Shop Secrets

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Written by The Staff of Motorsport Marketing

From the Jan. 2015 issue

Posted in Shop Work ,Features


By The Staff of Classic Motorsports • Photography As Credited

Humble car cottage dripping with memorabilia? Palatial pro shop with floors you could eat of of? No matter what your workspace, it could always be better—more eficient, more comfortable–with another tweak, trick or tool.

That’s where we come in. Here are 80 shop tips culled from our editorial staff, friends in the business, and faithful readers. Bonus: Many of these tips can be fairly easy and inexpensive to execute, so it’s not all about adding zillion-dollar pieces of equipment. In many cases, your shop can transform with just some ingenuity and a fresh perspective. Now get out there and make your shop the best it can be.

Equipment

1. DON’T SKIMP
Good tools last a lifetime. Cheap tools eventually get thrown across the shop.

2. BUILD AN ARSENAL
A good craftsman never blames his tools. That’s why most good craftsmen have the tools they need. I never argue or feel bad about spending money on tools. The more appropriate the tool for the job, the better and more quickly the job will get done.
Tyler Tadevic, TruSpeed

3. SPEND THE MONEY
Some people buy two sets of cheap tools. I prefer to get good tools and only pay for them once. You don’t want to break a cheap wrench when you’re away from home. Also, tool rolls and socket rails make it easy to ensure nothing gets left behind.
Keith Tanner, Flyin’ Miata

4. TAPS AND DIES
In a restoration, have a set of taps and dies available to clean the threads of various fasteners.
John Twist, University Motors Ltd.

5. BUY THE SET
When tool shopping, buy the entire set, not just the one socket you happen to need that day. This leaves you prepared for the next job and saves you money in the long run.

6. HOTEL KEYS
Save all your old hotel key cards. They make great decal applicators, Bondo spreaders, epoxy mixing palettes, or anything else you might need a small, stiff, disposable piece of plastic for.

7. CLAMP COLLECTION
You can never have too many C-clamps, locking pliers, ratcheting clamps and the like. Buy good ones and hang them on your pegboard.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

8. NICE VISE
Buy a quality, name-brand vise and securely mount it to your workbench.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

9. BENCH GRINDER
All shops should have a bench grinder, ideally one with at least a 3/4-horsepower motor.

10. WORTH THE SPACE
A bead-blasting cabinet can suck up a lot of shop space, but if it can’t accommodate an exhaust manifold, is it even worth having?

11. TRAP WATER
Keep your air lines clean of water. Best way is to put a water trap on the output of the compressor–cheap and easy to install. Don’t forget to drain the compressor of water at least once a month, or more depending on use.
Tucker Madawick, Autosport, Inc.

12. SHUT OFF GAS
Always make sure to shut off your oxy-acetylene, argon or compressed NOx gas on the MIG welder. The valves and hoses might leak, leaving you without any gas when you go to use it.
Tucker Madawick, Autosport, Inc.

13. QUALITY VAC
Buy a quality shop vac that has a low center of gravity.

14. PRESS TO IMPRESS
A 20-ton hydraulic press can be $200 well spent.

15. TWO FLASHLIGHTS
Buy a quality rechargeable flashlight–actually, buy two.

16. CLEAN MACHINE
Get a cheap ultrasonic cleaner to clean all of your greasy parts instead of doing it by hand or utilizing a larger machine that’s not energy-efficient.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

17. BOOSTER PACK
Jump-starting a car with a booster pack is so much easier than jockeying another car into position. A good one costs less than $100.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

Hardware

18. BOLT BIN
There is no substitute for a good “bolt bin.” Never throw away good nuts, bolts, and fasteners. You never know when you might need them.
John Tecce, BGB Motorsports Group

19. SCRAP WOOD
Keep some wood scraps around–anything from furring strips to 2x4s. You never know when you’ll need one to steady an engine, keep a car from rolling away, or protect something that’s in your vise. Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

20. TORQUE SEAL
Torque seal is one of the most indispensable tools for the race car mechanic. Torque seal is a paint, and when applied to the flange of a fastener (bolt head, nut, etc.) it forms a seal that can only be broken when torqued. Trevor McClure, Mitchum Motorsports

21. TRUSTY TABLE
Build a solid table and put it on heavy-duty casters. A 4x8-foot table built from 4x4-inch posts and 2x6-inch sides can hold a car body, organize a project, or give you a portable workspace. Don’t forget to slap an electrical power strip on the side, too.

Organization

22. LINKS IN A CHAIN
Cleanliness and organization, these are key. No matter the size of your work area or the amount of money you have to spend, you can always be organized and clean. This should be the bedrock of your overall approach to going racing. The thing I find most interesting about motorsports is that all tasks are simply links in a chain–no link is more important than any other, and without all of them, the chain breaks. Starting out and staying clean and organized will make the job easier, faster and more likely to be mistake-free.
Tyler Tadevic, TruSpeed

23. 15-MINUTE CLEAN CURE
A clean space is the only one acceptable and can be kept that way if you stop 15 minutes early and put away tools and whatnot
John Tecce, BGB Motorsports Group

24. MEMORY AIDS
Trust us, your memory isn’t what it once was. Have a system for taking notes: whiteboard, notepad and digital camera.

25. WOOD SHELVES
Custom wood shelves are dimensionally fluid, so you can build them to the right size for your big stuff–tires, whatever. Use large lag bolts for any support posts, and assemble everything with screws, not nails, so you can take it apart to fit new gear into the garage.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

26. AVOID MAIL JAIL
We love those plastic mail storage bins, but using them for personal stuff can get you thrown in the mail jail. Solution: Companies like Uline offer the same bins for about $11 each.

27. PICK PLASTIC
Cardboard boxes don’t age well, but the local home improvement stores sell durable, plastic boxes in nearly every shape and size. Many are clear, too, so you can easily see their contents.

28. JAR GENIUS
Take a baby food jar. Punch two holes in the lid with nails. Screw the lid to the bottom of a wooden shelf (threaded side down). Now you can screw the jar up into the lid to hold nuts, bolts, etc. Coat the lip of the jar with a light bit of silicone lubricant so it won’t seize to the lid. I have about 60 of these in multiple rows in my garage for all my different sizes of nuts, bolts and other things.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

29. BAG AND TAG
Always use baggies and Sharpies to organize and keep track of bits while taking something apart.
Keith Tanner, Flyin’ Miata

30. HOT WHEELS
Putting quality casters underneath everything–cabinets, tables, shelves, heavy equipment and the like–will help maximize your space. It also eases cleanup.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

31. NUTS AND BOLTS
For about $100, your local fastener shop can hook you up with a nice nut-and-bolt starter kit. When you’re elbow deep in a project, you don’t want to stop because you need to run out and buy a bolt.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

32. BELIEVE IN LABELS
Beg, borrow or steal a little Brother label maker and label each drawer and cabinet. It’s a lot easier to tell a helper to find the label that says “Metric Ratcheting Wrenches” than to say, “Okay, I think it’s the second chest from the top, third drawer–er, no, maybe the fourth drawer….”
wae, Classic Motorsports forum member

33. LOFTY IDEAS
Build a loft. Even if you have a standard-height ceiling, you can still run “mini-lofts” across the garage to hold small things: race gear, a dozen small clear plastic bins full of parts, etc. I like to run a pair of 12-foot 2x4s parallel–about 6 inches apart–and then use metal closet shelving between them to hold the parts. That wire shelving allows light to shine through. I hang them about 3 to 4 feet above my head height.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

34. CROSS IT OFF
You can never have too many checklists. They help you stay organized, make you feel good when you check off items, and if you file them away in a folder, you have a service record for your race car.
John Tecce, BGB Motorsports Group

35. THE POWER OF PEGBOARD
Pegboard on the walls will allow you to quickly configure and reconfigure your storage space as needed.
Carl Heideman, Eclectic Motorworks

36. TWO SETS OF TOOLS
Have a separate set of tools for your shop and your race hauler. There’s no worse feeling than being in the paddock under your race car and realizing the one tool you need for your diff replacement is the one you left in your shop. The club racer’s track set of tools doesn’t have to be extravagant or break the bank. Narrow down the tools you’d need for jobs you can do at the track. If you’re not carrying spare subframes or transmissions, you really don’t need the specific tools for those jobs in your trailer.
Trevor McClure, Mitchum Motorsports

Safety & Smarts


39. QUARTER-INCH
Use 14-inch drive sockets and ratchets for as much as possible. For items that won’t break loose with them, use 3/8-inch ones. Be very wary of 1/2-inch drive tools, as it’s so easy to strip or break fasteners.
John Twist, University Motors Ltd.

40. GET OUTTA THE KITCHEN
Don’t use your wife’s oven for powder-coating.
Glenn Lenhard, Glenn’s MG Repair

41. PROPER DISPOSAL
Visit search.earth911.com to find facilities near you for properly disposing of your shop waste–everything from parts to fluids. In addition to motor oil, did you know that antifreeze can also be recycled?

42. RAG BIN
Have a good-quality, covered metal storage bin available to store dirty towels used during the work process.
Randy Bush, Kip Motor Company

43. SAFE STORAGE
When not in use, store all liquid and solid chemicals in positive sealing containers of the approved type and all aerosols in a secured cabinet.
Randy Bush, Kip Motor Company

44. CLEAN AND HAPPY
I only have two rules under my tent or in my shop: Keep your hands clean (it’s been my experience that if your hands are clean, so is everything else), and have a good attitude.You’re racing cars! And the last time I checked, my worst day at the race track was still 100 times better than my best day selling insurance!
Tyler Tadevic, TruSpeed

45. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
Work as far away from the job as you can. This sounds like a safe sex ad–use the longest tool you can. It gives more control and you can more easily see what you’re doing. John Twist, University Motors Ltd.

46. SUCK IT UP
Hang a vacuum cleaner in one corner of the garage and add enough hose to reach the diagonally opposite corner. This keeps it off the floor and out of the way when not in use.

Workspace


47. PLAN FOR REALITY
The secret to long-term shop success is planning. Make scale drawings of the shop floor and then all of the major components and the cars involved. Then, move the pieces around in scale to see how things work.
This is important, as placing a lift 6 inches too far in one direction can make a huge difference in the ultimate utility of the shop. Plan for more clearance around things than the bare minimum, and you’ll thank yourself later. Also, plan the open workspaces with car doors open, not closed.
Paul Dierschow, Sports Car Craftsmen

48. LOGICAL LAYOUT
One of the biggest time-wasters for any shop or tech is walking around looking for parts, waiting for machinery, and moving things to work on the job at hand. Try and set up your work area to go with the typical order of the jobs to be done.
Tyler Tadevic, TruSpeed

49. GO WIDE
If you’re building a shop from scratch and you have the room, go wide instead of deep so you’re not constantly moving cars out of the way.

50. Dirty work vs. Clean
Arrange dirty work on the opposite side of the shop from clean work. You don’t want to sandblast near where you assemble an engine.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

51. WORK TRIANGLE
I set my shop up like a kitchen: Lay out a floor plan that allows your normal flow of work. Figure out your “work triangle” and place your most important tools and parts storage where they’re convenient to reach when needed. That may mean building a custom workbench, but that’s one of my favorite things.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

52. FIR YOUR BENCH
Build a workbench that’s the correct height for you. Being comfortable while you work is a key factor of successfully completing a project. While a 32-inch-tall bench may be great for your vise, it may not be correct for assembling a carburetor.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

53. BOLT IT
Bolt down your workbench. My bench is bolted to the floor as well as through the wall. I can clamp anything in my vice and beat the crap out of it and my bench will never move. I can also use my bench as an anchor point for winching cars in.
evildky, Classic Motorsports forum member

54. SERIOUSLY, GET A LIFT
Get a lift, get a lift, get a lift. When it’s installed, ask your buddy to kick you in the rear for not doing it sooner. Even if you have a low ceiling, there are low-clearance models made that will help just about anyone make their work easier.
Paul Dierschow, Sports Car Craftsmen

55. AIM HIGHER
While the minimum ceiling height for any kind of real lift is 10 feet, 12 to 14 feet is more comfortable, especially if you’re into larger classics and not just small sports cars.

56. Overhead Space
Remember to plan to use your cubic feet of shop space, not just square feet. Upper space in the shop can be put to very good use.
Paul Dierschow, Sports Car Craftsmen

57. FLOOR-MOUNTING
If you have heavier tools that would benefit from being floor-mounted, use a large masonry bit to drill holes in the floor and then use a good concrete adhesive/epoxy to sink threaded sleeves into the floor. You can use either threaded rod with a slot cut in the end for a screwdriver, or hex bolts to keep the threads clean when not in use. Then you can easily bolt and unbolt the tool when you need it.
wae, Classic Motorsports forum member

58. PUT A SHELF OVER IT
Large garage items like the compressor, engine hoist, shop press or whatever waste a lot of floor space, and you can’t stack things on them. So build a loft shelf with wood just tall enough to fit over them.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

Light Is King



59. LIGHT IS KING
Invest in good lighting. Even cheap fluorescent fixtures work great if you put good bulbs in them.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

60. LIGHTER=BIGGER
Light-colored walls, ceilings and floors will maximize your lighting and make the shop feel less like a cave.

61. Retract It
I have a retractable fluorescent droplight and a retractable extension cord mounted to the ceiling above the car.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

62. Spend on Bulbs
LEDs are on the rise. Their low energy consumption is ideal, and while initial investment is high, there are deals to be found. Basic wiring knowledge is all you need. Then you can install bulb sockets and fit them with LED floodlights, which can make any garage as bright as a surgical room. Not that handy? You can find clamp light fixtures that plug into a regular outlet for about $7 at any hardware store.
Kevin Schmidt, Classic Motorsports forum member

63. Trouble Lights
New LED bulbs make fantastic trouble lights. Buy a cheap socket, wire up a plug, and screw in the bulb. Use a 40-watt-equivalent bulb and it will stay cool enough to set on anything in the engine compartment. Slide it under the car to light up dark areas from the bottom. Total cost is somewhere between $10 and $12.
mazdeuce, Classic Motorsports forum member

64. BUY USED
We’ve seen some awesome deals on used equipment, especially lifts.

65. SHINE ON
Epoxy the floor if your budget allows. You will not regret it. Easy to clean, looks wonderful.
Michael Marijanovic, The Werk Shop

66. PADDED MATS
Place padded mats on the floor where you work most to prevent fatigue.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

67. PICNIC IT
Keep an old mover’s blanket in the garage to toss on the ground when you lie down under the car or truck.
RealMiniDriver, Classic Motorsports forum member

68. CHEAP COMFORT
Old carpet is more comfortable than even the nicest concrete. When it gets dirty, chuck it and find a new piece.

Air Supply


69. AIR SUPPLY
Don’t skimp on the air system; I’ve never heard someone complain about having too much air.
Paul Dierschow, Sports Car Craftsmen

70. KEEP IT QUIET
Find a remote location to install your air compressor. I have mine in the basement and then just run the air hose up through the wall. Now I can use my air tools without the constant noise from the compressor deafening me and echoing through the neighborhood.
wae, Classic Motorsports forum member

71. In & Out Outlets
Need to add a dedicated welder outlet? Make sure to add one outside as well as inside. Many times, a welding project is too big to bring inside or can simply be easier outside. Both of these outlets can be on the same circuit since you only use one at a time. They can even be on the same wall next to each other (front to back) or wired in the same stud cavity if that’s where they’ll be convenient to use.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

72. Get Reel
Get reels for your air hoses. It will help you to never trip on another air hose again.
Michael Marijanovic, The Werk Shop

73. PAPER TOWELS
Find a sale on paper towel dispensers and rolls of paper towels, then hang them on opposite sides of the garage. You’ll have access to towels any time you need them without going far from your work area.

74. GARDEN HOSE
To neatly store your air hoses and electrical extension cords, purchase a few steel garden hose holders from a big-box store. I mounted some on the walls of my garage near the air lines and electrical outlets so I can keep them plugged in all the time.
Fred Baum, Classic Motorsports forum member

75. REACH OUT
Anchor a hose reel with 100 feet of air hose to the garage floor near the overhead door. Now you can deliver compressed air anywhere in the garage as well as down the driveway.

76. WI-FI
The Internet often has the answer. Does your shop have Wi-Fi? Why not?

77. OLD LAPTOP
Put an old laptop computer on a swing-away stand. It’s a lot easier looking at parts diagrams or online factory service manuals on a real screen than on your phone. For bonus points, find a swinging wall mount for an old flatscreen and mount it to your workbench. The computer can swing away underneath when not in use.
Jay Hickey, Classic Motorsports forum member

78. TUNES TO TUNE BY
Music. This one is right up there in importance with bringing the right tools to the track. For us, the music is going as long as the lights are on; we also take it to the track with us. While it’s not recommended for focus-intensive jobs, it’s been proven that music can lift your mood and give you a relaxed focus. A happy shop is a productive shop.
Trevor McClure, Mitchum Motorsports

79. EXTRA STORAGE
Every garage needs additional cold storage–a shed or lean-to. There’s no point in goods taking up valuable inside space when you don’t plan on using them for a year. A brand-new shed is cheap.
HiTempguy, Classic Motorsports forum member

80. EASY UPGRADE
Two words: beer fridge.
Jeff Schlemmer, Advanced Distributors

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Reader comments:

Motozy
Motozy New Reader
Feb. 8, 2018 11:05 p.m.

good read yes

Coldswede
Coldswede New Reader
Feb. 12, 2018 3:46 p.m.

A great list and all 80 of them are excellent.  I have two cautions however.:

If building a loft or shelving over an air compressor, leave at least 18" above the motor open.  Ya gotta keep the beast cool.

Baby food jars are glass and shatter into evil little curved shards.  I find small plastic peanut butter jars great. They are clear, a little larger, never get too hard to open and seldom draw blood when dropped.

At least that is my theory.

Xceler8x
Xceler8x UberDork
Feb. 13, 2018 7:48 a.m.

Great read! I'm already thinking about how to dispose of the old wooden desk I have on stilts to be used as a workbench. Time for an extreme garage makeover!

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