14 Tools Every Engine Enthusiast Should Have In Their Toolbox
Greg teamed up with Proform Performance Products and put together a list of 14 tools anyone who is into working on their own engine projects should have in their toolbox. Also, something to note, is that in the coming months as several of our in-house projects start rolling out, you’ll notice these tools getting a workout. So, in no particular order, here are the 14 tools you should have:
Degree Wheel Kit
If you’re a performance enthusiast, you should be degreeing your cam properly. None of that dot-to-dot stuff for us — no sir! We’re concerned with half-degree accuracy. You put all that time and effort into choosing the right camshaft, why would you risk giving up some of that performance by not spending the time to ensure it’s dialed in properly?
Proform’s P/N: PR68787 - Universal Camshaft Degree Wheel Kit is for use with heads off engine. This kit contains all the tools needed to degree cams in the most popular engines, assuring proper cam timing and lobe lift. Features deluxe components including 9" degree wheel, dial indicator, adjustable blue billet aluminum dial indicator mount, black top dead center locator, wire degree wheel pointer, detailed instructions, and a durable foam padded carrying case.
Regardless of what kind of engine you’re working on, one of Proform’s Crankshaft turning sockets is a really nice addition to your degree wheel kit, or just on its own. Available for a number of applications, including LS1/LS6, small-block and big-block Chevys, and Chrysler V8s, the “Pro” version of the tool mounts snugly to the snout of the crankshaft and is secured by a set-screw.
Proform’s P/N: PR67606 - Professional Crankshaft Turning Socket is for the serious Chevy LS engine builder and tuner. This handy tool easily attaches to the oil pump drive lug splines. Once it's attached, pop an oversized degree wheel on the professional crankshaft turning socket and you're ready to degree the camshaft! 100% Stainless Steel.
Cam Checker Tool
While the degree wheel kit includes a dial indicator with an extended probe, Proform also makes this handy little tool, which plugs directly into your lifter bore to measure actual camshaft runout and lift. It’s machined with two diameters — .842 inches and .875 inches — on opposite ends to fit both GM and small-block Ford lifter bores.
Held in place by an O-ring, the checker has both flat-tappet and roller-shaped plungers, for accurate readings no matter what type of camshaft you have, with absolutely zero lash in the system. This tool can be used to measure actual lobe lift, duration, as well as degreeing the cam, with greater ease of use and less potential for error through deflection.
Proform’s P/N: PR66838 - With O-rings on each end to assure securing positioning, this unit slides down into the lifter bore and sits atop the camshaft for accurate measurement of lobe lift and base circle runout. Supplied with two followers, one for flat tappet or hydraulic cams, and the other for roller cams. Designed for GM (.842in dia.) and Ford (.875in dia.) applications. Includes 0-1.000in Dial Indicator 66962 (0.001in)!
Cylinder Head CC Kit
When you’re trying to measure the volume of your combustion chambers, there are a lot of styles of kits available. By far our favorite style is the laboratory burette style, like Proform P/N: 66831. While this might look imposing at first (I mean, the burette is almost three feet tall), the amount of resolution available and the lack of required math make this style a no-brainer in our book.
Proform’s P/N: PR66831 - This is the kit you need to accurately cc most cylinder head combustion chambers. Includes a precision glass 100 cc burette with easy-to-read 0.2cc division lines, an integral petcock for precise measurement and easy flow-control, a burette clamp, a stand with a firm base, a flat acrylic plate to cover the combustion chamber, and detailed instructions explaining how easy it is to professionally cc cylinder heads.
Magnetic Deck Bridge
This tool is one of those that is deceptively simple. A magnetic deck bridge makes measuring anything to do with piston height incredibly simple. As you saw in a previous article, the Proform model has three different spots to mount a dial indicator, as well as mounting provisions of a set of calipers.
This not only allows for easy finding of Top Dead Center, but also for measuring actual stroke and for measuring piston deck height. The built-in magnets make for a solid, stable mount on the deck of the block (assuming, of course, you have an iron block), the stance accommodates up to a 4.500-inch bore, and the three dial indicator locations allow you to work around domes or dishes in the piston crown.
Proform’s P/N: PR66797 - This will go over cylinder bores up to 4-1/2in. This is used to check piston-to-deck clearance, and it is magnetic so it holds firmly in place. Dial indicator 66962 is sold separately.
Connecting Rod Vise
This tool’s importance was burned into our heads at an early age. The Proform aluminum connecting rod vise, is made from anodized aluminum to protect your connecting rods when clamped between its precision-machined jaws. The design is either bench-mountable or able to be clamped in a bench vise for a secure platform only when needed.
Properly securing the big end of your connecting rod when installing and torquing rod bolts (or removing torqued bolts) is a critical part of measuring bearing clearances using a dial bore gauge, and a dedicated aluminum vise is the safest and most secure way to accomplish that. Plus the anodized red finish just flat out looks awesome.
Proform’s P/N: PR66769 - Holding connecting rods securely without damaging them is necessary for removing or installing rod bolts, beam polishing or machining. This aluminum vise is designed for all sizes of aluminum or steel rods, and can hold several at once. It will mount in a bench vise or can be permanently mounted.
LS Main Cap Removal Tool
The Proform LS Main Cap Removal Tool is one of those devices that you look at and think, “How has no one thought of this before?” The LS line of engines has main caps with “wings” on them, which lend themselves nicely to being picked up and plucked out of the block like a mother picking up her child under the arms. The ingeniously engineered tool evenly applies leverage on the main cap, separating it from the block easily, thanks to the significant mechanical advantage offered by the tool’s linkage geometry. Made from billet aluminum and finished in a slick black anodizing for a long lifespan the LS Main Cap Removal tool makes a tricky job ridiculously easy.
Proform’s P/N: PR67485 - LS-style block main bearing caps have notoriously tight tolerances making their removal difficult without causing damage to the main cap, and also time consuming. Enter the PROFORM LS Main Cap Removal Tool. Hook the tool beneath the cap and push down on the handles to ease the cap out with leverage, nearly eliminating the aforementioned issues. Featuring long, easy-grip handles with machine grooved rings for a more secure hold and greater leverage. This premium tool is manufactured with durable corrosion resistant, 6061 aluminum body and steel Allen-head bolt pivots that hold up to continued use. This is a premium tool, and since it’s from PROFORM it won’t be at a premium price!
Electric Piston Ring Filer
When it comes to filing piston rings, things can be as simple as a hand-cranked filing wheel, or as complex as a multiple-axis electric filer with more gauges than your racecar. However, Proform has split the difference and simply added power to its traditional easy-to-use model. With a 120-grit grinding wheel, the electric piston ring filer makes efficient, clean cuts to the end of your rings.
Proform’s P/N: PR66758 - This easy to use electric ring filer makes quick and precise work of ring grinding. Square up your ring by simply pressing it against the dowel pins for a clean grind. Includes a standard 120 volt adapter that works well in North America, Central America, and some S. American. 220 volt adapter sold separately.
Heavy-Duty Valve Spring Compressor
When you need to remove valvesprings, there is a myriad of options. For use around the shop and with heavier valvespring loads, an off-the-head style of compressor is our go-to. The heavy-duty model from Proform is a universal design that can handle valves up to 13 inches long and valvesprings with up to 700 pounds of pressure.
The adjustable arm is secured by a pin with a heavy-duty ball detent to ensure the pin doesn’t slide out unintentionally, and the handle’s mechanical advantage and cam-over action make compressing the springs a breeze, while keeping them compressed hands-free so you can use both of your hands to address the valve locks. With its universal design and high load capacity, there really isn’t much that this compressor can’t tackle.
Proform’s P/N: PR66832 - This heavy-duty, simple-to-use, manual valve spring compressor makes short work of even monstrous springs. The compressor arm slides for adjustment, employing a locking pin for rapid, easy operation.
Valve Checking Springs
Speaking of valvesprings, these checker springs are an absolute must-have for your toolbox. Lightweight, low-tension springs, these are meant to provide enough pressure to keep the valvetrain under tension, but be easily compressible by hand. This allows you to easily check all sorts of valvetrain specs without the pressure from an actual valvespring making life tough. Plus, they are really inexpensive.
Proform’s P/N: PR66793 - These light-pressure springs make the assembly of components much easier. They provide enough pressure to hold the valve assembly together when checking camshaft figures, installed height, etc. 2 Pcs.
Camshaft Installation Handle
Ok, we know this one is going to generate some debate. Yes, people have used screwdrivers in the ends of cams to finagle them into the cam bearings before. But it’s so much easier to do when you have a rigid handle bolted to the end of the camshaft. Not only do you have positive control of the cam in every axis of movement, but you also gain some additional leverage.
The Proform Universal Camshaft Handle comes with a total of six different mounting heads to cover a wide variety of domestic V6 and V8 engines of both the single-bolt and three-bolt variety. However, it should be noted, while Proform lists this as working with LS cams, it is only Gen-III three-bolt cams. There isn’t an adapter offered for the Gen-IV’s large single-bolt cam.
Proform’s P/N: PR66898 - This easy-to-use universal camshaft installation tool comes with five adapters for most domestic V-6 and V-8 engines including LS1 engines.
Valve Spring Height Micrometer
Checking the installed height of your valvesprings is a crucial measurement. Since spring rates vary based on the amount of compression, if you have 16 valvesprings all with different installed heights, you will have 16 different seat pressures, and 16 different open pressures. The most accurate way to measure your installed height, just like with most other things, is with a micrometer.
Proform makes a micrometer specifically for valves, to measure installed height. In fact, they make multiple versions: For standard V8 valvesprings (1.600-2.100 inches) they make P/N: 66902, for beehive valvesprings they make P/N: 67390. And if you need to measure smaller valvesprings, they even make P/N: 66903 for 1.400-1.800-inch spring heights. The easy-to-read markings make it a snap to know exactly what your installed spring height is.
Proform’s P/N: PR67390 - Range: 1.600" to 2.100". Measure installed valve spring height conveniently and accurately. Simply install the height micrometer instead of a valve spring, and then rotate the clearly engraved dial to expand the tool to seat the valve, locks and retainer. Fits most V8 engines with beehive springs.
Valve Seal Installation Tool
Similar to the screwdriver-in-the-cam, we’re sure there are plenty of folks out there who might scoff at a proper valve seal installation tool. However, using a socket — as we know many of you have — can sometimes lead to damaged valve seals. So it really only makes sense to use the proper tool, especially when it’s on the inexpensive side of the spectrum.
Proform’s P/N: PR67444 Engine Valve Seal Installation Tool - Another gouged PC seal? No longer will you have to worry about gouging and twisting your seals with the PROFORM valve seal installer. Works with .500" and .531" PC seals and comes with handy knurled end for better grip.
Pushrod Length Checker
One thing that can bring a project to a screeching halt is realizing your guess at pushrod length was wrong. Proform makes a variety of sizes of adjustable pushrod, from 6.125 inches all the way up to 11.500 inches. What you see here adjusts from 6.125 inches to 7.500 inches, which will cover both our LS project as well as the SBF we have in storage.
Using it is simply a matter of unscrewing the adjustable end until you have reached the desired length, lock it down, and then check the geometry. Once you find the sweet spot, you pull the adjustable pushrod out and measure it. Now, you know for a fact that you are ordering the right length pushrod the first time.
Proform’s P/N: PR67560 Engine Push Rod Length Checker - Measure the proper pushrod length with these simple length checkers. Simply unscrew the adjustable end until it's the right length, then take it out and measure. Don't chance destroying your valve train because of improper pushrod geometry! Part no. 67560...6.125 - 7.500, Part no. 67561...7.500 - 8.700, Part no. 67562...8.500 - 9.800, Part no. 67563...9.700 - 11.00, Part no. 67564...10.200 - 11.500
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg has spent fifteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, and enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader. You can read his whole article here.