Some of the most useful tools in a mechanic’s toolbox didn’t begin in the local hardware store. Here’s a sampling of items that when placed in the hands of a farmer become a handy tool:
- Motorcycle tie-down straps—the 1"-wide, 6'-long nylon straps with locking adjusters—become a third-hand, a handy way to lift, support, suspend or otherwise hold components in place during repairs.
Let’s say you need to hold one end of a heavy shaft in place while installing a bearing housing or small gearbox. Hook one end of a tie-down over another part of the machine and suspend the shaft exactly where you need it. Is a drive chain, hydraulic hose or wiring harness interfering with repairs? Use a tie-down to hoist it out of the way.
I prefer the narrow 1"-wide straps that release by pushing a tab on the adjusting mechanism because they are lightweight, fit in small areas and are infinitely adjustable. Other folks prefer 2" or wider nylon straps with ratcheting adjusters that allow them to winch things into place.
- A short length of 11⁄8" inside diameter, 3⁄16" wall steel pipe makes a dandy bearing driver to drive bearings onto 1" i.d. shafts. Veteran farm equipment mechanics often have a junk drawer full of pieces of pipe in a variety of lengths and diameters to help when installing bearings, seals and other components that need to be driven into place.
Along with a drawer full of short pieces of steel pipe, most mechanics have stashed somewhere in or around their toolbox one or more 3'- to 4'-long pieces of 1½" to 2" i.d. thick-wall pipe for “cheater handles.”
Cheater handles slide over the ends of breaker bars, ratchet wrenches or pipe wrenches to increase leverage and help break loose stubborn nuts and bolts. It should be noted the use of a cheater handle is not recommended by tool manufacturers and voids the warranty on breaker bars, ratchet wrenches and pipe wrenches.
- A 3-gal. garden sprayer, the kind pressurized by hand-pumping, is a great welding accessory, especially when working on equipment in the field. Fill the sprayer with water and use it to wet down areas on and around farm equipment prior to welding or acetylene torching to reduce the risk of fire.
Garden sprayers don’t replace the need to have Class B fire extinguishers handy, but they often prevent fires from starting or can douse small flames without the need to discharge commercial fire extinguishers.
- An electrician’s “snake” was designed to pull electrical wires through walls and conduits, making it the perfect tool to pull wiring harnesses and hydraulic hoses through planter frame tubes or underneath tractor cabs.
When using an electrician’s snake to pull hoses, the surface of rubber-covered hydraulic hoses tends to “grab” and get stuck when pulled across other rubber-wrapped hoses, especially in the tight-confines of frame tubes. Spray the full length of the new hose with liquid soap or other rubber-safe lubricant prior to make installation easier. (Some petroleum-based lubricants slowly react with rubber and can cause rubber hose sheathing to deteriorate.)
- Computer geeks always have a can of compressed air handy to spray dust from keyboards and computerized circuitry. “Canned air” is equally handy when blowing contamination from electronic components and connectors on modern farm equipment. Not only are the small cans more convenient than dragging around an air hose, but the precise, low-volume, low-pressure air is less damaging to delicate computerized components than the more than 100-psi compressed air from conventional shop air systems.
Clogged spray nozzles on sprayers are another place where canned air is handy. Instead of using a thin piece of wire to dislodge the clog (which can damage the spray tip’s orifice) or blowing on the tip with your mouth (never a good idea), a brief blast of canned air is a quick cure for clogged spray nozzles.