In the Shop: Worth Every Penny

December 9, 2011 07:06 PM
In the Shop: Worth Every Penny

Some tools are expensive but definitely worth their price in a farm shop. Farm machinery has evolved, and so have the tools needed to do basic repair and maintenance. Here’s a list of tools that are worth biting the bullet to own.

  • 1"-drive air-powered impact wrench. Tractor wheel lug bolts and nuts are now often torqued beyond 500 lb.-ft. A 1"-drive air wrench isn’t a luxury if you have big trucks and tractors in your shop. If at all possible, pay the extra price for a composite-body 1"-drive air wrench. Composite-body air wrenches are significantly lighter and easier to use than metal units. Expect to spend $600 to $1,000 to be able to remove any nut or bolt—or at least shear it off.
  • Set of 1"-drive impact sockets, ranging from 11⁄4" through at least 3". Yes, standard "chrome" sockets work on an air wrench, but chrome sockets aren’t metallurgically designed for the abuse inflicted by air tools. The life span of chrome sockets is reduced when they are subjected to an air-powered impact wrench, and you risk injury if the harder more brittle chrome sockets crack, chip or shatter during use. Figure on paying $125 to $225 for an economy-grade set of 1"-drive standard or metric impact sockets.
  • 1⁄2"-I.D. (inside diameter) compressed air supply line, from the air compressor all the way to the air tool. The 1"-drive air wrenches get their power from the volume of air they use. Attaching a 1"-drive air wrench to the 3⁄8"-I.D. air hose common to farm shops strangles its power. Be sure all fittings and couplers between the air compressor and air wrench are large-bore, too. A compressed air system will deliver only as much as allowed by the smallest I.D. fitting, coupler or hose in the system.

    You’ll still want to use lighter, more flexible, 3⁄8"-I.D. air lines to power most air tools. Consider rigging a T-fitting with a 3⁄8" air coupler and a ½" air coupler off your air compressor so you have the choice of which size hose to use.
  • Set of ratcheting box-end wrenches. Yes, this duplicates the conventional open-end/box-end wrenches that you already have, but they are so handy you’ll never be sorry you bought both the standard and metric sets. Don’t scrimp—get a standard set from 3⁄8" to at least ¾" and a metric set from 10 mm to at least 19 mm. "Flat" ratcheting wrenches are cheaper because they don’t have reversing mechanisms (just flip them over to ratchet in the opposite direction), but you’ll scrape your knuckles fewer times if the heads are offset from the handles. Depending on the brand name, you can expect to spend $160 to $350.
  • Voltmeter/multimeter. Ever been asked by a service technician, "How many volts are you getting at the sensor (switch, relay, etc.)?" Modern electronics can pitch a hissy fit if voltage varies by only 0.5 volt, so it’s crucial to measure accurately. A farmworthy voltmeter/multimeter costs $50 to $100. "Play" with it so you know how to set it and where to probe before you find yourself upside down in a combine at midnight trying to track errant voltage.
  • Battery-powered impact wrench. If you have an older model that produces less than 200 lb.-ft. of torque, upgrade to a battery-powered impact wrench with at least 250 lb.-ft. of torque, preferably more than 300 lb.-ft. New battery-powered impact wrenches have more power and longer run-time. Bite the bullet and get a battery charger and two batteries; expect to pay $350 to $500.
  • Matching set of battery-powered tools that share the same battery, such as circular saws, angle head grinders, impact wrenches, drills, etc. A full set of matching industrial battery-powered tools, with dual batteries and charger, ranges from $650 to $1,500.
  • Digital caliper. It’s not much of a bullet to bite when a digital caliper costs $15. But the ability to read the digital display and tell the parts person that a shaft measures 0.98" or a bearing housing is exactly 1.035" thick saves a lot of time. Even if you use it once a year, it’s $15 well spent.

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