Tools Needed For An Engine Build
Article by Mark Trotta
Once you've decided to rebuild your old car's engine, you'll want to make a plan and a budget. Chances are good you'll be buying some new tools. In addition to basic hand tools, there'll be some specialty tools needed.
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 a digital caliper, micrometer(s), dial indicator, dial bore gauge, and feeler gauge. Not only is it important to have quality measuring equipment, you also need to learn how to use these tools correctly.
Dial Bore Gauge
To accurately measure the inside diameter of a cylinder, a bore gauge is needed. The one I most commonly use has a range of two to six inches, a depth of six inches, and the round dial has .001" increments.
Shop: Dial Bore Gauge
NOTE: You will need a micrometer or dial caliper to use a dial bore gauge properly.
Dial vs Digital Caliper
Here's a link to an overview of vernier, dial, and digital calipers, along with recommendations for the best digital caliper.
Read: Best Digital Caliper For Engine Building
Remember that calipers, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Shop: Piston Ring Compressor Set
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.
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!
Shop: 1/4" Torque Wrench (20-200 in/lbs)
EXAMPLE: On Gen-One small-block Chevy's, 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.
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
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 is needed for removing and installing the engine valves.
Shop: Valve Spring Compressor
Aside from scraping surfaces clean before new gaskets are installed, gasket scrapers are also used to remove old gaskets.
Shop: Gasket Scraper Tool
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.
Shop: Heavy-Duty Engine Stand
The two things you want from an engine stand are sturdy and stable. You can't have too heavy an engine stand.
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 a local auto parts store. I never considered buying an engine hoist, because even disassembled, they take up more space than I have to spare in my garage.
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