Some considerations when starting on your new toolbox
By Joe Escobar
Everyone's been there. Starting out in a new job as an aircraft mechanic. One of the most challenging tasks that new aircraft mechanics can face is getting their toolbox in order. What kinds of tools are adequate? What considerations should be kept in mind? We will try to cover some toolbox basics in this article to help make the task easier.
There are some general tools that need to be in every mechanics toolbox. This can be considered a basic menu - the least common denominator of tools that you will require. You are probably familiar with these basic tools. Tools like ratchet and socket sets with various extensions, screwdrivers, wrenches, hex wrenches, etc. In addition there are a few specialty tools that can come in handy like a good pair of safety wire pliers and sheet metal snips.
Notice how I mentioned this is a basic tool menu. It is by no means all-encompassing, just a starting point. As you start working in your job, you will get a better feel for additional tools that you will need.
Required tool list
Some employers provide a list of tools required to work in their organization. This list can be useful, but beware. Some lists can be outdated, not being updated since Charles Taylor was turning wrenches. A slide rule being required as a tool would be a good indication that the list is outdated.
Use common sense when using a list provided by an employer to base your tool purchases. Some of them will indeed be necessary, but others may not. If possible, talk to some of the other mechanics that work there to get a feel for what is needed.
Once you start working at a job, you will get a good feel for the tools that you will need. It is then that you will start filling your toolbox with additional tools that will round off your selection.
As a general rule of thumb, if you have to borrow it more than once, buy it. Don't be the mooch that is constantly borrowing that 1-inch 8-point socket from your buddy to remove that fuel filter because you are too cheap to order one from the truck. Sure some tools may not be worth buying if you are going to only use it once, but don't take advantage of someone else's generosity.
Beware that it can be quite easy to go overboard in buying those "gotta have" tools. Visits to the local tool truck can become expensive, with your money making a swooshing sound as it leaves your wallet into the hands of the sales rep.
Making the job easier
Inevitably, you will consider tools that will make your job easier. These can be a great investment because they can make your job tasks go by much quicker.
For example, in order to tackle the monotonous job of removing screws from access panels, you might consider a ratcheting screwdriver, speed handle, air drill, or cordless drill to make the job easier than a normal screwdriver. It is wise to check to ensure that the tool you are considering purchasing is permitted to be used on the aircraft. In some cases, nifty tools that can make your job easier are actually not allowed to be used. In the case of removing screws, that cool 21-volt cordless drill may be prohibited from use on the aircraft because of explosion concerns. Better to know that before making that investment.
Precision measuring equipment
Precision measuring equipment items are always nice to have in a toolbox. Items such as multimeters, calipers, and torque wrenches can make your job easier. But beware - these items need to be calibrated in most cases to make their use on the aircraft legal. If the company doesn't provide calibration services, this can be a regular costly item. Check to see if the company provides this type of measuring equipment before purchasing it yourself. It could save you quite a chunk of money, both in the initial investment and recurrent calibration costs.
Gotta put them somewhere
The biggest cost in gearing up for a new mechanic job is the tool box. But there are some definite things to keep in mind when looking for a new toolbox.
The first thing is room. You don't want to leave yourself short in this area. Buying that budget three-drawer box may save you some money initially, but you will soon get frustrated when you run out of space. Another thing to consider is that you will require more space in a toolbox if your employer requires you to shadow your tools for FOD control.
Bottom line is ideally you should buy a toolbox that is big enough to hold all your tools and give you some room to grow as you acquire new ones. If you are hesitant on buying a large toolbox at first, at least consider a toolbox line that offers add-ons like top boxes or side boxes.
If you are considering adding on a top box or side box, think wisely about that decision. Adding a top box will take away valuable working space that you may be used to having. A top box can take away all but a small area on top of your box, leaving you with less working space than you are used to. Many mechanics prefer to add a side box to their existing toolbox when the need for more tool storage space arises.
A vise is another add-on item that can be very useful to have on your toolbox. They can hold parts in place while you work on them making tasks easier. Some toolboxes come with a vise, but even if the one you are looking at doesn't, they are easy to add. Look at a vise with a nonmarring jaw insert so you can work on your projects without gouging them.
Rolling around the hangar
Another thing to keep in mind is the wheel/caster system of the toolbox. If you are just rolling your toolbox around the hangar, this may not be an issue. But if your job requires you to go from hangar to hangar or if you are rolling across a lot of rough areas, then the casters and wheels on your toolbox will make a difference. There are some toolboxes available with pneumatic wheels that make the trip a lot easier on the tool box. In addition, some casters are spring loaded to act as shock absorbers for those rough tracks. If at all possible, you should consider the transportation needs of your toolbox before you make your purchase.
These have been some tips on toolbox basics. It should give you a starting point when beginning a new job as an aircraft mechanic or helping others who are just launching their careers.