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Tool Rules – The Buying Game

Adapted from Brian Manley’s article in TechShop

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What You’re Looking For

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Durability, power, control and light-weight – all features that techs are demanding in the new breed of air tools. So, how do you, an up-and-coming professional tech, know which brands possess all of these traits?

My research on the International Automotive Technicians’ Network (www.iatn.net) web forums revealed a pattern of strong loyalty for two particular brands that have served techs well through the years. This is how quality tools can be located – by asking fellow technicians. Experience and word-of-mouth are the primary means by which all tool purchases should be made – especially those that are used, and abused, day in and day out.

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Getting Your Hands on the Tools

Wagon jobbers (like Snap-on, Mac, Matco and Cornwell) and local parts stores are a great way to buy your tools. Also consider buying tools over the Internet. Air tools can be purchased directly from manufacturers or from Internet tool jobbers. eBay has quite an inventory of air tools for sale as well, and good deals can be had, but buyer beware.

One technician we interviewed said he had good luck using the Internet to buy tools.

“I discovered eBay about two months ago. Since then I’ve bought numerous tools without any problems. I had to replace my 1/4″ air ratchet, because I don’t like the weak ones that just blow air in my face. I found one on eBay that was like new, with no visible wear, for less than 1/3 the cost of a new one. That’s just one example. I could list many more.”

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But, remember – buyer beware. You never know what you are getting unless you know the previous owner and his maintenance habits. For example, I don’t know if I would want to buy one of Technician #1’s tools on eBay – you remember, the guy who doesn’t oil his gun.

New Developments In Automotive Air Tools

Various tool makers boast about upgrades in their equipment. One manufacturer has a patented ergonomic cushion-grip handle on its air tool line that maintains a comfortable temperature in the hand, helps ease user fatigue and insulates against vibration.

The company also lauds its thermally balanced air motor. This patent-pending design routes air between the housing and liner to maintain a steady surface temperature that minimizes wear and maintains tool durability.

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Another company touts its impact wrench that offers greater power in a streamlined profile; 800 ft.-lbs. of torque in reverse (the old standard was 625 ft.-lbs. in reverse) in a 5-lb. body. Calling it power in a small package, the manufacturer says compact body design gives mechanics access to tight work areas, without compromising power.

Still yet another manufacturer offers an impact that features titanium for strength and weight savings, delivering 1,000 ft.-lbs. of torque (that will loosen a nut tightened to 1,000 ft.-lbs. in six seconds) and 700 ft.-lbs. of traditional torque output. Being lightweight, the impact wrench features easy-to-use forward/reverse pushbuttons for one-handed control, an ergonomically designed handle and textured grip for maximum comfort.

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It’s Up To You

Although Tomorrow’s Technician magazine recognizes that there are many reliable brands of pneumatic impact wrenches, the decision on which to chose it up to you. Visit with local shops to see what brands they use, and ask the techs what they recommend in a pneumatic tool.

Also, ask your instructor to contact the local wagon jobber to see if he or she will visit your school. Then you can see the tools offered to professional techs and even get some tool demonstrations. And, if you are interested in picking up some tools for yourself from the tool jobber on wheels, ask them if they offer a student discount.

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Tool Care

It doesn’t matter what new features your air tools have, if you want to keep them working properly, they must be maintained. Want your air tools to last a long time? Keep the water out of your air lines and keep the lubricating oil in your air motors.

Water traps should be installed throughout your shop to eliminate moisture getting into your tools. Some of these need to be drained manually once-per-day, and others have automatic drains (my favorite).

Has the “Oil Daily” sticker worn off of the handle on the impact gun you’re using in your class? So has mine. That doesn’t mean that you can ignore this important maintenance step. Can you imagine the harsh environment that the air motor lives in when it spins with no lubrication?

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Most of our impact guns use a rotary motor. The rotary motor is very similar to a windmill. The air enters the rear of the cylinder and turns the rotor to create power. When the tool is reversed, the air is redirected to the front of the cylinder through a reversing valve, turning the rotor in the opposite direction. Rotary-type tools die quickly without sufficient lubrication, including high-speed sanders, impact and ratchet wrenches, drills, die grinders, angle grinders and cut-off tools.

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