Strengthen Your Toolbox

Cool Engine-Building Tools

Mike Petralia Jun 6, 2003 0 Comment(s)
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Whether you've been doing it practically all your life or have just begun, building engines can be fun. However, your first build up was probably not quite what you expected and you might have found that you were lacking a bit in the 'ol toolbox. Well, if there's one thing we use a lot of around here, it's tools. We've found some of the best essentials for any engine builder's box. So if you're a beginner or old-timer, check out our list. Because even though you're bound to see something you want, you might actually find something you need.

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With so many different aftermarket cylinder heads today, it can be tough to find a set of pushrods that match up. The problem is that some heads move the valves around or they might use longer valves. In any case, you have to correctly measure to see if your pushrods will work. This neat tool from Lunati is simply a modified rocker arm that you screw down until it touches the valve tip. It will then be obvious if your pushrods are long enough or not, as is the case here. You can then use an adjustable pushrod and a machinist's rule or long dial calipers to measure for a new set. Information: Lunati Cams, 4770 Lamar Ave., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118-7403, (901) 365-0950, (800) HOLLEY-1 nearest dealer,

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We're always talking about the benefits of installing aluminum cylinder heads. While there's no denying the power they can make, sometimes the heads you buy might need just a little bit of touch-up work before installation. This Powerhouse thread chaser is designed specifically to clean and straighten any spark plug threads. Information: Powerhouse Products, 3402 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 872-7223,

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Is your torque wrench calibrated correctly? This new Craftsman Digital Torque Sensor (PN 44598) takes all the guesswork and uncertainty out. It has a setting to show the peak torque and can also be set to audibly tell you as you get closer to your target torque and then even warn you if you've gone too far. It can also be used to check the calibration of all your old torque wrenches too. Sears sells for about $150 at most of its hardware stores and online at

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File-fit rings are the best way to seal the cylinders; unfortunately, gapping rings is both tedious and time-consuming. Although the cheapest method of gapping rings is a file in a vise, the ring experts at Total Seal have designed this self-powered ring gapper that's micro-adjustable and produces exact and repeatable results. It'll work on any size/material rings and uses a rechargeable battery, (included) which easily lasts through a complete set of rings. Information: Total Seal, 22642 North 15th Ave., Dept. SC, Phoenix, AZ 85027, (800) 874-2753,

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We've mentioned the importance of correct length pushrods. But when custom pushrods are made there's room for error and it's up to you to check them. Ferry's Aluminum Cylinder Head Repair Company has designed several fixtures that can help. The fixture shown here is the pushrod length and straightness checker. It compares all eight pushrods for length and measures run out down to .0005-inch. The fixture is also adaptable to be used as a valve stem length checker and can fit all common size pushrods and valves. Information: Ferry's Aluminum Cylinder Head Repair, 710 Quietwood St., Dept. SC, Dallas, TX 75253, (972) 557-3565,

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We don't know about you, but we've put the harmonic dampener on a motor before we remembered to lash the valves way too many times. Not such a big deal except that you're relying on that small bolt holding the dampener to turn the engine over. This tool from Powerhouse Products is designed to bolt to almost any dampener and can be turned with a large wrench or a 1/2-inch drive ratchet. Information: Powerhouse Products, 3402 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 872-7223,

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Here's a tool that you can make in about 15 minutes and will cost you under $20 bucks. Find a piece of at least 3/16-inch thick steel plate that's around 14-inches long and 2-inches wide. If you can weld you could add the neat tabs like the one shown here, or you can just drill 5/16-inch holes inline with the valve cover boltholes on one edge. Then to make installing it easy, slot the holes using a hack saw so you can move the plate in or out to clear things like big springs.

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This tool from Crane (PN99032-1) is the only tool needed to remove and install harmonic dampeners and it can also be used to pull things like timing gears off cranks. It might even work on alternator and power steering pulleys, but we haven't tried that. The kit includes adapters to fit both Chevy cranks and includes a special roller bearing to make dampener installation easy. Information: Crane Cams, 530 Fentress Blvd., Dept. SC, Daytona Beach, FL 32114, (386) 258-6174,

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This photo shows two different tools to do the same thing. But you kinda need both of them if you build engines a lot. The TDC deck strap is from Comp Cams (PN 4933) and bolts onto the deck to stop the piston on the way up. The brass threaded stop is from Crane (PN 99412-1) and is screwed into the cylinder head on the motor to stop the piston on the way up. Both can be used, along with a degree wheel kit to properly degree-in the camshaft. Information: Crane Cams, 530 Fentress Blvd., Dept. SC, Daytona Beach, FL 32114, (386) 258-6174,; COMP Cams, 3406 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 209-3838 Direct Order line, (901) 795-2400 tech & info,

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There are just too many things that need to be measured when assembling an engine. But a good dial caliper and telescoping gauge set measure about 99% of them. Powerhouse Products offers both for under $100. A cc-kit, a good straight edge, and some feeler gauges are just about everything else you'll need. Information: Powerhouse Products, 3402 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 872-7223,

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These can be much more than just cool engine building tools. The new Matco Profile Plus line of 1/4, 3/8, & 1/2-inch ratchets and sockets give a whole new meaning to the word "versatile". As shown in the picture of us tightening the center bolts on an Edelbrock manifold here, one of their best features is a low profile that lets you use a ratchet where only wrenches were would fit before. The Profile Plus ratchets use their own line of unique sockets that snap directly into the ratchet head, but also come with a square-drive adapter to fit all normal sockets too. Information: MATCO Tools, 4403 Allen Road, Dept. SC, Stow, OH 44114-1096, (866) 289-8665,

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In engine building, cc's (cubic centimeters) are used to measure the volume of the combustion chamber in the head, and the volume of the complete cylinder with the piston at TDC and the head gasket in place. You need this information in order to calculate compression. Fortunately, most measurements are readily available from the manufacturers. But measuring things like ported cylinder heads requires a cc kit. Powerhouse Products and Isky Racing Cams both offer very affordable cc kits. Information: Powerhouse Products, 3402 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 872-7223,; Isky Racing Cams, 16020 S. Broadway St., Dept. SC, Gardena, CA 90247-9990, (323) 770-0930,

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The industry standard for tightening connecting rod bolts is measuring rod bolt-stretch. The only way to measure rod bolt-stretch accurately is with a bolt-stretch gauge. The one shown here is from Silver Seal products and features a small-diameter indicator to fit in tight spots. Also note the Matco 12-pt Torque Adapter wrench we use, along with a 3/8- to 1/2-inch drive adapter and a long 1/2-inch breaker bar to get more leverage on the bolt. Otherwise, this is a difficult task to do with a normal wrench. Information: MATCO Tools, 4403 Allen Road, Dept. SC, Stow, OH 44114-1096, (866) 289-8665,; Silver Seal Products Company, P.O. Box 1050, Dept. SC, Trenton, MI 48183-1050, (800) 521-2936,

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This is one tool that you simply cannot assemble a motor without. Unfortunately, it's not a one tool fits all kind of tool. Although there are several styles of ring compressors, we like the tapered-sleeve style best because, frankly, it's the easiest to use. The universal pliers-type compressors that feature different sleeves to fit different pistons are nice, but cumbersome to use. The adjustable tapered-sleeve compressors are also nice, but take time to set up correctly. We'd recommend a dedicated sleeve to fit your pistons instead. Some sources for tapered-ring compressor sleeves are: ARP (800) 826-3045,; Powerhouse Products (800) 872-7223,; Tavia Machine Company, (714) 892-4057,; Total Seal, (800) 874-2753,; and Childs & Albert (C&A), (661) 295-1900,

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These tools are used together to check the ring gap, which is as important to making power as anything else. Even if you've bought a non-file-fit ring set, you should always check the ring gap and compare your findings against the minimum dimensions recommended by the ring manufacturer. Because if you don't and your ring gap is too small, the rings may butt together causing damage. The feeler gauge should fit snug in the ring gap, but be able to be pulled out without displacing the ring. In order to properly check the ring gap you must first square the ring in the bore using a ring-squaring tool. These can be found at the same sources for ring compressors.

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Just so you know, aligning the dots on the cam and crank gears is not the same as degreeing a cam. To properly degree a cam you'll need the right equipment. And most of the big cam companies offer complete kits that give you all you'll need to do the job right. In fact, the kits include several of the tools we've already mentioned, like a TDC piston stop, so if you bought the kit, you'd have the tools. Some sources for cam degreeing kits are: Powerhouse Products, (800) 872-7223,; Crane Cams,; Lunati Cams, (901) 365-0950,; Crower Cams, (619) 422-1191,; and COMP Cams, (901) 795-2400,

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This special COMP Cams socket fits over on the crank snout and can be locked in place with a brass-tipped setscrew so it won't scratch the crank. Then a degree wheel with a 1-inch center hole can be attached to it for degreeing the cam. Any 1/2-inch drive ratchet of breaker bar fits in the end to turn the crank. Information: COMP Cams, 3406 Democrat Rd., Dept. SC, Memphis, TN 38118, (800) 209-3838 Direct Order line, (901) 795-2400 tech & info,

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We usually tell you to tap the front oil galley holes for pipe plugs. While that's still the strongest method to insure too much oil pressure won't force your plugs out, this trick tool offers another option. It installs the galley plugs without damaging them and then stakes them in place just like the factory did. This is perfect for almost all but the most radical engine builds. Information: Silver Seal Products Company, P.O. Box 1050, Dept. SC, Trenton, MI 48183-1050, (800) 521-2936,