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Tricks Ive Tried That Work


Occasionally I share here a few special tricks that I’ve learned over my many years of many mistakes.

Three Types of Grabbers

Have you ever had to screw a small bolt into a threaded hole in an area too small for your hands? An example would be screwing a wire terminal bolt into the back of a circuit panel (depowered, of course). How do you get it up to the hole without dropping it? There are special inexpensive tools for these issues; google “screw holde” and similar terms. It would be worth your while to have one. But these aren’t always reliable and you probably won’t have one on hand when you need it. You can also buy screwdrivers with magnetic tips, but these won’t work if the bolt is stainless or bronze. But here’s what will … usually. Apply extremely viscous thick grease to the screw driver and slot in the bolt head. This will usually hold a light bolt until you carefully get it started.

Or suppose you have to get a nut started on a bolt but you can’t reach the end of the bolt with your hands. This happens often when you’re working on an engine. Get a box end wrench that fits the nut. Stick a section of good sticky duct tape or other sticky tape on one side of the end of the wrench. Wrap it up around the sides so that the tape will be as secure as possible. Avoid putting your fingers on the sticky side that’s going to be in the middle of the opening, because you want this to be as sticky as possible so that it’ll hold your nut well. Oil from your hands or fingers won’t help. Make sure the nut is free of grease or oil. Then insert the nut into the wrench opening and press it against the sticky side of the tape. Now you can lower the wrench and nut to the threaded end of the bolt and carefully hold it in place, without losing the nut, (you hope) as you turn the bolt until it locks threads with the nut. Sometimes the job is so serious you just don’t want to take chances. For example, once I had to mate a retaining bolt into a threaded hole on the lower front end of the engine. It was almost completely inaccessible and I couldn’t see the hole or align my hand and fingers down there so that I felt safe about trying to get it threaded without dropping it. We were far out in the Bahamas. If I dropped the bolt I would probably never find it in the bilge and we’d be without an engine. I used the tape but I also glued the nut into the box end with Life Caulk. Of course I had to let it dry. You can use other glues that are stronger, but remember you have to be able to remove the wrench and the glue on the bolt head so you can get that wrench on it again in the future.

Three Types of Magnets on Wands

Speaking of duct (and other) tape, we’ve all cursed as we’ve tried to first find, and then free the bitter end that’s stuck to the roll. Next time, when you finish with the tape, just turn a small part of the end under itself and stick that part to the sticky side of the tape. It’ll be easy to see next time and it won’t stick to the roll. You’ll have to cut off that tuck but that’s easy.

Three Types of Magnets on Wands

And speaking of cutting: We’ve all had to cut exhaust and radiator hoses with wire inserts. Using a hack saw makes for a quick job with the hose material and can also cut through the wire, although it’s better to use wire cutters for that. But think of the next time you do this and do yourself a favor now. Grab the wire with pliers and pull it a short distance out of the hose wall. Then press the tip of your wire cutter into the end of the hose wall and cut the wire slightly up inside the wall. This will keep you from tearing up your hands and fingers on that wire when you have to pull it off the barb again. I learned about the tape end and the wire snubbing from Bryan Geyer, a certified Marine Engineer, (unlimited horsepower) and certified for many engines. He owns Boat Shop LLC in Lancaster VA.

From general application tricks, let’s move to something very specific. At some point you’re probably going to have to remove a fine threaded fitting. Even if you’re not hands-on, you may be stuck with the job due to circumstances beyond your control, commonly known as “boating.” Exceptionally fine threads seem to be used in the most strategic of circumstances, meaning if you strip them you’re really screwed, pun intended. Typically you run into this problem on a diesel, and it’s usually on the very high pressure injector pipes where they mate to the injector or the injector pump. Once you free two such fittings they’re going to be difficult to rethread, particularly, as with diesel fuel pipes, if they’re misaligned. And you’re almost sure to misalign them at least a little if you need to bend the pipe back to separate the fitting. Avoid bending that pipe at all costs, even if it means disconnecting at both ends to avoid the bend. Better still, avoid completely unscrewing the threads. Typically this issue arises if you’re bleeding your diesel, but you don’t need to completely unthread the connection to accomplish the bleeding. But if you’re not careful, you’ll strip those threads when you’re trying to re-mate them and end up spending a lot of money. To get your parts rejoined, don’t try to screw one part on to the other. Screw it OFF the other. Make sure your surroundings are quiet. Mate the two parts carefully, have the threads touching, press them together gently, and unscrew part A from part B as you press it toward part B. Listen closely. When you hear the threads quietly click it’ll mean that they’re probably just in place to mate and then, without reorienting the parts, start screwing the fitting on with fingers only. This is a precise operation, but if you do it carefully it can save a lot of time and perhaps a lot of money.

To qualify, a “trick” must be something I’ve used successfully (at least sometimes) and which is simple, easy, not well known and that makes my life aboard easier.

Tom’s Trick Tips

  • Dropping screws, nuts and bolts into the bilge can ruin even the best day.
  • To give yourself a backup, rig a “net” underneath your work to catch that little bugger if you drop it. You could use a heavy rag or even heavy duty aluminum foil IF you are positive it won’t touch anything hot with electricity.
  • As another backup always have an inspection mirror on a folding wand. Use it with a powerful flashlight to find where the ‘tingum went. This will help you retrieve it.
  • Also have handy a strong magnet on a wand, another magnet on a string (to drop into the bilge and troll) and a pair of grabbers that you can get from auto shops, home goods stores and online.

Tom Neale

Technical Editor, BoatUS Magazine