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.
Tooling Up for the Wheat Run
Jun 09, 2009
Won't be long before custom and private cutters begin the wheat harvest. With the necessity of in-the-field maintenance and the probability of in-the-field repairs, here are a couple tools that might be worth adding to your toolbox.
Battery-powered impact wrenches are standard equipment for most custom cutters. They offer speed and power to maintenance and repairs. If you haven't yet jumped on the battery-powered impact wrench bandwagon, be sure to get a name-brand unit that has nationwide distributors in case you need parts or repairs. One-half-inch-drive battery-powered impacts should offer at least 250 lb.-ft. of torque; many now offer up to 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Three-eighths-inch-drive battery-powered impacts are lighter and handier than their 1/2-inch drive brothers, but generally max out at 150 to 200 lb.-ft. of torque. They'll handle 98 percent of 5/16-inch or smaller nuts and bolts, but only half of the 3/8-inch nuts and bolts they encounter. Three-eighths-inch-drive battery-powered impact wrenches absolutely shine for doing maintenance and repairs to guards and knife sections on small grain platforms.
Deciding which size and type of battery to power battery-powered tools is complicated. Buyers can select anything from 9-volt up to 36-volt batteries. Many of those batteries come in Lithium, Ni-Cad or other designs. My recommendation? Go with 18-volt tools and batteries across the board so you have interchangeable batteries between 3/8- and 1/2-inch drive impact guns, as well as other battery-powered tools and grinders.
Some really nifty but pricey accessories to battery-powered impact wrenches are impact "wobble" or "flex" sockets. Imagine an impact socket with a built-in universal joint that enables the user to install or remove nuts and bolts without the impact gun being in alignment with the fasteners. Being able to hold the impact gun at an angle to the fastener is a big advantage when working in tight spaces or when it's a long awkward stretch to reach the fastener. It takes a little practice to get the hang of using wobble sockets, because they are prone to fling themselves off nuts and bolts if the correct technique isn't used. Now that I've developed the knack for using them, I generally grab a wobble socket most of the time rather than its straight, rigid cousin. The only problem with wobble sockets is that a complete set is extremely expensive---$300 to more than $500, depending on size and manufacturer. My tightwad solution was to identify the four sizes of metric fasteners used commonly on our brand of machinery, and then I bought only those four sizes of wobble sockets. Someday maybe I'll flip for a full set, but for now, I'm content.
I mentioned battery-powered grinders in an earlier paragraph. The latest generation of 4- or 4 1/2-inch angle-head, battery-powered grinders are pretty handy for field repairs. They aren't designed to do wholesale grinding similar to a bench grinder located in a shop, but if you simply need to smooth a weld, grind off a bolt head or sharpen a dulled shear bar, they work great.
A final tip/suggestion for repairs and maintenance during the wheat harvest: Never forget the digital camera that's part of your cell phone. A cell phone picture of where a belt, shaft or bearing is located on a machine can save lots of time and explaining when you finally locate the nearest dealership that might have parts for your machine.