Avoid busting knuckles with tools that slip using this creative DIY approach that originated in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Problem: Slippery, uncomfortable hand-tool handles
Solution: Cushioned rubber grips made from bicycle inner tubes
Anyone who’s ever worked on a car knows one of the biggest shortcomings of hand tools—they can get oily, slippery, and harsh on hands in long wrenching sessions. Many racers address these issues by wearing padded mechanic’s gloves, but those have drawbacks, too. They provide limited tactile feedback, they’re too bulky for precision tasks, and they easily get soaked with fluids.
Faced with these negatives, Roger Maeda of East Brunswick, New Jersey, looked for a simple, effective solution. Maeda races a 1993 Honda Prelude in the SCCA’s Super Touring Under class, and with a lean crew and lots of work to be done before race day, it’s not uncommon for him to spend long hours under the hood. His hands often got irritated. Or worse, they could slip off the tool, setting him up for the dreaded skinned knuckle.
To solve the problem, Maeda adapted a trick he came across in his native land, on the other side of the globe. “I was actually born in Japan, and I moved here when I was five. My in-laws live in an area of Japan called Seki. There are guys there who go around sharpening knives out of the back of a van. One of them said to me, ‘I put this bike inner tube on knife handles to reduce wear and tear on my hands, because I have to sit there and sharpen 30, 40, 50 of these every single day—my hands would get destroyed if I didn’t have something to protect them.’”
Inspired by the technique of the Japanese craftsman, Maeda decided to try the idea on his hand tools when he got back home. He was pleased with how well it worked. True to what the man in Seki told him, the simple DIY rubber handles provided the additional grip he needed while cushioning his hands from the abrasive knurling on the tool.
Although it might seem as though the rubber grips would get slick when coated with oil, antifreeze, or other automotive fluids, Maeda found they remain surprisingly grippy. “The reason they specifically use bike tubes is that when they get wet, their texture doesn’t change. I’ve sprayed WD-40 on them; I’ve tried dipping them in water and they’re just fine.”
And the simple rubber tool handles have proved quite durable, even with frequent use. “I have yet to really wear one out. The tools in the photos are ones I did at least two years ago. They’re still like that. And the nice thing about this is that the tubes are cheap. So if they do get ruined for some reason, just take a razor blade, slice off the handle, cut another length of inner tube, and slip it back on.”
Getting the right size of tube is important, according to Maeda. “I like having the grips a little tight, so I use tubes a little smaller than the actual tool grip,” he said. “You may have to experiment a little bit to see what sizes work best. I use a road bike’s standard 700c tubes for most of my regular hand tools. For ratchets and stuff like that, this size works really well. But for the big stuff like my torque wrenches and really big combination wrenches—like, 22 millimeter and up—I use mountain bike tubes.”
Putting the inner tube grip on tools is simple, but there is a trick for making the process go smoother. “When you put them on, they do require a little bit of effort. It helps to roll the tip back a little bit. Then you slide the tool in there and unroll it.”
Do you have a creative solution to a problem in your business, race car, or shop? We’d love to hear about it. If we like the idea, we may just publish it in an upcoming edition of Problem Solvers. Send your ideas, tips, or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org