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While early Toyota trucks are a great foundation, they do require a few modifications to make them capable of serious off-road use. Sure, you’ll need the basics, such as larger tires, lower gears and some kind of traction-aiding device in the differentials, but first there is a more important issue at hand. The steering on these early Toyota trucks was not designed with hardcore off-road use in mind.

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A Tale of Two Tensioners

Making Tensioners With and Without Machine Tools Author This is a story about two tensioners, one fabricated with machine tools and the second fabricated in a garage with a minimum of tools. In fact, the only power tool you will need is a drill motor, yet the finished products will be almost identical. Your first response to fabricating something may be, “I don’t have the necessary tools; I don’t have any way to get the materials I will need.” If you have a door number so the UPS man can find you, you have everything you need. The materials list at the end of this story contains everything you will need. The rod-end bearings and lock nuts were purchased from AFCO Hot Rod Parts. The aluminum round stock and cutting tools were purchased from MSC. The aluminum round stock comes in 6-foot lengths with a list price of about $10. The average length of a tensioner body is 12 inches, so you can get five tensioners from each piece of aluminum. Do the math: At $2 apiece, we are not talking about big bucks. You could buy some extra rod-end bearings and make some extra tensioners to sell to your buddies. They can get a bargain and you could recoup your investment! We are going to travel two paths from the UPS truck to the finished product. Again, we will apologize to the real machinists among you, and talk to the home builders and self-taught home machinists on one path, and to the home builder with only a drill motor on the other path. We will call the home-builder path “Path A” and the home-machinist path “Path B.” Both paths make the same first three stops and then diverge. Step 1 is the materials list at the end of this article. Step 2 is at the back of the UPS truck, when the materials arrive. Step 3 is your trusty hacksaw: Cut the aluminum round stock to slightly longer than the desired finished length. The next step is to square up the ends of the aluminum and get to the finished length. From here, the two paths begin to diverge. Path A Step 4. If you own a belt or a disk sander, set up a guide fence and square up the ends of the round stock. If you don’t have a sander, get your file out and go to work. You can check the end for squareness with a right-angle square. If you don’t have a square, look at photo #5. If the gap is equal on all sides, the end is square. Path B Step 4. If you have a milling machine only, face off the ends of the aluminum round stock. If you have a lathe, face off the ends. Path A Step 5. Go to your junk box and find two small hose clamps and a scrap of angle iron. Clamp the angle iron to the end of the aluminum round stock with several inches extending past the round stock. Using the second hose clamp, clamp the drill bushing to the angle iron. Leave a gap of 1/8- to 3/16-inch between the bushing and the round stock to allow the drill chips to escape. The drill bushing is the same o.d. as the aluminum round stock, so it will center the drill bit. The drill bushing is made of tool steel and is harder than woodpecker lips. Lubricate the drill bit and the bore of the bushing. The “Q”-letter drill is the correct tap drill for the 3/8-inch-24 tap. Drill both ends of the aluminum to a depth of 2 inches. Path B Step 5. If you have a milling machine only, see Path A. If you have a lathe, center-drill and finish-drill both ends of the aluminum with the “Q” drill to a depth of 2 inches. Path A Step 6. Remove the hose clamps and angle iron and clamp the round stock vertically in your vise. Remember that taps need to be lubricated to cut clean threads. Since we are working with aluminum, you can use a commercial tapping fluid, kerosene, penetrating oil or waterless hand cleaner. The taps that were specified are called gun taps because they force the chips forward in front of the tap. Gun taps can be used to power tap but are not designed to be used in blind holes. Remember that we drilled the holes 2 inches deep to provide room for the chips. The advice your high school shop teacher gave you about tapping (one turn forward, half a turn backward) is still good. Thread one end with the right-hand tap and the other end with left-hand threads. Clean up the chips and the cutting oil and take a break. Path B Step 6. If you have a milling machine only, see Path A. If you have a lathe, you can hold the round stock in the chuck and tap the holes by hand or put the tap in the tailstock and turn the chuck by hand. The same advice about lubrication and one turn forward and half a turn backward still applies! Clean up the chips and the cutting oil and you also deserve a break. Note: If you’re building a “rat rod,” you can stop here and proudly display the vise-grip scars on your tensioner. Each pair of scars will represent one adjustment. If you want something more professional looking, put some flats on the body of the tensioner. Determine the best location for the flats and mark the aluminum. The center is not always the best location for the flats. There may be more “wrench room” nearer one end. Remember that we drilled the ends 2 inches deep, so stay at least 2-1/4 inches from the end when locating the flats. Path A Step 7. We clamped our tensioner horizontally in the vise. Another trip to the junk box, this time for a scrap of metal to use with a level to index our

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Let’s face it, most of us are working within the confines of a set of unwritten, yet clearly defined, rules of hot rodding. Stance, engine choice and wheels are for the most part selected from a menu of items that come “pre-approved” by our peers. Sure these rules work most of the time, and they provide a degree of certain acceptance when you’re building a traditional pre-’49 hot rod. But all in all, it also makes us a group of conforming nonconformists. However, for some hot rodders (and they are in the minority) building hot rods is about pure ingenuity, a total lack of peer pressure and joy of mixing parts from various sources and making it all work.

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