It’s been drilled into us from the first time we picked up a toy hammer to tap a square block into a square hole: Use the right tool for the job.
The tool that most frequently falls afoul of this axiom is without doubt the slotted screwdriver. It’s been drafted into double duty as a paint-can opener, a scraper, a chisel, a punch, a pry bar, and worse by, I’m willing to bet, every single person reading this. Millions of them have been blunted into uselessness for their primary function after years of abuse in secondary roles.
So the hard and fast rule for field repairs is never to risk the function of one’s screwdrivers by employing them for non-approved secondary tasks. The tool kit should incorporate cold chisels for chiseling, punches for punching, and a scraper for scraping.
However—frequently one will come across screws that have seized into place, and which no amount of torque on a standard screwdriver will budge. The normal procedure in a home shop would be to break out the impact driver—a fat grip with an angled anvil inside which, when provided with a bit to fit the stuck screw and given a sharp whack with a hammer, imparts a sharp loosening impact and twist to the fastener. My impact driver has saved me much time and grief when working on older vehicles.
The problem is that an impact driver is a heavy and bulky thing for its single purpose, making it troublesome for a traveling tool kit. But there’s a little-known fact regarding impact drivers: the vertical impact on the fastener has as much to do with freeing it as the twist the driver provides. Therefore, if you simply hold a standard screwdriver against a stuck screw and give it a whack, the odds are good it will be sufficient to do the job.
But there we are abusing the screwdriver again. Furthermore, most screwdrivers have plastic handles, which are not only likely to shatter when struck, they also absorb enough of the hammer’s impact to blunt its effect on the screw.
Enter the Facom Protwist “Shock” screwdriver. Here’s a screwdriver with a specially hardened steel shank that extends all the way through the handle to a cap on its end. The company says the tool is designed to “withstand gentle impact to free stuck fasteners.” That’s right: You’re actually invited to whack this screwdriver with a hammer (within reason, obviously).
Neat feature, but after all the need for it rarely occurs, especially if the average age of the vehicles in your fleet is younger than the three-decade average of ours. Fortunately the Protwist screwdrivers are excellent at normal screwdriving tasks as well. Each one has a fat, ergonomically secure and grippy handle—unlike the frightfully expensive set of Snap-on screwdrivers I invested in 20 years ago, which had miserable, slick, hard plastic handles and wound up relegated to duty as spares within months. The Facom AWCK.J5 set (don’t ask me how they come up with these designations) comprises the five most-used configurations—a number 1 and 2 Phillips and three slotted heads, 8, 6.5, and 4mm. All but the 4mm driver have hex fittings so you can apply a wrench for greater torque, another good method for tackling a recalcitrant screw (as long as the screwdriver fits the screw head properly). The Phillips and slotted tools are differentiated by yellow and red caps and the appropriate icon for easy identification when stored handle-out in a tool roll (and each has a little “wear your safety glasses” silhouette as well—pay attention).
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a U.S. source for the Protwist “Shock” screwdrivers. But a supplier in England, Primetools.co.uk, carries them and has good prices plus fast trans-Atlantic shipping.
Alternatives? If you don’t need the hammerable feature, the standard Sears Craftsman sets such as this one are hard to beat for 20 bucks, although they also lack the wrench-compatible hex fitting, which leaves you no way to augment the torque you can apply to the screw short of clamping a pair of pliers to the handle, which is kinda rude. Better is this Kobalt 12-piece set I found at Lowe’s. These do have the wrench fitting, and the set includes two offset screwdrivers—wretched little tools that will nevertheless sometimes winkle out a screw no other driver can get to.
While we’re on the subject of removing stubborn stuff . . . I consider a hacksaw to be a must-have item in a comprehensive tool kit. And in case you’re thinking by this point I’m a helpless sucker for obscure and expensive tools, the best traveling hacksaw I’ve found cost me $6.99 at Ace Hardware.
I started out with a fancy aluminum-framed item that caught my eye when I was first musing on the idea of a one-case tool kit. Hey, aluminum—lightweight. Perfect, right? Not so much, at least not this one. First, it was bulky and took up way more room than its expected frequency of use justified. It also only accepted a 12-inch blade. Worse, use revealed a serious design flaw I should have noticed at first glance.
Any framed hacksaw will only let you cut things as thick as the clearance between the blade and the spine of the saw, unless you can move the saw around and cut from the other side. My aluminum-framed saw had a fine four inches of clearance—but only in one spot thanks to the arched spine. So when cutting through, say, a 3.5-inch-thick tube, by the time I got near the other side my cutting stroke was reduced to about one inch. Stupid.
Then, while browsing at the Ace I found a simple, steel-framed hacksaw, which proved to weigh less than the aluminum one and was far more compact. Grooves on the adjustable half of the spine engage a through-pin on the fixed part to allow the use of different-length blades; furthermore, by filing a third groove near the front of the solid section I can now remove the blade and make the saw collapse to just 13 inches in length, so it fits along the short side of the Pelican case and takes up scant space. I store the blades in the tool roll that holds screwdrivers. It’s single downside is that the blade can only be attached vertically; the aluminum model can also hold the blade at 45 degrees for cutting when overhead clearance is reduced.
Now—back to obscure and expensive tools.
If you’re ever faced with a major repair in the field—replacing a clutch, halfshaft, differential, or birfield for example—you’ll also be faced with the manufacturer’s torque specifications when it’s time to put everything back together. Sure, you can guess and bodge it, and I’ve done so many times without catastrophic consequences when home and the torque wrench weren’t more than a few hundred miles away. But if you’re in the middle of a major trip you don’t want to risk the repair and perhaps the trip by over- or under-torquing a fastener on a critical component (such as, say, the main bearing caps on a crankshaft . . .).
The problem is, a torque wrench is a long and bulky thing that performs exactly one function—you do not want to use it as a standard ratchet or breaker bar. So how about a palm-sized tool that turns any 1/2-inch ratchet into a torque wrench? That describes the Facom torque adapter—but wait, there’s more. The Facom unit also functions as an angle indicator. Many newer vehicles (Land Rover especially comes to mind as an early adopter) employ “angle-controlled” fasteners, designed to be tightened a certain number of degrees beyond snug. The Facom torque/angle adapter will do both tasks. It comes in a number of ranges; mine functions to 200NM (150 pound-feet, selectable on the readout) of torque, and is accurate to within three percent.
I have to say I found much less expensive torque adapters via a quick Google search, but none that were as compact, or that were capable of both torque and angle measurements. When Roseann asked, “Well, how much did it cost?” I answered:
“What lovely weather we’re having.”
Read part 4 HERE.