It’s a good idea to carry some tools with you when you head bush, and most of us carry some sort of basic tool kit and spares. But often little thought goes into some of the tools needed to carry out some of those repairs. If you’ve ever tried to loosen a spring hanger without an impact driver, you’ll understand what I mean here.
So why don’t we carry a load of power tools with us when we travel? Well the simple answer is, until fairly recently they’ve been a bit average either in power or battery life. But the recent upgrades in battery technology have allowed portable power tools to become more and more useable for the bush mechanic; and they could just about save your life in many situations. We recommend taking one make of tools – this way you can share battery packs across the range and only need to carry one charger with you. We’d recommend carrying a couple of batteries though, as you can then use one while the other is charging.
For images, videos and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read this in our online magazine.
But what tools should you really take? Well that is the age-old question… so we’ve put together our top five portable power tools you should carry on every off-road trip.
The trusty drill
Drills can have many uses and we’re not just talking about making holes in things. Most now have a screwdriver setting, which can make undoing and doing things up a whole lot quicker. Some of the more powerful ones also have a hammer drill feature, which isn’t just useful for drilling into concrete. If you don’t have an impact driver with you it can be used to loosen stubborn small bolts. Drills are also useful for drilling out rivets or seized bolts should the need arise.
Think of a ratchet set with the advantage of a sledge hammer and breaker bar attached, all in one. Impact guns can make light work of undoing wheel nuts or stubborn bolts. In fact, they’re pretty good at undoing and tightening most things. When using to tighten, remember to finish off by hand with a torque wrench to ensure the correct tension is on the bolt.
Unfortunately, there comes a time when undoing stuff won’t cut it, or you need to reshape something to make it fit properly. This is where your grinder can come in handy. The great thing about grinders is that depending on the type of disc fitted, they can be used for many different applications.
The first and most obvious one is for working metal – this is handy if you need to grind back bolts or reshape bodywork after an accident. The second and probably the more useful application is cutting. With a 1mm disc fitted a grinder can be used to cut through thick steel… which is great if you need to remove something in a hurry and have a replacement part with you.
Most battery-operated grinders come in either 115mm or 125mm. The choice is yours, however the smaller ones can be easier to get into tight spaces. One point to note is that although grinding discs will cut and cutting discs will grind, always use the correct disc for the application (this will minimise overheating and the risk of the disc shattering).
The die grinder or rotary tool is the Swiss Army Knife of the power tools world. Being fairly small they have a habit of being able to fit into spaces other tools cannot. Not only that; depending on the attachment fitted they have many uses, from small grinding, cleaning up surfaces, small-scale cutting… heck, some can even be used to drill or enlarge holes.
One saw, many uses. The good old recip saw. These can do so many jobs and they’re not just vehicle-related. Need to cut up some timber? Stick the timber ripping blade on and away you go. Need to cut through plastic without melting it? The general-purpose blade is probably your best bet here. And finally, if you need to cut through any metal, use the (gasp!) metal blade.
Blades are available in different lengths to suit the applications, and are all fairly flexible which is great for getting into tight spaces or around slight corners. However, it’s always advisable to have the saw butted up to the surface you are cutting to minimise kickbacks.
As with all power tools make sure you wear the correct safety gear before using them, as injuring yourself with one could be more dangerous than the problem you were trying to fix in the first place.
No matter how well you are prepared there’s always the chance you may not have the tool for the job or your tool batteries may be flat, so with that in mind there are some alternatives you can use when out in the field.
Makeshift jack press: When a work bench and vice isn’t available.
Say you’re refitting a suspension bush. Place a jack under the chassis or hitch of your 4X4, position the bush and fitting between the jack and your vehicle, then slowly raise the jack taking care to keep everything as square as possible. As you lift the jack it will slowly seat the bush.
Breaker bar: No impact driver, no problem. Grab the trusty old breaker bar.
Use a length of heavy-gauge steel tube (so it doesn’t bend) and place it over the end of your socket wrench. The extra leverage will help you move the stubborn bolt or nut. Take care to keep everything straight, otherwise you risk the socket jumping off or rounding off the bolt head.
Pro Tip: The original Hi-Lift jack handles are great for this.
Bearing drift: Need to replace a bearing on the road? Use a socket.
With the old bearing removed grab a large socket (roughly the size of the bearing case) and, keeping it fairly square, tap in the new bearing with a mallet. Once it’s seated repack it with grease, tighten it up and away you go.
Hand saw: Recip saw not working or can’t get into the gap?
You can use a metal work hand saw. We’d recommend one of the ones with an open blade for improved access. It will work but it will take a lot longer to cut, and if the metal is thick you may need more than one blade.
Bushman’s welder: When glue won’t do.
Get two 12V batteries and join them in series to make one 24V battery. Then connect one end of a jumper lead to the free positive terminal and the other end to the part that needs welding. Take the other jumper lead and connect it to the free negative battery terminal and attach the other end to an arc welding rod.
You are now good to go. Remember to use welding glasses and gloves at the very least. The welding probably won’t look pretty, but it should get you home and out of a mess.