Your own home workshop

GEOFF APPS and MICK ALLAN look at the nuts and bolts of setting up a home workshop

Looking after your bike can become a rewarding hobby in itself; your sense of self-achievement is enhanced by the satisfaction of knowing that the machine you ride is efficient, serviceable and safe - and that you alone are responsible for this. Avoiding the inconvenience of having to transport a bicycle to and fro the local bike shop every time it requires work is motivation enough for many but it's the cost savings that are the real deal. And you'll be glad of the skills practiced and learned in the comfort of your own shed or garage when you find yourself stranded at the side of a country road miles from home.

Where to begin

The primary requirement is space. The minimum effective area for access to an average bicycle is about 6m2. You will also need to make an allowance for a workbench and manoeuvring your bicycle - an additional 2m2 or so.


Light should, as far as possible, be natural. Good general light should be augmented with a couple of 100W spotlights, preferably ones that can be positioned to light up the particular area you're working on.

Keeping things clean

Decreasing and cleaning small assemblies and parts is best done using a water-soluble degreasing fluid, which requires quantities of rinsing water. The kitchen sink is ideal but, failing this, use a collection of stackable stainless steel pans and a basin. For general cleaning of your bicycle, a level area outside with good drainage is useful. A hosepipe attached to a mains tap does the job.

Workstands and workbenches

The cornerstone of a bicycle workshop is its workbench. A laminated kitchen work surface screwed to a timber framework will do the job perfectly well (and can be purchased inexpensively if you are happy to live with last year's hue). Bolt the bench to the wall and floor to stop it wandering. If your workshop is a temporary affair, try a good-quality proprietary folding workbench.

You will also need a good bench vice, and a drill clamp. To preserve the top of the workbench, a simple adaptor can be made from plywood and batten. This serves to mount the vice and drill clamp, as well as providing a larger working area.

Some form of workstand to hold the bike is vital for checking gear function and adjustment. For this, and other tasks, it is important that the rear wheel can be raised off the ground, leaving the cranks free to turn, with the control cable and lever action unobstructed.

The purpose of a workstand is to raise the bicycle to a comfortable height, so it can be worked on while standing. A useful additional feature is a facility which enables the bicycle to be rotated, allowing all-round access. Here in the UK the Kestrel Workmate, which fits into the Black and Decker Workmate, is economical, yet at the same time provides a good, high-level mounting position especially where space is at a premium.

A necessary vice

A bench vice is required to hold small components steady. It is not worth economising on quality when buying a vice, although economies can be made with regard to size.

A quality bench vice is usually made from cast iron. If you are using a Workmate don't buy a really heavy one. However, it is important to buy a reasonable size, because the size of the jaws indicates the vice's ability to hold items firmly. High-quality bench vices made from cast aluminium - and a reasonable size yet relatively light - are the most suitable, but difficult to come by.

You can mount a vice on your workbench by means of a clamp underneath or by a three- or four-point bolt mounting. Clamp mounting means the vice can be removed easily, but may make it prone to working loose if you need to rotate items held in it. A small vice for working on very small parts can be clamp-mounted.

I prefer to mount a vice by the bolts. With the Black and Decker Workmate, it is possible to avoid drilling the top by mounting the vice on a top adaptor, which can be removed from the Workmate quickly, complete with the vice.

If you buy a steel-jawed vice, you must buy a pair of softer vice jaw inserts, or cut some down from a bought-length of either aluminium or brass angle. Such auxiliary jaw inserts tend to become damaged quickly, so cut several sets down at once. Being made from a soft metal, they will protect small, delicate items.


A useful tool is a cordless screw-driver which can be used with a range of Allen bits, Torque-drive bits and sockets. It reduces damage and speeds up numerous jobs. . For quick bit swaps, a hexagonal socket chuck adaptor is a boon. Alternatively, investing in a more powerful, mains-driven electric drill and a small power driver provides a more versatile set. The ideal power driver has a variable torque setting, which only tightens as much as you need.

To complete your drill set you will need some drill bits, a centrepost and a countersink bit. A set of top-quality drill bits should feature a minimum diameter range of 3mm to 6mm, but ideally from 1mm to 10mm. Augment these with 4.5mm and 5.5mm drill bits for drilling holes ready to be threaded.

Wire brushes are useful for cleaning rusty parts or removing old paint. A flexible drive extension is essential for getting a rotary wire brush inside frame tubes when cleaning the seat and steerer tubes, for running-in bearings and for connection to a grinding wheel attachment.


The tools discussed here provide a basic tool kit for bicycle maintenance and allow you to make modifications and repairs to your bike. Once you gain some expertise, you can buy specialist tools from a respected cycle dealer. Most of the general tools mentioned here can be bought at an ironmonger's or DIY store.

Spanners should ideally be combination (open-ended at one end and ring at the other) with both ends the same size. The minimum size range is 8mm to 17mm in 1mm increments, although 16mm is rarely used (except for cones), and 17mm only sometimes used on bicycles. If you need two spanners of the same size a medium-sized (8") adjustable spanner will be all you need to get by. You can economise by buying double open-ended spanners with a 1mm difference between each end. A set of these comprises five spanners. High quality ratchet ring spanners cost more than regular ones but speed up individual jobs significantly; 8mm and 10mm will suffice.

Allen keys should be of very good quality or they will be a sloppy fit in the socket and twist when you try to turn them. Sizes needed are 2mm to 6mm, in 1mm increments along with 8mm and 10mm for modern crank bolts and cassette freehub bodies. A set of these can be bought from cycle dealers in penknife form - they fold out from a handle. A 2.5mm key may be bought separately if your bike requires it.

Pliers will sometimes include a wire cutter and a cable cutter suitable for cutting control cable hous­ings. For these to be effective, the tool must be top-quality. Additionally, long-nose pliers are useful when access is restricted.

Buy a good-quality, long-shafted screwdriver which accepts (the aforementioned) interchangeable bits. For a number of uses, vice-grip pliers are important. They can be used to grip small items that are being worked on or to undo stubborn nuts. Please note, cross-head screws are not all made equally. Phillips screws and drivers are different to Pozi-drive screws and drivers and they are incompatible. Learn to tell the difference between Pozi and Phillips and the different sizes they come in and your screws, drivers (and the skin on your knuckles) will last a lot longer.

To cut excess from bolts, and for a variety of metal and plastic sawing jobs, a junior hacksaw - even of top quality - is an inexpensive purchase.

There is no need to look for top quality when buying hammers, and just two will do. For sharp blows, a quarter pound ball-peen hammer is ideal, and, when the blow should be softer, a rubber-headed hammer from a camping shop is fine.

For use with hammers, a range of drifts and centre punches should be acquired. These are lengths of wooden dowel, metal bar and tube of varying lengths and materials, bought or found, held in one hand to pinpoint hammer blows.

Consider also a smallish pair of scissors, a box knife, small and large side-cutters, plumber's pipe cutter, jewellers screwdriver set, a large square file and a large ‘half round' file.

For cleaning threads on the inside, buy a small set of taps - M5, M6 and M8 will be enough. A tap wrench to hold them with is handy, but not essential. To use these taps to make threaded holes, you will need drills which measure 4.5mm, 5.5mm and 7mm respectively.

For cleaning as you work on a component, you need a variety of small brushes. I use a 25mm paint­brush, a toothbrush and a wire suede brush.

Storing tools

In a permanent workshop space tools should ideally be stored on the wall above the bench, hanging from nails or screws and arranged so that the most commonly used tools are closest to hand. An outline drawn around each tool in marker-pen speeds up bench tidying at the end of each session and quickly draws ones attention to missing tools. ‘Borrowed' tools are more likely to find their way home if their absence is obvious. The tools of a mobile workshop can be stored in a medium sized tool-box, an inner tray for smaller items helps keep things tidy.

Your cordless drill may be stored on its own mounting bracket, close to an electric point so that it is within reach and can be on almost perpetual charge.

Tool care

Your workshop will last as long as you continue to fix bicycles. For this reason it is important that you buy the best tools you can afford. Most tools require very little routine maintenance. Keep them clean, lubricate when necessary and use them with care. Be sure to use the right tool: the spanner that fits the nut exactly; the Allen key that fits the socket with no play. And don't be afraid to dispense with any tool when it has reached the end of its useful life, a worn out tool will quickly ruin any nut or bolt it comes into contact with. Bin it before it damages something expensive.

Materials and spares

A workshop should not only contain tools but cleaning fluids, lubricants, adhesives, tapes, paper towels, abrasives, drill attachments. The better equipped workshop will also have a selection of the more commonly used spare parts such as cables and cable-outers, (with ferrules and end caps in matching sizes), inner tubes, brake blocks, tyres etc.

Bits and bobs

A 'bits box' cannot be bought. It is collection of saved nuts, bolts, brackets and objects that may conceivably be useful one day. It is accumulated by never, ever, throwing anything away. It can be augmented with findings, such as pieces of material procured from engineers' scrap. These pieces should be kept in a covered metal or moulded plastic container, and occasionally sprayed lightly with rust inhibitor. It is easier to find things if the items can be spread out on a large metal tray. Don't throw away old spokes, they are useful for making S hooks, ‘Jibbers', ‘chain-keepers' and for a variety of other jobs.


A normal bicycle pump will provide sufficient air initially, but for accuracy and ease of use you should serously consider buying a good trackpump with a built-in pressure gauge. The best commercial bicycle repair workshops use air compressors which are available from your local car-parts retailer.


Chain lubes deserve a whole chapter for themselves. Bicycle chain lube is specially formulated to perform under the unique conditions we subject our bikes to. Water Displacers and multi-lubes just don't work as well as the real stuff. Forget aerosols which are wasteful, a standard dripper bottle will last one bike one year of regular chain lubing.

Grease is grease. Don't worry about buying the best; you'll see no performance benefits with expensive grease, just worry about keeping it absolutely, scrupulously clean. Filings, swarf, dust, grit are the enemy of bearings so don't get any in your grease. Don't mix lubricants, as certain additives may not be compatible from brand to brand.

If a particular type of assembly compound is recommended by the manufacturer of any of your bike's parts get some and use it.

In addition to lubes, you need a number of other materials: PVC (‘electricians') tape, thread-lock, general-purpose superglue, strips of emery cloth, metal polish, talc, puncture solution and puncture patches.

And zip-ties, lots and lots of zip-ties.


Once you have a good workshop up and running, looking after your bike becomes a pleasure, and you will develop many skills. But keep it a secret unless you want a queue at your front door: it's amazing how quickly the local cyclists will latch on to a good thing!