Five Must-Have Big Tools for Rodders

The Tour de Force sculpture in Washington D.C. Photo by Christopher Hsia
The Tour de Force sculpture in Washington D.C.  Photo by Christopher Hsia
The Tour de Force sculpture in Washington D.C. Photo by Christopher Hsia

It goes without saying that a hot rodder needs hand tools, wrenches and sockets to get jobs done in their shop, but sometimes bigger is better – for holding, rigging, drilling, and truly getting to the heart of the vehicle. These five big tools will make your life a lot easier. They are modest investments and pretty easy to find.

Big Vise


Get an antique, cast iron, 95 lb. model with 7 inches between the jaws. Put it on a heavy duty 3-legged pipe stand and you can securely hold things for grinding, drilling, hammering, or welding. A crusty-old mechanic said I could have one that he was throwing away…if I could lift it into my vehicle. I did. It cleaned up easily with a wire brush on my portable grinder and is a 1914 model. Check out machinery auctions and old garages going out of business to find one of the most valuable tools for your shop, like this Combination Bench and Pipe Vise.

Work Bench

A heavy duty workbench is easy to make. It’s a necessity for rebuilding heads, carbs, and assembly. Buy a heavy solid door from a building supply store, make a frame from 2X4s, use 4X4s for the legs, and screw it together with 3″ drywall screws. I built mine with a 3′ table height. Putting a second frame of 2X4s halfway down the legs, adds support for a generous ¾” plywood shelf and makes the table very stable. Material costs are around $100 and certainly less if you scrounge.

Floor Jack

I picked up a Sears model 875.501152, 3-ton floor jack years ago for a little over $100. There was a special going on that included 2 heavy-duty, adjustable jack stands. The thing weighs about 100 lbs and has provided reliable service, with virtually no maintenance. A 6” block of 2X4 added to the top of the jack pad provides a surface with a little “give”, when lifting against irregularly-shaped suspension or frame areas.



Engine Hoist

The Excalibur 2-ton engine hoist I bought at a big auto parts chain, set me back about $200. This beast is heavy and rolls on metal wheels. One feature I like is that the two legs can be slipped out of their mounting and stored vertically on the self-supporting base. The boom also folds down against the lifting cylinder, making the whole thing neat and easy to store. Sadly, the Excalibur Tool company is out of business. The good news is that there are lots of used ones available on the Web.

Drill Press

Jet offers a full-sized, 16-1/2” capacity, 5/8” chucked drill press for around $700. I purchased mine through a woodworking store. It has a round 14-3/4” table that runs up and down on a gear drive, along with a ¾ HP single-phase motor. The chuck is big enough to handle large hole saws, while still being able to precision drill 1/8” holes.




Take a look around to find bargains and if the tool is in good shape, make a deal. Auctions are fun, although you need to watch that you don’t pay a lot more than what something is really worth.  But most importantly, think about which big tools you’d like in your own shop to make wrenching, and ultimately, racing a more enjoyable pastime.


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