What was I thinking that I could fit all my favorite tools into one post? Here’s more.
Assuming you have a good compressor (if you don’t, well, clearly you need one. Yes, you can say that I told you so.) then there are some nice little trinkets that you can get to make the most of it. Great for a Santa, by the way- none of them are really expensive.
You can certainly do most of your painting with a spray bomb, but grabbing a good spray gun is a lot of fun. Like welding, it’s certainly a skill that takes a lot of time to learn to do right, and you need a good dust-free space to work in, yet is well ventilated, but the buffing wheel and 1000 grit wet sanding forgives a lot of sins. It’s short money- maybe around $50 for a moderately good one, and you can pick it up at the local hardware store.
A little harder to find is a sandblaster gun. For stripping rust and paint from a frame, there’s nothing that works better. Most sandblasting is done in a booth, designed for capturing and re-using the grit, but you can fashion an enclosure outside where you may be able to clean up and re-use the abrasive. Do not try using it indoors, unless you want everything you own covered in a fine abrasive powder. They’re cheap- the grit will cost more than the gun. Use sand for stripping paint and rust, and glass beads for polishing and surfacing aluminum. A sandblasted metal surface is possibly the all-time best surface to paint. It’s clean, has a bit of a tooth, but is smooth. Primer loves it. I found some nice little guns at Harbor Freight and Northern Tool.
The right-angle die grinder is one of the sweetest little metal-working tools in existence. It takes a little abrasive disk that is easily changed, and ranges from light sandpaper to heavy grinding. You could use it to strip an entire frame if you don’t have a sandblaster, or grind down welds, cut brackets, buff out tight spots or strip rust. They’re designed for polishing and shaping, usually steel dies for molding, so they’re unbelievably versatile.
Fair waring. If you have one of these, and you have a teenage boy in the shop, lock this up.
Don’t forget, by the way, the importance of a good water and particle filter/trap in your air lines as well as your periodic lubrication of all your rotary tools. It’s easy to overlook, but will shorten the life of anything that spins dramatically. Use the correct air-tool lubricant, too.
Let’s talk meters. A decent voltmeter is essential, both for troubleshooting and for simple double-checking. Most all meters measure ohms, or resistance, too, as well has having a continuity tester that simply beeps or lights when you have a good circuit. They’re called Volt-Ohm Meters, or VOM, and you needs.
Another nice meter is called an inductive amp meter. Measuring your amp draw under load is a little tricky- you have to actually measure it in-line with the circuit and use a shunt to keep the meter from overloading. An easy way to get around that is to use an inductive meter that measures the field around a wire to gauge the amps in the wire. Here’s what they look like- the lobster claw affairs clamp around the cable you’re reading. It’s a really good idea to rig one of these up on your bike at least once when you’re first riding it. It will tell you volumes about how much you’re tapping the battery pack when you’re honking on the throttle. I don’t run it all the time, but the few times I had it rigged taught me a lot about how to ride for range. It can also be used to figure out how much your lights draw, whether HID lights, for example, are worth it, like that.
No discussion of tools is complete without mention of the BFH.
The BFH stands for Big (insert favorite F-word here) Hammer. The BFH is derived from the legendary premise that, if brute force can’t fix something, more brute force can- “If brute force can’t fix it, you’re not applying enough…” Jokes aside, there’s no substitute for the mass of a nice hand sledge, brass hammer or the like. Here’s how this works. If you need to give something a good, but tactful pop, and you’re using a small hammer, you have to swing it hard. Swinging it hard makes you have less control. Applying force with a nice, heavy (read: lots of mass) hammer means you can tap it ever so lightly, very precisely, and yet get enough force to get the job done.
Brass hammers are for pounding on steel without denting it, brass being softer than steel. Rubber mallets are good for when you’re pounding on soft material like plastics, aluminum or wood, but they don’t have much weight, usually.
Oh yeah, and that teenager? Chances are, he’s already stolen it from your toolbox.
Check the first tool post here: Cool Tools: Essentials for the Builder