Mechanics Tools

First line Domestic

kidtool.jpg - 20219 Bytes
Proto 2 3/8"

Plomb to Proto

Proto traces its history to Alfonso Plomb who started a blacksmith shop in Los Angeles in 1907. He was not with the company for long but it carried his name. Plomb began making automotive tools in 1921, and invented what we now call the 'combination wrench' or 'Box end open end', now an industry standard, in 1933.

In 1941, Plomb Tool acquired P & C Hand Forged Tool Company in Milwaukie (Portland, Oregon). Mr. John Peterson & Mr. Charles Carlborg established P& C in 1920. The facilities augmented contract production and continued producing P&C tools until about 1964. They were a familar brand of automotive tools here in Oregon at least in their day.

In the late 1940's Plomb Tool company of Los Angeles was on the wrong end of a Trademark case with Plumb Tool Company, a maker of hammer wrenches. After 1950 and a painful lawsuit the tools were using the Proto trademark.

The company as sold to Ingersoll Rand in 1964, and then to the Stanley Works in 1984.

Before that, though in 1962, Proto formed a joint enterprise with a Mr. Urrea of Mexico to create a Mexican company, "Protomex, SA" to manufacture Proto tools in Mexico. After Ingersoll Rand bought Proto, Urrea bought out the American share of Protomex S.A. but also gave up the rights to use the Proto trademark, and today we have URREA tools the biggest tool maker in Mexico, marketing tools not only in Mexico but also in the US which are remarkabaly similar to the Proto brand including even the same part numbers but bearing the URREA brand.

Additional information on Plomb here.

Additional information on URREA

Alloy Artifacts: Vintage tool information about Snap-on, Plomb and others

I'm going out on a limb here and talk about Mechanic's tools. You don't have a bunch of big iron around without the need to pull some wrenches. Most mechanics usually have pretty strong opinions about their tools though many are not that much different.

For a service truck to haul these tools see: Grand Ma's Chariot

There are a variety of popular US made tools on the Market. It is perhaps worth while to sort out who owns who. The big dog in the tool business is Snap-on. Other dogs in the fight include Stanley who owns Proto and MAC tools. The main difference between Proto and Mac is that Mac tools are sold out of the back of a truck like Snapon, while Proto's are sold in tool stores. Then there is Danher Corporation who owns Armstrong, Allen, K-D and Matco. Smaller but still makers of a robust line of tools is Wright. Williams, which is a subsidiary of Snapon, is also a well known brand.

You will of course see a lot of Craftsman tools around which is a Sears private label. The Craftsman line appears remarkably similar to the Armstrong line. Historic brand names include Plomb and P&C. P & C was a subsidiary of Proto for a long time and they were made in Milwaukie, Oregon, but he line is long gone now. After the demise of P & C, Proto used Challenger as the competitively priced line to meet Craftsman on a price basis, but alas Challenger is gone too. Proto has been consumed by The Stanley Works, so now you see Stanley branded Taiwanese tools providing the competitively priced sets. Interestingly you will find reference to MAC on the Stanly website, but never a mention of Stanley on the MAC website.

The good news is that they are all good tools. All of these folks have been in business for a long time and since the tools aren't much different, It is a marketing game. If you want a Craftsman, you can go to a shopping mall, wade past the ladies underwear and somewhere in the back of your local Sears store will be the tool department. The clerk that helps you may have been selling sofa's yesterday so you don't expect a lot of technical knowledge about tools, but if you are looking for sets of tools at very good prices you will find very good tools at very competitive prices.

Snap-on is at the very other end of the market. You won't find a Snap-on tool anywhere in a retail outlet. The Snap-on tools come to you. The Snap-on dealers have trucks and make the rounds where mechanics congregate. They know their products well, provide service and often credit and do business right beside your tool box. The prices reflect the service, but for mechanics who don't have time to go chase down a tool they might need, the service is a genuine value added.

In the middle is Proto. You commonly find them in tool stores. They are sold in places where guys in greasy coveralls are welcome, and are usually sold by someone who knows something about tools, but if you lean on your tool box and wait for a Proto to show up you may wait a long time. The Wright, Allen, and Armstrong brands seem to be sold similarly. I don't know where a Mac is sold, other than 'off the truck'. There is clearly value in the 'off the truck' sales, particularly if you are a line mechanic, as scrubbing up and wading through the women's ready to wear to find a wrench at Sears isn't to practical.

Second line imported

Tracking behind the first line domestic tool makers are the imported tools.You can find a variety of them from various Asian countries. The remarkable thing about them is the price. Imported tools will often be found at 75 to 90% less than the domestic brand name tools. The price differential is astounding. Unfortunately, often times so is the quality. Built into the price of the domestic tools is first quality and a guarantee system whereby in many instances the dealer will exchange broken tools for new ones if they fail. Don't expect a warranty on the imported ones. I've had some there were as good as any domestic brand name, and others that weren't worth putting on a bolt.

What Tools do you need?

Actually that is a rhetorical question for which there is no answer. You need tools that fit the equipment that you must repair. If you are fixing watches your tools will be different than if you are a logger. Likewise whether you have fractional inch tools or metric tools will be a function of the equipment you are using them on. Older American equipment is almost universally fractional while imported equipment is almost universally metric. Newer domestic iron may be transitional and have some of each.

The basic tools of any mechanic will be an end wrench set and one or more socket sets. Of the end wrenches you will find two basic types, the open end and the box end. The Box end totally encircles the nut or bolt while the open end has, you guessed it, an open end and usually just holds on 2 sides of a faster. The open ends are prone to slip off, round off the corners of a bolt and do other undesirable things. They can also be used where for a variety of reasons a box end won't work. While you can buy Box end sets and open end sets, the single most popular type is what is officially known as the combination wrench. It has a box end on one end and an open end of the same size on the other end. You can use which ever end works giving preference to using the box end if you can---particularly if the fastener is turning hard.

Common combination wrenches appear in sizes from 1/4" on up in fractional and 6 mm up in metric. The top end size varies with the manufacturer. The bigger manufacturers offer these wrenches in sizes up to 2 1/2" though Craftsman stops at 1 5/16". The usefulness of the wrenches actually diminishes fairly quickly above 1 1/8". The problem is that the torque capability of the bolt increases dramatically as the diameter of the bolt is increased, and though longer the length of the wrenches doesn't follow. For example if you assume a strong mechanic can pull 200 lbs, it would take a 5 foot long wrench to generate 1000 lbs. of torque---a figure that you might well need to achieve even with bolt heads under 2". These end wrenches are usually less than 3 feet long which is one of the reasons we have sockets. Prices vary radically. The Snap-on Catalog lists a combination wrench set from 3/8" to 1 1/4" at around $680.00. You can get a Craftsman set for under $100, and may find an imported set for under $50.00. Go figure.

When you buy a set, though be very careful. The vendors keep the set prices down by leaving out some of the big wrenches. If you really don't need them then that is great, but if you have to in fill the set a wrench at a time you get hosed. You see SAE sets stopping at 3/4", 7/8", 15/16" etc. Heavy equipment requires the use of 15/16", 1 1/16", 1 1/8" in particular all the time. So far the only size under 2" I haven't used is 1 15/16" because I don't have one and at least Proto doesn't make one. Our Drott 80's are done in JIC fitting and 2" is a common size on the main lines on it so I keep a Proto 2" combination wrench handy.

Likewise a set of pump wrenches is a must if you work in hydraulics. These are thin short handled open end wrenches for working in tight places.

Socket sets

Snapon wrench
Snapon ratchet wrench
Although SnapOn has now apparently dropped the 1 1/2" drive tools, they used to offer a ratchet and breaker bar which shared a common handle.

Socket sets are usually defined by the 'drive size', this being the size of the square connector on the top of the socket. Common drive sizes for hand tools include 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 3/4" and 1". For impact tools 1 1/2" and 2 1/2", and even 3 1/2" are to be found for impact wrenches.

In times past there was also a 5/8" drive and a 7/8" drive, but I don't know of anyone actively making those sizes presently except that both Snap on and Proto have adapters from 5/8" to other sizes so you can utilize any 5/8" drive sockets you may have (we have a full set of 5/8" impact sockets). Tool makers offer a range of socket sizes for each drive size. One of the things that you have to do as a mechanic is to select the drive size appropriate to the task at hand. You won't find a lot of guidelines as to what drive size to use for what. As a general rule, bigger is better--if there is adequate clearance for the larger and heavier tool to fit. However, if you follow that rule literally you end up swatting flies with a sledge hammer. My rough rule of thumb is to compare the drive size to the bolt size and use a drive size that more or less matches. If you have a 1/2" bolt think 1/2" drive. If it is an 1" bolt think 1" drive.

Looking at it another way, the 3/8" drive is a really nice automotive set. The sockets are thin and the handles pretty short implying that they will fit in a lot of tight places that bigger wrenches won't go and still provide the torque necessary for unbolting most of what you find under the hood of an automobile. There must be 10 different common ratchet configurations that you can get, stubby, standard, long, flex handle, index head, comfort grip, pear head, round head, plus every conceivable combination. Also it isn't that hard to break a 3/8" drive if you hook on to the immovable and muscle it, particularly with the long handled combinations.

Consequently your basic automotive mechanic will usually have a 1/2" drive set around for heavier things. It works really well for the bigger bolts that you might find on an automobile. I would guess my most used socket for the 1/2" drive is a 3/4" socket, though common socket sets usually include sockets up to 1 1/4" or so. You can pretty much pull as hard as you want to on a half inch flex-handle and expect that it won't break. I'm not sure about those long pattern flex handles with 24" handles, but certainly the ones with 15" or 18" handles have a good survival rate if you don't put a pipe on the handle to extend it. A half inch drive will take a lot of abuse, but jumping on a 4 foot pipe is not the type of abuse that you should expect it to endure.

Where you go after half inch depends on how ugly the biggest of big is. If you are not going to need over about 1200 lbs of torque, a 3/4" drive will suffice. Two loggers on a 6 foot pipe slipped over the handle of a 3/4" drive flex-handle will break it. While a 3/4" drive set is often sold as the 'extreme duty' set and it is sufficient for saw a diesel truck mechanic for most purposes, when I set up my service truck for big logging machinery I mostly bypassed the 3/4 drive. Instead of a full set, I got just a ratchet, a flex-handle and a 15/16" through 1 1/8" sockets. A 3/4" drive wrench can be broken--a couple of loggers on a 6 foot pipe extending on a 3/4" flex handle and something is going to break---likely the wrench of the bolt doesn't come loose. I don't know the design torque limits of 3/4" drive, but I note that the upper end of the 3/4" drive with impact tools is around 1200 foot lbs. of torque.

Since I need to be able to work on a lot of big iron, I just mostly skipped over the 3/4" drive and went straight to a 1" impact socket set. The pleasant thing about the 3/4" size is that if you are man powering it, the wrenches are usually light enough to lift which is a big deal if you are working on the bottom side looking up, and strong enough that just one man, unless you are real gorilla, or use a cheater pipe you aren't going to break it. Once again I don't have much of a clue what the maximum engineering spec is for an 1" impact drive, but I see 1" impact wrenches advertising 2400 lbs of torque which suggests to me that this is likely within the design spec. I've only twisted off one 1" drive product, and this was a 1 1/2" to 1" adapter. I got the job done manually by myself by stacking a couple X4 Torque multipliers producing what I would estimate under the circumstances to be around 6,000 foot lbs of torque (quite a bit beyond the rated capacity of my model 1500 X4 torque multiplier---but it wasn't what gave way.

Judging from the output sizes and capacities that I see on torque multipliers on the Snap-on web site, I that the idea that torque values in the range of 2500 to at least 8000 foot lbs can be handled via a 1 1/2" drive. Values beyond 8000 require the use of a 2 1/2" drive, or at least Snap-on's 12,000 foot lbs. torque multiplier has a 2 1/2" drive. The values for various drive sizes which appear in the following table come from one manufacturer, Hytorc. I haven't seen published torque capacities of other manufacturers.

Drive size Max Working torque Probable Failure
1/2" 385 ft.lbs. 425 ft. lbs.
3/4" 1310 ft. lbs. 1485 ft. lbs.
1" 3100 ft. lbs. 3400 ft. lbs.
1 1/2" 10460 ft. lbs. 11475 ft. lbs.
2 1/2" 48440 ft. lbs. 53125 ft. lbs.

The bottom line is this----If you use an impact socket and a 1" drive flex handle (or t-bar) you are unlikely to break the wrench with one or two men pulling on the wrench even if you use quite a long pipe extender, though you may brain yourself if the wrench slips off.

The all around most common usage of 1" drive components is for truck lug nuts on Budd wheels. The usual spec I have seen suggests tightening them to around 450 lbs which can be achieved manually about the time your eyes bulge if you are using a wrench with a 3 foot handle (150 lbs of force on a 3 foot handle equals 450 foot lbs of torque). Of course, if you are taking the wheel off, it is another story. It is not uncommon to find lug nuts that a 1" drive impact wrench nominally capable of 1200 lbs of torque won't loosen. I say nominally, because impact wrenches get tired with age, and may not have optimum air supply to reach the manufacturers rating as well.

I have found that a single 4:1 X4 torque multiplier turned with a 1" flex handle or t-Bar is usually sufficient to get nuts that the impact wrench won't take. I use an model 1500 torque multiplier rated for 1000 foot lbs in on a 1" drive, and 4000 ft. lbs. out on a 1 1/2" drive. Presumably, most folks with this 4 to 1 gain won't be producing more than 2000 foot lbs. of torque using this combination.

One toy I accumulated on Ebay is a 10,000 lb Sturtevant-Richmont Torque Multiplier. It has a 6 to 1 ratio and is a 2 1/2" drive output. Presumably this means that you need to generate 1600 foot lbs of torque on the input side to max it. I"ve got an 2 1/2" to 1 1/2" adapter so I can use my 1 1/2" drive sockets. Based on the information I have, 10,000 ft lbs shouldn't split open a 1 1/2" drive socket so this should be a workable solution. I have collected some 2 1/2" drive sockets but most of the large bolts don't have enough clearance around them for the sockets to be usable. It does turn things that are otherwise reluctant.

Slug wrenches/striking wrenches

slugging wrench
Slugging wrench

An alternative to a torque multiplier or an air-impact wrench for larger sizes is the slug wrench sometimes called a striking wrench or a hammer wrench. It is usually a short handled box end wrench with a square 'slug' on the end of it. they may be straight or with an offset in them. Some I have seen have an eye for a tag line so someone can hold the string to keep the wrench from flying. Anyhow the usage is the same. You put the wrench on the nut and whack the wrench with a sledge hammer. Bigger sledge hammers work better than smaller sledge hammers.

The advantage of this method is that it is cheap and you usually don't break the tools. The slug wrench is a really heavy beefy box end wrench designed for hammer use. Your typical hand box end wrench is made light in weight and if you whack it with a 20 lb sledge hammer it is flexible enough that it will absorb most of the shock, but the hammer wrench is suppose to have enough mass to transmit the shock right to the fastener which his what you want. Some manufacturers suggest the use of slug wrenches for taking things loose as a preferred alternative to a torque multiplier. The problem with the torque multiplier is that they are expensive, and since you never know for sure how hard you are going to have to turn to loosen a fastener it is easy to exceed the torque limitations of the multiplier which produces a couple cups of tiny little pieces as the planetary gears come apart. Slug wrenches make a lot of sense when dealing with nut sizes of 1 1/16" and larger. Your traditional box end / open end wrench doesn't do much good. For example, the standard 1 7/8" combination wrench is around 30" long. Maybe you can get 500 lbs of torque with it, if you are big and strong, but a bolt big enough to have a 1 7/8" nut ( 1 1/4" bolt ) needs a lot more torque than that either reasonably tighten it, or to get it loose. Slug wrenches work well wit extension pipes as well as sledge hammers which make them a vastly preferred solution for the larger sizes.

A super no-no with a torque multiplier is to put an impact wrench on it. That is a guaranteed way to turn an expensive tool into junk.

A tool setup for a logger's service truck

You, of course, need more tools than a service truck will haul, but here is a start of what is useful:

Related Equipment
- - Updated 12/31/2012
- - Updated 06/06/2009
- - Updated 07/11/2008
- - Updated 04/06/2008
- - Updated
- - Updated 5/13/2005
- - Updated 03/21/2008