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!