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Tales from the workshop: tooled up (part two)

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Photographs: Jon Denham

Presented in a fine looking case measuring 79cm x 49cm x 7cm and weighing in at shade over 21kg, Campagnolo’s Full Race Mechanics’ tool kit was, and still is, a joy to behold.
When I popped open the chrome latches on mine for the very first time, and raised the wooden lid, emblazoned with the iconic Campagnolo logo, I was treated to a sight that would delight any cycling aficionado or indeed anyone that simply appreciates fine engineering. Laid out like a box of fine chocolates, each silver gem nestled in its own dedicated recess, contrasting perfectly against the dark brown plastic liner…

The first thing that struck me, apart from the fact that these tools were almost too beautiful to use, was that there were no instructions of any kind. It would appear that you should not consider owning or indeed using tools of this nature if you needed to be told how to use them. Not a trace of the reams of paperwork with detailed step-by-step illustrations and danger of death or serious personal injury warnings that seem to accompany every purchase these days. Oh no… to open the box was akin to joining a select club and not something to be taken lightly.
I remember carefully lifting each tool from its resting place and staring at their finish and intricate detail. Crisp knurling on the handles and razor sharp edges on all the frame cutting tools added to the magic unfolding in front of me as I recognised each tool and began to understand its designated purpose. Over time, everything in that box was christened, and even to this day, lifting that lid and fishing out the ‘right tool for the job’ brings me great joy.
This wooden box of wonder only increased my love for tools in general and my respect for the people who design and manufacture them, for the tool-makers are true craftsmen. Recognising the need for a specific tool to carry out a certain job and then creating something that makes it possible, or just easier, for the next person to come along and do is a real skill.
Many years ago, one of my colleagues at the time would often direct me to a tool hanging on the workshop wall: to a Lin-Bin on the racking, or a small box on a shelf that contained a tool to make an awkward task quite straight forward. Many of these  were clearly not commercially manufactured items. They were all hand-made and the man behind these creations turned out to be a character called “Some Boy”.

His palmarés of tool making was prolific, and I never ceased to be amazed by his ingenuity. We had tools made by him for the safe removal and installation of the bearing cups in Campagnolo hubs, a device to extract broken fans from turbo trainers, front mech and bottle boss alignment gauges, and drop-out stabilising tools for the repair of Alan frames, which needed to be held in place while the bonding cured. Even that dratted 3.5 mm Allen key for setting up Delta brakes that always went AWOL was replaced with a special one on to which Some Boy brazed a handle, making it easier to use and much harder to lose. Whenever we had a workshop conundrum, we would mention it to Some Boy and a few days later he would turn up with a tool for us to try.
I don’t profess to having anywhere near the same skills as Brian (Some Boy’s real name), but over the years I have found myself adapting tools for purposes other than the one originally intended or being forced to come up with my own way to overcome a problem. I have a cherished tool or “podger” (as 9 described it in our Bike Mechanic book) that is essentially an old pipe cleaning tool that once belonged to my Grandpa.
I don’t ever recall him smoking a pipe so had no qualms about bending it straight and using it to re-shape the nylon liners of cables that become deformed during trimming with wire cutters. I have also recruited tools to make other daily tasks easier, like a nail head punch that just happens to be a perfect fit in a valve hole to stop rim tapes slipping out of position while you snap them into place. One of my favourites, however, is the simplest: my modified Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder squeezy bottle.

The first time I used a latex inner tube, back in the early eighties, I was made aware (by reading the instructions) of the practice of applying talcum powder to a tyre and tube before fitting. This was essential if you were to avoid pinching the bulbous yet fragile tube that seemed as if it were made for a bigger wheel and needed a lot of coaxing before it finally slipped into place. I couldn’t help noticing that the coat of talc made the job of fitting the tyre much easier and significantly reduced the chance of nipping the tube, so I adopted the same method for fitting all clincher tyres. Winter bike, race bike, even the mountain bike – they all got the same treatment.
I used to get through a lot of talcum powder. Inevitably, I got more of it on my clothes and the workshop floor than on the intended area. When you open the six-port dispenser top, it goes everywhere. For years my workshop floor would be a hazardous area for some time after a stint of tyre fitting, where budding Michael Jackson impersonators could fine tune their moonwalking skills. One day, it dawned upon me that drilling a single central hole in the top and keeping the lid closed would allow controlled, accurate dispensing of just the right amount of talc into the tyre casing. So simple! Needless to say, this modification was a revelation. Subsequently my consumption of talcum powder has been greatly reduced, as has the urge to polish up that moonwalk…

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