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Survivor obsession #8
Tue Sep 4, 2018 14:34

To Work, Thou Needest Tools

My career choices required quite a bit of involuntary mobility, so my living arrangements usually involved a flat or a rented terrace house, a couple duffels, and a half dozen pasteboard boxes at most. There was no real room for "recreational" cars; if I was long enough in one place for a car, something cheap and cheerful yet quick and fun usually filled the need. Along with that was a truly basic array of tools; a set of combination spanners, a 3/8" socket set with a flexhead ratchet, a small assortment of pliers, diagonals, screwdrivers, and a square-jaw bobbiejohn spanner of reasonable size and heft was enough. None of it was junk, good tools being more than just a fetish; quantity might have been spare (it all fit in a smallish toolbag) but quality was defined by the likes of Mac, Snap-on, and Craftsman.

All that changed in the late stages of the second career. I married (at arguably an advanced age for the sport) then found myself buying our first house. The choices were minimal, though, as living in the Eastern Metropolitan Corridor of the US was still a working requirement. It was a nice place by suburban standards, but no garage nor room for one.

With marriage soon came fatherhood, which prompted our decision to move house one more time; I had an eye on retirement and a strong desire for my son not to endure his school years in the Met suburban culture. We bought a house in rural Pennsylvania (which crucially came with a workshop/garage out back of like footprint to the house itself) and for the first time in my life I landed someplace where I could finally unpack and relax.

Well, almost, for first there was that dreadful period of commuting some four hours a day to my last "office" (I mentioned in an earlier discussion a Jeep Compass that I put well over 100 kilomiles on in a matter of only two years) before I finally and cheerfully retired, no doubt also to the relief of my superiors who by then were people not at all representative of the organisation with whom I had originally cast my lot. It was worth it, though. I turned in my credentials, we were finally free of the Met, the motorways, and a world whose sole product was fast becoming administration; if not of self, of others. It all looked absolutely lovely framed in the rearview mirror.

So, you might be asking what the point of this is. Why, its about tools of course, more specifically how that one bag of good tools became, on a pensioner's income, a workshop full of good tools.

For many, mechanics' handtools on a budget means Chinese-made stuff from the likes of Harbor Freight or Walmart, but why settle for mediocre when excellent will do nicely, and for less money. "Less money", sayeth the congregation?

Oh, yeah. Let us go forth thus with gladness:

Now, perhaps the modern import stuff is adequate, but my tastes are more refined and my faith in Oriental tools is not high at all. I can't afford a Snap-on account on the other hand. That would have left me with Craftsman a really good choice twenty years ago, but with the flagging fortunes of Sears came the outsourcing of Craftsman tools to China. Sure, Black and Decker bought the line from Sears, and most are still warrantied, but I want tools for which I don't need to exercise warranty.

So, what to do. My workshop is quite completely outfitted now with US-made tooling, mostly Craftsman with a smattering of other domestic brands. Most came used from shop closures, farm sales, huge outdoor second-hand "flea" markets, and local yard sales. I'm lucky I live in the countryside so these sources are in my own back yard. Those of you who live in the urban and suburban corridors will have to drive to get somewhere rural, but its worth it. Even eBay can't hold a candle to the quantity and quality for the price; this is where the flippers on the 'bay get their stuff they flip.

My roll-around toolchests came from the same source. I had to pressure-wash them, take them apart, iron out a few dents and fix the odd runner, strip them with a wire wheel, and repaint them, but two full-sized roll-away pairs of upper and lower older Craftsman chests cost about $75 all in and a few days pleasant work to make them like new. I also keep a wire-wheel on a bench-grinder to clean up hand tools and sockets, a quick whisk and they come back up as new.

My warranty? I don't find it that important in reality, once one gives it a little thought. I can always turn Snap-on or Craftsman in for replacement, though what you might get for replacement from Craftsman might be modern and suspect, but my approach is to keep extra ratchet handles, breakers, and sockets, all bought on the cheap and stashed away in a toolbox on the wall. To be honest, the only thing I've had to replace of old Craftsman stuff was the odd ratchet, and I did snick the pin on a Snap-on breaker bar once, so a few extras picked up along the way mean you are self-warrantied and it takes only as long as a walk to the spares box before you're back in business. There are enough nice old tools out there to make this practice more than merely practical.

Here is as good a place as any to mention this thought. It isn't just the workshop that needs stocked, but a bag in the boot of each of my cars contains a good emergency tool kit made up from the same sources. That's all my cars, by the way, not just the little British ones. Avoid one recovery and that pays for a lot of toys er I mean tools.

Obsolete gear comes cheap, but our cars are of that same era so timing guns, tachs and dwells, brake-drum measuring gear, its all still there. You just have to put in a little time and bring cash. Shop closures can yield the bigger gear, good engine hoists and stands, cast pin-style jack stands, trolley jacks, and don't forget those steel boxes with compartments full of crimp connectors, split pins, snap rings, and the like.

I've found quite a bit at yard sales, though here you have to hit the odd one with tools. My wife enjoys them for other items, so I come along, we spend time together, I even score some points by so doing, and one pretty often comes away with something good. I've often just bought a pile of various bits and bobs in a toolbox for next to nothing, picked out the bits I need, chucked the duplicate domestic-made spanners, sockets, handles, &c in the spares box, given a neighbour the box, and the local high school a pile of extras for their vo-tech program. Everyone wins, and you make some friends along the way to boot.

A little work, a lot of fun, the thrill of the hunt, and not much cash can get you a very well equipped workshop full of quality tools just as it can get you a solid car with promise; the philosophy of the "survivor" works for both. There is nothing that beats the feeling of having a nice tool, the right tool, to hand whilst the music plays in the workshop and the car is repaired or improved by your own industry.

    • Keep 'em coming! - mike, Fri Sep 7 08:36
      I'm really enjoying these car tales and this was the best yet. I want to respond but I have to be in the right frame of mind but I didnt want you to think of me as being rude by not appreciating them
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