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Basic tools of the trade


Country flag
I have one "little" problem when it comes to maintaining/repairing any car I own, let alone an old British one... complete, total lack of tools! All I really have is a screwdriver

Within a couple of weeks or so I should be able to get my taxes done, and if I think I'm right I should have a decent-sized refund this year.

It's probably not enough, but if all goes as well as I think it might (with my taxes) I'm hoping to take $200 (CDN of course) out of that refund to buy myself some tools. What would you guys suggest on a limited budget?

One obvious one is a ratchet set and I think some basic wrenches, assuming the amount above... will I have enough money to buy a few more key basics?

Advice please... And anyone with spare tools laying around their garage? I'm taking donations!
[just kidding]


Great Pumpkin
Here's where I'd start (trust me...there is no end to buying tools). I have all of these at work.

A decent SK socket set. 3/8" drive with metric and inch. You can buy a similar import set for much cheaper if you have to, but the SK is a great balance of price and quality. As a cheaper compromise, if you're only working on "inch" stuff, you could buy the smaller SK "inch-only" set and a cheap set of imported metric sockets.


A slightly cheesey combo wrench set (import). Metric and inch. Not great but acceptable.


A *real* vise grip. DO NOT buy an import version. Waste of money.


Screwdriver set. An acceptable import set.


BFH. An acceptable import.


Safety: I always wear glasses anyway (and I have prescription bi-focal saftey glasses for work). If you don't wear glasses, get a pair of safety glasses. NEVER go under a car without jack stands...also available at Harbor Freight.


I buy some things from Harbor Freight also, but for any tools you know will get lots of use, or be used hard, you might want to consider Craftsman (Sears).

I still have almost all the tools from the small Craftsman toolbox set my wife bought me for Christmas - almost 30 years ago! Only one tool has ever broken and that was a very small wrench that I abused. They replaced it free. Craftsman are going to cost a bit more, but they are very good quality tools. I found my small started set was adequate for 80 percent of the jobs I needed to do. Then, over time, when I needed another tool that I knew would get lots of use, I'd buy it from Sears. If I needed a quickie tool that I might only use once or a few times, or where sturdiness wasn't a big issue, I'd look for something from either Harbor Freight or a local tool seller called Sante Fe Tool Company (similar to Harbor Freight).

I bought a titanium-plated tap and die set from Harbor Freight and so far have been very happy with it. I also bought my sand blaster box from HF.



Senior Member
Not sure where you are in Canada but Princess Auto is a good source for decent tools, cheap. Some lines have a lifetime warranty.

Otherwise Canadian Tire Mastercraft or Sears Craftsman are good alternatives for socket and box wrenches.

At risk of getting dumped on by the pros, I think the recent Chinese import tools are generally fine for weekend work. Your living doesn't depend on it so you don't need Snap-on. $200 budget right ?

You do need jackstands and a hydraulic lift. Get the *widest* cheap jackstands you can. My el-cheapo lift is 15 years old and still doing fine. I see these for $25.

Add to your standrd screwdriver set one very long screwdriver 16" +. I'm surprised how often it saves my knuckles. A really good trouble light is a must. The old lead hammer from a departed MG is used to whack on the box wrenches [see lifetime warranty above] when freeing up rusted nuts.

A variety of pliers from plumbers side, to electrical to needle nose -- is good. Medium Visegrips too.

I think I've spent your $200 CDN now.

[ 03-06-2004: Message edited by: MichaelF ]</p>


Darth Vader
Country flag
Lots of good advice in the various posts above. My approach would be a bit different. I like to get the absolute best tools I can without spending a lot. I've used two methods.

1) Inherit them.
2) Buy them used.

Of the two methods, #2 is preferable for many reasons. In your case I would create a list of what you think you'll need, right down to individual socket & wrench sizes. Then go to pawn shops, flea markets, etc and look for high quality tools like SK, SnapOn, Mac, New Britain, etc. I avoid Chinese, no-name, and any brand I don't recognize.

Spend about half of your budget and get the basics. Then wait until you get the car and start working on it. I'm sure you'll discover that, no matter how large your tool inventory is, you'll need something you don't have. You may have to buy some of those new, because of time constraints.

If you don't know where to find good used tools locally, ask at any shop you do business with - maybe the one with the Cortina? They're sure to have suggestions. Don't forget eBay although shipping costs can hurt when buying tools.

Folks have already mentioned jack stands. To this I'd add a few pieces of scrap lumber. Good for levering things, protecting them when hammering, and so on. Also usually free.


Country flag
Thanks all,

I assume Harbour Freight is only in the States as I've never heard about it, and I'm not about to pay American dollars either for new tools. Calgary is a city of close to one million people, so I know we have at least one Princess Auto store (I know many of my friends like that store a lot), and there are also several flea markets that might have a few tool vendors.

I always purchase the "Bargain Finder" every week, maybe there are some bargains to be had there... Unfortunately no wills from rich relatives coming up the pipeline in the near future, come to think of it... there aren't any rich relatives in our family period.

Jim Weatherford

Jedi Trainee
I just went through the same thing and I chose Sears, mostly because they are good tools, 100% exchange policy... forever and they sold a really nice assortment for $169. I picked up a few misl. tools and I haunt the pawn shops and have a fairly nice selection of electric drills and saws and... I also found an older shop type tool box on wheels (Craftsman) all together I spent a little over $250. Shop around, Harbor has some good deals and SK tools are just fine too.
I'd consider the basics to be:

1.) A socket set with 3 & 6 inch extensions, a breaker bar and a deep spark plug socket. My first was a 3/8 inch and it served well.
2.) A set of open end wrenches. Backed up with 7/16, 1/2 and 9/16 box end wrenches or a full set if you could afford them (because sometimes you'll need one wrench for the nut, another for the head).
3.) Screwdrivers: plain tip stubby, a 4-6 inch long one, & a long one; cross head stubby, 4-6 inch and long (No. 2 should be the most useful size). A heavy-duty, long screwdriver may also serve as a prybar.
4.) Pliers: standard, long and vise grip. An 8 inch adjustable crescent wrench.
5.) Wire cutters.
6.) TEST equipment- to check dwell, rpm, timing etc.
7.) Stuff you can "borrow" from the house- scissors, knife, hammer, hacksaw.

Before you buy anything, FIRST ask yourself what jobs you're going to be doing.

Then choose your tools accordingly.

I'd encourage you to consider this as a long term investment, and your involvement with LBCs a lifelong burden. Don't then be too constrained by an arbitrary budget, but rather the first step in an acquisition program.

Good tools are more useful and cost effective in the long run. I'm still using Craftsman tools I bought nearly 40 years ago. My approach then was to get what I needed at the time rather than a single big splurge.

Sets of tools are cheaper too, but if you don't use something its a false economy.

Think about what jobs you'll be doing as the best guide to what you'll need.

Even after 40 years there are still tools out there I covet....


Jedi Knight
A floor jack and jackstands should figure in at some point. Sears had a decent 3 ton set on sale recently....I know you usually don't need that capacity, but the jack had a nice big pad, which you want. You could go with a smaller jack, but you'll just end up replacing it when you get the chance.

A 3/8 and 1/4 inch socket set as has been mentioned, but mack sure you add som deep well sockets to the list as well as the proper spark plug socket. Get 2- 3" and a 6" extension for the 3/8, and a 1 1/2", 3" and 6" for the 1/4. A 1/2 set perhaps eventually, but not right now. You will be surprised how little you will use it.

Standard and metric wrench sets. 'nuff said.

A set of Locking pliars consisting of straight, curves and needle nose. Vise-Grip brand are good, but I've found Craftsman to be just as good, slightly less expensive when bought as a set, and easier to replace when you abuse them....which you will.

A set of pliars- adjustable (Channelock style), slip joint, needle nose and side cutters. Again, the Craftsman brand work great too.

Get a good screwdrive set.

Where to get them? check some local auctions or estate sales first. You would be surprised what you can find for great prices!

[ 03-08-2004: Message edited by: lawguy ]</p>


Jedi Warrior
I'd echo most of what's been posted here. I've had very good luck with Craftsman and Mastercraft Professional tools. Most of my Craftsman wrenches and socket sets were bought in the early 70's and are still going strong.

I'd add a couple of things. First, a deadblow hammer. It's a plastic hammer filled with shot, so you can apply some persuasion without damaging the item being persuaded. Indispensible on old cars. Second, a volt/ohm meter with a continuity beep. Extremely useful for chasing electrical gremlins. Under $20 at Radio Scrap. Third, a magnetic pickup tool. Basically a strong magnet on the end of a springy shaft. For when you drop your nuts and can't find them.
Fourth, a mechanic's mirror. A mirror on a flexible stick. For when you can't quite get your head wedged into that little space, but being able to visualize the @#!%*&@# part is helpful. And finally, a rich vocabulary and a selection of knuckle and finger bandages. I like Elastoplast, myself

Oh, and a good manual.

Have fun!


Jedi Trainee
Country flag
I thought I would mention Metwrench tools(sp) I have heard good things about them, Im unsure about cost of general set's, But like me I have a American car 2 Japanese trucks and a English car...All have a somewhat different measuring type, I cant guarrentee if metwrench would work with English standard...or not but its worth a try.
I also like the idea of getting some now and more when needed, I just bought about $200.00 worth of tools for the Landcruiser, Just to rebuild the front axle, You never know what you may need till its time.....Wasnt that a wine commercial?!?
Good luck just the same.
<blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by VitSport6:
I thought I would mention Metwrench tools(sp) I have heard good things about them,

Im unsure about cost of general set's, But like me I have a American car 2 Japanese trucks and a English car...All have a somewhat different measuring type, I cant guarrentee if metwrench would work with English standard...or not but its worth a try.

About nine months ago I put together my own mini-"set" of Metrinch tools- sockets equivalent to 7/16, 1/2, 9/16, 5/8 & 11/16 and a set of combination wrenches to match. These were the tools I've found the greatest use for in the past and I didn't want the cost of buying other odd sizes I'd seldom use. These work fine on the equivalent metric fittings on my European cars (a Peugeot & Fiat). They work well on LBC nuts and bolts too.

Note that the Metrinch tools are six- rather than twelve-point so they're a little stronger and less likely to round off nuts. The sockets seem only available in 1/2" drive, so that may be a limitation too.

I found them to seem a little looser than the standard wrenches and sockets but they work fine.

I was a little skeptical at first, but using them has converted me. They're well made and do the job. If I was buying just one set for both imperial and metric fittings I'd consider them. But they do seem expensive relative to the alternatives.

Mark Jones

Jedi Warrior
Watch the Canadian Tire sale flyers that come out every week. I bought a very complete 1/4", 1/2", 3/4" SAE and Metric socket set at Canadian Tire on sale for about $100 and a set of axle stands and floor jack for around $60 a couple years ago. I just waited for them to come on sale. I'm sure you'll be able to get fairly well outfitted from them; just watch the flyer and what you're looking for will eventually come one sale; probably within a couple months. Like I said, that's where the majority of my tools have come from.


Senior Member
They've been mentioned already, but I can't stress the importance of some good safety glasses and a shop manual for the car you'll be working on.
All the tools in the world will do you no good if you can't see what you don't know how to fix.


Jim Weatherford

Jedi Trainee
Eric spoke about "a selection of knuckle and finger bandages", I’d like to add... a fresh tube of super glue. Super glue was developed by the Eastman Kodak Company in the early 60's as a surgical adhesive.

When you get that severe (or minor) cut or worse, a good wash with water and clean the wound and apply a thin layer of Super Glue, this will seal the wound and protect it from dirt and oil, etc. Another coat from time to time will assure a good clean wound it will heal from the inside out and faster than you might think, plus super glue kills the bacteria that can cause infection or worse.

I’ve been using it since Vietnam and I’m perfectly normal, I’m perfectly normal, I’m perfectly normal, I’m perfectly normal.

No really... seriously it is good stuff, give it a try.


If you buy a $100 tool and use it once that's $100 per use so maybe better to rent. I try to predict how much per use and reckon at$1-5 it's probably OK. Probably not relevant for lower prices but when you get into power tools(and you will) it becomes important.
I find Princess Auto good(espscially for air power) but patchy. They always seemto be out of stock for things like glass beads for blasting. In our town Sears are great. They will usually tell you when sales are coming up when you can save big bucks on big ticket items.Used pro tools are great for hobbyists-check your local buy/sell rag.
Be aware that you may be be starting on a long slippery slope. I now have a heated garage, 2 benches(one tinned) shop air,parts washer, sandblaster etc.,acquired over many years and with no end in sight
Good luck

tony barnhill

Great Pumpkin - R.I.P
"The guy who dies with the most toys, wins!" Right now, I'm in 2nd place...tools, tools, tools - the folks in the tool department at Sears depend on me for their commission, Harbor Freight welcomes me by name when I walk in the door...buy every tool you might ever think you'll need on a car....high dollar for those you use all the time, Harbor Freight & liquidation tent sales for those occassional use tools - but own all your tools....I rented a tool once...got it home & it wouldn't work...spent the better part of the day driving back & forth to the tool rental place & never got my job done...could've bought the thing for less time & money than what it cost me in driving back & forth! MHO!!


<blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by tony barnhill:
"The guy who dies with the most toys, wins!" Right now, I'm in 2nd place... MHO!!<hr></blockquote>

if you're in second, who's in first?

tony barnhill

Great Pumpkin - R.I.P
Jay Leno?
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