Oct 082012
 
Not sure what you would use this for, but it sure looks cool enough that I might need one!

Not sure what you would use this for, but it sure looks cool enough that I might need one!

Tools – You know you love them!

 

Part of every gear head’s dream is to have a shop full of every tool imaginable; and I am no exception.  I have a great garage space to work on my projects, and it does have some storage space. However, there is always another tool to buy; and, of course as I acquire more and more tools, my nice garage storage space seems less and less adequate. The cycle will probably never end – and I wouldn’t want it to!

Anyone with a storage issue must eventually face the question: what – and how many – tools are really needed?  It may surprise you to find that it is not absolutely necessary to own a large selection of tools.  The majority of projects can be done with some basic essentials.

 

Welders, plasma cutters and sheet metal breaks are very nice to have on hand if you have the budget and space.  However, the most important items to have in your tool box are a good set of sockets, wrenches, screw drivers, a jack and some jack stands.  So, what makes for a “good” set of tools?  The answer to that will usually differ from person to person.  For instance, my two grandfathers each had a very different idea of how best to choose a tool; and both have their merits.

Trays like these, make moving your tools around the shop very easy.

Trays like these, make moving your tools around the shop very easy.

My maternal grandfather (Amil) grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and went on to work a wide variety of jobs before settling into a career with the Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM, where he worked for decades.  His philosophy was, “Buy the best tools available, even if you can only buy them one at a time, out of each paycheck.”  My paternal grandfather (Shirley) grew up on a farm in the South during the depression. He was forced to support himself from the age of 14 or 15 because his family couldn’t afford to care for him.  He worked all kinds of jobs, both military and civilian, and he eventually became a welder.  He helped to design equipment that was used to clean, straighten, and repair the rocket sled rails at White Sands Missile Range during the space race era, and he always told me, “Buy the best tool you can afford, and don’t borrow what you can’t afford to replace – if you damage or break it, you own it.”  Here I’ve given you examples of two different schools of thought from two men who used their tools on a daily basis.  One told me to buy the best – PERIOD.  He believed that, by buying the highest quality tool, you would never have to replace that tool if it was cared for properly and used appropriately (a screw driver should never be used as a chisel or pry bar, and an adjustable wrench is NOT a hammer, even in a pinch).  The other said buy the best you can AFFORD.  He believed in buying what was immediately available to him for a price he could pay.  He was also careful with his tools and, while they may not have lasted forever, they held up well and didn’t need replacing for a long time.  When the time came to replace one he, again, bought what was available and affordable.  As time went on, he could afford better quality tools, and eventually he, too, owned the very best. 

Very nice rack of wrenches - mine are NOT stored this neatly.

Very nice rack of wrenches – mine are NOT stored this neatly.

 

The question of whether you need a new set of SnapOn or Matco wrenches, or if a set of big box store wrenches will work for you can only be answered by . . . you!  Ask yourself – how serious is this hobby of yours? Will you ever be attempting to make a living at this?  Personally, I buy a lot of Craftsman tools. They are readily available, have a good warranty and rarely break (if I use them properly).  For some of the more specialized tools, I look for higher quality if I expect to use it often.  Other times I might buy a very inexpensive tool, because I may only do the job it is designed for once, and I figure even the cheapest tool should work once.

Tool rental is also an option.  Some auto supply houses will allow you to rent specialty tools, and only require a deposit and a small rental fee.  This becomes a good option for tasks that you have the know-how to do yourself if you have access to the proper tools, and is usually less expensive than hiring out.  

 

Finally, if you want to offset the cost of an expensive tool, such as a plasma table, you might consider hiring yourself or the use of your tool out to others to provide an income source.

 

You should always consider what the job is before buying a new tool.  Often, a small simple job can be hired out inexpensively, saving you the cost of purchasing a specialty tool that you won’t use often.

  For example, building late model transmissions can require some very expensive and specialized tools; so, if you don’t see a lot of transmission building in your future, it may be less expensive (and quicker)

This is more my organizational style.

This is more my organizational style.

to have someone else do it for you.  On the other hand, if your mission is to learn a new skill, and you enjoy the process of doing it yourself, you can often buy the tools for the cost of someone else’s labor.  This is the reasoning I used a few years ago when I installed a lift kit on my truck.  I wanted the experience of doing the installation myself; I am a serious hobbyist and I enjoy teaching myself new things.  I bought the tools I needed to remove the torsion bars and hubs, and spent a fun weekend doing the install.  When it was done, I had gained some new knowledge, the job was done to my standards and satisfaction, I found myself $100.00 ahead on the project and I owned the tools, which I have used at least twice since.  I’d call that a win!

 

In the end you have to decide for yourself what you need from a tool and what your budget is. You should have some money worked into your build budget to cover tools that you will need, but you can never plan for them all, so be smart about it and keep your end goal in mind.

 

See you on the road.

Jeff

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Apr 202012
 

PART 2

Tear It Down

 

In Part 1, which was all about planning for your project, it was mentioned that you should locate and purchase your project vehicle.  For this article, we will assume that you have done so and are in possession of the vehicle.

If you are like me, from the moment you got the vehicle home, you have been itching to dive into the tear down and to get started beating out the dents.  First, you need to have a method in place for bagging and tagging all the reusable parts.  For storing small parts, ordinary sandwich bags with the zip-lock work really well.  You’ll need to have 100 or more on hand, as well as another 20 to 30 gallon size bags.  For the engine and transmission parts, you can go to a machine shop and, for just a few dollars, pick up a few very large, heavy duty bags.  Once you have your parts bagged up with the associated hardware, make sure to label the bag with a good permanent marker.  Write down what is in the bag and where it came from, ie, “Passenger Door Panel”, or “Wiper Motor”.  For those parts that are just too awkward to bag, my solution is to use green masking tape (sticks to just about anything) and write down where the part came from.  It may seem silly to tag a large part like a door sill, but even a small notation indicating L or R can make a long day easier.

Now you may be wondering what to do with all those baggies! I use plastic tubs from one of the big box stores – they are fairly inexpensive and readily available in various sizes.  A typical tear down may require 10 to 15 tubs for all of the parts.  I also try to group parts together in the tubs, which prevents me searching through every tub for similar parts.  Here again is a great place to make use of your green masking tape.  Just tear off a few strips and put them on the outside of the tub, and write down your project name, and list what the tub contains.  Even if you only have one project in your shop, the project name keeps you from opening box after box of Christmas ornaments and old clothes before you find what you are looking for.   I use shelving that I built in the corner of my shop to store items.  If they are too big for my shelves – for example, seats or the engine – then they go to another storage building on my property.

I know it’s a bit of a buzzkill for me to talk about storing and organizing and labeling when all you want to do is get your hands dirty, but I can’t tell you how many good, usable parts I’ve had to replace  because I couldn’t find them again when I needed them. This small thing is a big money saver and eliminates a lot of frustration!

You are almost ready to pick up those tools, but – if you haven’t already done so – you need to take a lot of pictures of the vehicle.  No matter what you have; car, truck or tractor, get pictures of the interior, exterior, engine, underside, etc.  When you do start taking things apart, take more pictures of the individual parts and the hard to see stuff.  It makes it much easier to put it all back together if you have a visual to refer back to.

Now, last but not least, you need to get a pen and paper and, as you pull parts off, make a notation of their condition.  Are you reusing, replacing or refinishing?  Parts that are being reused in their current condition get bagged and tagged and put away.  Parts that need to be replaced should go on your “Parts Needed” list, and should be stored separate from your reusable parts.  TIP: Don’t get rid of the original until you know the replacement is going to fit.  Parts that need to be refinished or repaired, but are reusable should go on another list and, again, be stored separately.  Finally, make a list of parts that are just plain missing!  Luckily, missing parts are easy to bag up and take up very little space.  Of course, they also tend to be the most expensive and the hardest to find replacements for!

Using this system, or whatever method you prefer, will help keep your project organized and on track.  Now, get out there and power wash everything, take pictures, break out the tools and have fun!

Jeff Allison

AllisonCustomsOnline.com

 

PS – I have set up a forum @AllisonCustomsOnline.com.  Take a look and load up a few pictures of your shop or your project.  Thanks for reading!

 

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Oct 232011
 
Bench build - NO

I like “Bench Building”; which, much like “Bench Racing”, is a time honored method to waste hours of time and has nothing to do with building benches or anything else useful. 

For those of you that have not been initiated, Bench Racing and Building are all about laying down the tools, picking up your favorite adult beverage and day dreaming,  preferably in your shop with a few friends, the smell of gasoline, burnt clutch, and Orange scented hand-cleaner filling your nostrils.  By the way why do all hand-cleaners smell like oranges?  But I digress.

The act of Bench Racing involves leaning back against your work bench and ruminating on how fast you were, could have been or will be.  Still unsure?   It’s the fish that got away.  It’s the dog fight demonstration with the fighter pilot “shooting his watch”, or the 12 point deer that you are sure you hit – “the blood trail must be around here somewhere!”

I like to dream up some rather unlikely car and drive train combinations and see how far I can get in the design process before I decide I must just be completely crazy.  Bench build - NO

Now many of you know I work for an airline and I drive 172 miles one way to work each week to Albuquerque or if I have an odd trip for the week I drive all the way to Phoenix, AZ (about 425 miles each way).  That works out to about 3 hrs for the short trip and 6.5 hours for the long one, spent in my hoopie car. (I don’t know where the name came from, but every small car my family ever owned got that name – on lives the tradition!)  All that time spent on the highway lead me to decide that I need a good, comfortable, smooth running, smoothing driving car with reasonable fuel mileage.

Can you hear my cranial wheels turning? – Bench Building time! 

Currently, I drive a 2006 Nissan Sentra. (BECAUSE IT IS GOOD ON GAS!  SO LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY!)  It is getting a little worn out, and I am getting tired of driving a roller skate.  I would like a little more space and a smooth ride that can also hold its own on an on-ramp. 

With that criteria in mind, I bought a 1981 Volvo 242. The purchase of this particular car was partly influenced by nostalgia.  I had a 244 in high school and part of college, and have always missed it. (Difference is 2 vs. 4 doors)  It was a GREAT highway car. 

Volvo-242-TurboMy “new” Volvo will need a few things; a new Ford Coyote V8, 6 speed trans., and a full up air bag suspension for the smooth ride and the ability to carve corners.  A little paint and interior, sound system, Nav, and – well you get the idea.

In the meantime, a good friend of my suggested I buy his Town car and just drive it.  He maintains it meticulously and hey it only has 150,000 miles on it so it should be good to go.  Of course, we all know nothing stock is EVER “Good to Go”.   As my mind wonders about the possibilities with the Town car I remember that I have a set of turbos I bought (cause I couldn’t live without them), and they would fit real nice under the hood of my new cruiser.   You know 8 psi, twins, intercooler should be up and running in like a week – Right?

Wait. I already have the Volvo – Town car is out.  So, I start thinking – (yes, there was smoke) what if I pick up a C4 Corvette (No, not to drive)? Would the 242 body fit? As it turns out, they almost fit, which is close enough to send me off on another tangent.  I could flair the fenders like Volvo did in the 80′s for their racing teams and shorten the C4 frame and WALA.   Presto! Magico! –  I have a real corner carver! 

But wait!  You know what would be even better?!  I know where I could get an early (small body) International Scout!  I bet that would fit the C4 almost exactly.  How cool would that be?  A Scout that can go fast and turn?       

ScoutRRRRRRRRTTTTT (sound of brakes)

 I am not driving an old Scout (Corvette underneath or not) to and from PHX or ABQ every week!

Back to the Volvo.

Last weekend, my Dad comes for a visit; and, while he won’t build a car himself, he does like Bench Building with me.  “A Scout” he says. “Son, we had one when you were little. Can you really get one cheap?  UNOE (“You Know” for those without the southern accent) with a good straight 6 engine and a 4 speed transmission with a granny gear and maybe a Gear Vendors overdrive unit, that would be fun up in the Mountains.”  So I reply, Well Dad, yes, I can get the truck and UNOE (I regress when we are together) I have the original engine out of the Impala.  It ran great before I pulled it and I think I have a 700r4 trans., which, with the use of an adapter kit would fit.  Then we wouldn’t need to deal with clutch linkage or an external overdrive. “ – “ How long to build it?”, Dad asks.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe a month or two.” (read a year or two, nothing for Me ever gets done in a timely manner)  “How much would it cost?”  

 Thanks Dad – Way to ruin a perfectly good Bench Building session.   Reality – who needs it?

Where is all this going you ask?  I don’t know.  I am just daydreaming and spewing my thoughts out on to this keyboard.

The upshot of all this is – if you try enough scenarios you will eventually come up with at least one you really like. Then, you should get out there and build it.  You only live once.  To have a great life, you should work hard, be the friend that you would want to have, love like it all ends tomorrow and, most of all Enjoy it!  Build it!

So let’s hear your ideas.  What Benches are you Building?

 

~  Jeff

 

Sep 062011
 

What is your project for?

This week as I was thinking about a subject for the Blog, my mind kept focusing on my GMC truck.   So, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the truck both as THE PROJECT and what I really wanted out of it.

To start with, in 1999 my wife Lori and I went on a portion of the Hot Rod Power Tour (back when they came out West).  We had a blast.  You run down the highway with a bunch of other idiots driving some version of their dream car that may or may not be completely ready for a trip to the local parts store, let alone highway speeds and long distances.  Such is the way a great adventure starts.

This is where my adventure started.  When we got home, I had decided that the only way this could get better was if I could include my whole family.  I have three children and my wife, so I decided that we would need a big truck with plenty of room for the famdamily and all our gear, oh and maybe even an entertainment system for the kids.  Suburban is what came to mind – Dropped into the weeds  -  late 60’s  - maybe a 68’ since that was the year I was born – Big Block – Plush!  I found a 1972 Chevy Suburban within a couple of weeks of starting my search, it was rough and not entirely complete (like mostly missing) but the price was right ($200) and what the heck;  I wanted to customize everything anyway.

Best Laid Plans – Oh sure I figured out that if I had started with a plan things probably would have gone much smoother, cheaper (VERY relative term) and quicker.  So, I got the truck home and began a complete frame off build.  First problem – Suburbans are UGLY  and I was seeing them everywhere I looked   -  Solution #1, CrewCab Pickup, stills seats 5 and has plenty of storage.  Oh, GM never made a CrewCab in the 67-72 body style * -  No problem, I’ll just make my own.  Second problem – I don’t like the Chevy front clip and I only really like the 1967 GMC  Hood and fenders – Solution #2 ,  A Long Call to LMC Trucks and lots of sheet metal later I have all my patch panels for the rough areas and a new clip for my taste buds.  So I start off by cutting the Suburban in half, and I find a 67 small window cab to take the rear panel from and with the magic of a tape measure, a welder and lots of grinding pads I have a CrewCab.  Third problem – 2 wheel drive trucks are everywhere! – Solution #3, That’s Right – Lifted 4×4, this only required a custom frame and body/bed mounts – No problem (Can you hear the money falling out of my pockets?)  Before long I had a bunch of parts that were starting to resemble a truck and, although I had come a long way the end was not in sight yet.  Next we need a little motivation – Can you say 502? Well, say it fast cause it COST – Fourth problem, maybe my budget is more like a small block, but it just has to have Fuel Injection though, cause I hate to tinker with Carbs – Solution # 4, this is when I came across a nearly new (3 miles) 6.0L and 4L80e transmission – Sure I can wire that up (only added a few months).  This was probably my best decision though, because this engine & trans have worked without trouble since I started them the first time.  (you can hear a sound bite on the gallery page for the truck).  Finally a little paint, (like three gallons worth) some interior and we are on the road.  –  Not so fast!

Now everyone knows I have skipped hundreds of steps and thousands of dollars just for the sake of making this readable, but you get the idea I think.  Start with a plan and a budget and things will go smoother.  Do it my way and you have a great truck AFTER 12 YEARS and a budget that would have bought my first house TWICE.  Not that I could have done it much cheaper, but it would have been done way sooner.  I LOVE my truck; it sits on 35” tires, is very drivable, has won awards, always gets a crowd to gather when I drive it and it is just plain COOL.  But you know what we still haven’t done – another Power Tour and now my oldest lives 500+ miles away, the middle kid just started college and the youngest is a junior in high school.

So, did I Fail?

Maybe with the idea of getting the whole family to go with me on the Power Tour, but not when I look at what I really wanted – a Truck that I am proud to own and that, at different times, my family and I have taken for a drive to town, and most importantly, a truck my sons helped me build!  So, I say Mission Accomplished!

* Yes I know, GM did make some for the railroad, not many – and they were not available to the general public.  Also, they used front doors for all 4 – too ugly for me.

Jul 252011
 

THIS IS MY STORY (AND I’M STICKING TO IT!)

Jeffery Allison/ Allison Customs

I’M A CAR GUY!  Probably not a shock to anyone reading this, as it’s a blog written for an audience of car lovers posted on a website for men and women with a passion for the automobile.  I’m new to this whole blogging idea; so I thought it should begin as any polite meeting would; with an introduction.  And those four words say a lot about me.

My love of cars began, typically, in my adolescence as I approached the age when I would be allowed a driver’s license.  When I was 14 and a half, I made a deal with my dad that whatever I could manage to save towards a car, he would match.  I worked every odd job I could find and saved up $300.00 which my father, true to his word, matched penny for penny.  I took that $600.00 and bought myself a Canary Yellow 1974 Toyota Corona.  On my 15th birthday, my dad drove me to the DMV in that yellow Corona to get my driver’s license.  I had a license and a car! What could be better!

Actually … there were things that could be better, so I saved again and bought a set of chrome and black modular wheels and the widest rear tires I could find.  My mistake was in not consulting my father first.  He wasn’t pleased with my modifications, reminding me that he owned half the car, and he threatened to make me put the original tires and wheels back on his half.  According to him, I was free to do whatever I liked with my half.  Thankfully, he never carried out his threat and I soon decided I was much too cool to drive a yellow car.  Having learned my lesson, I asked my dad if I could have the car painted.  “Sure” he said, as long as I paid for it.  I’m sure he thought it was safe to give me permission because I would never be able to afford it.  However, I found a guy who agreed to paint it with Jet Black lacquer paint for $300.00.  After that, my dad realized he couldn’t win; that I would never be happy with simply having a functional car to drive.  I needed to make that car mine!

In the years since, I’ve owned dozens of cars and trucks.  I’ve never been able to resist making changes to them whether it meant adding, removing, modifying or upgrading; I have to put my personal stamp on each one.  The only exception is whatever car my wife drives.  She will not allow me to touch hers.

I now operate my own car customizing shop, Allison Customs @ www.allisoncustomsonline.com  and my current project is a ground up rebuild of Robert Kibbe’s 1964 Chevelle.  In future blog posts I will update you on this and other projects that I have going.

Jul 252011
 

So this is NOT a picture of my actual first car, but it is a picture of the same make, model and color of my first car.

Yes it was an import and no it wasn’t fast or quick, but I thought it was.  My friends and I had such a great time with this car – best 300 dollars I ever spent.

Want to read the whole story?  Check out my introduction blog, “This is My Story“.

Thanks for visiting.