Even the most skilled mechanic is helpless without adequate tools. The challenge on farms is two-fold: to acquire the tools you need to take care of your equipment, and then to keep track of them.
Winter is a great time to organize, assess and add to your tool inventory so you’re ready to tackle equipment maintenance and repairs throughout the year. Here are some tools you might already have, might need in the future or simply want to own because they’re handy and just plain cool.
Low-Cost, High-Value Tools
Sometimes the price of a tool belies its value. Relatively low-cost tools can be worth their weight in gold when doing certain tricky (or annoying) repairs.
Hose removal tools
Crowfoot wrench set
|Jeweler’s drill bits|
$15 to $25 and micro hand drill for $15
Conventional cleaners for acetylene torch tips are flimsy and usually end up (forcefully) thrown into a dark corner of the shop. Jeweler’s drill bits start at 1/8" and go down to approximately one size larger than a human hair. Because they’re drill bits, they resist bending, and because they’re drill bits, you can literally drill into deposits clogging the orifices of torch tips. The micro hand drill is about the size of a pencil, with tiny mandrel jaws that clamp onto the teeny drill bits. Find them online or at quality welding supply stores.
|Disposable nitrile gloves|
$10 to $20 for a box of 100
The uses are endless: perfect defense against smelling like diesel fuel after changing fuel filters and great for changing sprayer tips and handling new roller chains coated with slimy, sticky factory lubricant. Disposable gloves are also an economical alternative to stinky hands when you have to manually clean rotten grain out of an auger sump.
$10 for a five-piece set
They’re nothing fancy, simply 6"-long tweezers, some of them with angled tips. They’re great for pulling a sliver from a finger, or installing a teeny tiny cotter key in an awkward spot.
16" needle-nose pliers
$25 to $50
It’s surprising how often you use 12", 14" and even 16" long screwdrivers. They’re often sold in sets as carburetor screwdrivers, but they work great to reach screws hidden in deep recesses, or as long-reach scrapers to dig packed grease or field debris from inside machines.
Electrician’s fish tape
|Jeweler’s screwdriver set|
$10 to $100
Cell phones, display screens in tractors and other electronic gadgets are getting smaller and smaller—as are the screws and fasteners used to hold them together. It’s tempting to economize and buy one of the $5 “Made in China” jeweler’s tool sets on display on the checkout counter at the local hardware store. However, when you’re dealing with teeny, tiny little screws made of alloys metallurgically similar to Silly Putty, it’s best to get a quality set of mini-screwdrivers with crisp tips made of higher quality metal.
|¼"-drive socket set|
$100 to $200
There’s a fiendish secret plot by engineers to drive mechanics and farmers daffy by using non-standardized nuts and bolts in the cabs of trucks and tractors. There are situations where the dastardly designers use four or more different sizes of small nuts, bolts and screws in a single instrument cluster or armrest console. The only defense against such sadism is a high-quality, full-size ¼"-drive socket set, complete with metric and standard short and deep-well sockets, and Phillips, flat-blade and Allen-head bits. Tote the fully-stocked set every time you climb the steps to work in a machine’s cab and you’ll have all the tools you need to thwart the engineers’ evil conspiracy.
|2-ton hydraulic mini-bottle jack|
An economy-grade hydraulic bottle jack from the hardware store is roughly 8" high when compressed and 13" tall when fully extended—which is totally worthless for jacking up big machines. But a light, short little jack can be the perfect tool for wedging apart pieces of a machine’s frame prior to welding, or for shifting components to align bolt holes.
The Right Battery for the Job
Battery-powered tools, from a $35 consumer-grade 3/8" impact wrench to a $2,000 15-piece commercial-grade set, are essential in on-farm toolboxes. Price generally reflects power, capacity and durability when buying battery-powered tools. The trick to getting the right farm-duty, battery-powered tool is to understand acronyms and match the type of battery to the way you intend to use it.
|Batteries for cordless tools|
$35 to $200 for replacement or spares
NiCd batteries offer more than 1,000 recharging cycles before they fail, but they’re prone to self-discharge when not in use. NiMH batteries are mid-range in price and weight, have around 1,000 recharge cycles and are less prone to self-discharge. Li-Ion batteries are the lightest and resist self-discharge, but are the most expensive and offer the fewest recharge cycles (500 to 1,000).
|Cordless impact wrench|
They advertise more than 1,200 lb.-ft. of loosening torque and more than 800 lb.-ft. of tightening torque. Battery design is an issue with ½"-drive models because they’re heavy. Li-Ion batteries pare ounces from the ultimate weight, but add dozens of dollars to the cost.
|Cordless circular saw|
$70 to $200
Now so durable, professional carpenters use them for framing and finish work. The downside is maximum battery life demands sharp blades—and farmers are notorious for using saw blades until their edges turn blue. Thank goodness for carbide-tipped blades.
Battery-powered reciprocating saw
Cordless grease gun
|Battery-powered angle-head grinder|
$200 to $450
They won’t stand up to hours of grinding, but they’re perfect for grinding off a bolt head or smoothing a ragged weld during field repairs. “Price buys quality” is the rule when buying any cordless tool, but that’s especially valid for grinders.
Air Tools to the Rescue
Air tools gain their power not so much from air pressure measured in psi as in air volume measured in cfm. Plan to provide at least 60 cfm to any 1"-drive air-powered impact wrench. Be sure to use a ½" inside diameter (i.d.) hose to provide full flow to the gun. Be wary of elbows, Ts and other fittings smaller than ½" i.d. in air systems. The i.d. of the smallest fitting in an air system determines the maximum flow of that system.
|Air-powered impact wrench, with 1"-drive|
$400 to $1,700
While pistol-grip air impacts are smaller and easier to use, maximum power comes from the in-line, commercial-grade air guns that have handles at the rear and on a side. Composite-framed air impacts are more expensive than traditional metal-framed air guns, but less tiring to use when removing numerous wheel lugs from grain trailers or big grain carts.
|Low-profile, air-over-hydraulic 20-ton floor jack|
Yes, a good ol’ hydraulic bottle jack will elevate combines, grain carts, tractors and grain trailers, but being able to wheel the jack around the shop and position it without crawling under the machine just makes sense.
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