In your ever-growing circle of abilities and competencies, you will inevitably have to build some basic mechanic skills. Learning these will allow you to work on machinery of all sorts. It will also save you large sums of money over buying new- or hiring someone else to fix your lawnmowers, plumbing, chainsaws, appliances and vehicles.
You’re going to be the cheapest mechanic you’ll be able to find anywhere. Here is a list of tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years that can get you out of a jam. They’ll also save you loads of time.
1) latex gloves
Just because you’re handy with a wrench doesn’t mean your hands have to advertise it to everyone. For those days when you decide you don’t need a temporary oil tattoo on your skin, just pop on some latex gloves. Your significant other won’t have to complain that you smell like gas, oil or varnish anymore either.
2) magnetic tool
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped a nut or bolt while working on an engine, only to listen anxiously, holding my breath to see if it will hit the ground or get stuck in the most difficult to reach portion of the engine. For times when it’s the latter, a magnetic extension tool has greatly reduced the amount of cursing I’m forced to do.
This one has a 5 lb. magnet and extends to about 3 ft.
2) two-open-ended-wrenches mechanic trick
Occasionally, I’ll find a bolt or a nut that is just too stuck to break loose with a regular wrench. It’s a frequent problem for the amateur mechanic. If I have a breaker bar, that’ll usually get the job done, but often I don’t have one handy.
Instead, I use two wrenches in tandem to double your fulcrum and thus my leverage.
Just be careful not to hit your knuckles if one of them buckles.
Metals are some of the hardest materials mankind has found. But do you know what makes everything soften up?
Puppies, that’s what.
But for the sake of working on cars, heat works better. The next time you’re fighting with a stubborn nut or bolt, just apply some heat with a soldering torch and watch how easy it is to break free. You can find one at your local Home Depot for around $20 or $30. For casual use, they last for ever. I’ve been using the same tank of gas in mine for over 10 years.
4) weld a snapped nut
Sometimes you’ll run into a nut that is so stripped out that you can no longer grab it with any wrench. If you’re in a real pinch you can use a welder to weld a new nut right on top of it, wait for it to cool, and wrench it right off of there.
5) super-long extension
Can you tell I used this as a pry bar?
Frequently, I’ll notice that the area I’m trying to work in is too cramped for every wrench and socket configuration in my standard tool set. There are 2- and 3-ft long extensions that will allow you to plunge into the area, without having the wrench free of all the stuff you’d normally be bumping into. But perhaps the are is too tight and at an angle that is too radical for even that. In that case try…
6) swivel sockets
On some cars, the nuts and bolts are in such tight proximity that no combination of universal joints and shorty sockets will let you reach them. Fortunately there is an all-in-one swivel socket that can fit into the absolute tightest of spaces.
7) video scope
This use to be a high-end, expensive tool. Not any more. You can have one now for less than $30. Want to know if something is leaking from your engine way back behind that area you can’t see? Just snake this camera back there and you can see areas where your eyes would never fit. It even has a light on it. You can use all around the house for peeking behind walls, looking inside of plumbing, or inspecting the carbon build up on your cylinders from the spark plug hole.
8) metrinch-type mechanic wrenches
You can now get a cheap set of these from Harbor Freight. These grab bolts and nuts from the center of the metal instead of the edges. So if the head is already stripped out and you’re wondering how you’re ever going to get it unscrewed, just switch to this style wrench. It comes in handy all the time.
9) liquid wrench
I’ve tested this stuff on many bolts from 1/4- to 3/4-inch. It won’t completely un-stick a corrosion-welded nut, but it will loosen its grip just enough. You should be able to break it free when it was previously not possible.
10) bolt extractor
It’s only a matter of time when working on machinery before you run into this problem. A bolt will snap off, for one reason or another, leaving you cursing loudly (or quietly under your breath, depending on who is within earshot).
What you’ll want to have on hand is a bolt extractor. Simply use a cobalt bit to drill a hole into what is left of the bolt stud (lubricate it with oil and drill at low speed). Then insert the reverse-threaded extractor into the hole, turn counter-clockwise, and voila! Broken bolts come right out.
It sometimes brings a tear to my eye.