11 Mechanic’s tricks your dad (hopefully) taught you

I usually find out the easiest way to do something right after I’ve just done it the hard way. I also love learning new mechanical tricks and shortcuts but sources of this stuff are hard to find so here’s a few of my favourite tricks that I’ve learned (mostly from my old man, hence the title). If any readers out there have a good trick to add, leave a comment.

(I’ve amended this article with a few ideas that friends suggested to me via Facebook)

Removing a spigot bush from the end of your crankshaft. Or pretty much any bearing from a blind bore:


  1. Put some thick grease in there.
  2. Get a shaft that fits snugly in the bush and, uh, put it in there.
  3. Hit the shaft with a hammer. The hydraulic pressure will force the bush out.
  4. Wipe your face clean. The grease comes out with the bush.

When you’re drilling a big hole and the drill bit just keeps throwing the workpiece around and cutting Reuleaux triangle shaped holes

  1. Check your drill bit
  2. Slow down the spindle speed a bit
  3. Engage the drill until it juuuust touches the part enough to centre it
  4. Clamp it down
  5. Drill firmly through a business card.

When you just can’t get enough torque to undo that nut…

  • Try slipping a pipe over the socket wrench.
  • If you’re using a ring/open spanner, use the ring end on the tricky nut/bolt and interlock the ring end of another spanner on the open end of the spanner you’re using. Your double spanner is now twice as long. This isn’t really that good for your spanners but sometimes you need to get things done.
  • If you don’t have room for the extra leverage because something is in the way, sometimes you can use a pinch bar or a big screw driver to lever the spanner or wrench off of that something.
  • Screaming helps.
  • Buy an impact driver. This was just the excuse you were looking for. If that bolt gets the better of you for a day then once you factor in your daily wage then you can’t afford *not* to buy one. It’ll pay for itself. Now that you dropped a couple hundred on the wrench and Li-ion batteries, you should probably get the matching drill and grinder, right? The savings keep rolling in! Also beer. It’ll relax you and help prevent mistakes.

A few extra from Luke:

Step 1: Pipe on end of wrench
Okay so now you might be getting that engineer-sense/tingling sensation that you’re about to twist off the end of the bolt..
Step 2: Whack the end of the bolt with a hammer a couple of times If it’s still stuck… (Impact screwdrivers are great for this too)
Step 3: Bust out the oxy and heat the area up.
Step 4: Rush around trying to find something to put out all the grease and oil you have just ignited because you’re too lazy to clean the area beforehand.

Are you bashing a male thread with a hammer?

Put a nut on it first so you don’t trash the thread!

Thread burnishing by turning and tapping with a hammer:

Sometimes you cut a large thread (almost) correctly and the first time you put it together, it seizes. When it does seize, tap the assembly lightly with a hammer. This burnishes the threads to match. You’ll find that the nut will loosen as you do this so tighten it a bit more and tap it again. Repeat this a few more times and you’ll have a nice, free-running threaded assembly.

Locking two nuts together for various reasons:

The easiest way to tighten a stud or a piece of allthread is to tighten two nuts against each other on it. This locks them and the allthread/stud to each other so that you can turn it. Also, double nutting is a good way to prevent nuts from loosening under a varying load.

Do you need to hold that threaded thing in a vice?

Cut a slot into a nut with a hack saw. Now thread it on and clamp the nut in the vice. As the vice tightens, it’ll clamp up the nut and hold the thread tight, too.

My Phillips head screw is mangled and I can’t get it out

  1. Penetrant oil. Do this before anything. It probably won’t help but it does boost your confidence.
  2. Get an impact driver and try that, they’re like $30 now.
  3. Vice grips around the head of the screw.
  4. Vice grips in combination with a screwdriver. Vice grips are like red wine, they go with anything and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.
  5. Try cutting a slot with a hacksaw or dremel and undoing it with a flat head screwdriver.
  6. Try welding something to it.

From Autopilot: “For mangled screw heads, you can get a bigger Phillips head driver and a patient ball peen hammer to re forge the head. Usually works and your screw even looks presentable afterwards”

OK now it’s broken, now what?

  1. If you can, sometimes tapping with a small centre punch in the loosening direction works. This has worked for m a couple of times.
  2. If it’s soft, you can try drilling it and using an easy out.
  3. Once the easy out has broken, you might want to try welding to it
  4. If it’s recessed deep, welding gets tricky but here’s a last resort to consider: Wrap an arc welding electrode in a couple of layers of masking tape so it’s only “live” at the tip. Then insert it in the hole, strike an arc on your broken bolt and then jam the electrode down and unclip the stick holder. Wait for it to cool.

From Graham: “Easy outs, junk, all they do is ease money out of your wallet. Drill the hole and hammer a torx bit into it. Preferably a Mac or Snap-On the odd chance it breaks you can get a new one for free. Works like a hot dam and way better than any easy out system I have ever tried !!”

From Tuddaz: “Get some left handed drill bits for removing stuck screws before you reach for the easy out. It’ll probably just come out with the drilling (or you’ll snap the drill bit off) before you reach the point of needing to use the easy out. I’ve been told you can just keep drilling larger and swap to a reamer when you get close to the diameter of the thread, but I’ve never tried that to know if it works.”

Unbolting your steering wheel:

Leave the nut on loose until you’ve yanked it loose off the spline. Otherwise, it’s highly likely that you’ll hit yourself in the face with it when it comes off.

Removing CV’s with a particularly stiff snap ring that doesn’t want to yank out:

From Aaron: “Camry Haynes manual said “Step 15: Grip CV drive shaft with hands, and pull to remove. Step 16:….”

Good luck.

I got a spare bench vice, camped it to the shaft and hammered the vice to get the CV shaft out.”

On Patience:

One of the big things I took away from a brief period where I did some work in a panel shop was from sanding small fiddly areas of panels. We’d undercoat and then spray on a mist of “guidecoat” which was just some black pressure pack rubbish paint. It’s look sort of peppered. Then you’d just sand with 180 grit until all the black specks were gone. At that point, you know you’ve sanded everything to the same level- no scratches. Anyway, when you’re doing a panel with lots of edges, you have to screw around for ages with a little bit of sandpaper and it feels like you’re getting nowhere for two hours and then suddenly, you’re almost done. It’s weird how it sneaks up on you. Anyway the point I’m making here is that building a car is the same, any large project really is like that. The trick is to stick with it until you realise you’re done.

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One Response to 11 Mechanic’s tricks your dad (hopefully) taught you

  1. Another trick that you might try to loosen stuck bolts and screws is to tighten them first. If you can get them to move by even a degree or two in either direction, you can sometimes wiggle them back and forth to help the penetrating oil work its way in.

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