Wrenching Tips: Tools You Didn't Know You Needed

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains much about society on the whole. The gist is that the incompetent tend not to realize they’re incompetent. Why? Because they lack the competence to recognize it. We’d never go so far as to call our readers incompetent (ourselves, on the other hand…), but we will point out that the purpose of this series is to increase competence across the board.

Anyway, today we’re going to highlight few tools that rarely make their way into the standard Sears 354-piece tool set, but that can generate a Toy Story alien grade “Oooooooh” when they’re whipped out.

[Danger: Commerce Ahead! This piece is full of links to Amazon where you can buy the stuff we’re talking about. If you happen to do so, we make a little money. It’s either that, or sponsored tweets about how these new shoes really tone my glutes without ever having to step foot in a gym!]

Stubby Wrenches

stubby wrenches

For years I doubted their utility, figuring I’d just use a socket or make due with a normal wrench. After all, the whole point of a wrench is to provide leverage, and stubbies are counterproductive in that regard. How wrong I was. Countless times have the stubbies saved me from using 4 extensions and 2 u-joints just to get a socket on a nut. Seriously worth picking up a set, and while you’re at it, get the ratcheting ones.

Butterfly Impact

I didn’t even know this existed until Mr P161911 suggested it. Now I must have one. It alleviates the biggest problem with using a typical impact wrench (that the pistol-grip handle makes it impossible to fit anywhere) by moving the trigger to the body. Second place goes to some of the smaller 3/8″ drive impact wrenches out there, as they’re more likely to fit than your monster lug-buster.

Locking Crescent Wrench

Another commenter suggestion, courtesy of C³-Cool Cadillac Cat. Adjustable wrenches (which I will forever call Crescent wrenches) are a double-edged sword: no need to go buy $50 worth of 1 1/8″ socket and 3/4″ drive breaker bar if you can slap the ol’ Crescent on there…until said Crescent loosens up a little and you strip the nut or fillet your knuckles on your radiator fins. This thing uses a vise-grip like mechanism to take the slop out of its grip. Your nuts and knuckles with thank you.

Chain Vise Grips

Oh man…I came across a set of these at a garage sale, and they pretty much changed my life. They’re particularly great for taking pulleys off of accessories (alternators, etc) and work wonders on stuck oil filters. Also great for holding tubing while welding.

Thread File

thread file

Once, in my tire monkey days, I’d slightly boogered up the threads on a wheel stud, just enough that the lug nut wouldn’t start. I was thinking I’d have to replace the stud or run a die over it. Our service manager then produced one of these and saved my day. Thanks, Lee. Anyway, a thread file’s great for slightly cleaning up external threads that end up squashed for one reason or another. Keep in mind, it won’t save you if you’ve completely mangled or stripped the thing. Still, not a bad use of a few bucks.

Magnetic Screwdriver/Screw Starter

screw starter

Image courtesy of Sharkskin’s 928 Pages

Unless Inspector Gadget is amongst our readers (he might be, given his choice in vehicles), there’s a decent chance you have (or will) encounter the dreaded back of the dashboard mounting screw. Typically only a 3 of 5 on the Salty Sailor Cursing Scale to remove, they’ll have you melting your upholstery with profanity by the time you get that little 6-32 bastard started with a typical screwdriver. There’s a better way, folks.

Hose Pick Set

Scott pointed this one out, and I was dumbstruck…”there’s a tool for that?”. I’d always used my most-crappy screwdriver to separate the wretched bond of old hose to fitting. Also seems like the kind of thing that’d show up as the unexpected murder weapon in some crime science drama.

Dental Tools

While a carbide-tipped high-speed drill might actually come in handy, I was talking more about picks and mirrors. Seals, o-rings and grimy threads are no match for a good cheap dental pick set. Once you get good with a small mirror and flashlight, the ability to see around corners and through tiny openings is among your new superpowers. Besides, they’re crazy cheap.

Brake Tools

That right there is a thing to remove and install your drum brake springs in like 2 seconds. Without it, you’re screwed; don’t even try it. Discs? Tools for that, too. Just double check that there isnt’ some special weird tool or procedure that prevents you from destroying your ABS system or parking brake. Sure, you can kludge your way though a brake job with screwdrivers and c-clamps, but the right tools are really worth having.

 That’s it for this week. As always, keep the conversation going in the comments; you never cease to impress us.

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