Tool Time

21 Engine-Building Tools for Under $100

Scott Crouse Apr 5, 2005 0 Comment(s)
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Torque it, stretch it, compress it--these are just a few of the exercises that engine builders encounter when assembling a high-performance engine. The process of building a bullet requires the skills to set up internal engine clearances and demands a legion of tools that can be costly to average enthusiasts. While engine building and the skilled steps involved are a story of their own, this month's chronicle takes a look at some of the tools needed to assemble a Chevrolet powerplant. Every month, CHP delivers attainable and affordable stout engine combinations, but that pile of parts is only as good as the person assembling them. In order to construct a home-built bullet on a budget, we chose 21 reasonably priced items for less than $100. If high-performance garage tinkering gets your heart pumping, then make room in the toolbox. This year's wish list could be a long one.

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1. Deck Bridge
Powerhouse Products
PN POW101310

The internal timing of the crankshaft, camshaft, and piston location all play vital roles in determining the characteristics of the engine's power curve. In order to put each of these parts into the proper timing sequence, the number 1 piston must be measured at its top dead center (TDC) point with a dial indicator that is connected to a deck bridge. The piston location allows the engine builder to determine when the engine's firing sequence will occur. In order to use the dial indicator/deck bridge tool correctly, the dial indicator reading tip must be placed on the center of the piston to experience as little piston rock as possible. While turning the engine over by hand, the dial indicator will reveal the piston's TDC point, which will allow the builder to set the internal timing of the engine by installing the timing chain at a desired location.

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2. Magnetic Base Dial Indicator
Powerhouse Products
$39.95 (magnetic base stand)
$29.95 (dial indicator only)
PN POW151140; PN POW151100

Accurately measuring lifter rise, piston movement, or any other oscillating part can be tough without the help of a dial indicator. Powerhouse Products offers a dial indicator by itself, as well as a magnetic base designed to hold the indicator in innumerable positions. Whether it's degreeing internal timing, lining up bellhousings, or simply checking rocker roll, a magnetic-base dial indicator is a must-have tool when it comes to engine assembly.

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3. Crankshaft Turning Socket
Powerhouse Products
$14.95 SBC
$29.95 BBC
PN POW102050; PN POW103055

Whether it's connecting the rods to the crankshaft or adjusting the valves, a rotating assembly is constantly being turned over. Using the balancer bolt to turn over a rotating assembly will eventually become a problem, which is why Powerhouse Products offers its crankshaft turning socket. The small-block piece is cast aluminum and works well with a 2- to 3-inch extension; the big-block Pro crankshaft turning socket is constructed of hardened steel in order to turn over the biggest engines. When engine maintenance and assembly lay ahead, a crankshaft turning socket is the only way to go. TIP: When turning an engine over by hand, it's easier to do so once the spark plugs have been removed. This allows compressed air to escape from each cylinder and drastically reduce rotating resistance.

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4. Dial Bore Gauge
Powerhouse Products
PN POW205025

One of the most critical engine-building tools, the dial bore gauge is specifically designed to measure the inside diameter of an orifice whether it be a connecting rod journal, a crankshaft main journal, or a cylinder wall. Regardless, the engine-building process requires that there be enough space between moving parts for a thin film of oil to coat them. The thickness of this thin film is determined by measuring the orifice diameter and the actual rotating part diameter (with a micrometer) to ascertain a tolerance between the two objects. The kit displayed here is capable of measuring bore size diameters from 2 to 6 inches in 0.0005-inch increments.

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5. Tap and Die Set
Powerhouse Products
$9.95 (die set)
$9.95 (tap set, course thread)
PN POW351685; PN POW351675

Misaligned bolt threads damage parts and waste time, which is why an inexpensive rethreading die-set kit should be in every tool box. This kit is capable of cleaning up bolt-thread sizes of 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, and 1/2 inches. A thread-restoring tap set for galled-up bolt holes makes a good companion to a rethreading set. It cleans up the same-size holes as the rethreading die set, plus it has an additional 9/16-inch tap-restoring tool as well. This stuff is cheap insurance, folks.

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6. Valve Checking Spring Kit
Powerhouse Products
PN POW101325

Horsepower is directly correlated to engine airflow, which is why flow testing the cylinder heads is so important. In order to do the flow test, the valves must be held open at either 0.05- or 0.1-inch increments, and this requires low-tension valve checking springs that allow the valves to be opened slowly while cylinder-head airflow is measured. They assume the position of the actual engine valvesprings and are designed to work with most domestic lock and retainer hardware.

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7. Pushrod Length Checking Tool
Powerhouse Products
$59 (complete set)
PN POW101240

Pushrod length-checking tools are another critical part used in an engine-assembly process. Pushrod length must be rechecked whenever an engine's factory specifications are altered in any way. A too short or too long of a pushrod will cause the rocker tips to roll over the edge of the valve stems and eventually wear the valve stem out. Powerhouse pushrod length-checking tools can be ordered in 1-inch increments under a specific part number or as an entire kit for the enthusiast who plans on building a variety of short- and tall-deck engines.

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8. Sportsman Head CC Kit
Powerhouse Products
PN POW351155

Computing the compression ratio is valuable because it helps determine the required octane rating an engine will use. While piston design, deck height, and head-gasket thickness all play a part in this equation, the cylinder-head combustion chamber size is what completes the formula. Aftermarket heads can often be misleading by a cc or two, as can porting, or what you find in a salvage yard, so it's a good idea to make sure that the stated combustion chamber size is exactly that.

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9. Stud Removal Tool
Powerhouse Products
PN POW351590

Head studs, main studs, carburetor studs, or any other stud can be problematic when it's time to remove them. Because this can be difficult, Powerhouse offers this tool designed to remove threaded studs or install the same from 1/4 to 3/4 inches. All that's required is a 1/2-inch drive ratchet.

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10. Valve Lash Tool
Proform Products
PN 66780

Correct camshaft lash and valvetrain movement ensure that the intake and exhaust valves open and close properly. Hydraulic tappet designs require the lifters to be set with zero lash before the engine is broken in; solid lifters require routine maintenance. In order to lash the valves, the rocker lock nuts must be loosened. Once the engine is turned over and the proper amount of lash is achieved, an internal lash nut must be tightened onto the rocker stud to keep the rocker nut tight during operation. Because valve adjustment requires three hands, Proform offers a two-in-one tool that allows the rocker nut to be held steady while the internal lash nut is set.

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11. Stud Mount Valvespring Compressor Tool
Proform Products
PN 66784

Valve control is an essential part of engine assembly and development. A proper amount of tension is required in order to keep the valves under control at high rpm. Over time, all valve springs lose their tension, which is why they sometimes float near the engine-redline rpm. In order to check valvespring tension on a regular basis, Proform offers its in-car stud mount valvespring compressor tool that allows the builder to attach the spring compressor to the rocker stud before its forks, slid around the valve retainer, and then compressed to free the valve locks. Once the locks are removed the retainer and valvespring will pop off the cylinder head. The valve springs will then need to be tested on a more costly tool. An engine shop should be equipped to take care of measuring actual valvespring tension. TIP: Unless you'd enjoy removing a cylinder head as well, don't forget to either fill the cylinder with air pressure or place the piston at its TDC position so the valve doesn't drop into the cylinder.


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