Welcome to the BugShop FAQ

The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: Tool Techniques
Last updated: 11/1/01

Tool Techniques

Symptom: You have a hormone-based affinity for tools; your are deaf to the call of your wife/girlfriend, but the "clink" of a triple chromed, 17mm box end wrench on the cool garage floor involuntarily jerks your head around.

It can be statistically proven that for every six nuts or bolts that you have to remove for a repair on a car that is over a year old and has been outside, one will either twist off, strip out, be completely inaccessible or you will not have the right tool for it. If the car is older than 7 years old, the ratio goes to one in four, and if you live in part of the country that puts salt on the roads in the winter, the ratio is somewhere between 2 and 3. I have pie charts and graphs to prove this. And Beetles are no exception to this rule. Every bolt looks harmless and friendly until you try to turn it out.

This FAQ is growing as I write it, because as I go along, I think of all sort of "how to's" that have helped me conquer metal things over the years. This is not just about tools, it's techniques too. So I wanted to share some of my skills in "winning" over stuck, dirty, rusted and corroded fasteners. I have furthered this art to such an extent, that believe it or not I actually enjoy finding a non-compliant fastener. "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated."

My primary weapons are:

And a few other tools worth mentioning: Once I used a mammoth variable speed Milwaukee Sawzall and a tungsten blade, but that is a whole 'nother story.

The Key Techniques: Torque; Heat; Oil; Rattle

Its pretty simple: use everything. It is easy to forget, or be too lazy to go and get the torch or hook up the air, but the real key to victory is to learn to be aware of when just plain old torque won't do it and you are bordering on damaging threads, snapping off or stripping something. Basically, I torque until my "non-compliant bolt" indicator goes off in my head. Then I heat and WD-40 and torque again. If still stuck, I heat again, WD-40 again and "rattle" (I use air tools, but jarring it with a hammer can help to). Heat has done miracles for me before. Just getting things hot seems to have an effect. I used to try to apply logic like "heat just the big nut, so it will expand and get loose on the bolt" but time and time again, just plain old heat in the general area does the trick. No, you don't need to make it glow red, but good old "burn ya'" hot. Speaking of burns, an old pair of thick leather work gloves is a good idea too.

For really rusty stuff (exhaust hardware), where there is nothing flammable or meltable close by though, "glow" heat IS beneficial. Heating a hardly recognizable nut to glowing red and then LETTING IT COOL to "just hot" will break down the corrosive rust coupling between it and the threads. Use the WD-40 but be careful. Even a non-glowing bolt can be hot enough to ignite the oil sprayed on it.

The "Hot Socket"

Applying heat to a nut or bolt can be tricky. Sometimes there is all sorts of flammable seals, upholstery, paint around that prevents you from getting a flame near. The "Hot Socket" trick is to heat up the tool that you are using to remove the nut or bolt first. Use a long extension on your ratchet, your leather gloves and heat up the socket with the torch. Not glowing hot but good 'ole "discolored the chrome hot". Then quickly apply it to the nut or bolt. Apply a little "snug" torque first for about 10 seconds or so. The heat from the tool will quickly be transferred to the nut or bolt and it's threads. It works great on bolts that have been installed with LockTite. I call this the "hot socket" technique. Make sure I get credit for it when you tell your friends, I honestly thought of it myself, but I'm sure some others have too. WARNING: repetitive heating may/will damage the hardness (temper) of tools. I have my "hot socket" sockets, and then my shiny "good" sockets. Reality is, when you are really stuck, you'll heat up your only socket and buy another one later if you need to. I definitely recommend this technique when removing the pan to body bolts on the Beetle. It works good for screwdrivers too, I do it with Phillips all the time when you know you can strip out the heads real easy.

"Rattle It" Till It Cries "Uncle"

Then there is "rattling". Impact wrenches and air hammers can be very influential on stubborn nuts and bolts. Add heat, and they can almost never say no. Use "Impact" sockets wherever you can, they are made of a stronger steel than the others, but if you don't have them, you can use regular sockets, but watch your torque setting. My "cheapy" impact wrench has 4 torque settings (max 250 ft./lbs.), if you don't have adjustable torque, lower your air pressure to about 40 psi and start from there. Use common sense; ie. don't go full torque at 125 psi on a 10mm bolt, you'll shear that puppy off before you can release the trigger. An air hammer with a stub nose or flat "hammer" bit can be influential too. Rattle it from a few angles, heat, oil and try again. In the absence of air tools a small hammer can be used to jar the bolt, but watch what you are hitting. It is easy in angry rage to damage threads or deform a nut so you can't get a socket on it (been there, done that). And after years of trying everything and anything, I can safely say that cussing doesn't do anything (but I still do it).

"ssnnNNAPP!, Oh $%it!!!"

Inevitably, despite all of the techniques above, you will snap or shear off a bolt. And science insures that it will always snap off flush with whatever it is screwed into so that you have no chance to grip the exposed shank with a pair of vice grips. If there is such a thing as a "Doctorate" degree in tool-ology, it is the ability to win over these seeming dooming situations.

Don't freak out and go on a rampage, there are a few things you can try. Some work, some don't. Here's what I have tried or at least heard about:

The reason this works so well is that the intense heat that the weld conducts to the bolt breaks down the rust/corrosion that made you snap it off in the first place and obviously gives you something to grab the bolt by. Remember that the "quality" of the initial weld to the bolt shank is very important. If you are using the nut method, it is easy for the arc to jump to the nut sides and even though you "fill in" the nut, you may have not actually welded anything to the bolt. And the other key is going slow and applying a small, back and forth torque to the bolt. You want to be able to re-use the thread bore, right?

 Incidentally, the "blob" method may work best when doing upside down bolts (like the body to pan bolts snapped off in the heater channels I did a few nights ago). This is because gravity will help you build an exposed blob easily and holding a nut upside down may be difficult, if not impossible.

Lets look at an example of the "nut" method:
"Yikes! You have got to be kidding! That one is a goner! You're dreamin' if you think you are getting that thing out............"

 This is a VW GTI exhaust manifold I bought for my Cabriolet. Looks like real basket case, throw it away or drill it and tap it larger, right?

First, get out your trusty Dremel with a pointed stone, and grind the end of the offending shank until it is shiny.
Next, place the sacrificial nut over the stud. It is best if the the electrical connection between the nut and the part is poor, as you want the arc to be drawn to the shiny stud end, not the nut at first. Thus, a cruddy nut works best.

 If the surface is not horizontal and flat, consider a tiny MIG tack or two to hold it in place. You can slice it free later with a carbide disc or a file before you try to turn it out with the stud.

Here's the nut after filling in with the MIG. Let it cool off before trying to apply any torque. I keep a wet rag nearby.
Victory!! No, I didn't get it on the first try. On this one I went through about 4 nuts. You can see that the MIG metal only adhered to the nut on one side of the cavity but I was still able to get it out. This is an M8 (8mm) x 1.25 pitch stud by the way. The threaded bore in the manifold was fine.
...and trust me, expect to go through this many nuts to get the job done. On this manifold I decided to remove the 5 other good studs and replace them too with new ones. In doing that of course, I succeeded in snapping 2 more studs off. That "back and forth" technique by the way works very well with any "prone to snapping" bolt or nut.

Beetle Particulars

I think it is worth mentioning the 36mm bolts on the Beetle. These are the rear axle nuts and the flywheel gland nut. 36mm is almost exactly 1 7/16", if you are pilfering someone's tool box. And as for those axle nut "tools" that are just a piece of pig iron with a 36 mm hex hole in them an a place for hitting them with a hammer, they are great. I just used one with a 5 lb. sledge hammer the other night when my 1/2" breaker bar with 5 feet of "cheater pipe" failed (only because the chocked wheel on this gutted '54 kept slipping on the floor). I pulled of the wheel, lowered the drum down on a block of railroad tie letting the full weight of that corner rest on the drum. A couple whacks with the hammer and that sucker gave up.

There is a school of thought, and theoretically even a VW service bulletin, that says that any kind of impact method of removing the axle nuts is bad. Supposedly this can cause premature failure of the bearings and inner workings of the differential as they must take the pounding too. I have used both impact and steady torque methods in all of my years and have never experienced a problem. But worth mentioning here, you make the call.

But applying "impact wrench" torque on the axles is a good idea because you don't have to figure out a way to "lock" the axle like you do when you use the 4' pipe technique. And a good size pipe wrench will work too if you don't have a socket, but make sure that your car is stable (ie: not on jack stands), it is best to loosen the nut while the car is on the ground with the wheels on. And make sure that whatever act of God that you use to loosen the nut is re-used to tighten it. This is especially important for the flywheel gland nut, which, by the way, can ONLY be loosened with a socket. The first VW motor I rebuilt ran for about 3 weeks before the gland nut came loose and the flywheel beat up the end of the crank so bad that it had to be replaced and the flywheel re-drilled for 8 pins. Expensive lesson. And DON'T heat the gland nut with the torch, you will damage the roller bearings inside.

And lastly, I want to mention the bolts that hold the doors on. These are big, #4 Phillips "pan head" head bolts. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO LOOSEN THESE WITHOUT THE CORRECT BIT. Yes, I have in my sordid past, loosened a couple with a big #3, but never all of them. If I ever did loosen one, I stripped the cross pattern out of at least 3 others on that side. Don't do it. I have, in the last few years, accepted the religion of going out and BUYING the right tool that I need for the job. They are often not that expensive and you will use them again some day. What you want is a good quality #4 Phillips bit in a 3/8" drive "socket" (I think you can get one for around $5). Using this on an impact wrench is ideal, but a ratchet with an extension and lots of pressure against the bolt is OK too. FORGET the #3 Phillips (or God forbid, a flat blade) with a pair of vice grips on the shank. You will only strip out the head and then you will NEVER get the bolt out. Use some penetrating oil, and the "hot bit" technique if you think you need it, but not too hot or you will damage the paint on the A-pillar.

Tire Shop

While most people would not even consider attempting to mount and balance tires on rims in their own garage, being able to remove a tire from a rim is a nice capability to have. For me, I very often am "tearing down" a set of swap meet wheels I got for $5, or I am preparing to sandblast and paint a set of rims and would really like to not have to run down to a tire shop and pay someone just to have to come back and pay them later when I put the new tires on. And also, replacing a bad valve stem requires access to the inside of the rim. If you can break the tire bead you can replace a stem and reinstall the tire.

"Breaking the bead" refers to relinquishing the grip the inner edges of the tire has on each side of the rim. The "bead" is the part of the tire that sits on the shoulder of the rim and has a heavy steel core in it. Especially on an old crusty wheel, this bead can have a Herculean grip on the rim. Immense pressure is needed to pull the tire bead away from the rim.

The pictures below show a technique that I have evolved over the years. It uses a floor jack and the weight of another vehicle to separate the bead. In this case, my 2800lb VW Cabriolet was up to the task....
Here's what you need:
  • A floor jack with a reasonable lift range (15"-20"). Yes, you could probably do this with a bottle jack, but I cringe at the thought. BUY a floor jack with the money you will save by avoiding the tire shop.
  • A couple crow bars.
  • A heavy rubber mallet.
  • A length of 4x4, 2 feet long or better.
  • A piece of 2x6, a foot long or better.
  • A car. The heavier the better. 
Remove the valve stem (or valve from it) from the wheel.

 Place the 4x4 and 2x6 under the wheel as shown. The 2x6 is needed to provide a flat surface as wide as the contact patch of the tire on the car (you could nail or screw the pieces of wood together, but I didn't). Carefully place the 4x4 so that it lays across the tire to be removed and the end is right up to the lip of the rim, but not touching it.

 If you are doing this with an early VW wheel ('65 and earlier) that has the hub cap clips, gently bend the clips down so that the rim can lay flat without crunching them. If you don't, they may get bent over sideways and be unusable. You need to break the beads on both sides of the rim, it doesn't matter which side you start with. 

Lower the car slowly, watch the 4x4 and insure it doesn't catch the rim's edge. It must be very close to it, but not touching. As the car drops the 4x4 will peel the tire sidewall back and off the rim at that point..... 
....with a "pop" the bead should break loose. Once it does, it is easily separated the rest of the way around. If the 4x4 peels the tire back but doesn't break the bead off the rim, try again, being careful to position the wood very close the rim edge. If it still doesn't, place the end of a big screwdriver or other blunt ended tool on the exposed bead while the tire is held as shown in the picture on the left. Then whack the end of the tool with a mallet to force the bead off the rim. Once it breaks free at one place, it can easily come off all the way around.

 Next, flip the wheel over and repeat the whole procedure for the other side....

Next comes the challenge of getting the tire off the rim once the beads are broken. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures as the process required continuous use of both of my hands (and feet for that matter). Here's the short version:

I shouldn't have to tell you this, but be careful. Do not get any part of your body under the car while it is be help up only by the floor jack. Lower the jack very slowly, watch what is going on. Watch those crowbars. If you loose you grip on them while prying, the elasticity of the rubber can fling them right back at your face (I have a bruise on my arm, I was luck).

Well, that is all the cool tool tricks that I can think of for now, but rest assured, more will be added later.....

Copyright© 1999; John S. Henry 

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