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 or PM "billla" if you find errors or broken links in this list. Last updated 1/5/2007

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 capacity stands. (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 check end-play.
  • 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. es
  • 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 worthwhile. d=00904662000
  • 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. (Small-Block) (Big Block)
  • 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

  • Medium-strength thread-locker (Loctite "BLUE")
  • High-strength thread locker (Loctite "RED)
  • Thread sealant
  • Anti-sieze
  • Cam 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.
  • Cam 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.

Final Notes
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 books.

I hope this FAQ is useful and helps guide board members to good tool purchases and successful rebuilds!