching. However, if you consider your work wardrobe an extension of your tool collection, having the right tools for the job just makes everything go more smoothly.
What’s your take on proper attire for the garage, driveway and junkyard?