Sunday, December 26, 2010

When Should You Consider Buying Professional Tools?

One of the questions all of us do-it-yourselfers constantly face is: “How much can we afford to spend on our tools?” On one hand, we can easily say that all those tools are an investment, and are ultimately saving us the money we’d otherwise have to pay someone else for doing that work. On the other hand, there are other things (like bills and food) we occasionally have to pay for.

While we all would like to buy the best of everything, most of us realize that isn’t practical. Not only do we not really need the best of everything, but there can be an element of overkill. Spending $350.00 for a welder that you are going to use once isn’t a practical investment. On the other hand, if you make your own wrought iron fence, that $350.00 investment in a welder has probably more than paid for itself.

When one buys professional grade tools, they are usually paying for two things; convenience and life expectancy. The convenience part comes from options that may be built into that professional tool, which may not be available on a cheaper model. The life expectancy comes from how well the tool is built; professional tools, being better built, usually last longer.

Let’s take our welder as an example. If one buys the cheapest welder they can find, they can probably do some basic welding. But, the welder is going to be limited in the amount of power it has, which in turn is going to limit the thickness of steel that can be welded. It will also probably only have a 10% duty cycle, limiting the amount of time that the operator can actually spend welding. Finally, that welder is going to be limited in the choices of welding power, wire feed speed (if it’s a wire feed welder) and welding wire/rod sizes it can use.

On the other hand, each of those limitations is reduced as one looks at more and more expensive welders. The trick is finding the balance between just enough, and too much.

When we talk about life expectancy of a tool, we’re talking about how long we can use it, both under normal conditions and abusing it, before it breaks down and has to be repaired or replaced. A professional needs tools that aren’t going to break, or at least not for a long time. The typical professional will put more wear and tear on a tool in a month than a do-it-yourselfer may in years.

So, is there any time that a do-it-yourselfer should buy professional grade tools (besides just because he wants them)? I’d have to say yes, there really is. If you have some area of work that you do repeatedly, especially work that saves your family money; it is worth investing in quality tools for that type of work.

For example, if you always seem to have older cars, and do all your own mechanic work, you would be well advised to have some good quality mechanics tools, especially a good ratchet and sockets set. While investing in new Snap-On tools may still be a little bit extravagant, you can get some good deals on used Snap-On stuff on eBay.

Or, if you are about to do a major remodeling project on your house; adding a couple of rooms, you might be well advised to buy a worm-drive circular saw. If you are going to build cabinets, definitely invest in a quality table saw.

Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that the decision to buy professional grade tools should be based upon how much money those tools are going to save you, and how often you will use them. That’s the only true justification that works. Otherwise, all you are doing is feeding your hobby.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What to do with a Rounded-off Bolt Head

One of the most troubling problems when working on an engine is when one either inadvertently rounds off a bolt head, or encounters one that has been rounded off. A couple of times, I’ve felt like boiling in oil would be too good for the unnamed so-called mechanic who put that rounded off bolt back in. His problem might have been solved, but he solved it by doubling mine.

The standard method of dealing with this problem is to use a pair of Vice Grip ™locking pliers. Unfortunately, I’ve found that all too often, there isn’t enough space to attach the Vice Grips ™ to the bolt head and still be able to turn them enough to loosen the bolt.

Well, Irwin, the manufacturer of Vice Grips ™ has come up with a new way of dealing with this problem. Their Bolt-Grip ™ sockets are the greatest thing since sliced bread for taking out bolts with rounded off heads. Let me tell you how I encountered them.

I was removing the head of a small car I own, which appeared to have a blown head gasket. When it came time to remove the head bolts, I grabbed my favorite 24” breaker bar, and put the right size socket on it to remove those stubborn bolts. As I worked my way through the bolts, being sure to work from end to end, as to not warp my head, I reached a bolt that wouldn’t budge; in fact, it snapped my socket. Well, I did what anyone else would have done; I went to my local auto parts store and bought another socket. Unfortunately, all they had were 12 point sockets. So, I put my new 14mm 12 point socket on my breaker bar, gave it a little shove, and promptly rounded the bolt head. Now I was in trouble.

Since the 12 point socket obviously wasn’t going to remove that bolt, I had to find something better, like a 6 point socket. So I jumped back in my car, went to another auto parts store, and found a 6 point socket. Arriving back at my workshop, I put it on my breaker bar, expecting to get my head bolt loose, and… you guessed it; all I succeeded in doing was to round the head off more. Now I was really in trouble.

I was contemplating a life of drilling and grinding to get that bolt head off, because there was no other way I could get on it. Vice Grips ™ wouldn’t help at all; there wasn’t any way to get them in where the bolt head was. I really wasn’t thrilled about the idea of drilling and grinding; not only because it was a hardened bolt, and it would have taken me forever. But, even worse than that, all those metal filings would have been inside of my engine. Looked to me like goodbye engine.

After fretting and fuming for a while, I decided to go back to the auto parts store and take a look at impact wrenches. I really didn’t have much confidence that I could get that bolt out any better with an impact wrench, but I was flat out of ideas. That’s when I found the Bolt-Grip ™ sockets.

It looked like a good bet, so I bit the bullet, bought a set and brought them home. I’ll have to say, that that stubborn head bolt didn’t have a chance. I picked the right size Bolt-Grip ™ socket, put it on my 24” breaker bar, and went at it. Ten seconds later, that head bolt was loosened and on its way out.

So, what’s the secret of these wonderful sockets? The unique design alternates large semi-circular cutouts for the corners with angled blades to dig in and grip the flats of the bolt. Because of that, the harder you apply torque to the socket, the better it grabs the bolt head, literally cutting into the metal and firmly gripping it. The only way that bolt won’t come out, is if something breaks before it comes loose.

I am highly impressed by this innovative design. The only problem I can see with it is that it does tent do damage the bolt head; requiring changing of the bolt. Then again, since it’s designed for use on rusted, painted over or rounded bolts; they already need to be changed. I would highly recommend adding a set of Bolt-Grip ™ to your tool box.

To see my rating of this product on, click here.