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Building A Paintball Tool Kit
Much like owning a car, motorcycle or anything else mechanical, paintgun owners have a choice. Collect the proper tools and learn to maintain it themselves, or rely on a professional for all of their service. Fortunately this isn’t an either-or situation, there are many levels in-between. Many players find a middle ground, taking care of general maintenance while relying on an airsmith for repairs or serious upgrades. While putting together a good paintball toolkit can have an up-front cost, more often than not it pays for itself very quickly both in saved airsmith fees as well as saved time. Being able to get a paintgun going at the field can be the difference between an afternoon of fun, or an afternoon driving to the pro-shop – or worse yet between winning and losing a tournament.
With that in mind, lets take a look at the basic necessities of a paintball tool kit.
A basic flat head and Phillips screwdriver are important. Many painguns use Phillips head screws for their bits, and you never know when you’ll need to open a chrono to change a battery or something else. Combo screwdrivers that hold multiple bits, or have a reversible Phillips/straight shank take up less space in a tool bag or box.
Allen Wrenches, Hex keys, or whatever you want to call them. The used of hexagonal head screws is so common in paintguns from every manufacturer that a good hex-wrench kit is the top of the list. A good number of paintgun manufacturers include hex wrenches with their paintguns. Most include the sizes needed for only for general maintenance, while others provide all the sizes needed for a complete rebuild.
If you happen to know a machinist or mechanic, you might be onto a great source for free hex-wrenches. Many manufacturers of bearings and other components which utilize hex-wrenches often supply wrenches of the size needed with their products. The workmen who use them often end up with a surplus of odd-size wrenches at the end of every project, and are happy to give them away rather than throw them away.
Folding hex-wrench sets have the advantage of being compact, and it is hard to lose one of the wrenches. Their downside is that they don’t have a short side like regular L-shaped hex-wrenches so they can’t always reach into tight spots. They also typically only have 6 or 8 sizes of wrenches.
Ball end hex wrenches usually come at a premium price, but can save a lot of time. Because of the ball shape on their long end, they do not have to fit straight into a hex-head screw. Instead they can fit in at a slight angle. In many situations this means the long end of the wrench can reach an otherwise obstructed screw. In places like trigger frames where the trigger guard is in the path of a wrench’s long end, the ball end wrench is a great alternative to using the wrench’s short end and having to remove it, and reinsert it every quarter turn.
Another important item to look for in sizing of hex-wrenches is English vs. Metric. Kingman and WDP use metric hex screws on their products, while most other manufacturers use English sizes. It can be tempting to use a hex-wrench of the wrong size that is close to a fit, but that is one of the most effective ways to start stripping out the head of a screw. A well-stocked toolkit will have a set of each.
This simple little tool can turn changing small o-rings in tight channels from being a teeth-grinding exercise in frustration to nothing-but-a-thing. While not something every hardware store has in stock, suitable picks can often be found at better hobby shops, or by web searches online. Various styles of o-ring picks are widely marketed to the SCUBA and pressure washer industries. If you aren’t grossed out by the idea of using a tool that has been in thousand’s of people’s mouths, keep o-ring picks in mind the next time you visit your dentist. Ask if he or she has some old explorers or amalgum carvers that are going to be thrown out, explaining that you could put them to use in your paintball tool kit.
While not often needed, there are times when you need to get a good grip on a small item in a tight space, and nothing else will do.
Snap-rings, or circlips are found in some regulators and paintguns. For example, a snap-ring is what blocks the Matrix LCD valve assembly from sliding forward when the breech is removed. Snap-ring pliers are similar to needle-nosed pliers, but at their ends they have a pair of pins, which fit into holes on the ends of a snap-ring. Snap-rings come in two major types, internal and external – depending on whether they are meant to fit on a groove inside a cylinder or a groove on the outside. Internal snap-rings need to be drawn together for removal, while outside snap-rings need to be spread apart. Because of this, there are two different types of snap-ring pliers, one for each style of ring. While they cost a bit more, reversible snap-ring pliers combine both functions into a single tool. Unscrewing their pivot screw and flipping one arm over switches them from spreading to contracting.
Occasionally you will run into new parts that weren’t properly deburred at the factory, or make a wild move that ends up in a barrel plant putting a ding in the end of a barrel that leaves a bit of metal sticking out to shred every ball that is shot. A set of fine metal files can make fast work of burs or snags.
Pair of Adjustable Wrenches
Smaller is better in terms of storage space in your gear bag, but they should be large enough to handle the largest component you own with wrench flats – whether that is a regulator body, or the adjuster on a vertical reg. Why two? A pair allows for joining and separating of hoses, one to get a grip on each fitting.
Always, there are things that need to be cut, from macroline to zip-ties.
Especially if you use macroline for your hosing as most players do these days, keeping a few spare fittings and a couple of one-foot lengths of hose will keep you ready to change air system or drop forward configurations. Those diagonal cutters work great for cutting macroline, but it is important to remember that they also tend to pinch it shut. A small round file does a great job of dressing the ends of the hose, and opening up the air path. For Spyder shooters, metric threaded hose fittings, or metric to industry standard 1/8”-NPT adapters are in order as well.
If you use CO2 tanks or screw-in style HPA, you know these are a wear item. It can be tempting to pick up some black nitrile o-rings at the local hardware store, and they will work, but not for long. Especially with CO2, they will absorb gas while under pressure, and if they are unscrewed before it has a chance to dissipate, the o-ring will swell and contort, undergoing the same kind of damage a diver can get with the bends. Semi-transparent urathane is the way to go here, and most paintball shops carry packs of bottle o-rings that are much less expensive per o-ring than at the single price.
You never know when you will need to strap something together. Keeping a few zip-ties in various sizes will have you ready for many situations. Year ago the back receiver on my Nighmare pump stripped out, dropping the frame screw. Surprisingly a zip-tie was able to hold the back of the grip frame secure enough to the body to finish out the day’s games.
The standard screw size for attaching bottom-lines and other grip accessories is 10-32 (size 10, 32 threads per inch) and having a few of these in different lengths means being ready for changes in air system configuration. If you are purchasing a wire stripper for solder work, look for one with a screw cutter built in. This will allow you to pack a few longer screws, and then cut them to whatever length is needed, cleaning up the threads at the end with a fine file. Of course if you shoot a Spyder you will want to pack some the metric sized screws Kingman uses.
Gun specific wear items
Most manufacturers include a few spare o-rings and other key seals that are wear items with their paintgun. In addition to o-rings these are things like cup-seals and ball detents. Paintball shops also often sell spare sets with many of the common wear items, or you can build your own, picking which parts you want to be sure to have on hand. Typical spares sets are not very expensive, and having them on-hand before a failure means not needing to pay rush delivery fees to make sure your paintgun is ready for the big game the next weekend. How far you want to go in terms of spares depends on how many paintguns you work on. For an airsmith or shop, some manufacturer/distributors like Generation-E have complete dealer/team sized spare parts kits with enough common wear items to keep a small fleet of paintguns in top working order.
Easily Lost Items
For blowback paintguns or stacked tube electros, having an extra cocking knob ready to go means you don’t lose the rest of the day if yours gets bumped loose and lost on the field. The same goes for grip frame screws or other parts that might have a tendency to wiggle loose on your particular paintgun.
The exact type of lubricants will depend on the paintgun. Paintgun oil, or as is often recommended by Airsmith Glenn Palmer, air tool oil, is a good choice for blowback powered paintguns or pump action paintguns. It handles the changing temperatures caused by gas expansion and doesn’t damage nitrile o-rings and other seals. Firearm oils, and penetrating oils like WD-40 are better avoided as some contain gunpowder solvents or other agents that can degrade paintgun seals. Also it is very important to remember that oils and petroleum products should never be used with compressed air tanks or their regulators, because compression of air raises the partial oxygen pressure, lowering the flashpoint of the oil (see this article for more information.) Only the manufacturer’s lubricants (if any) should be used with compressed air/nitrogen tanks. For spool valve paintguns, greases are usually the lubricant of choice. Here some manufacturers require only certain brands or types be used, and that is important to consider when making a choice. Most paintball shops carry a few different brands of paintball specific greases.
If you have to change a hose fitting on an ASA, you are going to need to seal it. Many airsmiths prefer to use Loctite brand thread locking compound or other liquid sealants, but these have a drawback when it comes to field repairs – they need 24 hours without pressure for a proper cure. The old stand by of thread sealing tape works here. Most people refer to it as Teflon tape because it contains PTFE, but Teflon1 is just one brand that is available. It is important to go easy on the thread sealing tape – only wrapping as much as needed around the fitting threads themselves, and doing it counter-clockwise so it won’t wad up when they are screwed in. Excess tape sticking out past either ends of the threads can get caught and fed into the paintgun where it can gum up a solenoid valve, or simply stick out on the outside looking sloppy.
Whether for testing, repair, or simply to replace a battery that dies, having spares of each of the battery types you use – for your loader and your paintguns if they need them just makes good sense.
When you are trying to diagnose a problem with a paintgun or loader, if it has electronics, it is important to be sure it is getting enough power. A simple battery tester, or even better a multimeter is the right tool for the job. Most battery testers can give you a pretty decent idea of how much of a charge a battery has. A multimeter set to voltmeter mode will do even better. “AA” size batteries put out 1.5 volts each optimally, with their rechargeable counterparts putting out 1.2 volts. Nine-volt batteries on the other hand will put out 9 volts, with rechargeables either giving 8.4 or 9.6 volts, depending on the brand and model. Most battery powered items, paintguns and hoppers included don’t need the full voltage charge to operate, but a 9-volt battery that is only kicking out 5-volts is well past its prime. Multimeters are more useful than simple battery testers because they can do more than measure voltage.
By switching them to Ohmmeter or continuity check mode, they can be used to test wire harnesses and battery clips for failures. A common electronic failure point for 9-volt battery powered paintguns and loaders is the wire between the battery clip and the circuit board. Pinching or fraying of the wires from excessive bending can cause them to break, but if the break happens in the middle of the wire, it is hidden from view by the wire’s outer insulation layer. Taking a ohmmeter measurement between the snap on the battery clip and the solder point where its wire connects to the circuit board will give a high or even infinite resistance reading if there is a break or near break in the wire, indicating a repair is necessary. A low resistance level means that electricity is flowing smoothly through the wire. Similarly continuity check mode on a multimeter allows to check for a complete break in a wire or other conductor and doesn’t require eyes on the meter – it will sound a tone when its test current flows through the wire and be silent when it does not.
Basic soldering tools
Lets face it, paintball has moved into the electronic age, and a wire that breaks loose from a circuit board can be the difference between a day of playing or a day of loading the rest of the team’s pods. Basic electronic soldering tools include a soldering iron, rosin core electronics solder, sponge pad, wire cutters/strippers, electrical tape, heat shrink tubing and a heat gun or butane lighter. If you plan to do repairs in the field, where there is not a place to plug in an electric soldering iron, butane powered soldering irons can be purchased for under $20, and give off enough radiant heat to also shrink heat-shrink tubing. Another option for emergency repairs is solder tape strips. These thin strips of solder can be wrapped around a joint in a wire, and melted with the heat of a match or butane lighter. They don’t do as good of a job as traditional soldering, but can help in a pinch. Solder tape strips are also limited in that they do not work for reattaching wires to circuit boards. Good soldering is an art unto itself – a skill worth learning. This guide can walk you through the basics.
Some paintguns or regulators require specialty tools, beyond what the regular. For example, WDP sells the tools needed to remove the low-pressure regulator from an Angel, or to service an AIR compressed air regulator. Neither of these things are needed by the general player for routine maintenance, but for those who are serious about doing their own tech work, or airsmithing for their team, specialty tools can sometimes be a necessity.
Paintball can be messy, so having the supplies to clean up dirt, mud sand and paint are important too. A supply of a few rags. Old t-shirts (this is what happens to my paitball t-shirts when they wear out) or even a pack of shop rags will do the trick for wiping down a receiver or tank. Cotton swabs like Q-Tips are great for cleaning into corners and crevices. Water also should not be underestimated in its ability to clean. A small squirt bottle can be found inexpensively at a dollar store and does double duty, making cooling mist on a hot day or dialed in to a stream to blast paint debris out of tight spaces. A garden pesticide sprayer can serve this purpose even better, holding a gallon or two of water. These can be had for under $20 at garden and home centers. They can cool a whole team between games, and blast a stream of water to clean paint hits off clothes, and debris out of goggle frames or paintguns. It goes without saying that only a brand new sprayer should be used, one that has never held pesticides or other chemicals.
Finally you’ll need something to carry all of these tools in – be it a toolbox, roll-out tool mat, or bag. A trip through the tool section of your local home center big box store, or even dollar store will reveal a number of options in various sizes. Don't limit yourself to "tool-boxes." Fishing tackle, and organizer boxes can do the job well and be found at bargain prices especially when local fishing seasons come to an end. Some paintball bags also have dedicated areas, or even sub-bags specifically for tools.
The right paintball tool kit for you can keep you prepared to do your own paintgun maintenance, saving you money. How big or small of a kit you put together is up to you.
1 - Teflon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation.
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