Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Bodger's Guide to Spanners

The adoption of a set of spanners over clumsily-wielded pliers is the sign of graduation from green amateur to seasoned bodger, prepared for anything.

Tools maketh the man. And sometimes a mess. Admire the shiny racks of Snap-On lovelies in the tool shop. These are not for you.

You'll most likely have a motley assortment of bent and rusty (but faithful nonetheless) Sidchromes that you found in the shed of a house you used to rent. The sizes will mostly be worn off or rusted in to oblivion, but given they were wrapped in a 1948 copy of Autocar, the smart money is on "nothing useful". These will be augmented by most of a $10 set of metrics you bought once, seduced by the shiny metal and the mysterious CHROME VANADIUM stampings.

Let's consider classification for a moment. Nominally, there are three types of spanners. The first is Whitworth, an ancient British standard of measurement, the distance across the 'flats' of the spanner based on the size of the oil leak left under a Brough Superior motorcycle in an hour.

Imperial is slightly less complex. The sizes of these spanners are measured in fractions of inches. Inches are what were used to measure small distances before the invention of Japanese cars.

Finally, we have metric spanners. Metric spanners are sorted by the amount of millimetres between the flats of the spanner before you used it to undo an imperial bolt. Never mind - the answer is nearly always 13mm.


Ah, the "Magic Thirteen".

A confession: I was not always destined to be a bodger. I once owned a full set of vintage Sidchromes in metric and imperial and prided myself on having the right spanner, socket and driver for every job.

One day, a stranger turned up to remove an engine I'd sold him from a doomed Fairlane. We were chatting away, merrily disconnecting bits and bobs when I said "Damn. Can't see the 1/2 inch spanner."

The stranger extended a shiny tool and said "This will do. Magic Thirteen." I looked askance. A metric spanner? On a gen-u-ine Made-In-The-USA half inch bolt?

I gingerly applied it to the unsuspecting fastener. It fitted snugly. I applied pressure, apprehensive, waiting for the ghost of Smokey Yunick to strike me down. The bolt gave and wound out without fuss. With a metric spanner.

The Magic Thirteen. It was a revelation.

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