Whitworths and die sets and lathes to cut bolts on. Guages and drivers and jacks to lift bikes on. These are a few of my favorite things.
Wherein our resident wrench man waxes poetic about some of his favorite shop tools
I am full blown tool junkie. I admit it. When Jason requested something about tools my day was complete. When I go to the hardware store, employees smile and hand me things. Things like a 30 dollar “military grade” flashlight. Not sure what a military grade flashlight does, but sometimes curiosity wins and the bank account loses. I could write 1,500 pages on this subject but I promised not to. So, in the spirit of sticking to my assignment, here are five items that make life in the tiny garage so much easier.
Arksen bike jack from Amazon
If your bike does not have a center stand even the simplest maintenance is daunting. Why bikes do not come with center stands is fuel for another 1,500 page rant. Let’s skip that. This bike jack from Amazon.com, fifty bucks with free shipping, gets your bike off the ground safely for chain adjustments, wheel removal, even checking the oil level. I use this thing constantly. The bits of wood are included because the Ducati engine is not flat underneath. Always have bits of wood (This is the truest statement I've read in a week -JM).
Amazon bike jack, the best fifty bucks you'll ever spend.
There is a proper name for this tool but I don’t remember it. I just call it the “flat.” It reaches tight spots, especially the middle carbs on inline fours, and it’s even reversible. Handy for airbox screws and battery bolts on Suzuki Intruders. $3.99 at Harbor Freight. The core is magnetic so those nutdriver tips do not fall out. Genius!
The flat screwdriver. Super handy for those odd jobs and out of the way screws.
I do tons of old British bikes, so Whitworth tools—also known as British Standard—are essential. Don’t try to cheat, you’ll just mess up some beautiful and expensive hardware. British sizes are based on the diameter of the thread not the hexagon size. There is logic to this. trust me. I’d explain, but RideApart readership will drop by 85 percent, so I’ll pass. Whitworth tools are still available new, but mine are very old and they look and feel wonderful in a way that recently produced hand tools just don’t. It costs about $45.00. The value? Priceless.
Quarter inch British Whitwort wrench with a quarter inch American standard nut. Two cultures separated by nut sizes.
Thread pitch gauge
Again, Great Britain wins with sheer wonkiness. Did you know that until 1960 or so the metric system was not fully standardized? I get calls all the time from people asking “what thread is this?” Plus, fifty year old bikes often have substituted bolts that changes everything. This little gadget measures the number of threads per inch so I can select the correct part. Very early Japanese bikes had metric diameter bolts with threads still measured in TPI (Threads Per Inch). The reason is unknown, but probably involves World War II. Italy is also entertaining with metric hardware. A 1974 Ducati project I have is currently stalled while I source 14MM bolts with 30 threads per centimeter. Why? It only holds the foot peg, that’s all. Do I drill out an irreplaceable part and change to an available thread, or search for the unobtainable originals? A thread pitch gauge reveals all these little factory secrets. It also works for scratching the itch on the back of your neck.
This tool has solved more mysteries than Jessica Fletcher.
Lathes are amazing, and one of the greatest inventions of the last 1,000 years. I am not a real machinist, but with effort—and machinist tables and maths—I can duplicate that Ducati mystery thread. Some bike restorers claim they cannot live without a lathe. A very large claim, but it’s true that a lathe will save the day on occasion. This is a 1956 Atlas 6 x10” lathe in beautiful 50s-era powder blue. Back in the day you could buy one of these at Sears along with home décor, shoes for the kids, and a 106cc Gilera Motorcycle. I do miss Sears.
The mighty Atlas lathe. Same color as grandmother's '56 Buick.
So there are my top five tools. There are tons more, but we don't have space for them. Good tools are joy to own, any tool is an assistant. Tools are encouragement, and having the right tool for the job is always good. What about you? What are some of your favorite tools?