Half The Fun Of Driving Your Dream Car Comes From Knowing You Built It. Here Are 13 Cool Tools That Can Help You Get There.
Once your love affair with muscle cars becomes full blown, it usually doesn’t take much time to develop an unhealthy obsession with the tools you need to work on them. First comes the roll-away box full of Snap-Ons, then an air compressor, and the next thing you know, you’re assembling engines, welding, and doing bodywork. We even know guys who, in the most severe cases, get withdrawal symptoms once their car is complete! Of course, nothing cures that faster than getting a new project with a completely new set of challenges. Cars change, but the tools don’t, so a garage full of the right tools can last a lifetime.
Since you’re holding this mag, chances are good that you’ve already got a nice set of basic tools–so we’re not covering old ground here. You’re already in the 95th percentile of the mechanically apt, but you can always do more, right? Maybe there’s a bent fender you want to tackle, a rollbar you want to fabricate, or a plumbing job you want to try your hand at. There’s always a first time for everything, and there’s no better time to try it than now, especially with cash being tight. We brainstormed 13 specialty tools that you might like to play with on your next project. Our criteria were that they be outside the realm of standard garage fare, and within reach cost-wise of the hardcore enthusiast. We also like the idea of tools that can be used for a variety of projects, not just one specific operation. Of course, we also sought tools at different price points so everybody can get in on the action. Stop dreamin’, and get to work!
The Auto Twirler
You don’t have to be an old geezer to appreciate working on your car at a normal altitude without twisting your back into a pretzel. After all, what fun is working on your car when you’re in pain? Kinda defeats the point, don’t you think? The Eastwood Company sells this restoration rotisserie called the Auto Twirler, and after seeing the YouTube video of it in action, we’re completely sold. This roll-around platform safely holds up to a 3,000-pound car body at work height, and can spin it 360 degrees for welding, rust repair, customizing, or any other heavy job. The Auto Twirler also has heavy-duty reinforced phenolic casters, so you can roll your work around the garage, or out into the driveway. You’ll need a garage ceiling that’s at least 7 1/2 feet high, and depending on your car, you may also need optional mounting adapters. The good news is that it works on both full-frame bodies and unibodies, and it’s made in the USA. The Auto Twirler costs $1,099.99 (Eastwood PN 12171), and can be ordered with a blue powdercoat for another $400 more.
Every serious home builder needs a welder, and no short list of build tools would be complete without one. We had no problem picking one here because when we contacted Miller to put this story together, they told us about a brand-new unit they just introduced that’s perfect for the garage. The Millermatic 211 was designed for us: a multi-voltage plug allows this wire-feed MIG welder to be used in either 120V or 230V configurations, so you can use it now (before you upgrade your garage line to 230 volts), and later (once you rewire to 230 volts). The Millermatic 211 also boasts Auto-Set, which takes the guesswork out of setting voltage and wire feed speeds; all you do is set the material thickness and the wire diameter, and the machine automatically calculates the output voltage and wire speed. (You can manually set both if you prefer.) The Millermatic 211 also features Smooth-Start, which prevents those dramatic pop-start pyrotechnics that cause so much slag. The specs: true 210-amp operation, rated output of 150 amps, 30 percent duty cycle, and the ability to weld anything from 24-gauge to 3/8-inch mild steel in a single pass using 230V input power. With the optional Spoolmate 100 Series spool gun, you can even MIG-weld aluminum (we’ve tried it, and it worked perfect the very first time).
Abrasive Blast Cabinet
It’s amazing to think how many jobs this one tool can do. Once you get an abrasive blast cabinet (sometimes called a sand blaster), you soon find it indispensable for nearly everything that needs cleaning or stripping. Chances are, if it fits inside the cabinet, it’ll find its way in there at some point in time. We say “indispensable” because we’ve been using one regularly during the buildup of our ’75 Laguna, for stripping trim prior to painting and powdercoating, and to give bare metal pieces a robust, textured look. TP Tools & Equipment offers the super affordable 780-TL Top Load Abrasive Blast Cabinet (shown, made in the USA by Skat Blast) for $399, but we found it on sale for $329 at press time. The 780-TL has a big 14.5×30-inch door opening, which means even large underhood parts will fit inside. The 780-TL features a fast-feed funnel design that drops abrasives to the bottom for quick, automatic recycling. Other stuff you’ll need: a shop vac for recirculating the blast media, and an air compressor to power it. If you’ve never used a blast cabinet, it’s simple: Open the lid, put your part in, close the lid, put your arms into the gloves to operate the gun and hold the part, then pull the trigger. TP says buy one now, and get a free lighting kit!
Snap-On Die Grinder
Don’t die grinding, get a die grinder! When the question was posed to technical contributor Steve Dulcich, he said without reservation that the most important tool in his shop is his die grinder. Steve does everything from bodywork to engine building, and his Blue Point-brand die grinder from Snap-On gets one hell of a workout. It’s another one of those sneaky tools–if you’ve got one, you’re always reaching for it to make your job easier.
Paint It Yourself
Concours HVLP Gun
Two main obstacles to painting your car at home–if you don’t count your home owner’s association bylaws–are the cost of equipment and the capacity of your air compressor. Eastwood’s new line of Concours high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) paint guns deals with both issues while maintaining a high level of pro features found on more expensive equipment. Eastwood sells a lot of high-end paint guns, and one problem that keeps coming up with their DIY customers is line pressure. Most home builders with ordinary compressors just don’t have the ability to sustain high enough line pressure over an extended time. Eastwood’s gravity-fed Concourse HVLP guns operate flawlessly at just 4 cfm at 29 psi–well within your home compressor’s comfort zone. On top of that, prices start at just $159.
Concours HVLP Features:
* Low air consumption, requires 4 cfm at 29 psi
*Excellent atomization and transfer efficiency
*Compatible with waterborne and solvent coatings (primer, base, and clearcoats)
*Needle and nozzle constructed of stainless steel, air cap machined from brass
*Anodized control knobs and air-cap collar
*Needle/nozzle/air caps available in 1.2mm, 1.4mm, and 1.8mm
*Vertical and horizontal fan control
*Compatible with all popular disposable paint cup systems
*600cc plastic and Teflon-coated aluminum cups available
*User friendly; easy to clean and service
Fun With Beads
TP-200 Bead Roller
Some tools just scream fun, and this bead roller from TP Tools caught our eye, especially at a sale price of just $379. A bead roller forms a stiffening ridge in a flat panel that would otherwise buckle or bend under light pressure. If you’re building a custom sheetmetal interior, bulkheads, or underhood block-offs, a bead roller will add the necessary stiffness and a custom look to an otherwise chopsaw appearance. TP Tools’ bead roller includes the floor stand, but is also available as a table unit for just $279. You’ll need to order the bending mandrels separately, and those come in -, 3/8-, and -inch beads. You can also do flanging (1/16-, 1/8-, and -inch) and slitting/shearing, which make it a very versatile tool.
Gotta Chop It!
Sometimes the least elegant solution gets the job done the best. In that category of tools falls the lowly chopsaw. Maybe all those “B” horror movies gave it an unjustified reputation for carnage, but no home shop destined to build a hot rod is complete without one. This metal cutting circular saw from Eastwood can slice through steel plate up to a quarter-inch thick. It’s 3,500-rpm motor runs on 120V power, and has a maximum cutting depth of 2.25 inches. For $169, you’ll get the saw, metal cutting blade, rip fence, side handle, adjustment wrench, replacement brushes, instructions, and durable plastic case.
Brake Tube Pliers
Unless you’re doing a concours restoration, you’ll quickly find that absolutely none of your tube lines stay stock, especially brake lines. Adding nitrous? You’ll want attractive and safe plumbing, same as your brake lines. These brake tube pliers from BrakeQuip can safely and accurately bend 3/16-inch or -inch tubing without damage. Anyone who does brakes will quickly find this to be one of the handiest tools in their toolbox.
MIG Weld Starter Kit
Lincoln SP-140T 120v
If you want to get your feet wet with welding, make sure you use insulated boots. Seriously, sometimes you just need something simple to learn on, and cost may be an object. With Lincoln’s SP-140T, quality doesn’t have to be sacrificed at the expense of price. Many beginners desiring to work out of their home garage have no choice but to work with 120V power, and that’s where the SP-140T excels. Users can use CO2 or argon-blended shielding gas mixes, or flux-core wire without a shielding gas in a pinch. Specifications on the SP-140T: 120V input power, 30- to 140-amp output range, weld material from 24-gauge up to 10-gauge (0.135-inch thick) sheetmetal in a single pass (or up to 5/16-inch with Innershield self-shielding wire), and spool gun readiness for aluminum jobs. A simple two-knob control panel selects output voltage and material thickness. The SP-140T also comes with a selection of contact tips, filler wire for MIG welding, Innershield flux-core wire, a gas regulator, a work clamp, hand shield, instruction manual, and Lincoln’s “Learn To Weld” manual.
If you want to foray into chassis or rollbar fabrication, there are some big-ticket tools you’ll need (such as a welder), but there are also some really important yet inexpensive tools that can make a big difference. This combination tubing cutter and pipe notcher from Eastwood is one of them. This table-mount tool will allow you to mock up and cut any size pipe up to 2 inches in diameter using a handheld drill or a drill press. Angles up to 60 degrees are possible, but you’ll need to supply your own holesaw.
The Everything Drill
Snap-On Table-Top Press
The automotive uses of a drill are so numerous as to defy categorizing. Everything from small repair jobs to major fabrication projects are covered here, and sometimes you need the superior stability, accuracy, and repeatability that only a high-quality drill press can provide. At $1,170.81, Snap-On’s half-horsepower workhorse isn’t cheap, but it’s built like a tank to handle anything, and to outlast you. To borrow a famous watchmaker’s slogan, you don’t buy a Snap-On, you merely take care of it for the next generation. The WV2530 has a locking rack-and-pinion for height adjustment, a three-spoke handle with adjustable tension and depth stop, and a front-mounted locking power switch. It also tilts up to 45 degrees right or left for angle drilling. Four heavy-duty ball bearings are mounted on a 1 7/8-inch quill for accuracy and long life.
Hot Knife Through Butter
Lincoln Plasma Cutter
Whoever invented the plasma cutter should get a medal from all of us hot rodders. Once you use one, we can promise that you’ll never go back. Simply put, no other tool has ever put so much unprecedented cutting power and precision in the palm of your hand. Imagine the cutting power of an acetylene torch, the precision of a keyhole saw, and the ease of operation of a pencil, and you get the picture. For the most part, plasma cutters are bulky, expensive tools that operate on high voltage, but Lincoln’s Pro-Cut 25 breaks those barriers by offering compact cutting performance at a reasonable price ($1,652 list), and that runs on household current. (The Pro-Cut 25 can, however, operate on 230V power for improved performance.) When operated at a full 25 amps, the Pro-Cut 25 can slice through electrically conductive materials up to 3/8 inch thick and has a 60 percent duty cycle on 230V input power.
It’s TIG, You Dig?
Miller Diversion 165
If you need to weld stainless steel, magnesium, aluminum, or any other non-ferrous metal, and you’re up for a technical challenge, you may want to consider a Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welder. A TIG welder creates welds of unsurpassed beauty and strength, and is a common process in the aerospace industry. Nevertheless, TIG welding is difficult to master, and requires many hours of practice to produce suitable results. Still digging it? Then you may want to consider Miller’s Diversion 165. Designed to run on 230V input power (like a clothes dryer hook-up), the Diversion 165 was designed with the home car builder in mind. (Miller boasts just two control dials, making it the simplest TIG welder ever.) Chassis jobs, patch panels, aluminum oil pans, stainless exhaust work, and chrome-moly cages are all within reach.