Tools: The Basics
Right up front, let's be clear on a few things:
You can spend as little or as much as you want on tools.
Tools are an investment and can pay for themselves over time when you look at the cost of your own tools and "free" labor compared to the cost of someone else's tools and labor.
In general, you get what you pay for. But keep in mind the concept of diminishing returns.
The following article is based on my recommendations. Everyone's experiences will differ, and I'm basing my recommendations on what I think will benefit the widest audience.
Tools can be very expensive. Even inexpensive tools become costly as you build your collection. If you've got deep pockets and want to use this article as a shopping list, more power to you! I'm not in the position, and I would imagine most of my readers aren't, either, so my goal is to lay out something of a guideline for what to buy, when, and why.
DISCLOSURE: Throughout this guide I have links that will take you to other pages on Unzipped or Redpants, or are affiliate links that will take you to a website where you can buy the thing that I’m recommending - often Amazon. All links are meant to be useful, not misleading. If you come across a link you think is misleading, please let me know. Sales from Redpants go directly to us, and we get referral fees from the affiliate links. Thank you for your support!
Mechanics Tool Sets
The first thing to start off with is an assorted set of sockets, bits, ratchets, and so on. These are usually called “Mechanics Tool Sets” and include the basics you’ll need. They vary wildly in what’s included - you can get anything from 100 to 450 pieces in a given set. I usually go for a small-to-medium sized set, as larger sets often have redundant items that may be unnecessary for hobbyists. The main benefit of getting a Mechanics Tool Set is it gives you the widest range of often-used tools, and you get them for much cheaper as a set than if you were to buy them individually.
“Drive” refers to the size of the connection between a ratchet and a socket. The three main drive sizes are 1/4”, 3/8”, and 1/2”. In general, the smaller the bolt, the smaller the drive needed. Vice versa as well - large bolts generally need a larger drive ratchet. In addition to sockets having a specific drive, there are also adapters to connect sockets and ratchets that have mismatched drive sizes.
6 and 12 Point Sockets
You’ll often see both 6-point and 12-point sockets in the same sizes. 6-point sockets are better to use as they have more contact area with the bolt you’re working on, but 12-point sockets help with bolts that have a damaged or misshapen head. For a car like an Aston Martin that typically doesn’t have bad bolts, the 6-point sockets are generally better. The exception to this is in tight spaces, where a 12-point socket may be able to get onto a bolt more easily than a 6-point socket as the 12-point socket has twice as many notches, and can therefore get seated with smaller angle increments.
Short, Medium, and Deep Sockets
Most tool sets have short and deep sockets. They each have their purpose and will both be used extensively. What often isn’t included, however, are medium-depth sockets. I actually use medium-depth sockets as my go-to tool for bolts because they can often work on bolts needing either short or deep sockets, and they can also work in tricky situations. For example, replacing the exhaust manifolds on a V8 Vantage requires medium-depth sockets. Short sockets aren’t deep enough to clear the studs, and deep sockets are too long to fit into the limited space.
Standard vs Metric
Socket sizes come in two flavors: Standard (SAE) and Metric. Mechanics sets usually include both but you’ll almost exclusively be using the Metric sockets. When buying individual sets of tools (sockets, wrenches, etc), prioritize Metric first as these are the ones you’ll be using on your Aston Martin.
Most Mechanics Sets will include a plastic case that keeps all the bits and pieces organized. While nice to have and good for flat-laying storage, keep in mind that it’s very rare for the things to stay in place within the case if you pick the case up by its handle and carry it around. I’ve gone so far as to cut a thick piece of posterboard to shape to keep in the case to help manage holding everything in place, and that had limited success. I mention all of this to keep expectations realistic - the portability aspect of a tool case usually isn’t the best.
In addition to ratchets and sockets, Mechanics Sets will often include things like screwdriver bits, Torx bits (more on these later), Allen keys, hex bits, and so on. These sometimes come in handy, but most of them I find inferior to the actual tools they’re based on.
Jobs Needing a Mechanics Tool Set
Almost every single job. Seriously. The tools in these sets will be your go-to tools for just about every job. The only one I can think of that doesn’t require these tools is replacing the antenna on an ‘06-07 V8 Vantage because that just twists on and off by hand.
Recommended Mechanics Tool Set
If you’re looking for a comprehensive set of tools to work on your Aston Martin, I’d suggest the 192-piece set from Dewalt. It includes a wide range of sockets, plus has all the Torx bits you’ll need for common maintenance jobs. The Allen key sets and wobble joints are a big bonus as well.
For medium-depth sockets, GearWrench has a set of both 1/4” and 3/8” metric sockets. These have been a life-saver for me and are a great addition to your tool set.
Click the button below for Part 2 of this article, which discusses ways to get your Aston Martin off the ground so you can work on it.