Skip to content
HOME » MOTORCYCLE GRAB BAG » In Praise of Cheap Tools

In Praise of Cheap Tools

We all needs cheap tools occasionally – but especially if they only have to work once..

cheap tools ve expensive tools an example

Everybody likes nice tools. It’s not crazy (well, maybe not) to find mechanics with north of $50,000 in personal tools. I am probably not in quite that deep (though likely close) but one reason why is that I am willing to compromise my standards—not sure if that’s a good trait but it saves money. But I will buy the best when it comes to tools that I use a lot. A good example is my JIMS valve spring compressor. It works great, is high quality and feels good to use. If I need to do the valves on a Harley (never met one that could not benefit from a little massaging) it’s the ticket. 

The thing is, for other bikes it often requires a different spring compression adapter. I figured what the heck, I will buy a super cheap tools, for example a compression set off eBay and at least I would have a variety of adapters. The set in the photos here was the cheapest I could find. It came from China with fast, free shipping. On first inspection yes it looks cheap, the cast adapters look rough. Speaking of rough the threads are less than precision cut and they feel very rough. The plus side is that it works! I had no trouble getting the valves out of the GSX-R head shown on these pages.

I have other tools that are not what you would call cheap (at least not by me). In the drawers with my sparse collection of Mac and Snap-On Tools are Williams, Proto, Motion Pro, Canadian Tire, JIMS, Craftsman and others. One group that brings me back to my first days as an apprentice is the Hero tools ratchet set. I was very poor at the time and could not afford the big name brands or even middle of the road stuff. They were on sale at House of Tools—$29 for the complete half-inch-drive set. I remember spending time looking through the sets to find sockets that had all their chrome and a ratchet that felt smooth. I assembled my own set; the guys in the store seemed to understand that I needed a break and just let me do it. Never broke one until I pushed too far and used one on an impact gun (my bad). The rent got paid and my apprenticeship progressed. 

If a special size large nut needs to be removed it’s a trip to Princess Auto for a Jet socket. I have one welded to a piece of pipe welded to a seldom-used size of Hero (for the half-inch drive), which works great at a fraction of a specialty deep socket.

So, if it’s a choice between a cheap tool and no tool, cheap tool often wins. But not always, be ready for them to fail. You must be aware quality may have been compromised when pulling hard to loosen that stubborn nut. If the cheap tools break you could get hurt. If safety is in doubt no tool is better than a cheap tool. Confused yet? Welcome to my world. What I am trying to get across is, sometimes it’s okay to be cheap, but only if you are cheap and cautious. Over the last 35 years I learned to trust those Heros, but it took a while. 

By Rich Burgess Canadian Biker Issue #324


Keep independent motorcycle journalism alive! If you found this article interesting or useful, please consider sharing.