I thought that this tool merited its own post

This tool is one of the best values out there.  It isn't one that you will use every day, but when you need it, you really need it.  For $9 you can buy a couple.  This tool is great on its own, but when you make tips for it, it really starts to shine.  That ratcheting action isn't smooth or strong, but it is one really important thing - tiny.

Low profile head fits even tight corners

I ground down an adapter to make a skinny narrow 1/4" ratchet

No comparison with the standard Craftsman ratcheting hex driver

It is little.  I brazed a piece of coat hanger onto this tip so that it couldn't slip through the driver

Craftsman  5 pc. Reversible Offset Ratchet Screwdriver Set

  Item#  00941469000 | Model#  41469

Skinny 1/4" Drive

I just got the Micrometer out to check out my thinnest 1/4" drive tools.  I did these measurements by mounting a socket and measuring the thickness of the head from the thickest part, and then subtracting the depth of the socket.

My beloved Mac MR4C goes a svelte .295 inches.

My Craftsman reversible screwdriver #41469 with a ground down 1/4" adaptor went .223 inches.  Amazingly, that .07 inches has made the difference for me in a couple of spots.

My second favorite ratchet, the Snap-On THL72 is a beefy .460 inches thick,  by contrast.  I certainly don't hold that against it, but it does put things in perspective.  It is twice as thick as the Craftsman!

Homemade Defuel Cart

I thought I would share this just because I think it is kind of cool.  I was given the unenviable task of modernizing our avgas defueling cart.  It consisted of a cart with two fifty gallon drums and a hand pump mounted on it.  
I should have taken a "before" picture.  Too busy working I guess.

      It was a real pain to use.  It took two guys to refuel because you had to hold a filtering funnel in place and pump really slowly so that it could keep up.  The bungholes for the barrels were always open, so we would keep rags stuffed in them to keep dirt out.  There was a mesh finger screen on the pump, but the mesh was very coarse, and with fuel getting pumped both directions, it would just flush junk back and forth..   

This is what the hangar looked like when I was working on it.  Check out our two wheeled tug.  
     I decided to use PVC because galvanized pipes would have been expensive and required unions all over the place, plus it would have been very time consuming to cut everything to length and then cut and thread it as well.  

My objectives were to make this a sealed system (except for barrel venting) to keep out contaminates, to install a filter that would be bypassed when defueling but inline when refueling, hook hard lines to the two barrels on the cart, and leave an extra hose outlet for times when more than two barrels are needed.  I also stripped and painted the cart itself and rattle canned the pvc black.

My one regret to this point is that I didn't use pvc check valves for the filter bypass.  It is a ball valve setup, which is easy to forget to change, and if you don't change it will bypass the filter when you are  refueling.

 If anyone wants to save some money on a defuel cart, build one of these.  The filter body came from TSC and it really moves fuel well through the 3/4" line.

It took me almost two days from start to finish, but I accomplished all of the goals.  Much thanks to Gary, Mac, and Zane because they had most of the ideas.  

What Tools should I buy while in School?

    One question that I really struggled with during my time in school is, what should I buy before I get out of school in order to cash in on the student discount?  Obviously, there are as many answers to that question as there are people asking it, but I will offer some general guidelines that I hope will prove helpful to people.  The three basic questions to ask before you buy a tool while in school are:
1.  Will this tool be essential to my future job functions?
2.  Will buying a quality tool add value by increased function or a better warranty?
3.  Is there a substantial discount for buying now?
If the answer to any of the above questions is "no", or "I don't know", you should not be buying the tool until you have more information.

    I have mentioned it before, but I feel it bears repeating, DO YOUR RESEARCH.  It will save you a TON of money, and unless you have a much better gig than I do, that is a big consideration.   Let's be honest, if you had more money than time you wouldn't be reading some random blog online.

    You first need to RESEARCH the kind of tools that you are going to need.  The best resource while you are in school is your teachers.  Ask them who the local employers are, and what kind of work they do.  Some shops are more sheet metal focused, while others may be strictly engine shops.  Those two jobs will require very different sets of tools.  Try to find out what your prospective employers focus on, especially the ones that you think you would like to work for.  Ask your teachers what tools they recommend, and what a basic tool set should look like at your prospective employer.  Many larger employers (which are typical landing spots for fresh A & P's) have recommended or required tool lists that are available online or for the asking.  Try to find lists from employers, not schools.

    The second step is to RESEARCH what kinds of tools from that list you really ought to have quality, and what you can get away with buying from Harbor Freight or Sears.  Remember, the only advantage to buying tools while you are still in school is the discount for buying quality.  The most common mistake that I see made is that people rush out and buy a giant tool set from one company.  They start out way in debt and/or wind up replacing some of the inferior tools they had purchased.  Once you work in the field you will realize that no single company makes the best of every single tool.  Anyone who only buys one tool brand has either too much money on their hands or not enough common sense.  I respect the "buy American" sentiment, but I personally support companies that make a good tool for a fair price.  Mac makes the best 1/4" ratchet in the world, in my opinion.  Snap-On makes the best angle wrenches by far and away.  Irwin makes the best channel locks.  I have written elsewhere about what tools should be bought quality in "What Tool Truck Tools are Worth the Money?", and I wrote about the ones that don't in "Tools that aircraft mechanics most commonly overpay for".  If you buy one big tool set you are investing a lot of money in tools that won't necessarily help you make more money.  If you build a toolset slowly while you are working, it will allow you to find out what is the best and most efficient way to use your money.  The second common mistake that people make with school discounts is purchasing giant toolboxes right out of the gate before they are making money in the field.  I addressed that issue in "What toolbox should I buy?"

    The third step is to RESEARCH what tools are the best.  One good example is the Snap-On four way wrench set.  I borrowed this set I don't know how many times, and I would say that a majority of aircraft mechanics have one (seven of eight in my shop).  It is $255 on the Snap-On website, but only $133 through the Snap-On tech program.  Another good example would be the Mac MR4C.  I have sung its praises elsewhere, but with a student discount price of $26, it is priced competitively with even the Craftsman cheapo ratchets.  My third endorsement is the Mac BWS7B ratcheting screwdriver set.  These things are awesome for tight spots.  They are fine toothed and the action is tight, so it is a lot less frustrating than the Craftsman cheapo ones.  Highly recommend this set.

  The fourth step is to RESEARCH how good the discount is.  Mac offers a straight-up 50% discount on almost everything.  Matco has a similar discount.  Snap-On varies depending on the tool.  Some are near 50% off, while others are nearer to 10% off.  Some tools can be purchased on Ebay, Craiglist, or at Pawn shops with significant savings, especially big ticket items like torque wrenches.  Most of the time, usage does not affect functionality (screwdrivers and wire cutters are the exceptions that come to mind) or warranty, so buying used is a good option.

 Ultimately, I would advise people against buying a lot of tools just because they have the school discount.  Buy good quality tools that have a wide range of functionality, like ratchets.  Other than that, I would advise most people to wait until they are in the field.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy based on the best possible information.


Boeing Factory Floor Tour!
This was some pretty cool training!  Got to tour Boeing's factory in Seattle.  It's worth a visit if you are out there.


Hey all,
 Someone asked how they could get email notifications for posts, so I spent about two hours figuring out how to set it up.  I think I finally got it.  You can enter your email in the box above that says "follow by email."  You have to pass the spy bot test (not always a given with those crazy letter boxes), and confirm by clicking a link from your inbox, and voila, an update every six months or so when I get time to post cause I'm so busy doing, you know, other stuff like this.

Tools that aircraft mechanics most commonly overpay for

        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.

4. Picks - The tool truck ones just offer 0% added functionality, and Harbor Freight and Craftsman both warrantied the only ones that I have broken (both through abuse).  I could buy ten sets from Harbor Freight for what they want for one tool truck set.

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.

7.  Files - I have not found any good reason whatsoever to spend extra for brand-name files (more comfortable handle?).  They all are very capable of cutting aluminum, and that is pretty much what we use them for.  

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.

1/4" Ratchet reviews

I just  snapped pictures of all of the 1/4" ratchets that we have at work, and I will just post some of my recommendations for what works well and what does not.

Here are the ones that I personally own:

Mac Tools MR4C
My personal favorite.  I love the compact size and pushbutton socket release (a huge plus when trying to manuever with a long extension attached), as well as the 72 tooth design.  This is the smallest commonly available ratchet that I have found.  It is really handy for tight spots under the glareshields/dashboards.  Got to love the lifetime guarantee at this price!  Honestly, this is the ratchet I use 75%+ of the time.  You could probably get away with this and one other  bigger ratchet (for more leverage).

Proto Challenger 1060-1
Found this one in a trash can.  It is a good backup ratchet, but seldom leaves my toolbox, mainly because the 32 teeth necessitate a big swing and have too much slop.

Harbor Freight thumb wheel ratchet
I used this for the first time ever this week (after a year plus).  The Mac one is much more compact, and I think that they have a fine tooth one.  This one is very large (probably could turn it down on a lathe, but not worth the time), and 32 teethed, so it has a lot of slop, but for a $5 ratchet, it isn't that bad.

Mac Tools MR18
This is a cool ratchet, but not very useful for me to this point.  It has an extremely compact 72 tooth head, and the indexible part is cool, but it is very expensive for no more than I use it, and I have never really needed it.

Snap-on THL72
My second favorite ratchet.  This is what I grab when I will need some extra torque.  I have  used this very roughly, and it has never so much as hiccuped.  I love the 72 teeth, the sealed head, the marked reverse button, and of course, the warranty.  I am not a big fan of the rubber handle (hard to clean, always nasty), and this is a pretty bulky ratchet overall, plus expensive.   

Gearwrench 81224
This is probably my third most favorite ratchet.  I would highly recommend this and the Mac MR4C as a top two set of ratchets.  99% of the work I do could be done conveniently with those two ratchets.  I really like this ratchet, especially at the value.  I got it and an identical 3/8" drive for $38 at Sears, and they are guaranteed forever.  This is basically a very good knock-off of the the Snap-on Swivel head, down to the colors, shape, and size.  It is 72 tooth, with very tight tolerances.  I personally do not care for the rubber handle, but that is a personal thing, and this is a relatively bulky ratchet, but that is the design.

Craftsman 44807
This is my "at home" ratchet, and that is all that I would recommend it for.  It isn't terrible, but the reverse switch has a nasty habit of reversing itself.  I haven't broken mine, but the 3/8" version I have broken 3 times with light use, and it is terrible to use because of the self-reverse tendency.  This is also a very bulky ratchet and it has 32 very sloppy teeth.  It is fine for home use or starting out, but you will want to upgrade it for sure.

This is the end of the ratchets that I personally own, so keep in mind that the other reviews are based on very limited borrowing and usage.

Craftsman 43187
This is a pretty vintage Craftsman (c.1980s), so it is a very good tool from my  experience with it.  I especially love the knurled section on the head.  It is great for spinning things off by hand.  I also am a fan of the pushbutton release.  This has 32 teeth, but it does seem tighter than the bottom end Craftsman.  I am not a big fan of the reverse switch, but overall, this is not a bad ratchet.

Plomb 4751
Hands down, this is the coolest ratchet in the shop.  It is a 66 year old co-workers, and he got it from his grandfather who was a machinist.  This ratchet dates from the 1940s most likely, and it is by far the smallest ratchet I have ever seen. It is not heavy duty, but I have borrowed it several times to get into spots where even the MR4C would not go.  It is a 32 tooth, but the action is very smooth and tight.  I would love to find one, but they go for the $50-$70 range on ebay, which is a little steep for a used ratchet that you can't get parts for anymore.

Snap-on TM739
This is a good older ratchet.  All of the newer Snap-on are 72 or 80 teeth, which is nice, but these are a nice compact ratchet.  I prefer the Mac MR4C because it is smaller and has the pushbutton release and toggle reverse switch, but this is a good possible substitute as a compact ratchet.

Ace Professional
This is a decent older ratchet.  32 tooth with jumbo size head, otherwise not much to see here.  This would be a good backup ratchet.

Snap-on TB60MP
The Snap-on indexible is not as good as the Mac version.  Bigger and bulkier means tougher to fit in the spots  where you might need an indexible ratchet.  Otherwise a good build quality Snap-on.

Unidentified Stubby flex-head
This is a really cheap ratchet, but the flex point being below the head is unique.  I personally have never needed one like this and it is pretty bulky and cheap.

Kobalt 23737
This is basically identical to the Gearwrench reviewed earlier.  I suspect  they are built by same company and then molded with a different handle.  Pricing is also similar, so it mostly comes down to which one you would rather go to for warranty, Sears or Lowes.

Snap-on TM831
Another good Snap-on, with the different pivot point flex head.  Good ratchets, but very expensive.   I think the Gearwrench or Kobalt offers comparable performance at 1/3 the price.

Pittsburgh Pro from Harbor Freight
This is actually a surprising nice ratchet.  It has a nice smooth 72 tooth action, and a relatively compact head.  I love the reverse switch and the pushbutton release.  Hard to go wrong at less than $10, but you don't really need it if you are going to invest in a good quality brand name ratchet.  This doesn't offer any extra functionality.

E-Z Red SR14 8G Ratcheting Handle
Probably the second coolest ratchet in the shop.  It has the ratcheting handle, but what really sells this ratchet is the compact size.  This thing is as compact as a regular ratchet, but it can save a LOT of time in certain situations where you need it.  It is a fine tooth ratchet besides.  I probably will try to add this to my collection at some point. 

Stanley 89-961 Ratcheting Handle
The Mac guy sells and warranties this off the truck, but it is expensive and really bulky, so there will be spots that it does not reach.

Ratcheting Handle from Harbor Freight
This is an ok budget option for a ratcheting handle ratchet, but the head on this is massive, and the action is pretty rough (on this one, anyway).  The handle on the bottom is pretty nifty though.

Pittsburgh Pro by Harbor Freight Insulated Ratchet
This is a surprisingly good ratchet.  It is great for pulling battery posts.  I actually really like the 72 tooth action on it.  It feels really tight, and at $8, this is a really good buy if you will use it.

Mac MR5
This is a pretty good little older Mac ratchet.  It is about the same price as an MR4C though, and there is really no comparison between those two ratchets.

This is my favorite ratchet redesigned as a flex head.  It is everything I indicated earlier, but you give up a little bit of size for the addition of the flex head.  I still think that I would go with the straight ratchet and the Gearwrench as my flex, but this one would make me think twice.  I don't really like using the flex-head when I don't need it though, so that is what tips the scale for me.

Favorite Cordless Screwdrivers

Snap-On CTS561CL
Dewalt DCF610S2

Just wanted to write a quick post about my two favorite screwdrivers.  We have two Snap-On screwdrivers at work, (both are ni-cad not Lithium batteries), four  18v Makitas, one 18v Dewalt Nicad, one 12v Dewalt Nicad, and two 12v Li-ion Dewalt.  The bigger 18v drills are just WAY overkill for an A&P.  They are too bulky, and the added power just isn't really worth the weight.  It will kill you to take panels off the underside of a wing with those 18v drills over your head.  The 12v Dewalt Nicad is only about six months old, and the battery life on it is pretty pathetic.  That makes it pretty much a two horse race between the Dewalt and the Snap-On.

 The Snap-On lists for $143, and I paid $200 for the Dewalt drillscrewdriver, and impact driver, plus the charger and three batteries (killer sale!) from Lowes.  I don't think that you will go wrong either way,  but each has advantages.  The Snap-On is a little pricey for what you get, but it is very compact (important especially for avionics guys), and the adjustable torque clutch works really well.  My dewalt one has 15 torque settings, and it seems like I have to adjust the torque five times a day.  The Dewalt really struggles to get a consistent torque on locking nutplates especially.  I've never tried a Li-on Snap-On driver, but the Dewalt's batteries seem to last forever, even on heavy inspections.  I probably charge my driver every other day, and the Snap-On seems to need at least once a day.  The impact driver is fantastic for removing tough screws, and the clutch on the drill seems to do pretty well.  The lights surrounding the drill, screwdriver, and impact are tremendously helpful in the aviation field.  I find myself using the screwdriver as a flashlight pretty consistently.  I definitely think it is the winner in the bang for buck category.  I would highly recommend either, but for my money, Dewalt is the way to go.