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Choosing an air compressor is not a light subject. This can be an expensive purchase, and an unwise choice is costly and frustrating. This is not an item for "cutting corners" or bargain shopping. You will get what you pay for... When I needed an air compressor for the magazine's shop/studio, my thoughts were about air tool operation. My previous shop was well served by a DeVilbiss 80 gallon upright compressor and a quality black pipe system. That compressor was a two-stage (not "twin stage", avoid these!) iron compressor model that ran on 230V. Bought it in 1995-96 timeframe from Costco for $800. Our new, smaller scale shop/studio, I thought, could get by with a 20-gallon upright portable compressor and an iron, two-cylinder unit compressor head (two-stage, of course). The Ingersoll-Rand 'Garage Mate' fit the specifications I wanted, and that purchase proved wise—initially. There are jobs that require high volumes of air, and one in particular is bead blasting. The smaller compressors, you will discover, often make higher output ratings by running the compressor's rpm up the scale, to the point that service life becomes an issue. The DeVilbiss unit, in fairness, held up in this category with its 7.5 HP motor. (The I-R Garage Mate gets used so little that it should also last "forever".) Horror stories about sucking a reed valve on the DeVilbiss never happened, and that unit served faithfully for fourteen years—it was still working fine when we sold the shop property and the complete air system stayed at the shop. When I discovered the need for another bead blaster (had one at the previous shop, a very nice T-P Equipment unit), I thought a smaller unit would work fine with the Garage Mate compressor. It didn't. After much research and study, I realized that volume is everything for blasters, and my quest turned up a terrific solution: a used commercial compressor with a huge, slow speed Champion R-15 compressor head, 120 gallon horizontal tank, and a 5-horsepower, industrial strength Baldor 220V motor with magnetic starter. If you'd like to know more about this compressor, and perhaps what amounts to my sense of humor, read this account at the magazine: http://www.4wdmechanix.com/Downsizing-and-Air-Compressors!.html. For $250 less than the new I-R Garage Mate cost, I'm in business and so is the bead blaster! There are values like this around if you'll look and be patient. The Garage Mate works fine for quick, shorter burst air tool chores or inflating tires. I'll keep it, as the resale price is ridiculously low, and the unit is in "as new" condition. Moses
Before I start spewing accolades about the Harbor Freight 1000-pound motorcycle lift that I just bought on sale, let me make some qualifying statements: 1) I'm not a shill for Harbor Freight; 2) while it would be nice to get Harbor Freight advertising at the magazine, they're not on board yet nor have they been solicited, so gaining advertising is not my motive for the following comments; and 3) some of what Harbor Freight sells leaves much to be desired...tactfully put. I have been watching this item on sale at the motorcycle magazines for a couple of years and saw it close up at the Harbor Freight outlet locally. You've figured out by now that I'm a weldor and metal fabricator, and for me, the cost of steel, machining, stamping, hydraulics, forming and painting made this ramp type lift an absolute bargain... Its full retail price around $700 (U.S.), the chronic sale price at the magazines around $300, the lift deserves your attention! When it went on a three-day sale at $319.99 plus local sales tax (without freight charges since I could pick up a fresh, crated unit from the local Reno store), I took the plunge. My birthday and Father's Day this year will be remembered as the "Year of the Harbor Freight Motorcycle Lift!" The package weighs 317 pounds, mostly steel, and the crating is appropriate for getting the lift from China to the U.S.—and your shop. Harbor Freight loaded the package from a forklift into the Dodge Ram truck bed. I used an engine hoist to unload safely at my end. Note the stand/chock I added after reading the lift reviews at the Harbor Freight website. I also purchased the recommended bottle of jack oil and used 1/3 of it to top off the lift's jack before using the lift. A very small funnel is helpful for filling the bottle jack. Handle the barrel-shaped rubber fill plug with care. The plug is necessary, so resist the impulse to cut the plug into small pieces and toss it out...Harbor Freight could improve on the bottle jack's fill plug design. A threaded plug with copper or O-ring gasket would be one approach. For the most part, this is a pre-assembled, easier package, yet it still took me over an hour from opening the crate to the lift fully assembled (properly) and ready for use—plus another half hour to drill holes and mount the heavier stand/chock and add-on, heavy duty eye bolts at the rear of the ramp deck. Some say the lift can be set up in half an hour—really? I'm detail oriented, so maybe it took me 15 minutes longer than others. Incidentally, the stand/chock paid off big for tying down the motorcycle on the lift by myself. Note: The removable ramp end is hefty and diamond plate like the lift ramp...I found all of the steel and engineering suitable for my kind of motorcycle service work. Some reviewers boast about Harley-Davidson full-dressers being well within the lift's ability. Maybe so and great—I'm glad my cycles never weigh over 550 pounds these days, one GL1500 Goldwing was enough from both a riding and serviceability standpoint. Here are the features of my new lift, you can judge for yourself. If you do motorcycle or ATV work and are tired of bending down and struggling with minor or major repairs and powertrain work, take the pro shop level, ramp lift approach—at your garage, motorcycle shop or home shop! (Click on photos to enlarge. If you're visiting as a guest and find this kind of forum helpful, consider joining so you can enjoy photos and other member features—all for free!) All said, the 1000# Harbor Freight motorcycle lift is the best buy in the World at the sale price...I have other Harbor Freight heavy steel products and do use Pittsburgh heavy duty impact grade sockets and ball-joint tools—alongside my professional OTC, Miller, Snap-On, Craftsman, Mac and Proto tools! Moses
Many of my current hand tools date to the 'sixties. The oldest, to my recollection, is a Craftsman beam-bar 1/2-inch torque wrench that I bought in 1965—for $7.39 out of the Sears catalog! My most recent acquisition is a deep set, Pittsburgh axle nut set from Harbor Freight, intended for occasional use. Tools have various functions and purposes, and their price and quality can range accordingly. When I first worked professionally as a light- and medium-duty truck mechanic, Proto tools were popular. By today's standards, that would be Craftsman or S&K quality. I ran a motorcycle repair shop at Carson City in the early 'seventies and discovered Snap-On and Mac Tools. Craftsman tools at the time offered an extraordinary lifetime warranty, and I have Craftsman sockets, ratchets and extensions still in my boxes to this day. I did, however, migrate to Snap-On for box ended wrenches, screwdrivers and a 3/8" tilting head ratchet. A Champion spark plug offset handle, swivel head ratchet wrench carries forth from the late 'sixties, pre-dating the Snap-On tools. The Champion 3/8" spark plug ratchet was a private label tool, likely built by Proto. It has weathered extremes of use and, in hindsight, abuse from excessive torque application on some occasions. Yet it survives. When picking tools, the quality and warranty are important. So is the "feel" of a tool if you're working with it professionally, day in and day out. Cost aside, my best ratchets have been Craftsman, not Snap-On. The reverse levers on the Craftsman tools fit my fingers and hands much better than the ratchets I bought from Snap-On years ago. In fairness, Snap-On may have improved this design, or your hands may be happier with one design over the other. Some hand tools are simply better quality. I mentioned Snap-On screwdrivers, their tips are exceptional and long lasting, handles feel right, and they prove superior. That said, however, the newer Craftsman "Professional" line of hand tools have come a long way for both fit and durability. Tool boxes are another story altogether. Boxes often get purchased on the basis of brand names that carry cache. When I worked at a GMC truck dealership as a line mechanic, Snap-On tools, and especially its boxes, stood for a true professional investment. Since I believe a mechanic's worth is his or her work quality, boxes are not the end all for me. I like Craftsman professional series boxes and have a shop full of them. Weight being a factor, if you want "big", you'll pay by the load capacity. Even the Harbor Freight U.S. General big boxes have a high load capacity and unloaded weight. On that note, don't dismiss Harbor Freight—just be selective and know the "line" names. I've done very well with the black, six-point Pittsburgh impact sockets and knockoff tools like the ball-joint removal and installation kits. Pittsburgh brand often means something. For torque wrenches, however, I opt for contemporary high-end electronic types and quality, known brands like Mac, MATCO, Snap-On and such. It just depends on your intent and plans for the tools. If day in and out use is the plan, buy better. When it's a one-shot or rare project and everything appears acceptable with the tool, consider an inexpensive item. Harbor Freight's heavy steel products tend to be the best buy on this side of the ocean, especially at the price, though these products all come from the other side of the big water! I'd be happy to elaborate on any aspect of tools, welding equipment or automotive testing/diagnostic equipment. I've been at this professionally for forty-six years and can cast a broad light. When time permits, I'm planning a tool box walk-through for the magazine's HD Video Network. The tour will cover all of my hand tools, air and impact tools, specialty tools and pullers, welding tools and diagnostic equipment. I'll watch for your posts and reply! Ask away... Moses
When you work with brake, fuel and vacuum steel lines and fittings, you need the right wrenches! The quickest way to round the corners on tight or frozen flare nuts is with an open ended wrench. The recommended tool for flare nuts is, not surprisingly, a "flare nut wrench". Even with a flare nut wrench, there are times when frozen brake line nuts or old fuel line flare nuts will simply not want to come loose. The hex corners begin to round, the sign of real trouble ahead! I have high quality Bonney flares wrenches, a backup set of Craftsman flare nut wrenches and several chain wrenches—including a small, Wheeler Manufacturing chain wrench from the 1960s. That Wheeler chain wrench has saved my hide more than once, and it is probably my most versatile tubing work tool: Click to enlarge photos...Forum members can view all photos...If you're visiting, consider joining the forums—it's free! In a pinch, if the chain links are short enough, you can grip a softening flare nut. A chain wrench can also grip the base of a collapsed oil or fuel filter! My small chain wrench will grip a rusted brake flare nut securely, and that's small. It will also grip a collapsed oil filter canister near its solid base. There is also this Vise Grips model: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Delectronics&field-keywords=Vise+Grips+chain+wrench. It's useful and contemporary, although its chain link size will only drop to 5/8" diameter—okay for hardware but not good enough for smaller brake tubing nuts and most fuel fittings. The side benefit of the Wheeler chain wrench is that when used properly, it does not leave a mark on the steel fitting nut! I've used these wrenches on high-end restoration work where the OEM hardware must appear original. You simply cannot achieve this with higher torque settings and a flare nut wrench. Even the most expensive flare nut wrenches will, by design, spread under load. A tip and caution: Wrap the hardware with a layer of shop towel before gripping with the chain wrench. This will help protect the surface (although it will shred the towel!). Modern chain link wrenches with a toothed, flat leverage point are very rough on hardware and will leave marks if not used with extreme caution...See my Wheeler Manufacturing wrench's design (above), much easier on corners and flats of the nuts and other hardware! So the next time you're at a garage sale, estate auction or used tool source, keep your eye open for a Wheeler Manufacturing chain wrench and other specialty tools "from the day". They truly do not make smaller chain wrenches like they used to... Trust this helps your tubing flare nut and stuck oil filter situations! Moses