You’ve made the investment and built a farm workshop. Now you need the right tools and equipment to make full use of it. What should you put in it?
Once again, we draw on the expertise of instructors from Assiniboine Community College’s School of Trades and Technology in Brandon, Man. Dennis White, Marty Zuzens and Dietrich Schellenberg share their recommendations for selecting tools and shop equipment.
Putting together a chest full of good-quality hand tools is the place to start. But that doesn’t mean going to those high-end, famous-name manufacturers you’re likely familiar with. High-end tools, while offering excellent quality, also have astronomically high price tags. The average producer isn’t likely to need that level of quality, anyway. Instead, the panel says, check out the professional tool lines offered by common outlets such as Canadian Tire or Sears.
Companies like these offer good-quality hand tools with lifetime warranties and affordable price tags. But, they caution, don’t go looking for cheap tools. The bargain-basement varieties offered at some discount stores won’t stand up to regular use. They just aren’t worth it, say the instructors, unless you are looking for a cheap wrench to cut up in order to make a special, rarely-used tool.
Next, install a good, high-capacity air compressor. For that, you’ll need one that operates on 220 volts. Run permanent piping around the shop to operate air tools, with outlets in convenient locations. And don’t go cheap here, either. Use full half-inch line with appropriately-sized fittings. That will ensure you get enough air to the tool. It’s not just the air pressure you need to consider, echo all three instructors. Volume is often the critical factor most non-professionals overlook. Half-inch line can deliver a high enough volume of air to keep tools, such as impact wrenches, running properly.
When it comes to other musthave tools, a welder was high on the list for all three instructors. Opting for one that combines both MIG and arc capabilities will give you the widest range of options. The arc function will allow you to weld outside the shop without worrying about windy conditions that make it impossible to use a MIG. And the MIG provides an efficient, easy-to-use option for other tasks.
A 20-to 25-ton hydraulic press will pay for itself in convenience, but the panel warns, make sure you learn how to use one properly and safely before you tackle any projects. A smaller-capacity press may not be large enough to do some jobs, while a larger one can damage components if the operator isn’t careful.
STEEL-CUTTING BAND SAW
Take the time to do a little research before you buy one. Make sure the one you buy takes blades of a common type to reduce operating costs. You don’t want a saw that takes uncommon replacement sizes that require special orders.
And doing a little pre-buying research also applies to shopping for all large shop tools. The instructors encourage producers to look carefully at the specifications before making any purchases. That way you’ll ensure you get exactly the kind of capacity and quality you need.
Lifting heavy components is commonplace with heavy-duty mechanical work, so a three-to five-ton shop crane is a good investment.
A supply of portable lighting on stands is a necessity. Because most access panels on machinery, especially combines, open upward, they shade the interior components from overhead lighting, which makes working on them difficult. Portable light stands overcome that problem.
Maybe you don’t need a separate room, but a corner with a desk, phone and bookshelf is important. With the complexity and variation in equipment designs today, keeping a stock of manuals will save time and money when making on-farm repairs. So the panel recommends investing a few dollars there. Keep them handy and protected inside the shop.
And there is one other tool you may not have thought about including in a workshop: a computer. Being able to access the Internet can be almost as useful as having a repair manual. All the instructors agree there are several useful websites — www.howstuffworks.com,for example — that can help coach you through a repair. Having online access right in the shop is worth the investment for anyone doing a lot of their own work.
Of course the list could go on and on. For example, you could also consider personal conveniences like a hand washing station and a small refrigerator to keep cold drinks. Just remember not to keep your wife waiting on an important day because you lost track of time in your state-of-the-art workshop, or you may need to add a sleeping cot, too.
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.