"How much for this little guy?"

"A quarter."

"Would you do five bucks for both of these?"


The finger-sized pair of channel locks was a gift for buying the $5 Williams 10-inch, half-inch drive extension. The old man had three 12-foot tables peppered with tools that looked older than him. I'll bet a bunch of people glanced at his gear and mistook it for junk — tools stripped of their nickel plating can have that effect.

But a closer look revealed some of the best brands made in our country ... and the older the better.

The Williams half-inch drive extension and mini-Channel Locks; good bargain, I'd say.

There are typically three choices when buying tools. You can buy them cheap, made in a land far, far away; go broke buying the best; or settle on straddling the two extremes with mediocre goods. There's a fourth way, and chances are you figured it out reading the previous paragraph.

Every repair is preplanned. This involves getting all the parts necessary, studying the workshop manual and taking inventory of the tools on hand to do it. But there are times when a job requires a tool I don't have, and that's when the adventure begins.

Quality is the most important criteria. There's no settling on anything short of superior, no matter how tempting the purchase of anything advertised with coupons promising a free multimeter or screwdriver set may be.

Better to buy the good stuff used than paying roughly the same price for something new of shoddy quality. So investing a bit of time searching Ebay, Craigslist or the flea markets is a necessary inconvenience.

A 32 mm nut torqued to 340 ft/lbs added three such tools to my collection.

Replacing the CV joint boots on the Porsche 993 involves removing the axle shafts from the hub, and that nut was the first obstacle. What I didn't have at the time was a 3/4-inch drive 32 mm socket, breaker bar and torque wrench good for that amount.

Never mind that the thing's torqued down to 2.5 times my weight it's never been off. Rain, snow and age meant that I might need closer to three times my frame to budge it. This involved some thought, because there was a good chance that the half-inch drive 18-inch breaker bar and 32 mm socket I had could fail under 5 feet of pipe leverage.

Despite being Snap-on tools, it's not the quality that concerned me, the drive size and the swivel head on the breaker bar begged for a conservative option. I had to beef things up.

There were a few high-quality 32 mm 3/4-inch drive sockets on Ebay for a fraction of the cost new. I found a pair of Assenmacher sockets the 30 mm was used, but the 32 mm was new split up from a VW/Audi six-piece set for the same price as one Snap-on 32 mm socket. Now I needed a 3/4-inch breaker bar.

It was overkill, but a breaker bar's weak point was the swivel head; I'd need what's called a sliding T-Handle bar for the job. It's essentially a steel fist of a drive wrapped around a steel bar.

The searched turned up a selection of high-quality pieces priced a bit higher than I was looking to spend and then I spotted it. It was the most beautiful piece of industrial art I'd seen in this search with a name I didn't recognize: Bonney.

A digression from the search revealed that this tool company founded in Philadelphia 100 years after our independence had a reputation for forging the world's toughest automotive tools. Their metallurgy was legendary, pioneering the use of alloy steels in their tools in the early 1920s. They had a guarantee that a Bonney wrench would shear the bolt before the tool itself gave out.

Not only was it the right tool for the job, but it was also sexy, had pedigree and felt good in my hands. It turned out this T-Handle breaker bar was a 1967 model and was nearly brand new.

A 50-year-old Bonney 3/4-inch drive Sliding T-Handle Breaker Bar looking youthful.

Finding a 3/4-inch drive torque wrench was a bit more involved, but I got lucky.

Nearly every torque wrench searched in this size was rated up to 600 ft/lbs. While I'd normally buy something where calibration is critical new, spending nearly a grand for a superior-quality unit was out of the question. Looking for a used one called for scrutiny, which meant seeing it in person.

I found another example of American industrial excellence in a lesser-known flea market in Belvidere, New Jersey of all places — and purely by coincidence.

"It was my husband's," she said in a soft tone.

Sitting on a table made of three weathered 2-by-10s tattooed with the number 72 was a 4-foot black blow-molded case behind a pasta machine and enamel Dutchy. I would've walked on by had it not been for the vintage 90-inch Ole Fahlin wood propeller leaning on the table that stopped me dead.

"He had it since new," she continued, "and then, well, used it a few times and then put it away."

If everything tied to this CV joint boot job was infused with this kind of luck, it was going to be a smooth operation. She wasn't lying. Opening the case revealed a torque wrench of equally unorthodox looks and proportions.

It was a CDI (Consolidated Devices Inc.), a division of Snap-on Industrial Brands. They produce tools for the automotive, industrial and nuclear energy markets, in addition to supplying military installations.

It was serialized, rated to 600 ft/lbs, came with a certificate of calibration, and, save for the drive pin, had not a single scratch. It felt like a good risk to take, especially for one-tenth of the price of a new equivalent, but I'd certainly get it tested and calibrated for peace of mind.

The only problem I foresaw was how I'd read the dial from 4 feet away to know when I've reached the desired torque. So what — I'd have my woman yell it out, that's all.

All 48 inches of the Military-Spec CDI 600 ft/lb torque wrench in its original case.

While repairing Porsches requires the occasional splurge on factory-spec specialized tools, the majority of the work is done using traditional means. Job after job had put the odd tool in my hands bought from someone else who no longer had any use for it. While buying the highest-quality pieces guarantees a lifetime of use, one still has to be careful when buying second-hand despite the tool's manufacturer's lifetime replacement guarantee for safety's sake.

The acquisition part of the game is as pleasurable as the repair itself. Each tool has both a personal and historical story to tell, but there's something else. Vintage American-made tools possess an archaeological element.

They serve as proof of a time when quality was paramount regardless of the both the physical and financial equity it took. Early in their existence, these companies had a reputation at stake in an industry that depended on their claims. While most of them no longer exist, those that remain continue their tradition of producing quality goods.

The feeling of using a Williams S-52 series 1/2-inch Superratchet with its fine ratcheting mechanism in a tight spot, or bumping metal with a vintage Fairmount hammer and dolly, is an absolute pleasure when compared to their inferiors. You can't buy tools like these new anymore, so the secondhand market offers more than just financial gain in this respect.

Another flea market find; bumping out a dent with this vintage Fairmount General Purpose Pick is a pleasure.

Just the other day I picked up two 1/2-inch drive speeder handle wrenches (the ones that look like cranks), from another old-timer at the Golden Nugget in Lambertville, New Jersey. One's a Craftsman BE series from the 1940s, and the other is a Snap-on circa 1925 both looking pretty good for their age.

Where the hell am I going to use these on a Porsche?

The 1925 Snap-on half-inch drive Speeder Wrench above the 1940s half-inch drive Craftsman BE Series Speeder — both bought for $4.