Advice: Workshop equipment

By: Paul Tuzson, Photography by: Paul Tuzson

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Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment Advice: Workshop equipment

Workshop advice: How to do more in your home workshop or garage

Advice: Workshop equipment
Advice: Workshop equipment

Advice: Workshop equipment

If you don’t plan to work on your own car, then your garage doesn’t need to do much except keep the rain off your pride and joy. But an interest in unique cars is often hands-on and that means a garage lined with more than just plaster. We’ve covered hand tools previously but larger pieces of workshop equipment can expand the range of jobs possible for a home mechanic. So, what do you need?


Sometimes, basic equipment is just the start. Hidden operating costs can be substantial and on-going. Safety is also a primary consideration. Very few citizen workshops/garages we walk into have dedicated first aid kits. However, when you need one, you need one. Make this a priority.

Many amateur mechanics dream of owning a big red rolling tool cabinet. There’s nothing wrong with that but higher quality units can cost $1000 or more (without tools). That money is best spent on something more useful. There are cheap, basic metal storage boxes and cantilever tool boxes available that allow fairly efficient categorisation of tools along with greater flexibility and portability. Rolling cabinets are most useful when changing jobs and moving everything to a new workshop. Also, smaller boxes can be stacked out of the way against a wall in limited spaces like suburban garages.

Everyone needs a working surface and a means of gripping items. A bench and a vice will be your starting point. You can’t go past a big sturdy workbench. The best type for general automotive work and workshop fabrication tasks consists of a plate steel working surface supported on a sturdy RHS frame and equally robust legs.

The reason steel plate is such a good choice is that you can weld jigging and components themselves to it to hold them in place during fabrication. When the job is done you simply cut the objects away and grind down the remaining weld beads to re-establish a smooth, clean surface. You’ll also be able to throw just about anything on a plate steel bench without damaging it because steel is so tough.

If you shop around you can get enough 65mm x 35mm x 3mm RHS and 4mm steel plate to make a couple of metres of bench for perhaps $300. Delivery will cost more and paying the merchant to cut it to the sizes you want is probably a good investment.

Aside from the bench, a vice is probably the most important piece of workshop equipment. They are made of either cast iron or fabricated from thick sheet steel. The latter is more expensive than a cast iron unit but is said to be tougher and better able to absorb the forces from heavy hammer work. That may be so, but we’ve inflicted a good many hammer blows on cast iron vices over the years and never damaged one.

The most important thing about a vice is where it’s mounted. Conventionally, a vice will be bolted to the edge of a bench but this isn’t ideal because the bench often gets in the way of whatever you’re trying to clamp. It’s much better to fabricate a mounting post from 75mm x 75mm RHS (or larger) and mount your vice on a plate that’s welded to the top. This reduces interference and if you give it broad feet it won’t have to be bolted to the floor, allowing it to be moved around the workshop. A four-inch cast iron vice will cost around $65 while a larger six-inch unit will cost about $150. Fabricated versions might cost 30 per cent more.


So you have your work bench, vice and tools ready to go. It’s time to fill out the space with good welding, grinding and lifting equipment.

MIG welders are very popular and there are flux-cored wires available that allow welding without shielding gas. This is definitely the way to go in a home workshop as the monthly cost of gas bottle rental is nothing short of scandalous. MIG welders are excellent for panel work and also heavier fabrication. TIG welders are also popular and have pretty much taken over from oxy/acetylene welding; however these do need shielding gas. TIG welding is ideal for very thin materials. Then there’s good old ‘stick’ or more properly, MMA (Manual Metal Arc) welders. The good news is that there are units available that combine all of these processes. A good multi-process machine can be had for around $1000.

The TIG process can be either DC or AC. All of the welding units we’ve seen that have MIG, TIG and MMA modes utilise DC current. This is a problem when welding aluminium because of the way it oxidises. AC current is required to break through the oxide layer so if you want to weld aluminium you’ll have to get a dedicated TIG machine which provides both AC and DC current. An AC TIG welder might cost around $1500.

Oxy/acetylene welding is a venerable old process capable of welding almost any material with the right filler rods and fluxes. A cutting attachment will make very short work of any steel likely to be used in a home workshop. Also, an oxy set will supply heat for a variety of uses including shrinking damaged areas on panels. This is a valuable money-saving skillset for anyone restoring cars.

An oxy/acetylene set costs about $500 but as we mentioned above, monthly bottle rentals are expensive.

A grinder is another key piece of equipment. It should be mounted on a post or pedestal rather than a bench. The reasoning is the same as that for mounting a vice. Typically, bench grinders are fitted with grinding wheels; however replacing one of the wheels with a linishing attachment makes it much more versatile. The belts remove metal very effectively and can also be used with wood.

Also, it’s very easy to change the grade of the belt fitted and the long, flat surface on the top of the attachment is ideal for flat work. The flat disc on the side is also much more useful than a standard grinding wheel.

The unit shown still has a grinding wheel attached but ideally this should be replaced with a wire brush. Doing so would make it one of the most useful pieces of equipment in your garage. A reasonable quality grinder will cost perhaps $200 and the linishing attachment will add another $200.

We covered the safe use of jacks and axle hoists a few issues back. Most of us have to use these to work under our cars. Increasingly, though, amateur mechanics are installing hoists in their garages. There are plenty of 240-volt types available and some are quite cheap. In fact, $2000-3000 can get you one. While this appears a good deal, care is needed when selecting a hoist.

A hoist is about the only type of lifting equipment designed specifically for the operator to work directly under the suspended load. If the hoist fails you’ll be wearing your car. Arm failures are often sudden, leaving no time to escape. It’s essential that a hoist can comfortably carry its rated load. Commercial units have to meet Australian Standards but hoists sold for private use – unlike jacks and stands – do not. It’s a crazy world. Be careful.

Two-post hoists are most popular. Some have asymmetric arms that allow cars to be set further back, so doors can be more easily opened. Many hoists have floor cross plates that carry load balancing cables but this creates an annoying hump across the floor; clear floor types are better. However, the most important characteristic that a hoist can have is Standards compliance. Do not buy a hoist that doesn’t have it.

An engine crane is another popular and very useful piece of equipment. However, the long beams needed to offset the weight of a suspended engine often get in the way of both use and storage. Most newer designs have lower beams that fold out of the way for more space efficiency.

We dropped in at the Muscle Car Factory and noted they were using a mobile girder rail fitted with an electric winch for fitting engines. Leo, the owner, suggests that it’s much better than a crane and can be used for lifting anything anywhere, even car bodies. The mobile beam without a winch is about $700. A suitable electric winch will cost anywhere from $500 to $1500 but a block and tackle can also be used.


Let’s face it, most guys are tool hoarders; it doesn’t really matter if we need it or not. If we can afford it and fit it into our garage, we probably want it. Equally realistically, though, most of us do face budget and space limitations so we have to choose carefully.

We took most of these pics at workshop equipment supplier Hare and Forbes. The company carries a wide range and has branches across the country. The website displays the full range of equipment with prices.


If you really want a rolling tool chest there are some reasonably priced examples available. The set-up nearest to camera retails for $682. While a good price, the money could be better spent elsewhere.


Ready-made benches can be expensive but there are bargains available if you hunt around. This unit with drawers is made out of much thinner metal than we suggest but at $429 it's good value.


An overhead winch allows much easier access around an engine bay when installing an engine.


A hoist is an extremely useful addition to any garage but quality is important. Hoists should also be serviced regularly. This is legally required in commercial workshops but not in private installations so you'll have to take responsibility.


Buying machines is one thing, tooling is another. End mills, ball and radius cutters, slot drills, T-slot cutters, insert holders, clamp kits and the wide variety of tooling available all costs money. Hare and Forbes has a basic starter kit containing some slot drills and end mills with matching collets and a clamping kit that costs $360. You'll build up your tooling over time.


Basically, you shouldn't hand hold work pieces to be drilled. A plain drilling vice should be used. Even better is a compound vice that slides in two directions. One of these adds about $100 to the cost of your setup.


Less expensive (read lower quality) equipment can serve perfectly adequately depending on how it’s used.

Notwithstanding the previous point, some lower quality equipment can kill you. It pays to know the difference, so do your research.

If there’s an Australian Standard covering any equipment you’re going to use, make sure you buy equipment that matches it. Make sure to keep warranties and your purchase paperwork.

You can do pretty much whatever you want with 240 volt equipment and no special wiring is needed. However, three-phase power allows for much heavier (but more expensive) equipment. It might cost $1000 or more to have a 415 volt supply connected.

Consider sharing more expensive equipment with your car building compatriots. This reduces the purchase price considerably.


- A workbench
- A vice
- Tool storage
- Lifting equipment
- Welding equipment


- $1000 to $10,000 or even more. It doesn't really matter how much money you have, you can spend it.


- Budget is the guide here. If you get a pay-out you might want to go and get everything you want. More likely, though, you'll build it all up over a lifetime.



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