In the Shop
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.
Gotta-have Tool List
Aug 16, 2008
I grew up on a farm where the tool inventory leaned heavily toward Crescent wrenches and big hammers. I now work with mechanics who have more than $100,000 invested in tools. While I acknowledge that there is no such thing as, "Too many tools," I can verify that having inadequate tools can make repairs slow, difficult and sometimes dangerous.
So what are the minimal tools necessary for the average farmer to make repairs on his equipment? A lot depends on the mechanical aptitude of the farmer. Some farmers are challenged to change the oil and filter in a tractor, while others calmly overhaul engines. But in general, from what I've seen on hundreds of farms, a farm shop needs to have at least:
-Basic hand tools, including a full set of metric and standard wrenches from 8 mm to 30 mm, and from 1/4-inch through 1 1/4-inch. Flat and Phillips screwdriver sets. hammers, alignment punches, and a 1/2-inch drive socket set, in sizes that match the metric and standard sizes.
-a welder. MIG welders are nice because they make pretty welds, but modern stick welders have electronics that allow them to weld thin metal pretty well. Especially if the stick welder is a DC unit that allows the user to reverser polarity.
-a grinder. Years ago I would have said a bench grinder, but lately I find myself using a 4 1/2-inch angle-head grinder more and more. It's more portable and convenient, though a bench grinder is nice for serious work where you need to remove a lot of metal.
-an acetylene torch. A "hot wrench" is the quickest way to remove bearings, shafts and disassemble things.
-a cut-off saw. Metal band saws are nice, but pricey. A cut-off saw is noisy and not especially precise, but it's way better than a hacksaw.
-Assorted jacks and blocks to support equipment safely and a vise, to hold things while you make repairs.
And that's it. Those of you who take shop work seriously are snorting in derision, but a good mechanic could do a lot of repairs and maintenance with those basic tools. It would be much easier to do the repairs with additional tools, and most farmers have far more than these basic tools stashed in various toolboxes, cabinets and sheds around the farm. But those are the basics, give or take few files, clamps and drills and drill bits.
So if you sometimes look at your tool inventory and feel inadequate, take heart that tools don't make a mechanic. Tools just make a mechanic's job easier.