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Must Have Tools For Engine Building Glory
Engine building is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the less-than-stellar tool chest. While automotive technicians typically buy a nice shiny tool box full of brand spankin’ new box end wrenches and screwdrivers and maybe a few specialty tools upon completion of their ASE tests, engine builders, on the other hand, spend years accumulating the necessary tools of the trade.
By Brendan Baker
While engine builders still need a fair share of box end wrenches and screwdrivers, we have assumed you didn’t make it this far without these necessities. Instead, we will focus on the specialty tools and equipment you need to get the job done and out the door to your customer. We talked to tool suppliers and industry experts, and asked what they would put on the top of their list of needs.
Dave Monyhan of Goodson Tools and regular Engine Builder columnist says that the tools most needed today are really about measuring any and all components to ensure the integrity of the engines you’re building. He says you need a quality set of micrometers, dial bore gauges, spring testers, surface roughness testers and vacuum testers as well.
How much your shop spends on tools may vary by type of shop, but Monyhan says, “a proactive approach to budgeting for tools is at least 3 to 5 percent of your revenue. Trends change as to what applications are showing up in shops today. Most of the time all that is need is the same tool only in a different size or configuration for the new segment or application.”
Hickok/Waekon’s Patrick Bauman says that engine builders can improve their shop’s organization and productivity with specialized parts trays to keep parts organized during tear down and re-assembly specifically with rods, lifters, push rods, etc, with their corresponding cylinder locations.
Monyhan agrees, and says these shop tooling/component organizers allow the shop owner to better track a customer’s job as it is processed though the shop. He says that Goodson’s parts organizers are designed to keep track of valve train components, lower block, cylinder heads, multi-valve over-head cam cylinder heads as well as for V-twin and Harley-Davidson motorcycle heads.
Bauman says that tooling has changed significantly over the years as engines have evolved. “There are many ways that engines have been redesigned and assembled in the last decade such as eliminating keyways, which because of this require cam(s)/crank holding fixtures now. New engine technologies such as variable cam(s) timing and cylinder deactivation require a better understanding of new systems and how they interact with basic engine principals.”
Harold Bettes of Power Technology Consultants says that tooling and equipment has gotten better over the last decade. “Most tools and equipment have improved over the last 10 years and in general provide more accurate information in less time,” says Bettes. “The advent of using computers in some operations have made repetitive operations more repeatable.”
Goodson’s Monyhan agrees that tools have evolved with the needs of the market, “We used to measure to the .001˝ or thousandth, now we measure to the .0001˝ or ten-thousandth; we also measure in metric or millimeters. You must have metric dial indicators and micrometers to work in the metric world. I have a brand new American-made motorcycle and half of the fasteners are metric and the other half are USS or SAE. I also have a Chevy truck that is the same way. Use the correct measuring tool for what measurement you are working in. Yes, you can always do the math conversion but when we are now measuring in tenths it means 1/10th of 1 thousandth is equal to .0003937 mm. And 1 millimeter is equal to .0254˝ and .001˝ or one thousandth is equal to .0254 mm.”
Bettes says that one of the most essential tools an engine builder should have today is a flow bench. “An air flow bench is needed to quantify the cylinder heads you build, says Bettes. “You need to use it before you do work and after you do a valve job or freshen-up, to quality check your work on a head, manifold, carb or to maintain control of the overall quality control (QC) in the shop.”
Bettes notes that engine builders should be aware of several things about a potential flow bench purchase. “Any potential buyer must look at the features and benefits of that purchase vs. quality and how much it costs (simply bang for the buck) so that the purchase is the most cost-effective for the buyer. It’s not necessary to select an automatic or computer controlled flow bench in order to get good data. Careful testing on a manually controlled machine is more than adequate in most circumstances.
Capacity of the airflow bench (cfm) vs test pressure at rating is an important consideration, notes Bettes. He says flow benches such as Jamison/Saenz’ D680 will flow 680 cfm at 28˝ H2O test pressure. Airflow must be referenced to a test pressure where the maximum number can be compared.
Bettes says engine builders should also expect to buy some necessary accessories to get the most out of their flow bench:
Cylinder bore simulator/adapter - placed between the cylinder head and the flow bench in order to accurately approximate the bore of the engine the heads are to be used on.
Radius inlet guide - fits on port opening to provide best test results. Better to use a piece that is the same each test and not use clay.
Valve opening apparatus - to provide precise valve opening for recording airflow at each lift point such as at either .050˝ or .100˝ valve lift increments.
Carburetor adapter - so the engine builder can select the best flow for the application.
Flow Balls and Flow Flags - These helpful tools are made by Thorpe Development and provide a useful glimpse at a cylinder port or at the carb/air cleaner base to see what is happening. The flags move with the flow of air to provide visualization of where the air is moving. These pieces are also available from Jamison Equipment Co.
Besides an air flow bench, Bettes recommends some other essential tools that engine builders must have:
An accurate measuring tool for referencing the valve seat to cylinder head deck to quantify precise locations with something such as the CalSpec tool (shown in opening photo).
Sonic Wall Thickness Gauge to keep track of cylinder wall thickness, deck thickness, cylinder head port thickness.
An accurate valve spring checking tool to keep track of valve spring installed loads and to keep records of before and after freshens or rebuilds.
Bolt stretch gauge to keep an accurate record of fasteners for both a torque reading and the stretch of the fastener.
Obviously, there are many other tools that engine builders must have. The tools listed here can make engine building easier and can help shave off some time from the assembly process. And in the long run, these tools just might save you some money, too.
Tell us what YOUR “can’t do without tool” is by sending a note to Brendan at email@example.com.