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Choosing Equipment for Restoring Your Vintage Car

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Choosing Equipment For Restoring Your Vintage Car

It’s often said that a poor workman will always blame his tools. But it stands to reason that without good quality equipment you’re needlessly putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Maintaining a vintage car is a time consuming job at the best of times but making use of the correct tools can easily save you hours of hard labour.

Necessary Safety Equipment

Aside from practical benefits, there’s one other important factor that should never be overlooked when selecting the right equipment for the job in hand – your health! The average garage workshop is an environment fraught with danger. Underestimating or failing to notice potential risks could have dire consequences.

Always wear adequate clothing to protect your skin from abrasion, heat and chemicals. If you’re carrying out a job that results in flying debris, then good eye protection and thick gauntlets are essential. If sparks or any kind of live flame is involved then consider the fire resistant properties of your safety gear. Don’t forget to protect your hearing by investing in some quality earplugs. Damage to your hearing can often not be reversed and yet it is so often overlooked.

Elevating Your Vintage Car

There will inevitably be times when you will need to raise your car from the ground. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have access to a car lift, then a trolley jack is the tool to use. Make sure it’s strong enough to lift the load in question. Once a vehicle is elevated, never rely on a trolley jack as the primary means of support. For this it is common to use axel stands, which are usually used in pairs to support either the front or rear of the vehicle.

If you anticipate spending large chunks of time under your vehicle, then you may consider investing in a pair of drive-on ramps. These too will have a safe weight limit – never exceed it. The disadvantage of using this kind of ramp is that it requires the vehicle’s wheels to be in situ, so it’s not as flexible in the workshop as a good trolley jack and axel stands.

Tools for Cutting and Grinding

Due to the age of vintage cars, you can expect to spend long periods of time painstakingly removing rusted old metal, before replacing with new. An angle grinder is the most commonly used tool, in a home workshop, for attacking this old corroded material. As your angle grinder is likely to get a lot of use, it’s worth stretching your budget to get the best you can afford and that doesn’t necessarily mean a big one. Smaller angle grinders will naturally be more usable in the awkward confined spaces commonly encountered when working on motor vehicles. However, bearings quite often wear more quickly on cheaper models, so it’s a good idea to select a respected brand such as Bosch, Makita or DeWalt. It’s also worth pitching for one that has a speed control dial to make it usable on a wider range of jobs.

Sometimes the power of an angle grinder is overkill and often greater cutting accuracy may be required. A pair or aviation tin-snips is perfect for smaller jobs, such as cutting through sheet metal or in places where access is tight.

If money is no object or you plan on cutting through a lot of metal, then you may consider acquiring a plasma cutter. Plasma cutters make the job of cutting through metal effortless and result in good clean cut lines. They work by passing very high voltage electricity through gas, which arcs with the metal, producing temperature that is high enough to melt through it. The limitation of a plasma cutter is that the material being cut must conduct electricity.

Welding Equipment

Where old metal is cut out, you will inevitably need to weld new metal in. When it comes to car bodywork, the tool best suited to the job is an MIG (metal inert gas) welder. Other forms of welding, whilst they do have their applications, may produce too much heat for thin sheet metal work resulting in distortion or holes being blown.

MIG welders create an electrical arc between the work-piece and a “filler wire.” The filler wire is fed from the welder to a hand held welding torch when the trigger is depressed. When the arc is struck the subject metal is melted, along with the filler wire, creating a “weld pool” and fusing the subject metal. The arc is shielded by an inert gas that protects the weld as it is formed.

The most common problems associated with cheaper MIG welders include erratic wire feed mechanisms and a limit on low power operation – making work on very thin metal difficult. MIG welders have a power rating measured in amps. The higher the amperage the thicker the steel it is possible to weld. Reputable brands include MTA, Clarke and Miller.

Air Compressors and Air Tools

A good air compressor will enable you to operate a variety of air tools, which are normally much smaller than their electrically powered counterparts.

When buying an air compressor, bigger is generally better. The higher the horsepower rating, the quicker the compressor will be able to drive air into its storage tank. A large storage tank, measured in gallons, is desirable as it provides a reserve of pressure enabling the air tool to work at full capacity for longer. Another factor to take into consideration is the CFM rating (cubic feet per minute) which is a measure of how much air can be delivered at a particular PSI.

Air tools will have a specification, which determines how much air they need to operate. For example, a particular air tool may require a compressor capable of delivering 4CFM at 90PSI. The larger capacity air compressors will enable you to use a much wider selection of tools.

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