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If you ever need work done on your brakes, it’s best to avoid brake shops for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is that they’ll often use a Jesus wrench (the biggest Channel Locks in their box) to compress the pistons, a procedure capable of cracking cheap calipers, and almost guaranteed to mar the piston. The right way is a brake caliper compressor, a sort of high-powered caulk gun designed to slip into the pad recess. Lisle’s model 25750 is a perfect example, and pretty inexpensive at just over $32 before shipping from Amazon.

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About a year ago, I made this valve spring compressor for Ecotec motors as a way of saving myself about $300. 3/32″ steel plates form the frame, with a 1/2″-13 bolt handling the compressing duties and high-density polyethylene¬†(HDPE) plates in the jaw to prevent damage to the head. It’s missing the dowel pin which hinges the lower arm at the moment (probably hiding somewhere in my engine tools drawer), but it works pretty well when it’s together. Like anything made by an amateur, it’s imperfect, but functions well enough.

This basic concept can be adapted for just about any engine, but there are a few tricks. Unless you have extremely strong hands, the compressor needs a way to hold itself at the proper angle, which is a feature I overlooked. The result is that I sometimes let this thing slip, and a 280 lbf/in spring makes an $800 cylinder head jump a few inches off the table. Good thing I don’t need to go that deep into engines often. You could also solve the issue by putting the upper hinge in line with the compressing screw, which would kill the tendency to rotate. Since this only used about $15 in materials, I may produce a more polished version in the future.

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