Tools of the Trade

Shop tools

Working on vintage bicycles requires the same tools as a regular bike shop, and quite a few specialty tools as well.  Since I work alone, I have the luxury of maintaining a pretty messy work space, but writing this blog post (plus the snowy conditions outside) gave me some incentive to spiff my shop up a bit before taking these photos.

In addition to being aware of French and Raleigh sizing issues, many vintage components require special tools.  In the middle of a job I will sometimes find that I don’t have the particular tool needed, and I must then go in search of the tool, or try to make my own.  My favorite sources for hard to find tools are:  BikeSmith Design and Fabrication and J.A. Stein.

vintage bicycle tools

These are a few of the specialty tools needed.  From left to right they are: a cotter pin press and a Raleigh fixed cup removal tool (both by BikeSmith Design); atop these is a crank tooth straightener,  next are T.A. and Stronglight crank extractors and a hub axle vise (by J.A. Stein); above these is my homemade fixed cup removal tool and a Park axle vise; and at the right are a bunch of freewheel removers, one of which was made for me by a local mechanic/machinist to remove older Cyclo freewheels.  I still lack a few freewheel removal tools for some rarer and older freewheels such as the English T.D.C. freewheels.

Fixed cup remover

I made this fixed cup removal tool following Sheldon Brown’s instructions.  The tool has worked okay but one fixed cup that I removed was on so tight that my washers were ruined when I finally got the cup free, so I had to re-make the tool.  I definitely like to remove a fixed cup so that I can properly assess and clean the bottom bracket and assess the inside of the frame.  And, often the BB needs replacement or upgrading so it’s great to be able to get the fixed cup out.

007 shop tools

My drawers have the usual stuff, but if you are going to work on vintage bicycles you’ll need a set of S.A.E. Allen wrenches, Lockring pliers (by Lozan), plus files for making frame modifications or cleaning up repairs.  I keep Testor’s paints for touch ups, although I generally only use the clear paint when I touch up a chipped area on a frame.  I do not like to purchase bikes that have had their frames touched up because I have no idea whether the area under the touch up was properly cleaned and sanded free of rust.  If not, the frame could continue rusting right through to the inner side of the frame tube.  That’s why I use clear paint so that any buyer of one of my restorations will not have to worry about what they can’t see under the paint.

005 Vise

A re-purposed wine rack serves as my tube holder and wheel repair stand.  I use a Craftsman Professional vise which is strong enough for anything I have tried.

018 bike shop tools

I purchased my frame blocks from an internet source that I can now no longer recall.  You need these if  you are going to need to put the frame in the vise.  I also have a Denali angle-finder, digital scale, lightweight drill, and super-wimpy Dremel.  I made the mistake of assuming I would need the smallest Dremel made because of the small parts on bicycles, but I actually really need one that’s a bit more powerful.

Bike shop cleaners

For cleaning, I keep brass and copper brushes on hand (which will not scratch steel), plenty of extra fine steel wool, and various cleaning products.  I try to avoid stuff that’s bad for the environment so I usually use a citrus based cleaner and/or alcohol to clean greasy parts.

Bike shop manuals

No shop is complete without repair manuals.  I have amassed a small collection of vintage shop manuals from frequent visits to my used bookstore, some of which are shown above.  Most useful to me is Glenn’s Shop Manual.  Not only does it feature a doctorish-looking Mr. Glenn in a white lab coat (sans grease stains) overhauling various components, it is the only book which has extensive guidance on overhauling internal hubs and hub generators.  It also has complete instructions for overhauling every imaginable rear derailleur of the time.  If you build wheels, then Jobst Brandt’s book is a must.  Park’s Big Blue Book is only moderately useful – I prefer to rely on the older shop manuals that have much more detailed guidance and plenty of exploded drawings and specifications.

Well, now that my shop’s all cleaned up, it’s time to go back to work!

10 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. It sounds like those of us who are doing this on a serious level have many of the same habits. Much of this looks familiar and of course, some of your methods are new as everyone has their own methods.
    I was happy to read your Dremel comment as I have purchasing one now for small, delicate tasks but hadn’t yet pulled the trigger. Glad I now know to get one with ample power (if I ever do get one at all).
    Also, you didn’t mention anything about bike repair stand. Are you using your vise along with the frame blocks for this purpose? Or is it simply not pictured/reported on?

    • Hi Josh,

      As far as repair stands go, I didn’t mention them in my post since I was focusing on tools unique to vintage bicycle repair and restoration. I currently use an older Park stand that does not have a quick-adjust clamp. I need to add an additional stand so that I can work on tandems, plus it’s nice to have the extra stand. Since I work in a small space, having a stand that is easily moveable and stowable is helpful. For my new stand I am thinking of another Park with a micro adjust clamp and with two flat legs. I have used a Feedback Pro Elite stand at another shop. It has a really nice clamp and is very lightweight yet can hold a lot, but I don’t like the triangular base – which I kept tripping over. Or, one could go super high end AND local by purchasing Brett Fleming’s amazing stand:
      Other repair stand ideas are welcome!

  2. Hello,
    You look like you know what you are doing! I have question, maybe you can help. I have an old Belgian bike, the brand is called Superia. Recently the Bearings in the back wheel inside the 3 speed gear cassette broke and I’m not sure how to fix it. I took the wheel to a bike shop and they said that I may have to get a whole new wheel. I’d prefer to keep the old wheel as it is steel and I like it. The mechanic at this shop said he it might be impossible to get the cassette off without breaking it. The cassette has two shallow slots on either side where a tool is supposed to slot but the guys in the bike shop said they don’t have this tool. Have you ever had to fix gears/bearings on old bikes? Are you familiar with a tool that might work or a way to make a tool to do the job.

    Thanks, Nick

    • Hi Nick,
      Is there a name on the freewheel? Depending on the brand, you may be able to locate a removal tool from various internet sources. The tools are specific to the brand, generally. Cyclo freewheels have two notches, but actually come in a number of different diameters as well. Another idea would be to locate a vintage/used bike shop in your area and take the wheel to them. Even without a freewheel remover they would be able to get the freewheel off by disassembling it if needed. Once the f/w is off you’ll be able to see the condition of the threads, and whether they are English, French or Italian. If the threads are good, and the hub is good, then it’s just a matter of finding an appropriate replacement for the old freewheel. Good luck!

  3. howdy,

    I’d like to know your approach in cleaning old framesets caked with grease and dirt hardened by age. How do you go about this?

    • Hi Frankie,
      That’s a good question. I use a variety of approaches, depending upon the situation. The main thing to avoid is being too aggressive and inadvertently removing the paint’s luster. Logos seem especially vulnerable to fading with too harsh of an approach. I start by washing the frame with a mild automotive or bike cleaner, like Finish Line’s pink bike wash. Then, I will use a cleaning oil such as Menotomy’s on the areas of the frame still caked with gunk, or possibly an automotive paint cleaner. I usually work on an area that is out of view, such as the back of the fork legs, to make sure the paint can tolerate the cleaning process. It takes a while – but it’s worth the time to do it right.

  4. Thanks for sharing the information. I recently started to restore a few vintage bikes from 1950s myself. Been looking through your work too!

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