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.

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