Today I just wanted to write a note about some of tools that mechanics commonly pay too much for. I think that the most common mistake that aircraft mechanics make in starting out is buying a big tool set from one of the tool trucks. I understand buying a big set on the school discount, particularly if you don't have many tools to start with, but I think that doing so is a big waste of money. You will discover that many tools are not worth shelling out extra to get top-line brands in. First off, the big sets will inevitably include tools that you will seldom, if ever, use. Secondly, even some of the tools that you use will not be appreciably different than a Craftsman or Harbor Freight knock off that costs, in most cases, less than half what you paid. It is very difficult to buy tools without knowing what is worthwhile and what you will need. I advise you to work in your field with the minimal toolset if it is at all possible, and then add to your collection as you see the need and save the money. I would definitely advise you to save as much money as you can in these areas and save your pennies to spend on tools with moving parts (where the tool truck warranty is of greatest value). This is a still evolving list, and I will be posting pictures later, but I have been sitting on this since January, so I figured it was time to publish it.
Here is my list of tools that aircraft mechanics most commonly overpay for.
1. Sockets - For an aircraft mechanic using almost exclusively 1/4" drive tools, tool truck sockets simply offer little or no advantage to the cheaper ones. I have five complete 1/4" drive sets at work - two complete Gearwrench six-point shallow sets (one modified to be an extra shallow set), one Craftsman twelve point shallow, one Craftsman twelve point deep well, and one Craftsman six point deep well. (The double on the deep well is definitely overkill, but I had to use up the slots in the Mechanic's time saver, right?) I have used the Matco, Snap-On, and Mac tools, and I can say definitively, that in two years of maintenance my sockets have done everything the same as the tool truck sockets, and I have never broken a single one. I have Craftsman and SK 3/8" & 1/2" drive sockets, and I probably only use them a couple of times a week. I have a definite preference for American made tools, but you could definitely get away with the Harbor Freight sockets in these sizes. I also have a Stanley 3/4" drive 5/8"-2 3/8" set that I use for axle nuts, and it works perfectly. I don't even own any 3/4" drive tools because I always use an adaptor down to at least a 1/2" drive ratchet, but most commonly I adapt down to a 1/4" drive torque wrench, so quality is not a concern at all with these larger sizes. You are simply going to be after the metal.
2. 3/8" and 1/2" drive tools - I mentioned above that I only use my 3/8" and 1/2" drive stuff maybe once or twice a week. Don't waste your money to buy a $70-80 ratchet in these drive sizes. Whatever you have already will work, and if you don't have one, Craftsman sells American made ones for $10-15, and they will serve perfectly. The big tool sets always include this, even though we seldom use it in aviation.
3. Most pliers - In two years of maintenance in a ten man shop, I have never seen anyone take a warranty on a set of pliers. The reality is that we in aviation maintenance see very few things that are frozen or rusted outside of screws, so we do not have to abuse our tools like people who work on cars or trucks. The vast majority of tool truck pliers are copies of other pliers, or have been copied well by Craftsman or others. There are exceptions to this rule, most notably wire cutters and safety wire pliers. Nobody really makes a good knock-off pair of safety wire pliers in particular. Some of the long -handled wire cutters I have not been able to find anywhere besides on the tool truck, and a good set of wire cutters are probably worth the money because of the frustration and time they will save.
|Bet you couldn't tell|
5. Punches - Again, these may be worth the extra money for an auto mechanic, but i just have found that as long as you don't abuse them, the cheap punches will last just as long as the good ones.
6. Hammers - Pretty self explanatory. We don't spend all day with one in our hand, so you don't really need to invest in an expensive sledge hammer. The one possible exception is a dead-blow hammer, but I have never used a cheap to be able to definitively say.
8. Mirrors - There is no justification for a tool truck markup here. You have to buy replacement mirrors anyway.
9. Magnets - The markup on these things is horrific. I bought a couple of no name extending magnets from Sears for a dollar each, and they are great. One source for really strong rare earth magnets is used computer hard drives. One of these saved my rear when I dropped a tool down into a rudder with no access at the bottom. I was able to move the tool from the outside and slide it up to a point where I could reach it with a magnet from the top. They also make awesome magnets when attached to a coat hanger. You can also buy rare earth magnets on ebay for a little bit of nothing.