Building A Starter Tool Set by James Adkins

Tools!  Nothing brings me greater joy than going to the local Sears or Snap-On dealer and seeing all those wonderful tools.  Each has its own purpose in life; some are used all the time while others are more of a specialty tool.  I can't begin to describe how many times I have been tempted to flat out steal a Snap-On truck just to have it all to myself (Ok, not really steal, but I REALLY want that truck.)  I literally spend a minimum of 30 minutes each Thursday at 4:00pm when the truck rolls into my work.  I have been known to window shop at any Sears Craftsman center for hours at a time.  I have seen the tools about 1000 times already, but I still stand there in awe of what can be accomplished with the right skills and these wonderful, chrome plated, forged steel tools.  Ratchets, wrenches, screwdrivers, sockets, I just can't get enough of them. 

There was a time however when I could have cared less about them.  In my younger years, I saw tools as a toy.  I never cared for them, put them away after using it, or cleaned them.  Now I see the light (and the cost, I must have lost a few thousand dollars of my Dad's tools over the years.  Sorry Dad) and put them away after every job.  I like to keep my box clean and organized; there is nothing more frustrating than looking for a tool for 20 minutes because you didn't take the 5 seconds to put it away after the last job. 

This first installment of a 4 parts series will cover Basic Hand Tools.  Basic Hand Tools cover a range of the most commonly used tools, and these are the tools that any toolbox should have.

Basic Hand Tools

There are 2 different sizing systems for tools, SAE and Metric.  SAE is measured in fractions of an inch, and Metric is numbered in millimeters.  These days, just about all the hardware is metric so if you can only afford one set, get a metric set.  While some metric hardware will fit a SAE tool and vice versa, it's important to remember 

Rule #1 Always use the right tool for the job.  If you learn nothing else, this will make your life a lot easier. 

3/8” drive ratchet and sockets. 
A ratchet and socket set is about the most commonly used tool in the world.  I recommend a 3/8” ratchet with sockets from 8mm through 19mm.  If you want to get SAE sockets, I recommend sockets ranging from 5/16-7/8”.  Along with these, you will want to get some extensions in the 2, 4, and 6-inch range for starters.  For some projects you will need up to 3 feet of extensions to get to some bolts so get what you can afford.  Also a universal joint for those bolts that are just out of reach. (extensions) (u joint)

Combination wrenches. 
These have both and open and a box end wrench on opposite sides of the wrench.  The box end is used for high torque applications and the open is used when the bolt is loose or there is no room to use the boxed end. Chances are if you need a socket to turn a bolt, you will also need a wrench to hold the nut on the other side.  Get a set of metric wrenches from 7-19mm.  This will cover a wide range of bolts and nuts.  There are different lengths of wrenches, the longer the wrench the more leverage you have to turn the bolt/nut.  The problem is long wrenches don't do so well in tight areas.  If you can, pick up a set of shorty/midget wrenches in the 8mm-15mm range. (midget)

Again, many shapes and sizes.  You have the standard flat tip (-) and the Philip's head (+).  They not only come in different shapes, but different thickness.  Get about 3 different sizes of each Philips and flat tip.

Usually you can find pliers in a set of 4.  They are usually the standard slip joint pliers, the needle nose, the channel lock, and the side cutter.  These 4 are about all you will need.  Important note: Pliers are not wrenches and should never be used on a nut.  This will lead to stripping of the bolt and chances are you will never get it out. 

Adjustable wrench.
While not exactly a tool you want to use much, it is great for holding a nut while you turn bolts.  It's pretty cumbersome to use as it always needs readjusting but it is still a much-needed item.
Ball-peen  hammer.(hammers)

Hack saw.  
Get one with a BI-metal blade for cutting metal.  We don't cut wood very much in the automotive world.  Pickup a few extra blades while you’re at it. 

Tool Box. 
Get a toolbox that will fit all your tools easily while keeping it organized.  For a basic set like above, pretty much any two-drawer box will do.  If you plan on doing you own installations from now on I recommend getting as big a box as you can.  In the last 4 years my toolbox has grown from a 3 drawer box to a rollaway cart with 8 Drawers and a Top Chest with 6 drawers, not to mention the new side cabinet that was added recently and is now almost full.   Toolboxes are not cheap, so upgrading every few months is a poor option.  Buy a big box even if you don't have enough tools to fill it.  Believe me, once you start you won't want to stop.  Whatever you decide on, be sure it is lockable, tools have a way of walking away.  (tool box)

Magnetic parts tray.  
I cannot express how much I absolutely love this thing.  It's basically an aluminum tray with magnets glued to the bottom of it.  I put all my bolts and nuts in the tray as I remove it from the car.  Being magnetic, if it falls the hardware wont go flying across the floor.  The other great thing is you can stick it on any metal surface and it will stay put.  How many times have you used a box for your bolts and accidentally knock it with your elbow and all the pieces scatter across the floor?  I know I've done it more times than I car to admit to it.  (mag tray)

Hydraulic Floor Jack.  
This is a necessity.  If your gonna be working underneath your car, you will need a floor jack to jack it up.  The scissors type jack that comes with your car is for tire changing duty only.  I recommend a minimum 2.5 ton jack.

Jack stands.  Never, ever, ever get underneath a car without first supporting it with jack stands.  A hydraulic floor jack is made for lifting purposes only.  If an internal seal should break, rip, leak, rot, or otherwise fail the car will come down. (2) 2.5 tons jack stands, minimum. There are different heights available, get the tallest you can.  If you can afford 4 stands, get 4 they will make life easy. 

With this set of tools, you can do a lot of work on your car.  Here's a short list of what can be accomplished on your car with this small tool set:

Change brake pads
Change spark plugs
Plug wires
Oil change
Throttle body
Cat-back system
Swap fuel injectors
Intake manifold
Bleed brakes

That's just a short list of the many projects you can complete in your own home garage in a short time instead of taking it to a shop and paying your hard earned money for it.  What you save in labor costs can be put directly into the tool fund or the modification fund.  What it all boils down to is a faster car for the same amount of money.  Not only that, but the hands-on knowledge and satisfaction you gain by doing your own work.


Of the thousands of hours that I have worked on cars and equipment, nothing will set you back more than poor organization of your tools.  Simply throwing them into a bag will not do.  We want to organize, not herd our tools.  This means keeping 3/8” drive sockets out of the ½” drive sockets.  It also means arranging them in numerical order so you don't have to sort through 15 sockets to find the one you are looking for.  It should all be there in order for easy identification.  Not only is it easier to find, but you will know what is missing when its time to cleanup the work area.  You will also know when someone has borrowed your tools.  There are many types of accessories sold to help organize your tools better.  Some are well thought out ideas, others are cheap plastic pegs that you slide your socket onto and pray it doesn't fall off while in transit.  I use magnetic socket holders for most of my sockets. (mag socket holder)  The others are separated on socket rails. (socket rails) In addition to this, I separate my 3/8” drive and ½” drive sockets in different drawers.   Wrenches are a little more difficult.  They are bulky and heavy.  I use a wrench roll. (wrench roll)  When I bought my wrenches, I could get them in a box or in a nice display plastic carrier or in a roll.  I chose the roll this time and could never be happier.  The wrenches are in order at all times and when I need to take them somewhere, I can hold all 15 of them in 1 hand.  

Rule #2.  Keep your tools organized.  It not only saves you time, but also money.

What Brand?

As you can probably tell, I like the Craftsman line from Sears and of course the famous Snap-On brand.  There is a lot to be said about tool quality.  There are lots of great tool manufacturers who build a quality tool.  There are also a lot of cheap “Made in China” tool brands. The difference in quality is vastly different and is reflected rightly so in the price.  Other than tool quality, warranty is a very important issue.  Sears, Mac, Snap-on, Husky, SK, and others offer lifetime replacement warranties on any tools that you break.  All you have to do is take it in to your nearest dealer and exchange the tool(s) with a new one.  This insures you will never have to buy the same tool again due to breakage.  The China made tools are a lot cheaper, but usually have no warranty on them, if it breaks you buy another one.  My advice is to buy the best set of tools with a warranty you can.  I personally recommend the Sears Craftsman, and the Sears Professional lines.  These will do the job and if they break, the Sears store is only the nearest shopping mall away.  

Rule #3, Buy good quality tools with a warranty, and only buy them once.

Tool sets

The last thing I will talk about is buying tools in sets.  Like most anything in this world, the more you buy the cheaper it gets.  This also applies to the world of tools.  Piecing together a large set will cost you a lot of money.  Buying sets of wrenches and sockets will save you a lot of money in the long run.  You get more tools for you buck when buying in bulk.  Sears usually has sets of wrenches on sale at all times.  Get the most complete set you can, then fill in the rest with singles.  

Have fun on your new projects.  Remember, it's not a hobby ‘'til you do the work yourself.  ?

James Adkins, AKA IslandVobra


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