Building Your Toolbox: The Basic Tools Needed to Start Wrenching

Posted by on 4/1/2013
How to build your tool box: The basic tools you will need to get started working on a vintage Japanese Motorcycle.

Building Your Tool Box: The Basic Tools Needed to Start Wrenching

The other half to owning an old motorcycle, such as the Honda CB360, is working on it yourself. Of course to do that you need to assemble a tool box which is the cornerstone of any good mechanic. The good news is that your tool box doesn't need to be elaborate, but must contain some basics that every mechanic needs. Tools are an investment, period; this is why you should always buy quality tools. The money invested in quality tools will pay for themselves with amount of work that you are able to get done yourself. Additionally, quality tools will always retain their value regardless of age and can be sold if need be. The acquisition of tools will be an ongoing project as long as you continue doing mechanical work. Your collection of tools will slowly growing with the more advanced projects you take on.

Metric vs. SAE

Japanese motorcycles are metric hardware, however up through the mid 1980s the U.S. Automotive industry used SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standard tools. This means there a lot of SAE tools still out there. The difference between SAE and Metric sizing is relevant to wrenches and sockets, but how do you tell them apart? Metric tools are sized in millimeters, (10MM, 12MM, etc.) whereas SAE tools are sized by fractions of an inch (5/16”, ½”, 11/32”). For wrenching on motorcycles you should focus on getting metric wrenches, however if you plan on working on an old American car as well, SAE sizes will have to be acquired. A well outfitted tool box will have both SAE and Metric sizes.

Sockets, Ratchets and Extensions

Sockets and Wrenches are what you will use almost every time you work on your bike. Sockets are classified by a few different factors (besides Metric vs. SAE). The first factor is drive size, sockets are attached to a ratchet handle with a square drive that holds the sockets in place. The most common drive sizes are ¼”, 3/8” and ½”, the size of the wrench increase with drive size, and larger wrenches can accommodate bigger sockets. For most work the 3/8” drive will get the job done and should be your primary ratchet. The sockets themselves come commonly in 6 point and 12 point configuration. 6 point sockets are hexagon in shape, hence their name, whereas 12 point are two hexagons imposed on one another. 6 point sockets always grab a bolt head better than 12 points, which can easily round off the corners of a nut. Finally there is regular length versus deep wall, with the latter being a lengthened extrusion of the first. In addition to the ratchet handle there are a variety of extensions that lengthen the reach of a socket. I find myself using a 3/8” ratchet with a 3” extension and a deep wall 6 point socket most of the time.

What to buy: 3/8” ratchet handle, a set of metric sockets (6pt preferred, 8mm – 18mm), short and long extensions. A ½” socket set should be your second purchase.


Combination wrenches are named so because they have two usable ends, typically an open end and a boxed end. The open end is pretty straight forward, where as the box end comes in both 12 and 6 point variants. Again I prefer 6 point to 12 point, but they are much more difficult to find. Some combo wrenches are set up with two different sizes on either end, while these tools are fine they should be seen as a supplement to combination open end/box wrenches where each wrench is a specific size.

What to buy:Combination open end/box end wrenches 8mm – 18mm.


Screwdrivers come in a variety of sizes and configurations, and they seem to be a tool that having a wider variety of is better. Each one will prove to be useful at some time or another. Most folks are familiar with the two basic types or screwdriver, Flathead and Philips. Again, a good assortment of both types in sizes from large to small and short to long is what you need. Do yourself a favor and buy real screwdrivers rather than using one of those handles with the interchangeable tips as they are junk.

What to buy: #0-4 Phillips and ¼”-1/2” flat head screwdrivers in various lengths.


Pliers are an invaluable tool for grabbing, squeezing, and holding odd size things. Unfortunately they also tend to be used incorrectly as a substitute for sockets or combination wrenches. Pliers come in a variety of sizes and types and just a few pairs will cover most of your needs. Slip Joint, needle nose and water pump (sometimes called Channel locks, which is a brand name) are tool box staples. Locking pliers often called Vice Grips are also a must as they have extreme grabbing force that cannot be matched; essential for removing a bolt with a stripped head. Vice Grip is a specific brand of locking pliers and really are the best, so get the real thing.

What to Buy: Slip Joint, Needle Nose, and Water Pump pliers. Medium sized Vice Grip locking pliers.


There are lots of hammer types out there, but a simple claw hammer will go a long way and get the job done. Along with a hammer an assortment of punches are critical for driving various different sized friction fit parts together or apart. A center punch used for marking parts and cold chisel for splitting/ breaking off stubborn pieces should be included in your set as well.

What to Buy: Claw Hammer, assorted punches, center punch and cold chisel.

Hex Keys

Hex keys, often called Allen Wrenches (again a brand name) are becoming more and more frequently used on Japanese motorcycles. Many of the factory screws on the CB360 are destroyed over years of neglect; I replace these with stainless Allen head fasteners. Having a set of good quality hex keys will make adjusting and servicing your engine in the future much easier, opt for a set of individual keys versus a pocket knife style folding set.

What to Buy: Metric Hex key set from 2mm-8mm (the longer the better).

Adjustable Wrenches

Adjustable Wrenches often called Crescent wrenches (yet again a brand name) are another key part of your tool set. A set of two or three in different sizes are great to have, and while their clamping power is often not ideal, they come in handy when you are dealing with odd sized fasteners. It is important to always buy good quality adjustable wrenches, as the cheap ones fit loosely and tend to slip. While I like adjustable wrenches they should be used sparingly to avoid breaking a fastener or busting your knuckles when they slip.

What to Buy:Good Quality Adjustable Wrenches 6”, 8” and 10” in size.

Next time, In our follow up we will discuss where to buy tools, tool quality and how to spend your money wisely.