SHOP TIPS FROM LEATHERBALLS
In the interest of keeping it light and at least somewhat entertaining this past weekend, and seeing how it WAS the weekend and all, with plenty of folks embarking on maintenance and repair projects of various types, I though I’d sit down and put together a list of Leatherballs’ Iron Garage/Shop Laws. These laws are derived from my years of tinkering around with shit that I really ought to be leaving alone, and a few years experience as a Harley mechanic. They are all dead accurate and incontrovertible, but this list is by no means all-inclusive:
1) Murphy’s Law is omnipresent, reliable, infallible, and immutable.
2) Be sure your workspace is clean and organized. The odds of successfully completing your project are directly proportional to how clean and well-set-up your shop is.
3) If the project requires a certain specialized tool, go buy it now. Don’t wait until you’re halfway through and realize you need it immediately. Go get it, and spend whatever you have to. This is closely related to…
Corollary A: Expensive, well-made tools are worth their weight in whatever precious commodity you care to use as an analogy here. Cheap, shoddy tools are not worth borrowing from a despised neighbor for the sole purpose of throwing at his head. They suck. They don’t work as advertised. They break at the most inopportune and even dangerous times. They break the thing you’re working on. They can seriously injure you. Pep Boys or Autozone or Wal-Mart is no place to buy tools. Real mechanics take great pleasure in going to places like this and snickering at the tools there, as well as the poor hopeful saps buying them.
If you don’t have access to a Snap-On truck, go to Sears and buy their top-line Craftsman Professional stuff. It’s not as good as Snap-On, but it’s good enough for most people. Good tools are expensive and worth every dime you may have to shell out. Avoid any tool stamped with “Made in China.” This is not a racist statement. Their steel sucks.
Corollary B: If your task requires a specialized tool and you try to improvise with a half-assed substitute, you will break the tool, whatever you’re working on, and something else completely unrelated to whatever you’re working on, which will have to be replaced before you can go back to what you were originally working on. When you fling the piece of shit across the shop in a blind rage, it will hit something even more expensive and break that too. All this will add up to a greater expense than buying the specialized tool your cheap dumb ass should have bought in the first place would have been.
4) If you’re working on something for a friend or relative, say their car, they will describe the problem in the most hilarious and wildly inaccurate terms imaginable. Example: “It’s making this kind of clacking sound, like this…” at which point they will proceed to make a whooshing sound or something resembling the noises emanating from various bodily orifices in their sleep last night, none of which will in any way resemble a “clack”.
Corollary C: The person in question will not, no way in hell, never, ever, EVER be able to replicate the problem in your presence. it will happen again immediately after you go back in the house or they pull out of your driveway. Zen Buddhists have been pondering this one for years without coming to any useful conclusions. It has driven at least four of them completely batshit insane. Which, if you know anything about Zen Buddhists, is really saying something.
5) Super Glue does not work. Never has, never will. Don’t argue, don’t try to convince yourself that this time it’ll do the trick. If anybody tells you that it worked on their sister’s cat’s grandmother’s old Toyota, who had exactly the same problem, firmly ask this person to leave immediately and never come back. The only thing Super Glue has ever been good for is glueing your fingers together, which it does quite well.
You don’t even have to open the tube for it to accomplish this – just wave your hands around in the general vicinity of some and see what happens. It also works very well at sealing serious cuts that you probably should get stitches for but don’t feel like messing with, and I enthusiastically recommend it for that. But absolutely nothing else.
6) If a problem with a device or mechanism is not immediately manifesting itself or affecting your ability to operate said device or mechanism, do not attempt a spurious and superfluous repair. I.E., if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, shitferbrains.
7) A manual will not help you at all, and will probably only confuse you, unless it was put out by the original equipment manufacturer and sometimes not even then. This goes double for any Haynes manuals you may have. Use them to light your bong with, or to train your puppy – anything else, you’re on your own. It’s not that they have no useful information in them, or that they’re inaccurate; it’s just that whatever it is you’re trying to do is going to get at most a casual, hit-and-run, by-the-way sort of mention, with no pictures and no details. I think maybe they might have figured out a way to somehow remotely change ‘em overnight and automagically delete whatever it is you’re looking for, which will then reappear once you give up and put the thing away. So, for instance, if you’re looking for info regarding setting the timing, you’ll find one terse sentence saying something like “setting the timing is important; make sure you do it,” and then once you walk away from it in disgust, the seven lavishly illustrated and gloriously detailed chapters demonstrating not only the proper way to use a timing light, where to buy one, and how much to pay, but explaining the concept behind advance curves and how to write the software that runs an electronic ignition come back into existence again.
8) If you aren’t an experienced auto mechanic, carburetor is French for “Leave it the fuck alone.”
Corollary D: If you aren’t at least a somewhat-skilled painter, don’t. Just don’t. This applies to any project other than simple house-painting. You will NOT be happy with the results, and neither will anybody else who has to look at the damn thing. This does not necessarily apply to flat paint jobs on street rods and rat bikes, which almost always look cool no matter what.
9) When (if) you successfully complete your task, clean your hands thoroughly, but leave some grease under your fingernails. It will horrify any snooty yuppies who wander into the bar by mistake, and chicks dig the aura of rugged masculinity it imparts. Well, a certain kind of chick does, anyway. The good kind, I mean (see last issue’s Tough Chicks piece for more on them).
10) JB Weld is some fine, fine stuff, and can certainly save your ass in the right places, at the right times. Repairing a cracked head or a broken connecting rod aren’t either of those things. Ever. It’s just asking too much of something that is essentially hard plastic. Don’t listen to the guy mentioned in number five above, who will tell you he once heard of a guy who knew a guy whose sister’s cat’s grandmother once did it, and it “worked perfect, man!” In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this person is NOT your friend.
11) Maybe the most crucial one of all: if you don’t think you can do it, you probably can’t, and you probably shouldn’t try. And by this, I don’t necessarily mean what you might think I do.
The most important thing in wrenching, as in so many other things in life, is to believe in yourself. Confidence isn’t just the key thing, it’s sometimes the only thing. Don’t be afraid to jump in and give something a try, even if it’s intimidating. It’s how you learn, how we all learn, and if you prepare yourself and your workspace properly beforehand, you can do it.
Learn all you can about your project beforehand. Read up on any reliable related material you can find. If you have a mechanic friend, or a non-mechanic friend who’s successfully attempted a similar project, ask him questions about it. Hang around your nearest friendly bike shop and strike up a conversation at the parts counter; soak up all the information you can, from anyplace you can get it.
I remember the first time my boss told me, first thing in the morning, that today I was gonna build my first bottom end. I was literally shaking, which is not a desirable thing when you’re doing something that requires a steady hand and a cool, calm eye for detail. He walked off and left me to it, only checking in on me occasionally, or when I asked for specific help (which was a bit more than occasionally), and, well…I got it done. The motor ran great, for a good long while.
Fear not; you CAN do it. Along the way, you’ll learn more about not just your bike but yourself than you ever dreamed. And that first ride of the season will be all the sweeter for it.