Tools Needed For An Engine Build

Once you've decided you're going to rebuild your old car's engine, you'll need to make a plan and a budget. Chances are you'll be buying a some new tools. In addition to standard hand tools, there'll be some specialty tools needed as well.

tools needed for an engine build

Piston Ring Expander

A piston ring expander is an inexpensive tool. Don't be tempted to install rings into the piston grooves by hand. It's a bad idea, because rings can get deformed by the twisting action, which may cause sealing problems.

Shop: Piston Ring Spreader Tool

Piston Ring Compressor

To install pistons and rings back into the cylinders, a piston ring installation tool is needed. A clamp-style ring compressor is the least expensive style, but consider investing in a piston ring installer set. Most sets includes five or six popular sizes that you can use for other engine projects.

piston ring installation tool

Shop: Piston Ring Compressor Set

Engine Measuring Tools

One of the first steps of proper engine repair is accurately inspecting and measuring worn parts. Although most of us are more mechanics than machinists, the need arises during an engine build to precisely measure wear and play. Engine measuring tools include micrometer, dial indicator, dial bore gauge, and feeler gauge.

Feeler Gauge

A feeler gauge, or gap gauge, is made up of thin metal blades. Each blade is a different width of precise thickness, and will be marked in either thousandths of an inch, or millimeters, or both. They are needed for checking valve tolerances, ignition point gaps and other critical measurements.

feeler-gauge to measure engine clearnaces

Shop: Feeler Gauge

Feeler gauge blades usually range from .0015" to .035" (.038 to .889mm). Long feeler gauges may be needed for valve adjustments on some engines.

Dial Bore Gauge

To accurately measure the inside diameter of a cylinder, a bore gauge is needed. The one I have has a range of two to six inches, a depth of six inches, and the round dial has .001" increments.

tools needed for an engine build

Shop: Dial Bore Gauge

Digital Micrometer

Essential to engine building is a quality micrometer (also known as a caliper). You can buy a digital micrometer really cheap, but I recommend buying a good name brand, such as Mitutoyo.

digital micrometer for engine building

Shop: Digital Caliper

Digital micrometers are more expensive than dial calipers, but they are quicker and have an LCD display for easy reading.

I cannot over-stress the importance of having good measuring equipment, as well as learning to use these tools correctly. Remember that micrometers, dial indicators, and dial bore gauges are precision measurements, and need to be treated as such. For consistent and reliable results, keep them clean and out of harm's way.

Torque Wrench (Foot-Pounds)

For those who haven't used a click-style torque wrench before, you set the desired value on the handle scale (in inch-pounds or Newton meters) then begin tightening the fastener. When the preset torque value is reached, the wrench will emit a "click" that will be heard and felt.

torque wrench for engine build

Shop: 1/2" Torque Wrench (10-150 ft/lbs)

A 1/2" drive torque wrench will generally cover your needs up to 150 foot/pounds. It is recommended to torque bolts in increments; example, first pass 20 ft/lbs, then 40 ft/lbs, then 60 ft/lbs, etc. until desired torque value is reached.

Stay away from beam-style torque wrenches. Most are inaccurate, and all of them hard to read while you're using it.

Torque Wrench (Inch-Pounds)

On the lower end of the scale are 1/4" drive torque wrenches. These are nice to have for things like timing cover bolts, which everybody seems to overtighten!

torque wrench in inch-pounds

Shop: 1/4" Torque Wrench (20-200 in/lbs)

On Gen-One small-block Chevys, timing chain cover bolts require only 7 to 9 lb/ft of torque, no more. It's not possible to do that with a 1/2" drive torque wrench.

torque engine bolts on SBC timing cover

Tap And Die Set

Going hand-in-hand with torque wrench is a tap and die set. Why? Because you cannot correctly torque down bolts if threads are dirty - you'll get a false reading. If you're rebuilding an old engine that's been neglected, I would rate a tap and die set as a necessity.

Shop: Tap and Die Set

tap and die set for automotive engine build

Aside from cleaning threads, taps and dies can also make threads. With proper technique and lubricant, they will cut mild carbon and alloy steel, cast iron, aluminum, brass, and bronze.

Valve Spring Compressor

Depending on whether or not you're rebuilding the cylinder head(s) yourself, a valve spring compressor will be needed for removing and installing the engine valves.

valve spring compressor for old car engine build

Shop: Valve Spring Compressor

Gearwrench model 383D valve spring compressor features a removable handle, so if you're working in a confined area, a 5/8" socket or wrench can be used.

Hand Tools Needed For Engine Rebuild

  • Sockets, ratchets, and extensions in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2"
  • Shallow and deep sockets from 1/4" to 1"
  • Wrenches: open-end and combination, from 7/16" to 1"
  • Screwdriver set
best tools needed for engine rebuild

Read: Best Automotive Hand Tools

Engine Stand

Technically, you don't need an engine stand, but they sure do make things easier. The only provision here is to make sure it can safely handle the weight of your engine.

best engine stand

Shop: Heavy-Duty Engine Stand

The two things you want from an engine stand are reliable and stable. You can't have too heavy an engine stand.

Engine Hoist

You'll need an engine hoist twice; once to remove, and once to install. Inquire at either an auto parts store or an equipment rental store. Generally they offer two-day rentals, but you must leave a deposit, usually with a credit card.

I've done several motor pulls and have always rented one from an auto parts store. I never considered buying one, because even disassembled, they take up more space than I have in my garage.