Caterham 420R Build Tools and Trinkets





Note from Future John (Sept 2020): It seems Amazon has changed a lot of the links in the section below and the links don’t take you to where they should. At some point I’ll try and relink them all.

I thought I owned them all until I built a Caterham.

Sorry to all you non-builders, another technical post I’m afraid.

I’d been planning to do this post since finishing the build but I only finally got it over the line after being contacted by a number of prospective builders all asking me about tools. There’ll also, hopefully, be another one soon about “consumables”.

How Many Tools are Enough

Clearly any discussion about the number of tools needed is going to end up showing the total to be N+1, where N is the current number of tools you own. The same rule applies to all sorts of things… bikes (both kinds), t-shirts, books, car magazine subscriptions… and oddly enough – unicycles!

Having said that, I did have almost all of the essential tools, and probably could have got by without buying many at all. But I did end up buying a number of additional tools, of course! Some were just to help make things easier, some were to speed up the process. And some were because the one’s I had were a bit tired and I liked the idea of an upgrade. In some cases, like a socket set, I was missing a few sockets and decided now was the time to buy afresh. One or two tools I bought and didn’t turn out to be useful at all – but surprisingly few actually!

Is This List Definitive?

The discussion below is not meant to be definitive, exhaustive or for that matter definitively instructive. It’s what I used and may give you food for thought if you’re thinking about building a Caterham.

The tools listed are just for the build. As time goes on you (I) will need other tools like an oil-filter wrench and feeler gauges etc etc. But here goes for the build tools…

To the Tools

I come from the school of thought that says that:

At a wedding, there should be just one photo taken that includes everyone attending

It seems I think the same way about tools (I hope nobody was at the bar when it was taken)…

Almost all the tools I used to build our Caterham 420R

The image above contains all the main tools (I think). Of course I also have others that got used that are not shown but hopefully there’s nothing major missing.

For instance I have a lot more screwdrivers, pliers, cutters, hammers, many spanners, etc etc, that are not shown. The ones that are shown are, I think, indicative of what’s needed. I also tended to use socket sets instead of dedicated tools… I’d often grab the 1/4″ socket set for: allen-head bits, posi-head bits, small sockets. I always seemed to be pulling that set out and diving into it. The 1/4″ socket set (blue lidded socket set in the middle of the picture) was ideal because it had just about everything in it I needed and it was small enough to fit in, and around, all the tight spaces of the car. Having said that, if I had to have only one socket set then it would be a 1/2″ set in both metric and imperial.

The only major things missing from that picture above are the axel stands I used (highly recommended for small garages or where you want to get the car outside to work on)…

Front ans rear CJ Autos Axel Stands – I trimmed the excess of the cross bars after taking the picture

… and of course there was the engine hoist (borrowed)…

Engine hoist and leveler in use

You may disagree with how I classify the following categories, it is just my opinion in the end.

I’ll give a quick list and then discuss them in more detail below.


Here’s a list of the really useful stuff. If something isn’t critical then it’s listed elsewhere:

  • Allenkey sets
  • Axle Stands
  • Brake bleeding kit
  • Cordless Drill
  • Dolly
  • Dremel
  • Drill bits
  • Dust mask
  • Ear defenders
  • Engine hoist and leveller
  • Eye protection
  • Funnels
  • Files
  • G-clamps
  • Grease gun
  • Grips
  • Hacksaw
  • Hammers
  • Hole punches
  • Low profile Trolley Jack
  • Multi meter
  • Petrol can and/or jerry can
  • Pliers
  • Revolving Punch Pliers
  • Rivet tool
  • Scissors
  • Screwdrivers
  • Side Cutters
  • Socket Sets
  • Soldering Iron
  • Spanners
  • Special Sockets
  • Stanley knife and blades
  • Tape measure
  • Torch
  • Torque Wrench
  • Vice

You May Need These

  • Brake Piston/Caliper Windback Tool
  • Circlip pliers
  • Tap and die set

The Time Savers

The items below would sit squarely on my essentials list if I were to do the job again. That’s not to say you need them, I just thought they saved me a bunch of time and they were worth the expense to me and I had many of them already anyway.

  • Crows Foot Spanner’s
  • Creeper/Stool
  • Digital calipers
  • Drill Rivet Attachment
  • Hot Air Gun
  • Hot-glue Gun
  • Laser Measurer
  • Rotating Hole punch – highly recommended
  • Scissor or low profile bottle jack
  • Tweezers

The Trinkets

Some of the tools I bought were more to test things out than because I thought they were going to be really useful. I just wanted to see how that worked or it was clearly going overkil. I thought this list would be longer when I created this section…

  • Rivnut tool
  • Tablet in the garage (iPad – I don’t recommend Android tablets!)

Wouldn’t Recommend

Some stuff I bought I wouldn’t recommend. Other’s might find useful but I didn’t.

  • Pipe bender – for brake pipes. Some people may find they have the time to bend brake pipes with a pipe bender but I ran out of patience. It was much more fiddly than the usual central heating 15mm pipe bending I’ve done for household plumbing. In the end I formed the rear brake lines around whatever cylindrical item I had to hand and that I thought would create the right radius.

Could Have Needed But Didn’t

  • Ball joint splitter

More Detail

Here’s the list again in more details and with some comments. I can’t guarantee that all the links will work forever but where they do I hope they’re helpful – it’s amazing how far you can go back and see your Amazon purchases, I bought some of those tools over 10 years ago.

[ Note: you can click on the pictures find out more info on Amazon ]


Allenkey setsVarious sizes, lengths and config: loose, socket sets, t-bar set.


Special: 9.5mm (3/8″) for engine mounts. The only other odd allen-key that caused me problems was the diff fill-plug – short 14mm.


When I bought these they came in a different black case… but these seem to be what I bought…

Axle StandsMin 3 regular but I used AJ Autos Mobile Axel Stand and replace steel wheels for “rubber” wheelsMobile Axle Stands


And then I switched the steel wheels for these…

Brake bleeding kitIn the end I used Sealey  VS820. I tried a few different brake bleeding options (mostly cheap and not so cheerful) but this did it for me in the end.
Cordless DrillAny drill really, but cordless always works better for me and I’m caught in the Dewalt eco-system, so I use a Dewalt (DCD996) and which is my bestest of friends around the house
Dolly4 wheeled home made dolly (40x50cm). Useful for moving engine/gearbox around on (not shown in the picture but it’s in the blog in a few places). The dolly linked here is similar to the one I made.
DremelUsed for grinding and cutting on many occasions. Through a quirk of history I actually own two Dremels. I keep one with the flexible extension shaft on it and the other just with a cutter installed. That’s way overkill to have two Dremels but I think one (or similar) is essential to fettle bits that don’t quite fit.


My Dremels are an older generation than the one linked.

Drill bitsMetric (1mm – 10mm) and imperial (1/16″ – 1/4″) (pretty essential for some of the rivet holes that need the right hole size or else the rivets won’t fit or pull out)


Dust maskFor fibreglass cutting, at the least. I’ve got on well with the 3M mask linked, but your face shape may work better with something else.
Ear defendersSometimes used these when doing a lot of drilling/grinding. I use the Peltor ear defenders, your mileage may vary
Engine hoist and levellerI’m going to call the leveller essential but you could get away with straps… but I didn’t 
Eye protectionOf course. I use all sorts of clear and tinted safety glasses… too many to link to. 
FilesVarious files. Needle files are very useful bot tricky to get at places
FunnelsFor various fluids and one with long neck for fuel fill
G-clampsI mainly use 6″ QuickGrips but also used some old school steel G-clamps.
Grease gunProp shaft universal joints
GripsSlip Joint Pliers – I know them as “grips”
HacksawUseful for creating custom allen keys or cutting down bolts I provide that were that are too long
HammersLeather/copper hammer was useful persuader
Hole punchesSee optional leather/material punch
Low profile Trolley JackThe one I got just about worked. It struggles to get under the exhaust system on the RHS and needed a wooden block to lift the rear (using the cross member at rear of prop shaft tunnel)Trolley Jack
Multi meterChecking voltages and continuity 
Petrol can and/or jerry canNeed something like 20l to prime system so something bigger than a 1G container can save some trips to the petrol station. Carrying petrol around is dangerous and I haven’t bought any containers online so I’m not going to link to anything I haven’t tested.No Link
PliersThin nosed most useful for me. The ones shown are electrical but any will do.


I do have mole-grips but try to avoid using them. They’re fine for holding something that might get hot (when grinding perhaps) but I rarely use mole-grips.

Revolving Punch Pliers2.0-4.5mm. Highly recommended for rear wing rubber trim etc
Rivet toolA hand riveter is essential and I found a drill attachment to be a real time saver 
ScissorsAmazed how often I was reaching for a set of scissors
ScrewdriversFlat, posi and torx (wing mirrors) 
Side CuttersFor wire, IVA trim, cutting misplaced zip-ties etc. The ones I have are electrical ones but they’re good quality and I can’t stand poor side cutters.
Socket Sets1/2″ is essential in metric (not linked, there are too many options but going with a reputable brand would make sense to me).


Used the 1/4″ set most of all

3/8″ used less.

I do have a 3/4″ socket set but didn’t need that in the end.

I also bought converter bits to allow me to put, for instance, a socket from one set onto a ratchet from another.




Soldering Iron

I use a simple 25W hobby iron
SpannersLots. I have many metric from 5mm up to big. 24mm for headlamp locking nut adjustment, thin 15mm Spanner and a 32mm for the oil lines.


Don’t forget you often need two to do up a nut and bolt. Sometimes it works that a socket and a spanner will do but sometimes you need two sockets or two spanners. Doubles are only really needed for the common metric sizes – 10, 13, 15, 17 and 19.

I do own adjustable spanners, but I use them only as a last resort… and only use ring spanners where at all possible – much more reliable than adjustable or open ended spanners.




Not a complete set, but a start…

Special Sockets41mm for rear hub nuts
Stanley knife and bladesAlways useful
Tape measureTended to use digital calipers more to measure bolt lengths and the like, but sometimes need some extra reach
TorchTo be honest I used my iPhone light more often than not when reaching for a torch. But I did also have a rechargeable magnetic torch/bulkhead light.
Torque Wrench’s – x 3Norbar 13658 3/8-inch 8-50NmTorque Wrench
Norbar 13441 1/2-inch 20-100Nm Torque Wrench
Norbar 13445 1/2-Inch 60-300 Nm Torque Wrench
Obviously used the 20-100 the most but 8-50 useful for things like brake lines and 60-300 needed for rear hubs, though many leave those for PBC to complete.


ViceRegular bench viceNo Link

You May Need These

Brake windback toolI ended up fiddling with the rear brakes a lot to try and improve feel and still not sure if applyig handbrake before bleeding was the cause.
Circlip pliersI took the rear brake calipers apart but can’t think of another use
Tap and die setMetric. Questionable essential, but was for me. Seat belt harness but also when cutting down bolts to clean up occasional thread.

Time Savers

Creeper/StoolNot being the spring chicken I once was, I found this convertible creeper/stool to be invaluable whizzing around under the car and sitting on it when working on suspension stuff
Crows Foot Spanner’sMetric and imperial. The metric ones came in handy a couple of times like the dry-sump to radiator oil lines. 32mm for oil lines


Digital calipersCheap as chips these days and I think almost essential
Hot Air GunI used one of these to shrink all the heat shrink – gotta be careful not to get too hot though. Otherwise a soldering iron works too. 
Hot-Glue GunUsed hot glue to tack a few things down when I needed a light tack before final fixing.
Rivet Drill attachmentReal time saver completing the riveting for the internal trim
Laser MeasurerFound it useful instead of a tape measure but by no means essential. The one shown is a bluetooth version that I picked up for another project – Bluetooth is overkill
Low Profile Scissor or Bottle jackSometimes needed to lift something where the trolley jack couldn’t get to. I had an old scissor jack that I used along with a hydraulic scissor jack that I had to modify to fit under the rear A-frame (ground the recess at the top down). 
Multi-ToolLeatherman Wave. I’m a fan of having something quick and dirty on my belt while I’m working in the garage. Gotta be careful not to butcher whatever I’m working on though, there’s no substitute for the right tool.
Quick GripsQucikGrips useful when you only have one pair of hands. My Quick Grips are over 20 years old but I think the linked Irwin ones are the same. I also have the 18″ ones but don’t think I used them on the Caterham build.
TweezersGood for pulling wires out of holes in tubes 
Dremel Flexible ShaftAs mentioned elsewhere I had the luxury of two dremels one always fitted with the flexible extension


Rivnut toolThought I’d use it more but only ended up using for the lambda sensor cable under the driver footwell and attaching the oil catch bottle to the frame. 


Tablet in the garageMany times flitted between build blogs looking for a picture that helped me decipher the old build manual. New manual much better in that respect but as of mid 2018 the new manual is still not good enough to do the whole build.I use iPads… other tablets are available.

Wouldn’t Recommend

Pipe BenderI thought I’d be able to create lovely neat rear brake pipe install with this but I didn’t have the patience to “get the knack” of it.

Could Have Needed But Didn’t

Ball joint splitterMight of needed this if I’d needed to strip back the front suspension but I got that right and so didn’t need one. 

So that’s a lis of all the tools I used. I toured my garage a few times trying to think if there’s anything I missed, and of course I added some items as I did those tours. But hopefully I got most of them.

Next up I hope to have a similar list of “consumables” – things like masking-tape, extra zip-ties, jubilee clips, rivnuts, adhesives etc etc.


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