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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Archimedes Understood

Sep 21, 2008
After a service call several years ago I was collecting and loading my tools and found I was missing a 3-foot-long pry bar. I must have got a little frantic as I ransacked the area in search of the tool, because the amused farmer commented, "What is it with you mechanics and your pry bars...? A wrench is a wrench, but a pry bar seems to be part of your family."

It's difficult to explain the relationship a mechanic has with his pry bars. They are magic tools. They enable a single, puny man to lift, pry, separate, twist, move, align, or slide objects otherwise immovable. When wedged in an armpit or stood upon, they become a third arm, freeing the mechanic's hands to install, remove or adjust a component. Depending on their size and the situation, they can dig rotten corn from an elevator boot, align a driveshaft with a gear for installation, or poke that furry mass underneath the storage shelf to see if the 'coon is deceased or merely napping.

As someone with a long and strong affection toward pry bars, here are a few comments about pry bar design, selection and use:

-Crowbars are fine for carpenter work and structural demolition. Alignment bars--round bars flattened on one end and pointed on the other--are essential tools for serious mechanics. But the pry bars that get the most daily use and abuse in our shop are the ones that look like over-sized screwdrivers. They range in length from 1-foot to 6-feet. Two-footers and three-footers are the workhorses of the pry bar world. For the rest of this entry, when you read the words, "pry bar," think of those screwdriver-type tools.

-Some mechanics like straight-bladed tips on their pry bars. Most prefer that the flattened tip be at a slight angle to the pry bar's main shaft. Prying motions are easier and more effective with angle-tipped pry bars.

-It's inevitable that every pry bar will eventually be used as an ultra-length cold chisel to separate two components. For that reason, it's best to purchase pry bars with "capped" handles, where the shaft of the bar runs completely through the handle and ends in a metal cap. The cap allows the user to hammer on the end of the handle without damaging the handle itself.

-Pry bar handles come in a variety of shapes: round, octagonal, square, etc. One advantage to square handles is that the user knows by "feel" that the flattened tip is either "vertical" or "sideways."  Some mechanics use a grinder or knife to make identifying marks on two of the flats of square handles so they can tell instantly by "feel" which direction the flattened tip is oriented.

-Brightly colored pry bar handles are not leftover 1970's Day-Glo fashion statements. Black- or  gray-shafted pry bars blend into dark nooks and crannies in farm equipment and disappear-- until the combine, baler, straw shredder, cotton picker or lawn mower is engaged. Bright-colored handles help keep track of tools in the dim confines of machine sheds or during nighttime repairs.

-A four-piece set of quality pry bars, that includes  2-foot through 4- or 5-foot bars, costs between $85 and $150. Be suspicious of bargain bin pry bar sets for less than $50. Cheap bars bend, or even worse, break and send the user sprawling onto the floor or against some sharp-edged corner on nearby equipment.

-And as for the reference to Archimedes in the title of this piece...? That ancient Greek once said, "Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth." He was talking about the principle of leverage, and pointing out that given a long enough pry bar, a man can move a lot of weight. Smart man, that Archimedes.
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