The Kimini 2.2 – Tools/Workshop

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This section lists my thoughts on useful, or useless tools.  I also comment on Workshop layout. A work in progress……………………

Where to buy, the short story:

All over the place!  New, used, sometimes borrowed.  This is a good place to spew my comments regarding Chinese tools, distributed by places such as Harbor Freight.  Short story, I have no problem shopping there.

The long story:

Obviously the reason we find ourselves considering an import tool is cost – we all don’t have the money to buy the best.  All we really want is a tool for the job and sometimes this means a less-then-perfect tool is “good enough”.  Certain things just don’t warrant spending much money on; for example, an engine hoist or hydraulic press.  How are you going to beat spending $90 for a brand new (import) 12-ton hydraulic press?  Just buying the steel, parts, and paint, not to mention your time hardy justify doing it yourself.  If you see an import tool, especially one that doesn’t have many moving parts, look it over to see how well it’s made.  There is a big difference between buying a lathe and a press since one has many precision parts while the other is just a bunch of steel.  If it looks okay, go ahead and get it.  By the way, some domestic brand names, while implying they are domestic, are actually built in Taiwan or China, right along with openly “offshore” products; the difference being you pay for the domestic nametag.

I hear mostly negative comments from machinists about anything made in Asia, like “That wouldn’t last a week here.”  I agree  -- when used in a “real” machine shop they wouldn’t last.  Yet if the same tool is used in your garage, it may very well last for years, simply because you use it far less then a machine shop would.  If it does the job for you, it may make sense to buy it anyway, cheaply made or not.  I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss places like Harbor Freight, Rutland, or Grizzly.  It’s easy for a machinist to be “ruined” by using top-of-the-line tools and say imports are no good.  It’s much harder for that same machinist to answer the question, “Well what lathe would you buy for $1200?”  The lathes I saw in this price range were typically old (or very old) domestic units.  While one day I plan to completely restore an old domestic lathe to “like new” condition, I needed something that could be used as-is.  I didn’t need a restoration project getting in the way of what I was really doing – building a car.



Before describing my choices, I want to stress you can build almost anything by hand.  What the power tools do is make the job go faster, not necessarily better.


          Power Tools:

Probably the two most used are the horizontal/vertical bandsaw and deburring wheel.  This will grow……………

          Hand Tools:

This will grow…………



Make your own tools!:

As a way to gain experience fabricating and save some money, it can be very educational to build some more-or-less simple metal projects.  These will really help you see what you’re getting yourself into, but more importantly, you produce some extremely helpful tools for yourself that you will need anyway.

Dumb helper

A dumb helper is a three-legged stand with a roller on top.  The roller can be adjusted to any height and is used to support the far end of tubing while you machine the other end.  A simple tool, but one that will pay for itself because you won’t have to ask your spouse to keep coming out into the freezing garage to hold the end of a tube while you cut it.  These stands are intended for supporting lumber off the end of a table saw, but they are perfect for holding tubing or sheet metal.  Yes, you can buy one from you local builders supply for about $25, but you should build it yourself.

Chassis helper

Resembling a giant vernier height gage, it allows setting something at a precise height.  I was always propping thing up with coffee cans, boxes, or wood blocks, which always managed to fall over right when I needed it most.  The one I made uses a 12” diameter, ¾” thick steel base.  Mounted to this is a 1” x 2”, four foot tube which has a 48” ruler riveted to the side of it.  An adjustable foot can be set and clamped at any height, so I can now set the far end of something such as a chassis tube right where I want it without having to yell from the garage “Honey, can you hold this again!?”

Welding cart

When you buy your welder, don’t spend money on a cart – build one.  It is likely that the standard cart will not fit where you want to put it anyway, so build yourself one that will fit just right.  In my case I didn’t build a cart because the welder sits permanently on the floor.  I run the cables to where I am welding so I don’t have to drag the machine around.  Besides, with only a six-foot, heavy duty, 230VAC cord how far would a cart roll anyway?

Engine/transmission caddy

A low wheeled stand for the engine and transaxle.  This was the first item I built, and it was very useful.  As my motor and transaxle weighed 450 pounds, I wanted to move it around easily yet be able to push it under the counter when not in use.  I designed it to support the drivetrain at the height at which it would be installed in the car, which conveniently allowed rolling it out from under the bench for mock up purposes.  I made it so the stand supports the drivetrain but not by using the engine mounts.  This allows me to roll the drivetrain into and out of the chassis, with the engine mounts free to be bolted into the chassis.  That way I could easily remove or install the drivetrain without any help, which can be very convenient later during a late night repair session.

Grinding center

A grinding center is a wheeled stand upon which a sanding disk, sanding belt, chop saw, and grinding wheels are mounted.  You might even consider mounting the tubing notcher on it too.  You will free up valuable workbench space and no longer throw metal grit all over your work area.  It can also be rolled around to the side of the chassis you are working to not waste time walking back and forth.  A storage drawer can be incorporated to hold all the special wrenches, sanding discs, and Allan wrenches which always come with these tools (and that always get lost.)

Bandsaw Stand

A stand for the very popular, sub $200, import 4” x 6” horizontal/vertical bandsaw which replaces the flimsy legs which come with the saw.  I saw a good stand project on the Internet and was impressed, it even had a chip tray with coolant pump.  Instead of buying an expensive coolant tank and pump, consider buying a small fishpond pump from a home-improvement store. Since many coolant mixes are water-soluble, these pumps will work fine.  One note though, don’t buy a magnetic-impeller type pump.  The magnet will only serve to attract all the steel bits suspended in the coolant and clog up the pump.

Engine hoist

Literally a heavier project but one that will teach you how thicker metal behaves.  Go to a local store and make a sketch with dimensions when the salesman isn’t looking.  Building one of these isn’t hard, but requires a little though if you want it to break down into smaller parts for storage.  An engine hoist isn’t just for engines.  I use it for moving the lathe around, lifting the chassis table, and picking up the tube chassis.

Chassis Table

One way or another the chassis must be constructed upon a surface.  This can range from building it freehand on the garage floor, to a heavy duty, ground steel chassis plate weighing several thousand pounds.  As tempting as it is to “just get on with the project” building the chassis freehand, you will absolutely regret it.  Whatever money and time is saved by not building a chassis table, will be paid back several times by a defective, out of square, warped, tube chassis, never mind bad knees.  After throwing the third chassis out in the backyard, you’ll make a chassis table.

<>What may already be painfully clear by building any of these projects, is just how difficult it is to work on the floor.  Regardless of how fancy the table is, getting the work surface up to a convenient height will pay you back many times in the quality of the weld, accuracy of the finished product, and allowing you to work in comfort.  Even if the chassis table is just a heavy wood table, it is better then bending over a tube on your knees, trying to weld upside down.  One way or another, you need a table, it just depends how nice you want it to be. 

A good friend of mine, built what must be considered the first-class chassis table.  It uses 6” x 8” I-beam welded in a rectangle which was ground flat and supports 2” ground square tube cross-beams.  All surfaces were ground within 0.010” of each other.  With a heavy coat of paint except for the ground surfaces, it is truly a beautiful table.  The advantage of this type of table is that anything can be held down with C-clamps, anywhere on the surface, since the crossbeams can be moved.


Several alternatives to this type of table are:

·        Buy ready-made maple workbench tops and add heavy duty legs to them.

·        Build a “poor man’s” chassis plate by using two sheets of plywood, separated by 12” ribs, forming an extremely stiff surface.

The problems with wood tables are several, they catch fire (!), tubing is not automatically grounded for welding when you place it on the table, and humidity can affect it’s flatness.  Placing a thin sheet of metal on the top and painting the finished table can eliminate these shortcomings.  The other problem is that you have a continuous surface upon which to build, with no access from below.  In order to clamp the work down requires some sort of wood fixture everywhere you need a tie-down since you can’t use C-clamps like on the metal table above.  Finally, the wood table that was supposed to be much cheaper and easier to build then the metal table can end up taking longer to build and may cost more.

<>I was fortunate to find a large (5’ x 7.5’) steel table top, constructed of 3” tubing with a 0.187” steel top.  It also had the disadvantage of having a solid surface, which meant I could not come up from below to work from the inside.  But since it was free, I couldn’t turn it down.  I welded on legs with castors and leveling pads to make a work surface 20” from the floor.  The height of 20” was for several reasons:  <>

While seated, welding is at a comfortable level

·        While standing, welding could be performed on the top tubes without having to climb up on the table.

·        The height allowed easily reaching or leaning to the center of the table.

The castors were nice because I could then spin the table and chassis around for easy access.  The leveling pads were required because of the sloping floor every garage floor has.  While building your chassis on the table, you’ll probably be using a float-type level to check accuracy.  This means the chassis table had better be flat before you start.
The most valuable tool:

Without a good idea of what you are doing, having the best tools will not help.  People have built cars without even a hand drill and succeeded, but they knew what they were doing.  Without knowledge, tools are useless.  Take classes, talk to people, and go to races.  Subscribe to car magazines.  My most important advice is: Read Everything.


Workshop Layout:

Since most of us don’t have a 2000 square foot workshop complete with heat, air conditioning, and 3-phase power, we have to make due with what we have.  This usually means getting the job done in a typical suburban two-car garage.  To make things more interesting, often we are not alone in this car project; you may have to negotiate with your significant other for garage space.  I didn’t have the heart to ask my wife to park her car outside for the duration, so early on I decided I would make due with one-half the garage.  It certainly made the project more challenging in terms of space and was a good point for making a small car.  If you use half the garage, with one car remaining inside, sometimes it is best to move it out during periods of cutting or grinding.  Grinding throws thousands of little metal bits everywhere, covering your car.  When the car is driven the next day, often the metal bits don’t blow off, instead quickly rusting, and then start eating their way into the paint.  Not a way to make points.

Efficiency of space:

Regardless of how much room you start with, you always seem to need more so the best you can do is maximize whatever room you have right from the start.  That means, covet every square foot as though it were gold.  Some useful ideas are:

1.      Clean out the garage and have a garage sale, and for stuff you can’t sell give away.  You need a workshop, not a storage place for lawnmowers, clippers, fertilizer bags, bug spray, and paint cans. You can use the income from the garage sale to build a storage shed to put these yard supplies where they belong, in the yard!  I read somewhere an interesting way of dealing with garage storage: store things in boxes and write the date on it.  If in six months the boxes are unopened, throw them out or give them away.  You might want to do the throwing out part when your spouse is away.

2.      If you have an air compressor, consider placing it outside the garage to free up space as well as you not having to listen to the thing.  Build a small unobtrusive enclosure to shelter it from the weather.  The belt driven ones are much quieter than the direct drive type.  Air compressor horsepower ratings is blatant BS!  Keep in mind that a 100% efficient motor will draw 6.25amps per horsepower at 120VAC… and no motor is 100% efficient.

3.      Build workbenches at a convenient height and with enough space below to accommodate parts storage.  Think ahead about the size of things and where they are going to go -- before you find the shelves are too small.  If the compressor is to go under the bench, will it fit?  How about the vacuum cleaner?  Does the drill press mount on the bench or floor?  Is there space so the drill-press belt-drive cover can be lifted or does it hit the shelves above?

4.      Don’t forget that most garage floors are sloped toward the door for drainage.  If you build all your benches with 36” legs, you won’t have a level work surface.

5.      Make scaled “paper dolls” of all the major objects in the garage.  Now it’s easy to move things about until they all fit.  Better yet, use your computer CAD software to do this, it will give you practice using it for something useful, and gets you familiar with the program for when you use it later for chassis design.

6.      Make a “grinding center.”  I read about this in an old EAA publication.  Basically it’s a wheeled stand where you mount all your power grinding tools.

7.      Store your metal tubing up off the floor.  Preferably high on a shelf with one end visible so you can check what sizes you have in stock.  When you build your chassis you can store tubing along one side of the chassis table.  I found keeping it up off the floor also helped prevent rusting as well as tripping over it.

8.      If you have a traditional peaked roof garage, clean out the rafters so you can store large (but light) bulky items.  Those spring-loaded foldable attic ladders are very convenient for getting up there quickly.