So, you’ve found your perfect project car, have your garage or workspace carved out, mapped out your timeline and budget, and are just about ready to kick off your restoration project – congratulations! It’s a daunting undertaking, but by following the pre-project checklist and recommendations, you’ll be able to tackle the job, plus have lots of fun doing it.
Now that the big-ticket items are accounted for, you need to think about what tools and equipment you’ll want to invest in to help make your project a whole lot easier. Since none of us have the luxury of an unlimited budget or the space for a full-service auto shop, we have to make the tough decision of which specialty tools to add to our toolbox inventory. Like kitchen appliances, there’s a tool for everything, but there’s definitely not money for everything! So we’ve narrowed the list down to the 8 most essential, bang-for-your-buck tools that you simply can’t live without when starting your classic car restoration project.
Need to backtrack a bit and work out your budget, equipment list and priorities? Go back to our Beginner’s Guide to Restoring a Classic Car.
Top 8 Tools You Must Have to Restore a Classic Car
You will turn to these 8 tools time and again during your restoration project. Not only will they make work easier, but they’ll make it faster and much less frustrating. Plus, the result will look more professional.
1. Air Compressor
An air compressor is one of those tools that you just need to have if you do any kind of work around the house or on vehicles. If you plan to use an impact wrench, hammer, grinder or paint sprayer, you’ll use an air compressor for your car project. Bonus - it’s so universal you’ll find yourself turning to it frequently for common household repairs and projects.
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Being able to easily maneuver in, around and underneath your car is essential. One item that’s necessary for this accessibility is a good creeper. You’ll use it for years to come on regular vehicle maintenance and small repairs.
3. Floor Jack
Since we’re talking about accessibility, being able to lift your car and its elements is pretty important. You’ll definitely need at least one floor jack to give yourself the best access and reach. You may or may not need a transmission stand or engine stand (more on that later), but you will need a few floor jacks.4. Grinder
Why would you need a grinder? Well, did we mention rust in our Beginner’s Guide to Classic Car Restoration? A grinder will help you do much of the minor to moderate frame and bodywork the way it should be done. You can also use it to buff edges and cut metal.
5. Hand Tools
What hand tools will you need? It really depends on what you’ve already got in your inventory. If you’ve accumulated a worthy tool collection over the years, you may just need a few odd sized combination wrenches, hex wrenches, screwdrivers or ratchets. But if you’re missing most of these, consider investing in a complete mechanic’s tool set to make sure you have the full arsenal of metric and standard sizes for nearly every application.
Pittsburgh’s 225-Piece Mechanics Tool Set from Harbor Freight Tools
Doing your own welding may seem a bit daunting, but if you want to take on this new skill, you can save a lot of money by welding the bodywork and frame yourself. For auto restoration, you’ll want to choose one of the following welders:
- MIG (metal arc welders, whether gas or flux-cored)
- TIG (tungsten arc welders using shielding gas)
- Arc (traditional stick electrode)
To learn more about DIY welding and how to get started, check out this guide, Welding for Car Restoration.7. Paint Stripper
If you plan to use the mechanical method of removing paint from you vehicle – the good old ‘sand and scrape,’ that is - you’ll need a paint stripper tool. DIYers usually opt for this method since it’s cheaper and easier than chemical paint removing techniques.
A less expensive mechanical paint stripping tool can help with small jobs such as minor paint touch-ups and rust removal. A more pricey, advanced model can help remove large amounts of rust from metal panels and can help with projects that require a full-on paint job.
To learn more about how to properly strip paint, check out this guide from MotorTrend: The Ultimate Paint and Body Guide Part 2- How to Strip Paint.
8. Dent Puller
A dent puller is just another small specialty tool that will work wonders with your body repair tasks. There are two main types of dent pullers: one is hand-operated, like a suction cup, while the other is automatic (pneumatic) and can be used with your air compressor. Both can be handy for jobs of different sizes with different accessibility.
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Top 9 Tools You Might Need to Restore a Classic Car
We don’t consider every item on this list a necessity. It really depends on the state of your project car and what work needs to be done on it. For example, if you’re not removing the engine or the transmission, then you won’t need a transmission stand or an engine block. But if you are, they’re non-negotiable.
Sheet Metal Scissors: An option for cutting out sheet metal and trimming patch panels.
RELATED: 9 WAYS TO CUT SHEET METAL
Wire Brushes: Prep your rusty surfaces and do small detail work more efficiently.
Drum Brake Tools: For working on your existing OE brakes if you don’t plan to upgrade.
RELATED: VIDEO GUIDE: HOW TO CONVERT REAR DRUM BRAKES TO DISC
Kneeling Pad: Keep your knees and back comfortable and protected.
The Most Essential Auto Tools for Restoring a Classic Car or Muscle Car
While it would be great if budget weren’t an issue, we have to pick and choose which items are deemed essentials versus those we can pass on. These 8 “must have” specialty tools will help even the least experienced DIYer make a car restoration project look professional. When adding the “nice to haves,” consider the project areas where you have more experience and skills, and how much proper storage and a comfortable environment matter to you.