It’s not as sexy as cracking open a hood and getting your hands dirty.

However, the process of cleaning, maintaining, and otherwise taking care of shop tools was among the most frequently mentioned topics when we asked what jobs young mechanics should learn first.

As the old adage says: “Take care of your tools, and your tools will take care of you.”

Our friends at Klein Tools and Campbell-Hausfeld have provided some very sound advice on taking care of your hand tools and air tools, respectively. We’ve thrown in a few pieces of advice on the power tools.

Of course, the importance of proper storage cannot be understated when it comes to keeping your tools protected.

Here are some more tips:


Hand Tools

To get the best results from your tools every time you use them, it’s best to keep them clean and degreased. After each use, you can simply use a multi-purpose cleaner-degreaser and a cloth rag.

Using the cloth rag, spray a small amount of the multi-purpose cleaner onto the tool and rub excess dirt and grime off.  Not a lot is needed for effective results. 

If you’ve been a little lax in cleaning your tools after every use, you have older tools that you haven’t touched in years, or bought some old tools from the local flea market, you may need a more drastic wash. 

Klein lays out a little more ambitious cleaning process using these items:

Fill the bucket with hot water and a small amount of commercial cleaner and then soak your tools in the bucket for 30 seconds to a minute. With your wire brush, scrub the tools to remove dirt and grime, rinse, and repeat as necessary.

Let the tools dry atop a cloth rag. 

For older tools with a considerable amount of rust, you will want to take the steel wool and scrub the rust off. Allow time for everything to dry before storing as it’s important to make sure all of the tools are absent of moisture to prevent future rusting. Use your dry cloth rag and wipe down as much as possible to ensure that all water is gone. 

As a final cleaning, use a small amount of multi-purpose cleaner (like Klein’s Multi-Purpose Cleaner) and wipe down each tool. Although most new tools are rust resistant, if it’s older tools you’re cleaning, you may want to add a small amount of household oil (i.e. WD-40). 

Power Tools

Power tools need routine maintenance just like your hand tools. Because of their mechanical and electrical parts, power tools are more susceptible to problems caused by poor maintenance, dust and debris accumulation and general malfunction. You should keep and consult your instruction manual for care and maintenance tips; however, we have a few tips below:

  • Wipe away dust, grim, and debris with a rag after every job has been completed and then store them. Deep clean periodically by using a damp cloth. Get into exhausts and intakes and other hard-to-clean areas with lightly oiled cotton swabs or other slender tools.
  • Use an air compressor or a can of compressed air to blow air into vents and crevices is the best way to remove dirt and dust from inside tools
  • Inspect power cords for frayed insulation or exposed wires, have the cord repaired or replaced immediately. Also, check the cord’s prongs to see if they are bent or loose. If any are, repair or replace.
  • Keep moving parts lubricated for premium performance. While common machine oil is a good choice, consult your owner’s manual to see if the manufacturer recommends or requires a specific type of oil.

Air Tools

Campbell-Hausfeld offers three recommendations for keeping air tools in tip-top shape:

1. Daily oiling will prevent freeze ups and deterioration. With moisture present in the air, it mixes with the oil inside the tool, creating a messy, watered-down concoction. Without proper lubrication, this mixture can lead to premature wear and tear, grinding and even rust. To prevent this, place a couple drops of pneumatic tool oil into the tool at the end of use to lubricate and massage the inner metal components.

2. Another way to protect your air tools is to simply run them at their recommended air pressure. Pushing an impact wrench to the highest psi setting is surefire way to break a tool. Running air tools higher causes deterioration of the internal components.

3. Finally, be sure to cap the male air inlet to fight against dust or moisture between uses. This can be done with a vacuum cap if not supplied by the air tool manufacturer.

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.