While it’s possible to disassemble, reassemble and adjust drum brakes without specialty tools, it is neither easy nor fun.
Drum brakes are filled with many springs. On most drum brake sets, there are a half-dozen or more springs to deal with. Some can be problematic even when using the best tools possible.
When working with drums, a couple of smaller coil springs must be seated over “nails” that attach to the backing plate. Here, the nail must be held stationary while you push down and twist the retainer. It’s possible to do this with your fingers, but I prefer using the right tool (see the accompanying photos) to effortlessly compress the spring and allow you to release the retainer from the nail.
Those little coil springs just might be the easiest to deal with too.
The bigger issues are the longer springs that attach to the anchor pin as well as the spring that attaches to the self-adjuster assembly.
Often, you’re forced to stretch a stiff spring a pretty long way to seat it. It’s nearly impossible by hand, and most common tools won’t get the job done.
Adjusting drum brakes can be difficult as well.
You must lift the lever off of the adjuster, simultaneously turning the star wheel on the adjuster. This must all be accomplished through a little hole that is barely 1 x 3/8-inch. In most cases, you have to achieve this by feel, which isn’t fun, especially if you’re trying to do it with a couple of small screwdrivers.
The solution for all of the above are the right tools.
One of the neatest packages available is the OTC drum brake tool set (OTC-6516), which comes in a hard-plastic case that contains a set of brake spring pliers, three coil spring tools, one spring removal tool, and three different brake spoons.
The long-handle pliers are used to stretch springs, and the handle can be used as a lever to stretch springs as well. The three coil spring tools are similar but have different diameters for various springs you might encounter.
The spring-removal tool is actually geared for import applications, but it’s also pretty good for stretching springs. The two regular spoons can reach inside the little access port mentioned above to lift the adjuster lever and turn the adjuster wheel. Finally, the smaller spoon tool is perfect for reaching into tight spots and either turning the adjuster or moving the lever off of the adjuster wheel.
This is a relatively inexpensive tool kit. The bottom line is that working on drum brakes requires effective drum brake tools.