Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2007   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Hand Tools Get Quieter, More Ergonomic

Hand tools are the bread-and-butter of any technician's toolkit. Pneumatic power tools, wrenches and even the common screw driver is just as likely to be found in the hands of technicians as are the n...

Hand tools are the bread-and-butter of any technician’s toolkit. Pneumatic power tools, wrenches and even the common screw driver is just as likely to be found in the hands of technicians as are the new computer-based diagnostic systems.

While the basics of the wrench, screwdriver or power tool has not changed substantially over the years, tool makers and those who provide them to Canada’s independent service shops are eager to point out that today’s hand tools offer distinct advantages to those sold over the past decades. Today’s hand tools are more than likely to be lighter, made from composite materials with a focus on ergonomics, making them easier on the hand, wrists and arms so they can be used more comfortably over long periods of time.

Making it easy to get into small spaces

Ray Lavender, marketing and communications manager with Snap-on Tool of Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont. joked about how small engine compartments of today’s automobiles have become.

“Fifteen or twenty years ago, you could climb into the engine compartment and see where everything was; now, there is barely any room to even get your hand into some places, let alone other parts of your anatomy,” he said.

Because of these kinds of cramped quarters, Lavender said hand tools have to have two critical features: they have to be comfortable in one’s hands for extended use, and small enough to fit into the tight, cramped spaces of today’s engine compartments or the sometimes equally tight spaces under the dashboards of modern cars. For example, a standard screw driver will often be adequate for most jobs, but what about a tight space where the part to be reached is partially blocked by something; or if that same part is at a odd-angle in a very tight compartment? Suddenly that standard, inflexible screw driver will be more of a hindrance than a time saver.

Snap-on’s 5-Position Soft Grip (SGDMRCE44) ratcheting screwdriver can act as a standard, straight screwdriver, but it also give technicians the option of adjusting the screw head to 30-degrees and 60-degrees left and right with the push of a button. This allows the screwdriver to get into harder-to-reach places, or at oddly angled parts. The screwdriver also features a solvent-resistant handle to provide a offering a more comfortable and positive gripping surface.

Because some cars often have unusual configurations with the undercarriage, Snap-on has come up with more specific tools like the GM/Ford Suspension Impact Swivel Socket. This is longer and narrower than most impact swivel sockets and is made to provide angular access to upper control arm bolts.

Because hand tools are a major investment on the part of technicians, many are looking to build on that investment. MAC Tools’ MAC Edge sockets are made to complement the company’s popular Knuckle Saver line of products. The MAC Edge sockets are made to work with fasteners that over time have become rounded to the point where most other sockets cannot properly grip them, making them difficult to remove. According to Frank Lupo, regional manager with MAC Tools in Holland Landing, Ont., the MAC Edge offers 15 points of contact so as to provide the necessary means to catch what remains of the sides of the worn fastener.

Pneumatic tools become lighter, more ergonomic and quieter

Pneumatic hand tools often have the reputation of being both heavy and not very quiet. Because of this, pneumatic tools when used over long periods of time were known to cause hand, wrist and shoulder problems for technicians, and to harm hearing if one neglected to wear proper ear plugs.

Bruce Buckborough, president and co-owner of Babco Sales Ltd. in Vancouver, BC, a distributor of tools and equipment for Canadian service shops, said today’s range of pneumatic tools are using a variety of composite materials to be lighter and to provide better ergonomics. The AirCat ACA1000-M impact wrench weighs 4.5 lbs. because of the composite material used in its construction and is designed to produce only some 85 decibels of noise, making it easier on the ear. But quiet does not mean the tool is short on the power it can produce, offering some 200-800 ft.-lbs. of torque while using only 90 psi of pressure.

Matco Tools’ 1/2-inch composite impact wrench (MT1769) is made to combine light weight with 700 ft.-lbs. of torque. Weighing some four pounds, the impact wrench is made to lessen the fatigue of using such a tool over long periods of time, and offer greater power management control with a four-position power management system.

“While some companies are moving to providing more power, we are going towards smaller sizes and lighter weight as well, so you can get the tool into much tighter spaces and corners,” said Nils Steike, business development manager for Chicago Pneumatic in Rock Hill, SC. “For example, our impact wrenches use magnesium components in the clutch housing and some of the motor components for lighter weight. And our 1/4-inch air ratchets, the CP7823 for example, are made to work in very tight work spaces, inside an engine compartment or under the dash. An added convenience is that you can index the ratchet head at 90 degree increments to give you better accessibility to the job area.”

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