14 Tools Every Engine Enthusiast Should Have In Their Toolbox

When it comes to tools, it would probably be a safe assumption that most of the people reading this article have a more diverse and well-stocked toolbox than the average person. After all, enthusiasts are typically enthusiastic about all aspects of the hobby, and that includes working on projects yourself.

With that assumption in mind, we teamed up with Proform Performance Products and put together a list of 14 tools anyone who is into working on their own engine projects should have in their toolbox. Also, something to note, is that in the coming months as several of our in-house projects start rolling out, you’ll notice these tools getting a workout. So, in no particular order, here are the 14 tools you should have:

Degree Wheel Kit

If you’re a performance enthusiast, you should be degreeing your cam properly. None of that dot-to-dot stuff for us — no sir! We’re concerned with half-degree accuracy. You put all that time and effort into choosing the right camshaft, why would you risk giving up some of that performance by not spending the time to ensure it’s dialed in properly?

Proform’s P/N: 68787 Universal Camshaft Degree Wheel Kit is designed to work with the heads off of the block, and includes a really nice billet aluminum dial indicator mount and a five-inch extension for the included dial indicator, in order to reach your lifters. Additionally, the kit includes a piston stop for you to find Top Dead Center and comes with a heavy-duty 9-inch degree wheel and bendable timing pointer. Everything you need to degree a camshaft is in the blow-molded case.

The Proform Degree Wheel Kit comes with everything you need to degree your engine in one package, including a dial gauge, mounting stand, probe extension, degree wheel, and adjustable pointer.

Crankshaft-Turning Socket

Regardless of what kind of engine you’re working on, one of Proform’s Crankshaft turning sockets is a really nice addition to your degree wheel kit, or just on its own. Available for a number of applications, including LS1/LS6, small-block and big-block Chevys, and Chrysler V8s, the “Pro” version of the tool mounts snugly to the snout of the crankshaft and is secured by a set-screw.

It has a 1/2-inch square-drive socket machined into the end of it to fit a 1/2-inch ratchet or breaker bar, to make sure you aren’t putting any undue stresses on the threads of your crankshaft. Additionally, the socket features a threaded snout with a lock nut, sized perfectly to secure a degree wheel. Plus, since the threaded portion is independent of the 1/2-inch drive, there’s the added benefit of not risking loosening the degree wheel when you reverse the rotation of the engine with a wrench.

The "pro" version of the crankshaft turning socket pictured here not only protects the crankshaft's threads, but also provides a mounting solution for a degree wheel, independent from the forces turning the engine over.

Cam Checker Tool

While the degree wheel kit includes a dial indicator with an extended probe, Proform also makes this handy little tool, which plugs directly into your lifter bore to measure actual camshaft runout and lift. It’s machined with two diameters — .842 inches and .875 inches — on opposite ends to fit both GM and small-block Ford lifter bores.

Held in place by an O-ring, the checker has both flat-tappet and roller-shaped plungers, for accurate readings no matter what type of camshaft you have, with absolutely zero lash in the system. This tool can be used to measure actual lobe lift, duration, as well as degreeing the cam, with greater ease of use and less potential for error through deflection.

Here you can see the cam checker, which was zeroed on the camshaft base circle, reading .282-inch of peak lobe lift, or about .480-inch of valve lift.

Cylinder Head CC Kit

When you’re trying to measure the volume of your combustion chambers, there are a lot of styles of kits available. By far our favorite style is the laboratory burette style, like Proform P/N: 66831. While this might look imposing at first (I mean, the burette is almost three feet tall), the amount of resolution available and the lack of required math make this style a no-brainer in our book.

The kit includes a laboratory-grade 100cc precision glass burette, marked in 0.2cc divisions, a heavy steel base, sturdy rod, and burette clamp, along with a flat acrylic plate to seal your combustion chambers with. Another really nice feature about the Proform burette is that the markings on the side are opposite of a graduated cylinder.

By starting at 0cc when the burette is full, it tells you how much liquid you’ve released through the internal petcock. That means that once you’ve filled the combustion chamber, all you have to do is read the fluid level. No math is required at all. Plus, with the 360-degree petcock rotation, you can be extremely precise with those last few drops of liquid for even more precise measurement. The more precise that measurement, the more precise your compression ratio calculations.

The burette-style head CC’ing kit really is superior to the graduated-cylinder styles. Besides being more precise in its readings, the petcock makes it easy to precisely dispense the last few drops of fluid into the chamber.

Magnetic Deck Bridge

This tool is one of those that is deceptively simple. A magnetic deck bridge (Proform P/N: 66797) makes measuring anything to do with piston height incredibly simple. As you saw in a previous article, the Proform model has three different spots to mount a dial indicator, as well as mounting provisions of a set of calipers.

This not only allows for easy finding of Top Dead Center, but also for measuring actual stroke and for measuring piston deck height. The built-in magnets make for a solid, stable mount on the deck of the block (assuming, of course, you have an iron block), the stance accommodates up to a 4.500-inch bore, and the three dial indicator locations allow you to work around domes or dishes in the piston crown.

A good magnetic deck bridge can really make life easy for a lot of things. Here, we see the piston at TDC using a dial indicator on the left, and on the right, we're measuring stroke length using the caliper mounting feature.

Connecting Rod Vise

This tool’s importance was burned into our heads at an early age. The Proform aluminum connecting rod vise, P/N 66769, is made from anodized aluminum to protect your connecting rods when clamped between its precision-machined jaws. The design is either bench-mountable or able to be clamped in a bench vise for a secure platform only when needed.

Properly securing the big end of your connecting rod when installing and torquing rod bolts (or removing torqued bolts) is a critical part of measuring bearing clearances using a dial bore gauge, and a dedicated aluminum vise is the safest and most secure way to accomplish that. Plus the anodized red finish just flat out looks awesome.

Besides being a well-built, solid tool, the Proform connecting rod vise also looks really sharp. its design allows it to be mounted in a bench vise to allow for a very stable temporary platform.

LS Main Cap Removal Tool

The Proform LS Main Cap Removal Tool (P/N: 67485) is one of those devices that you look at and think, “How has no one thought of this before?” The LS line of engines has main caps with “wings” on them, which lend themselves nicely to being picked up and plucked out of the block like a mother picking up her child under the arms.

The ingeniously engineered tool evenly applies leverage on the main cap, separating it from the block easily, thanks to the significant mechanical advantage offered by the tool’s linkage geometry. Made from billet aluminum and finished in a slick black anodizing for a long lifespan the LS Main Cap Removal tool makes a tricky job ridiculously easy.

The Pro-Series LS Main Cap Removal Tool is an absolutely awesome piece of engineering. It makes removing LS main caps about as effortless as it can be, without having someone else do it.

Electric Piston Ring Filer

When it comes to filing piston rings, things can be as simple as a hand-cranked filing wheel, or as complex as a multiple-axis electric filer with more gauges than your racecar. However, Proform has split the difference and simply added power to its traditional easy-to-use model (P/N: 66758). With a 120-grit grinding wheel, the electric piston ring filer makes efficient, clean cuts to the end of your rings.

The Proform electric filer has a body made from aluminum, with provisions to be mounted directly to a workbench via integral mounting holes. The surface of the filer has been machined flat, and two dowels are installed to help true up the ring as it’s being filed. This model comes standard with a 120-volt adapter, but a 220-volt model is available for international applications.

The electric piston ring filer is a dead-simple device designed to free up your second hand. Instead of cranking the grinding wheel, you can use two hands to control the ring.

Heavy-Duty Valve Spring Compressor

When you need to remove valvesprings, there is a myriad of options. For use around the shop and with heavier valvespring loads, an off-the-head style of compressor is our go-to. The heavy-duty model from Proform (P/N: 66832) is a universal design that can handle valves up to 13 inches long and valvesprings with up to 700 pounds of pressure.

The adjustable arm is secured by a pin with a heavy-duty ball detent to ensure the pin doesn’t slide out unintentionally, and the handle’s mechanical advantage and cam-over action make compressing the springs a breeze, while keeping them compressed hands-free so you can use both of your hands to address the valve locks. With its universal design and high load capacity, there really isn’t much that this compressor can’t tackle.

This heavy-duty valvespring compressor can handle valves up to 13 inches long and valvesprings with pressures up to 700 pounds.

Valve Checking Springs

Speaking of valvesprings, these checker springs (P/N: 66793) are an absolute must-have for your toolbox. Lightweight, low-tension springs, these are meant to provide enough pressure to keep the valvetrain under tension, but be easily compressible by hand. This allows you to easily check all sorts of valvetrain specs without the pressure from an actual valvespring making life tough. Plus, they are really inexpensive.

These lightweight springs offer enough tension to keep the valvetrain together, but can still be easily compressed with just finger pressure.

Camshaft Installation Handle

Ok, we know this one is going to generate some debate. Yes, people have used screwdrivers in the ends of cams to finagle them into the cam bearings before. But it’s so much easier to do when you have a rigid handle bolted to the end of the camshaft. Not only do you have positive control of the cam in every axis of movement, but you also gain some additional leverage.

The Proform Universal Camshaft Handle (P/N 66898) comes with a total of six different mounting heads to cover a wide variety of domestic V6 and V8 engines of both the single-bolt and three-bolt variety. However, it should be noted, while Proform lists this as working with LS cams, it is only Gen-III three-bolt cams. There isn’t an adapter offered for the Gen-IV’s large single-bolt cam.

The six available adapters for the Proform universal camshaft handle cover a wide range of both three-bolt and single-bolt camshaft designs.

Valve Spring Height Micrometer

Checking the installed height of your valvesprings is a crucial measurement. Since spring rates vary based on the amount of compression, if you have 16 valvesprings all with different installed heights, you will have 16 different seat pressures, and 16 different open pressures. The most accurate way to measure your installed height, just like with most other things, is with a micrometer.

Proform makes a micrometer specifically for valves, to measure installed height. In fact, they make multiple versions: For standard V8 valvesprings (1.600-2.100 inches) they make P/N: 66902, for beehive valvesprings they make P/N: 67390. And if you need to measure smaller valvesprings, they even make P/N: 66903 for 1.400-1.800-inch spring heights. The easy-to-read markings make it a snap to know exactly what your installed spring height is.

Valvespring installed height micrometers are extremely useful and easy-to-use tools when setting up your valvetrain. Here you can see that the installed height on this particular valve is .010 over spec and could use a shim.

Valve Seal Installation Tool

Similar to the screwdriver-in-the-cam, we’re sure there are plenty of folks out there who might scoff at a proper valve seal installation tool. However, using a socket — as we know many of you have — can sometimes lead to damaged valve seals. So it really only makes sense to use the proper tool, especially when it’s on the inexpensive side of the spectrum.

The Proform valve seal installation tool (P/N 67444) is made from CNC-machined aluminum with a red anodized finish and a knurled end for an improved grip. It’s designed to install .500-inch and .531-inch seals and will give you years of use.

Why use a socket and risk damaging the valve seal, when the proper tool exists and is relatively inexpensive?

Pushrod Length Checker

One thing that can bring a project to a screeching halt is realizing your guess at pushrod length was wrong. Proform makes a variety of sizes of adjustable pushrod, from 6.125 inches all the way up to 11.500 inches. What you see here is P/N: 67560, which adjusts from 6.125 inches to 7.500 inches, which will cover both our LS project as well as the SBF we have in storage.

Using it is simply a matter of unscrewing the adjustable end until you have reached the desired length, lock it down, and then check the geometry. Once you find the sweet spot, you pull the adjustable pushrod out and measure it. Now, you know for a fact that you are ordering the right length pushrod the first time.

This single adjustable pushrod (placed next to a stock LS pushrod) will adjust in length from 6.125 to 7.500 inches, which will cover both LS and small-block Ford applications.

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About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent fifteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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