This list of engine overhaul
tools was created by contributors in the Engines forum. It is
appropriate for the first-time or "backyard" rebuilder overhauling
performance engine to deliver <= 1 flywheel HP/CID for a daily driver. As we
move past that HP number and usage into high-horsepower, high-RPM or racing
engines the level of skill and the tools required increases geometrically. This
is not to say you can't build those type of engines in
your garage and there are many books to help you do so - but that is beyond the
scope of this simple list.
NOTE that in some areas your machine shop or local parts shop may loan
or rent these tools; check with them before making any purchases!
Please advise firstname.lastname@example.org or
PM "billla" if you find errors or broken links in this list. Last
Minimum Tool Set
- Engine Stand: Even if
you're building just one engine, make this purchase. Having overhauled an
engine or two on the garage floor, it's just not worth it. Quality stands
are relatively inexpensive - key features are a weight rating of 1000lbs.
and 4 wheels. The two links below are for quality stands that I have used
with no problems. For Big-Block Chevy fans, consider the larger 2000lbs
(Available at Schucks/Checker/Kragen/Advance Auto Parts)
- Basic hand tools: A
good set of 3/8" and 1/2" drive sockets, both 6-pt and 12-pt -
note that most ARP fasteners use 12-point nuts - along with a pretty
standard collection of wrenches, pliers, etc. A center punch and
inexpensive numbered punch set for marking parts for machine shop
identification and re-installation in the correct location is required. A
large screwdriver or prybar is needed to leverage the crank forward/aft to
- Feeler gauges: A good
quality feeler gauge reading approximately .0015 to .035.
(Available at Sears and online tool stores)
- Torque wrench(es):
The range of torque settings on the small-block Chevy is about 20 - 80lbs
ft; this range may require two wrenches. There is a lot of debate over
"beam" type wrenches vs. dial or digital wrenches, but unless
you simply cannot afford a digital wrench the beam type should be avoided.
- Thread cleaning taps:
It is extremely important to clean all threaded holes to prevent debris
from the threads entering the engine as well as to ensure accurate torque
readings. You can purchase individual cleaning taps, but the set below is
a great buy. NOTE: it is possible to use regular thread-cutting taps to
clean threads...but those taps remove more material and risk damaging
threads if used incorrectly.
- Vernier Caliper: This
will be your basic measuring tool for the overhaul.
Micrometers are nice, but with careful use a caliper will provide
sufficient accuracy for builds a this level.
- Ring expander: Piston
rings must be expanded to fit over the piston. You can do this by
hand...but the chances of breaking a ring make this inexpensive purchase
- Ring compressor: There
are two basic types of ring compressors; adjustable and fixed. Adjustable
compressors use a flexible steel band that is tightened around the piston
to compress the rings. They will fit a wide range of bore sizes but must
be used with care to avoid breaking rings. Fixed compressors are a tapered
aluminum bore to a specific size. These work better...but are more
expensive and fit only one size.
(Example: .030 overbore for 4.030)
- Pre-oiler: Pre-oiling
the engine before starting is critical to avoid a "dry start".
- Oil pump pickup installer:
Everyone hears stories of oil pump pickups falling off. At this build
level, it shouldn't happen and usually is caused by beating the thing on
with a hammer. These inexpensive tools ensure a good seating and ensure
the sleeve is retained.
- Precision straight-edge:
This measuring tool when used with the feeler gauge can help you determine
if you need to machine your block deck or heads, and determine if the
crank bore is straight.
- Engine cleaning brushes:
Washing the block after machining is one of your most important tasks.
You'd think everything would come back spotless from the machine shop, but
it absolutely does not!
- Balancer tool:
Harmonic balancers must be removed and installed correctly to avoid damage
to the crankshaft or the balancer. There are cheaper tools, but this is
one of the best sets out there.
- Plastigauge: This one
is likely to cause the most discussion and debate. Plastigauge is a thin
plastic string that expands in a "precision" way when compressed
and is used for checking bearing clearance. It is definitely not the most
accurate way to check these clearances but if you are not able to invest
in micrometers or a bore gauge it will deliver readings close enough
for a street engines making <= 1 HP/CID if used carefully.
Typically, overhaul "kits" from
Sealed Power and other vendors will come with Plastigauge but it is also
available at NAPA
and other parts sources.
- Rod bolt protectors:
During rod installation it's important to protect the crank rod journal
from being scratched by the rod bolts. Two 4" lengths of 3/8 fuel
line tubing works fine for this, but there are very cheap
aftermarket solutions as well.
- Crank sprocket installer:
The machine shop can install your crank socket, but if you'd like to do
this yourself a 2" ID pipe ~6-8 inches long works great.
- Chunk of non-hardening
modeling clay: this is needed to set oil pump pickup to pan clearance as
well as checking valve clearance.
- Letter/Number Stamps:
Some parts such as rod caps and main bearing caps must be kept together,
and you'll want to mark everything you take to the machine shop with an
identifying mark. Also, it's sometimes helpful to mark clearances, deck
height, etc. on the block for future overhauls. These stamps are an easy
way to do this.
- Lint-Free Shop Rags:
In general you CANNOT use standard red shop rags during overhaul. They leave lint behind that can cause
problems later. Your safest bet are the new disposable
paper shop towels.
These are the liquid "tools" needed for
assembly. Note the absence of anything alcoholic
thread-locker (Loctite "BLUE")
- High-strength thread
locker (Loctite "RED)
- Thread sealant
lube: Your cam will come with a chintzy packet of this stuff, but it
is not enough
- GM Engine Oil Suppliment
(EOS) is used as a pre-assembly lubricant and break-in additive. Keep a
squirt-can of this handy.
- Lubriplate engine
assembly lubricant is one of the most commonly used assembly lube. There
are many others, but as a beginner you can't go wrong with this one.
- WD-40 is used to keep
machined surfaces lubricated and free of rust.
- Brake Cleaner Brake
cleaner is a strong solvent that evaporates quickly. This is a great
cleaner when you must have "clean and dry" - for example,
bearing saddles in the block, caps and rods before bearing installation.
There is a long list of great rebuild books, but these
are the "must have" books:
"Nice To Have" Additions
These tools increase the accuracy of your measurements, allow further checks on
the tolerances and allow you to complete more operations you would otherwise need
to rely on the machine shop to complete. If you can afford these tools they do
allow you to build more powerful engines.
Tools NOT To Buy
There are some tools that are readily available and
commonly recommended that you do not need either because they are available for
rental, are not required or require skills that as a new or
"backyard" engine rebuilder you don't need.
- Ridge reamer: This
tool is typically used to remove the ridge left at the top of the bore due
to bore wear. Unless you plan to reuse the pistons,
this tool is not required...and is an easy way to destroy a usable block
if used incorrectly. With the low price of aftermarket pistons, pistons
are a "throwaway" item on rebuild. To get a piston out of the
bore, pound it out from the bottom with the wooden handle of a hammer -
you may break the piston ring lands, but you won't gouge the harder bore
wall - and that's what we need to keep intact.
bearing installer: This is one of those operations that you can do at
home...but the shop can do it better, faster and relatively cheap.
- Ring filer: Your best
purchase is pre-gapped rings. The gaps will typically be on the wide end
of the specification, but this is acceptable at this build level. Gapping
your own rings will likely require you to replace as many as 1/2 of the
rings due to errors.
Tools are an investment; this is a multi-edged sword. Good ones aren't cheap -
you don't need the very best if you're not building racing engines...but cheap
junk will either break something or hurt you. OTOH, don't "make do"
with a hack approach saving up for an expensive tool when a cheaper quality
tool is available. Yes, the really nice ring compressors are sweet...but you
can do a fine job with a bit more work and care with the inexpensive band compressor.
There is a fine line between "cheap" and "inexpensive"!
The last tool you need to bring to this process is patience. The
aphorism "measure twice, cut once" is a good mindset to have - you
cannot rush this process and experience success. Spend some quality time
reading through the references noted to ensure you really understand the
process end-to-end and ask questions on what's not specific enough in those
I hope this FAQ is useful and helps guide board members to good tool purchases
and successful rebuilds!