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How to modify or restore your car, for beginners - Your Workspace


Once you have picked your project you need a workspace. Let's assume you have a small garage in which you can fit a medium sized car and have enough room to work comfortably all the way around. Here are some tips I found useful and so may you.

Work as tidy as you can
- I cannot work 'tidy' therefore I work as tidy as I can. I don't have a place for everything in the garage, just an area or rough grouping of tools. All sharp and cutting tools go together. All bolt and screw removing tools, sockets, screwdrivers, spanners, vice grips go together. All body shaping tools and materials go together. All power tools together etc. Once in a while I have a good tidy but that's about it, not ideal but realistic.

Have a solid bench - One extremely valuable asset to any workshop is a solid bench. It doesn't have to be expensive or fancy just a good solid heavy working space, even some breeze blocks stacked safely with a heavy wood board laid on the top will work. If you're really on one hell of a tight budget..

Several rubbish bins - I found one rubbish bin was inadequate (for me), I didn't like having to walk all the way around the garage to put something in the bin so I would leave stuff on the floor. Having 2 or 3 bins dotted around made things easier. It's laziness but it worked.

Good lighting - Good lighting from multiple sources is extremely helpful and cheap. I used the lights already fitted in the garage in conjunction with 3 work lights on reels, one on each wall (excluding the door). That way if I needed extra light I could just grab the nearest work light off its hook and bring it closer.

Flooring - An old carpet or mats laid under you project will help soak up any spills or collect rust deposits as you work, you can then slide the carpet out and empty it into the bin. A thicker fluffy carpet also acts as padding to lie on for low down work (as opposed to an expensive creeper).

Notebook and Reminders - A ready notebook, small chalkboard or whiteboard is handy to write down jobs to do or parts to pick up from town. Often when in the middle of one job you may notice or remember another job that needs doing, but because you are so engrossed in the matter at hand you forget what you were going to do next. Strange but true.
Having multiple photographs of restored or new cars identical to the one you are working on acts as a ready frame of reference if you need clarification on any aspect of you project. As well as providing inspiration at a glance.


These are some bodywork tools and materials you will need and also some that are very handy. Of course everyone has their own budget to stick to, but with tools almost always the more money you spend the better the result. For a more comprehensive list of tools you might need, check out this handy glossary covering a wide variety of automotive tools.

- A range of bodywork hammers, a heavy mallet and a rubber mallet
can be invaluable when restoring cars. Metal beating is an artform no one will pick up in a day, I myself am still learning from my mistakes. But to gently tap out a 'door ding' is relatively simple even for an amateur, more on that later. Hammers can be used to tap a chisel or screwdriver through rust or corroded rubber seals. While a rubber mallet can help to 'shock' a stubborn bolt.

Sockets, small medium and large are absolutely essential. Quality really counts here. Cheap sockets like you generally get in 'emergency tool kit' packs break and round out surprisingly easy, not to say they are worthless, but if you are working on an older car with rusted and seized bolts some high quality sockets in the more common sizes make life much easier.

Screwdrivers, Philips head and straight edge screwdrivers are essential, but torx head are also very, very useful too. Sort of a no-brainer but a wide variety of screwdrivers make any project easier. The better screwdrivers have hardened metal tips which are more resistant to warping and bending under extreme use.

Breaker bars and adapters, links, extensions for socket set. When working on cars you will find many of the bolts are squirreled away beyond the reach of any straight bar. To combat this, universal links, adapters and extensions bars can be used in a variety of configurations to reach most bolts. Breaker bars make removing rusted or seized bolts a breeze, usually.

Sanding boards and backing pads essential if you want any filler work to be straight. Sanding boards come in many different shapes and sizes. The two most useful types are the long two-handed boards and the smaller rectangular foam or rubber sanding pads.

Stanley knife, scalpel and hacksaw, great for cutting away rusted metal and rotted/worn material.

Good quality scissors and metal snips, cutting metal and material

Files can be handy, especially for removing dangerous metal burrs and removing rust.

Surform graters. Surform rasps and graters are great for rough shaping fiberglass and bodyfiller prior to sanding. They don't provide a smooth finnish at all, however they do cut down on work time significantly.

Sand paper - various grades (more on this later in the series)

Masking tape - all different widths if possible (but not essential). Used for masking areas you want to protect temporarily, whether it be from paint overspray, sand scratches or chipping

Rags - And more rags, use old clothes as a substitute. When I am working I have 3 steps of rag: Clean - All these rags are new or washed, mostly used for dust and light cleaning (but not polishing paintwork etc.), or cleaning fragile parts.
Medium - These rags were once in the clean box. These rags are used for dirtier jobs, grease, mud and engine bays etc.
Filth - These rags have gone through all the steps and will soon be thrown away. Filth rags are used for oil spills and other messy 'jobs'. Thrown away after using.
This is just my way of doing things, but it does seem to work reasonably well.

Digital camera - Very handy for taking snaps before (and during) tearing into something. They can be extremely useful in reminding you how it went back together. The pictures also provide great before and after documentation of your project.

Read more:
About me
The Plan
Picking your Project
Your workspace

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