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Wilson's Auto Restoration Blog

20 Best Tools to Restore Your Classic Car or Truck in a Home Garage

Restoring a classic car or truck in your own garage is going to be a labor of love.  It will require a lot of dedication, time, a good budget, know-how and of course tools.

Having the right set of tools will make a huge difference in your restoration.  Without the correct tool, an otherwise simple job can turn into a tremendous task.  If you are going to attempt a classic car restoration at home, we have a list of tools you will want in your arsenal.

Our list does not cover the basics.  We already assume you have a good set of screwdrivers and other basic, essential tools almost every American home already has in their inventory.  On the other hand, not every tool on our list is an absolute necessity, but rather they are considered a luxury or a dream tool if you are trying to construct the ultimate home garage.

  1. Proper Lighting: First things first, you need to be able to see what you are doing. There are a lot of nooks and crannies that you will need to illuminate during the restoration. You are going to need a good handheld work light.  In addition, you will need more general lights like overhead fluorescents and/or shop lights on stands.
  2. Fire Extinguisher: Here is a tool we hope you never have to use.  That being said, you absolutely must have one on hand.  Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to keep one nearby.  Make sure it is rated for electrical and chemical fires (Rated B&C).
  3. First-Aid Kit: Here is another tool we hope you don’t have to use. Chances are though you will find yourself tending to a wound or two during your restoration.  Busted knuckles from stubborn bolts, scrapes and cuts from sharp edges and minor burns from hot surfaces are almost inevitable.  Keep your first-aid kit handy for when the inevitable occurs.
  4. Socket Set & Open-Ended Wrenches: With the necessary lighting and safety out of the way, let’s talk about actual tools. It is hard to imagine more necessary tools for a restoration than a good set of sockets and open-ended wrenches.  If you are going to invest money into any tools, invest in good wrenches.  Buying complete sets is almost always more cost effective than buying them individually.  Make sure that both sets have a wide variety of both standard and metric sizes.
  5. Torx-Head, Allen-Head and Ball-Head Drivers: Even though these types of bolts and fasteners are less common in classic American vehicles, they are found in classic foreign cars and are extremely common in modern day vehicles. Torx-Head (also known as star-head), Allen-head (also known as hex-head) and Ball-head may not be as common as a standard nut & bolt, but these drive sets really complete your wrench set. Trust us, these will come in handy to have.
  6. Torque Wrench: Certain nuts and blots on your classic will require a precise torque specification. Lug nuts, spark plugs, and many bolts found on the engine perform best when tightened correctly. Many classic cars (in particular anything with a GM LS engine) will require a torque wrench that accommodates torque-to-yield fasteners. These are not only tightened to a specific torque, but also a specific angle. Torque wrenches need to be handled with care and calibrated every so often. If you are primarily using the wrench for engine work, you will want to purchase one that has a half inch drive that can read to at least 150 lb-ft. A good torque wrench will set you back $100-$150 dollars but can reach up to $500+ for the high end digital models.
  7. Breaker Bar: This is the last item we suggest completing your wrench sets but may be one of the most valuable. You (and your knuckles) will be super happy you have one for that stubborn bolt that just wont break loose. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” That is a famous quote form Archimedes and we think he might have been referring to breaking loose a stubborn head bolt on an old core engine.
  8. Floor Jack and Jack Stands: Be sure to purchase jack stands that can support your vehicles. A 2-ton jack and jack stands will be the minimum unless you are working on a go-kart. Always raise your car safely.  That means you need 4 jack stands.  Do not depend on 2 jack stands in the front and just a floor jack in the rear.  Whatever you do, neve get underneath a car using that flimsy jack supplied in your trunk to change a tire.  Those are only meant to be used in an emergency to change a tire.  Never to raise and climb underneath.
  9. Timing Light: Such a simple tool, but what an impact it makes on the performance of your motor. It really is a must-have for any home mechanic.  They are relatively inexpensive and will make all the difference.
  10. Trim Fastener Remover: You want to protect your vehicle inside and out from scratches and marring. These soft plastic trim removal tools are worth their weight in gold. OK, maybe that is a stretch, but they will save you the headache of having to repair damage caused by using sharp metal tools to remove trim.  There are tons of specialty trim removal tools available, but having the basic 5 piece set for a mere $20 will be worth every penny.
  11. Tool Chest: This piece of your collection will really depend on your budget. They can be very expensive, but even the cheapest one is better than nothing. Keeping your tools organized during your restoration will save you countless hours.  There is nothing worse than a job being held up because you can’t find a tool.  Tool chests can also help keep your tools in good condition.  It is worth breaking the budget even for an inexpensive one.
  12. Workbench with a Vice: Not every project takes place under the hood. Sometimes you need a clean open workspace to do the job. Can you imagine rebuilding a carburetor anywhere else? It might go without saying that a workbench is a necessity, but if you plan on creating a good working environment then a workbench is a must. A sturdy vice will come in handy as well when you need that extra pair of hands of need to hold something in secure while you work on it.
  13. Power Tools: Saying power tools is vague as there are endless power tools to choose from, but there are a few power tools that every home garage needs. A cordless drill/driver is highly suggested. Can you imagine trying to drill a hole without one?  Or having to manually turn every screw?

    A high-speed dremel tool is also very handy to have. You can use it to buff out small parts, trim plastic components to fit better or use it to grind off that impossible to remove, rusted out or stripped fastener. The possibilities of use are almost endless will all the dremel attachments that can be purchased.
  14. Battery Tender: Unless you live in southern states, you are likely going to store your classic for the winter. Unless you want to purchase a new battery every spring, we suggest investing in a trickle charger for your battery.
  15. Code Scanner: Get one of these if your project car is less than 30 years old or has some sort of electronic control system with an onboard diagnostic system that can record standardized codes. Nothing will save you time more than this tool when diagnosing an issue. No need to buy the top of the line reader unless you have money to burn.  An ODB2 reader for less than $40 will often do the trick.
  16. Multimeter: A multimeter (a.k.a. volt meter) can measure electrical flow throughout your car. It can typically measure voltage, current and resistance. Whether you are testing the alternator or hooking up a sound system, the multimeter is an absolute must of you are going to be working on any of the electronics or wiring in your car.
  17. Engine Crane, Stand & Vehicle Dollies: Now it’s time to get serious. If you really want to take your home garage to the next level and if you have the available space, get yourself an engine crane. Now you can work on the engine outside of the vehicle.  You might consider getting a load leveler as well.

    Getting the engine out of the car is only half the battle.  If you really want a quality work environment for your engine you will need to also get am engine stand.  A stand rated for 500-pounds will work in most cases but get the 750 or even a 1,000-pound stand if you are working on a big-block or anything larger.
  18. Air Compressor and Air Tools: An air compressor and the tools that go along with it might be out of the budget. However, if you have the space and the money, it is an indulgence that can make many jobs so much easier. All professional garages have them and there is a good reason for it.  Besides inflating tires and blowing clean parts, a good compressor can run an array of tools used for grinders for body work or as an air socket. When purchasing an air compressor, you will need one that produces at least 90 psi and can provide up to 6cfm to run air tools.

    When it comes to air tools, it is suggested buying mid-range tools unless you are using them daily. You do get what you pay for, but if you only use them occasional, the high-end tools might be overkill.
  19. Lift: A lift is probably the ultimate tool a home garage can be equipped with. It makes so many jobs a hundred times easier simply because of the access to the underside of a vehicle. Imagine installing a new exhaust without one.  It can be done but is not much fun.

    Lifts, while expensive, are really starting to come down in price.  There are plenty of lifts for under $2000 although professional installation might run you a little more. Most garages aren’t fit for a lift merely because they won’t have the height clearance necessary to take full advantage of the lift’s height capabilities.
  20. Shop Vac, Broom & Cleaning Supplies: The last tools on the list are maybe a little less exciting but are just as important. Keeping your garage and workspace clean is imperative to having an impressive garage. Beyond the aesthetics, keeping a clean garage can also keep you and your vehicle safe. You don’t want to slip on any spills, breathe fumes from old oily rags, or have dust, shavings or other debris settle on your paint job. Keeping your tools clean will also help extend their life and keep your replacement costs to a minimum.

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