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Guest Message by DevFuse

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Cheap tools

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6 replies to this topic

#1 Dirk


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Posted 26 November 2009 - 08:48 PM

I would like to furnish myself with some tools for testing various parts of an engine.

Top of my list is a vacum gauge and a compression gauge. Other tools include accurate measuring tools (dial calipers and the like).

Troble is I can't justify spending a lot of money (any money really) on what is just a hobby to me. I'm not going to use these tools every day so they don't have to be bulit proof or last forever but I get really hacked off when cheap tools don't even do the job they are supposed to.

The last cheap tool I bought was a Ryobi table saw. I won't bore you with the details but it is a heap of "you know what" and a couple of day later I bought myself a Makita instead (about a thousand dollars more expensive). The Ryobi is now used as a stand for my thicknesser.

Anyway, the point is: Is the auto industry the same. Will I get crap results from a cheaper tool?

Are there any cheap reliable brands you can recommend?



#2 Scoobywagon


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 03:36 AM

Generally speaking, cheap is cheap. Having said that, I do own a few harbor freight items. Some of them come out of the box not working, like my fuel pressure guage. Fortunately, HF warranties all their tools. I went through a total of 3 fuel pressure guages to get one that worked. I don't feel that its particularly accurate, but its accurate ENOUGH. It allows me to "guage" fuel pressure even if it won't "meter", which is to say measure, fuel pressure. I'm not spending the $200 for the fuel pressure guage kit from Snap-On.

#3 Allpar Mod

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Posted 27 November 2009 - 09:41 AM

I, also, have bought several disgnostic items from Harbor Freight. I'm very careful about what I buy from them. Some of their stuff works well enough and some is just not worth the price because it is certified scrap. Their gauges usually work well enough to do the occassional job you would need and if it doesn't work, like Scooby said, they'll exchange it or give you a refund. Just keep your receipts.

I have quite a lot of $$ tied up in tools and such. What I've found is that when you buy any tool, with the rare exception of a real specialty tool, you will find other uses for said tool so buying a quality one is often a wise investment. Basically, you buy good and you have it forever. You buy cheap and end up paying for it twice.

I buy all of my hand tools at Sears and go with Craftsmen only, not their cheaper line. They still even exchange broken Craftsmen tools without receipts or any hassle. Sears started selling Lysle brand auto tools. These are decent. I have bought a few Kobalt tools at Lowe's when Sears didn't have what I needed at the time. Their warranty is the same and so is Home Depot's with their Husky line. All of these companies will back their products without hassle. By the by, I bought a Husky impact gun several years ago and have beaten the snot out of it. It rivals The professional brands in quality without the high price. My code reader does OBD I and II. It's made by Innova. You cannot cheap out on these. I got it through Amazon.com, believe it or not, because after shopping around, they had the best price by far.

#4 heartless


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 09:47 AM

if you have a Harbor Freight store nearby, it is a fair alternative for some tools - being nearby makes it easier to return something if it doesnt work. otherwise, well, its kind of a crap shoot on 'cheap' tools

We also have quite a few HF items (we have a HF store within an hour of us) - most work ok, some don't, or work the first time, but fall apart the second time it gets used...

things like compression tester, fuel pressure guages, etc - I cant really help you with as have never owned/used these items (they are on the 'wishlist' however).

Another decent source would be craigslist or evilbay - just be careful of the total cash outlay - ie: purchase $ + shipping (shop around and know what new would cost you, both locally and purchased online & shipped to you) You can sometimes find some really good deals on name brand stuff going this route.

#5 GeneralDisorder


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 07:06 PM

I would second the ebay reccomendation. For measureing devices get yourself some used Mitutoyo (SP?) micrometers. You don't want to cheap out on those as accurate measurements of your engine build will make or break the whole deal. Starret is also good but more well known and so probably command a higher price in the used market. I spent $100 on a set of three metric Mic's that will measure anything up to 150mm.

A set of Harbor Frieght telescoping gauges are a must to go with the Mic's.

I use the Harbor Frieght digital (ONLY the digital one's - the other's are suspect) calipers and dial indicators. Both have proven accurate in my experience and durrable enough if you are careful with them. The dial indicator runs $25 or $30 depending on the sale, and the calipers are often on sale for $9.99. I have two of each.....

I have used the Harbor Frieght compression tester's - they are OK if you don't drop them - they are fragile inside and I've had to resolder mine a couple times. They don't need to be 100% accurate as you are mostly looking for % difference across cylinders. You could build something that will work but the fittings needed for the spark plug threads, the check valve and release mechanism are annoying and for $10 I would rather not spend my time fiddling with some home-made contraption that's as much frustration as the chinese thing from HF.....

Buy a vacuum gauge from your local industrial supply for $10 and get some hose fittings to hook it into what you are working with.

Look around on the net for plans on how to build your own leak-down tester. That's also worth building yourself.


Edited by GeneralDisorder, 27 November 2009 - 07:08 PM.

#6 lostinthe202


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Posted 28 November 2009 - 07:32 AM

I would second the ebay reccomendation. For measureing devices get yourself some used Mitutoyo (SP?) micrometers. You don't want to cheap out on those as accurate measurements of your engine build will make or break the whole deal. Starret is also good but more well known and so probably command a higher price in the used market. I spent $100 on a set of three metric Mic's that will measure anything up to 150mm.

3rd, but act quickly. Once upon a time nobody in the trade (machinist anyway) looking for quality and accuracy would touch Mitutoyo measuring tools. Starrett was the way to go. I run a student machine shop at an engineering school and we had a Starrett digital caliper that was dropped once and stopped working while the Mitty calipers have been dropped, spilled on, used for all kinds of uses they weren't intended for and are still accurate to within .0005

Buying Starrett is like buying a Toyota truck, you will automatically pay a premium over the competition just because of the name based on a reputation. I'm not saying that all their stuff is crap, but you will pay more for it. Even on feebay used, worn-out Starrett stuff will sell for 75% of what a new item would cost. People are quickly catching on to the Mitty stuff so the prices of those are starting to creep up. Especially now since all the machinist left from when our country actually made stuff have discovered ebay and are trying to outfit their home shops.

GD and others on this board will know better then I which measuring instruments and in what sizes are the most useful for engine work. Feebay is a good place to go, but again like Heartless said, watch the shipping charges, ask questions about condition, and compare to new prices.

penntoolco.com is a great place to go for stuff like dial indicators and other precision measuring gear. The fella that works there is a straight shooter and will give you good advice on how good of a tool you need for your purpose.

of course, I don't know what shipping will be like to NZ.

Good luck!


#7 Dirk


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Posted 02 December 2009 - 01:55 AM

Cool. Thanks to all for the sound advice. The best news is I already have a Mitutoyo digital caliper! Its in my parents garage in England. And guess where I'm headed for Christmas!

Never really heard of Mitutoyo until now and i'm happy to hear its a reliable brand. I seem to remember buying them for about $25 so I think I did OK there. Mind you the guy I bought them off was certainly of the dubious nature.

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