Daily Slideshow: 7 Invaluable Uses for Wood in an Automotive Shop
Protector, amplifier, supporter—there's often no substitute for wood in a garage full of metal. We present just a few of the automotive applications for which wood is perfect—it's why God made trees.
1. Press Tool
A press is a big metal frame holding a hydraulic cylinder that presses against or through a metal table. Presses are so great because nothing does their job better. When you are pushing bearings or bushings or shafts into a component, beating them in with a hammer is a poor substitute for a press—even more so for getting them out. The thing is, you don't always want to squeeze a part like an aluminum casting against a hard piece of steel—that's where wood comes in. It's safer to place parts like water pumps, carburetor bodies, or what have you on a flat piece of wood rather than directly on the steel press table. You'll protect the down-facing surface—often a smooth mounting surface—and you'll be able to spot a resistance-related problem before you crack or mar an expensive casting. Wood also acts as a cushion to catch pressed bushings/bearings/shafts/etc. that come flying out, and to protect them from harm in cases where you might want to use them again.
2. Brake Piston Catcher
We don't know if any company has made a special tool for this use, but we doubt it because nothing is more perfect for catching brake pistons than a strip of wood. When rebuilding brake calipers it's necessary to remove the brake pistons and seals. There's no better way to do this (is there even another way to do this?) than blowing compressed air into the caliper from the brake line side. This not only causes the pistons to fly out at warp speed, which you don't want but brake fluid to spray everywhere, which you really don't want. Pop a piece of wood into the caliper, where the disc usually rides, and the pistons will jump free with a satisfying plunk.
3. Pry Bar/Pad
Many times, oh so many times, car parts need a little coaxing to come apart. Hammers and prybars are two classic parts-removal tools, and we'd argue that wood rounds out the top three. A hypothetical case: the technician before you put maybe a little too much silicone on your oil pan gasket, and now your pan doesn't want to come off. Your cast aluminum or stamped steel oil pan. You've tried a big plastic dead blow hammer and still, the pan won't budge. You have a nice long prybar—but where to pry against that won't dent or crack something? Stick a piece of wood between the pan and the prybar, and the prying force will be spread out enough not to damage anything but will still exert sufficiently against the pan to break it loose. Wood can also be used to make or change your fulcrum point as needed, amplifying leverage without risk of carnage. And, though it doesn't fit every situation, there's no prybar as time-tested as a long section of two-by-four.
4. Band Saw Aid
This one is simple, so simple that a lot of people (no, not us, nope, no sir) don't think of it until they've drawn blood. When you're cutting a piece of metal on a band saw, whether it be making a complicated fabricated bracket or just lopping off a piece of tubing, use a chunk of wood to push it through. Gloves are nice but they won't save your hands from sharp saw blades like a few inches of timber.
5. Gasket Cutting Surface
If you are lucky enough to own something new enough, common enough, and standard enough that you can order all the perfectly-fitting gaskets you need for it and have them show up at your door—congrats. You can skip this one. The rest of us, we need to alter or just downright make our own gaskets. Specialized mechanical gasket punches can knock out smaller holes, but larger holes require different methods. Gasket punches and sheets/rolls of gasket material are two parts of the equation. The third is wood. More specifically, hardwood boards or Masonite, since they are flat enough and stiff enough that they will not deform under the pressure of a gasket punch, yet will keep those punches relatively sharp. Think of wood as an automotive cutting board.
6. Battery Storage Aid
It's not a myth, it's true—storing car/truck batteries on a cement shop floor will cause them to discharge faster and decrease their life. At the risk of stating the obvious, placing a piece of wood between batteries and the ground will avoid this. Wood: the life-giver.
Speaking of obvious, we saved the most elementary for last. Though you can buy nice rubber pads to go on jacks, rubber wears out and isn't always the right size and shape needed. Wooden blocks have fulfilled this need since the first car was born. Keep a few sections of one-by-six, two-by-four, and four-by-four handy for saving the underside of your beautiful car/truck/transmission/differential/etc. from the mean ol' jaws of floor and transmission jacks. If your vehicle is Concours-bound, add a rag on top for extra peace of mind and you're good to go. Now go forth and cut down trees. Wood, it's the reusable, renewable, recyclable shop tool.