Tools, nuts, and screws...oh my!

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Okay, that sounds much worse than what I really mean...which is actually tools, nuts, and screws...like you find at Home Depot.  So get your minds out of the gutter and follow along.

When working on your marker, whether it be customizing it or just routine maintenance, you need the right tool, and screw, and sometimes nut for the job.  Okay, so maybe not so much the nut part but still, you get the idea.  This little guide is to help you understand perhaps one of the most overlooked part of our sport, the literal hardware side of it.

Wait, wait, wait...get back here.  Don't tune this out yet because there will come a day when you wind up loosing one of these little important screws and will wish you would have listened.  Perhaps you may actually learn something.

That tool is a tool.

Well, not all tools are created equal.  First, let's go over the more common tools that you will use while working on your marker:

  • Screwdrivers -- Most of you may know the difference between a standard (or "flathead") screwdriver and a Phillips screwdriver but you may not know they come in many different sizes...and that's important.  For those of you that don't know the difference, a standard screwdriver is the type that is nothing more than just a straight edge on the end of a handle.  If you were to look at the tip of the screwdriver from head on, it would look like this: /  A standard screw head looks like it has a slot cut in the top of it at a uniform depth and a certain width.  Usually the width of the slot is wider the larger the screw is.  A Phillips head screwdriver, when viewed from head on, looks like this: X  A Phillips head screw will have an cross cut in it and the center of this cross will be cut deeper than the tips of it. 

One thing that Ashigaru from the Ariakon forum added about Phillips head screwdrivers that I'd like to include here is this: "Be very careful when purchasing "Phillips" screwdrivers... there are screwdrivers (and screws, but none used on markers that I know of) called "Reed & Prince" drivers... they are *NOT* the same!!! (Yes, heavy on the emphasis). They are *almost* exactly alike, except for one very important difference... the tip of the Reed & Prince is pointed, while the Phillips is actually slightly flattened. Get them mixed up and you're guaranteed a stripped screw head."

On to sizes for these, standard screwdrivers generally are not given a physical "size" whereas Phillips head screwdrivers range in sizes such as "0", "1", "2" and so forth with the size of the screwdriver getting larger as the number increases.  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.  I've seen VERY small Phillips head screwdrivers that were definitely smaller than a "0" but had no size. Some of these smaller screwdrivers may be referred to as Jewelers screwdrivers, electronics screwdrivers, or tweekers.  They have sizes such as .5mm up to 5mm (we're talking a needle here people) and it is very odd to see anything like this on a Paintball Marker (thanks for Koolaid for this information...)  We'll get more into the whole "why size matters" thing later...again...get the minds out of the gutter...oi.

  • Allen head tools -- Allen head tools, also referred to as "Hex head" because of their hexagon shape, are becoming more and more common.  There are two kinds of Allen head tools, wrenches and drivers.  An Allen wrench is usually a "L" shaped tool and is the same size on both ends.  These are what are typically provided with your marker if it has Allen Head Screws.  Another typical Allen wrench style would be the type that looks like a pocket knife and the wrenches fold out for use.  The last Allen Wrench style that you may see is the "T-handle" variety.  These have a big handle at the top that make them look like a T and has the Allen wrench extend down from it.  Allen Drivers look like screwdrivers but have a hex tip rather than a standard or Phillips head screwdriver tip.  In general, but not always, Drivers will have a screwdriver style handle and are of a higher quality than your wrench variety.  Also they are more expensive than your wrench variety with a single, high quality driver going for the cost of an entire set of Allen Wrenches.

Allen Wrenches and Drivers do come in many different sizes but they are divided even further into US Standard (SAE) sometimes known as "inch" size and Metric.  US Standard is measured in inches or fractions there of such as 5/8ths, 3/32nds or in a decimal format such as .050.  Metric is done in Millimeters (MM) such as 1.5mm, 2.5mm or 3mm.  The smallest metric size I've seen is 1.27mm and I doubt you'll ever have something that small in Paintball.  Typically, however, most paintball markers I've seen use metric hex head screws and range in size from as small as 1.5mm up to 5mm. 

  • Wrenches and Pliers -- Now these are your standard wrenches and pliers...wrenches being adjustable or non-adjustable tools for holding nuts and pliers being a jawed tool for grabbing various items including but not limited to nuts.  Generally speaking, Wrenches are not used all that often in Paintball.  There is one area that they are used in and that has to do with your Air lines.  Usually your standard 1/8" NPT threaded air line fitting can take a wrench to tighten it.  However, pliers work just as well if you don't mind a couple scratches.  A medium or small crescent wrench (which is an adjustable wrench) would work even better for this application and are a very common tool that you probably already own.  Pliers are a whole different story. You may find a number of uses for them, or never use them at all.  I find them handy when removing stubborn strip pins or connecting pins.  Generally, you have a number of different types of pliers but the standard plier with the rounded snout and a set of needle nose pliers (pliers with a very long, thin, pointed snout looking like...well...a needle) will cover 99% of your needs.  Pliers are not often used but when you need them,  you NEED them so are a good idea to have around.
  • Other stuff -- There are other items that you may find useful with paintball such as soldering irons for fixing some electronic problems, rubber mallets for fixing...er...other more stubborn problems.  Tape, scissors, needle and thread, more tape, dremmel tools, hacksaws, drill presses, miter saws, yet more tape...these things have their odd uses here and there but generally are not very common.  If you really need something like this to work on your paintball markers, then you wouldn't need this guide at all...or you should be sending your marker to the manufacturer to fix it as the job may be over your head.  Hey, it happens to all of us at some point in time.

One very specific tool I'd like to mention here (since it was brought up after this guide was initially posted) was the valve tool.  Basically it is what it sounds like, a tool for your marker's valve...namely to install or remove it without damaging it.  Now, not being an airsmith I've never used one of these valve tools (but now must get one) so please do a Google search for more info on the different types and their application.  Suffice to say though that if you plan on removing the valve from your marker, look into getting one of these and doing the job right.

Screws galore

There are many different types of screws and I've covered part of them in the tools section...but we mainly dealt with what their heads looked like and what tool fit the different style heads.  There is more to screws than just this though.

  • Thread Type -- We'll cover this first.  There are two major types of threads, machine threads and "cutting" threads.  Machine threads are the nice, fine threads that you see on screws that thread into a nut...or other tapped (the term used for a piece of material that has threads already cut into it to accept a screw) material but usually metal.  "Cutting" threads are much larger and more coarse.  They are also further divided into what they are used for such as wood screws, sheet metal screws, or self tapping screws (which generally are screws that are used in plastic so that they tap the hole you are screwing them into with their own threads...generally self tapping screws have threads more coarse than machine screws but less coarse than sheet metal or wood screws).  I'm willing to bet that 99.9% of all screws used in the Paintball industry are machine screws.  Using a sheet metal or self tapping screw in a hole meant for a machine screw may work temporarily, but you WILL (not maybe...not possibly...not could...but WILL) damage the threads in that hole beyond repair and certainly void any warranty work on that part. 

  • Thread pitch -- This is another important factor.  Like the Allen tools, threads are categorized first by type, then by size.  You have US standard pitch threads and Metric pitch threads.  This is mainly for machine screws but since most of the screws  you come in contact with in paintball will be machine screws this is important to know.  Also, Metric and US Standard have different pitch sizes.  For instance, a US standard 4/40  (pronounced four-forty) is a different size AND pitch than an 8/32 (pronounced eight-thirty-two).  As Sablefalcon over at Ariakon pointed out as well: "SAE screw threads come in coarse and fine. Needless to say, you can't mix the two. For example, a coarse thread is 1/4-20, while a fine thread for the same diameter screw is 1/4-28 (e.g., threads on the cocker ASA)."  Metric also have a different pitch and size. For instance a M6x1 is a machine screw that is Metric, 6mm in diameter, and has a metric 1 thread.  There are also English metric threads and standard European metric threads.  I don't know enough about screws to tell you what's what but I do know that you best know what kind of screw you are replacing as using the wrong pitch thread will (again...not maybe, not probably but WILL) damage the threads in your part beyond repair.  To further clarify: M6x1 means a screw with a major diameter of 6mm and a pitch of 1 thread per milimeter. 1/4-20 means a screw with a major diameter of 1/4" and a pitch of 20 threads per inch. 

  • Screw size -- We already touched on this with the pitch type section but we'll cover more here.  All screws have two measurements, the diameter of the threaded portion of the screw and the length of the threaded portion of the screw.  For instance, you can get a 8mm wide screw (M6, remember?) that is 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 16mm, 18mm, 20mm, or XXmm long.  Same too for the US Standard screw sizes but, of course, their length is measured in inches or fractions there of rather than millimeters.  Obviously using a screw that is the wrong diameter means you have a screw that won't fit but using a screw that's too long can cause you to damage parts while using one too short may cause the part to get lost as the screw may not have enough threads in the hole to properly secure the part and will back out during play...usually at the worst time too.

  • Head type and size -- One last thing to know about screws is that their heads have different sizes too.  Again, we'll get into this more in the "why size matters" portion of this article but suffice to say that first you must use the right tool for the head.  Yes, you might be able to get that hex head screw out with a Phillips screwdriver but seriously...get a proper Allen tool for that, huh?  Also, as was mentioned in the tool section, Phillips head screws and Allen head screws are sized to a particular sized tool.  These sizes correspond with the tool size for easy match-up.  A 3mm hex head screw will work with a 3mm Allen tool. Mind you, we are talking about head size here...but generally speaking a 3mm hex head screw will have a thread diameter of 3mm too.  Now, you will also come across screws that do not have anything more than a Hex head to them...meaning rather than the head being round they will be hex shapped...for a wrench to fit on them.  These are actually NOT screws but Bolts...very different.  Bolts generally are not used on paintball markers.

Oh, you didn't think that was all did you?  Oh no...there are also different screw head types...mainly set or grub screw, cap head, button head, and flat head.  The set or grub screw is the type of screw that looks like it has no head and is just one long set of threads with a hex head hole in one side of it.  Screws that need to be in holes will tend to be set screws.  Examples would be the screw in the SIM-4's flash suppressor, the safety switch of the SIM-5, the handgaurd mounts of the SIM-4 or the tourney lock on a velocity adjuster.  A cap head screw is almost always a hex head screw.  The cap head screw looks like a small barrel with vertical sides and a flat top...kind of like a top hat would look without the brim.  They are used when you have a part that requires a TON of torque to fasten it securely.  Usually they are not found on Paintball markers.  A button head screw is what we are most familiar with.  They are like a shallow dome, rounded on top and rise above the surface they are screwed into.  Flat head screws are used with counter sunk holes and look like an upside-down triangle with the top of the head flat. (Hence the name).  They are used when you want the surface they are screwing into to be totally flat.  Again, these are rarely used in paintball.  When getting replacement screws, always be sure to use the same type of head as the original.

Size Matters

I told you we were getting to this.  This is the payoff.  This is why all the above is important.  Now, we've mentioned time and time again during this article how important it is to make sure the size of the screw, the length of the screw, and the pitch type and size of the screw all need to be the same as the original.  What we didn't mention was that the tool you use to screw that screw in needs to fit right too.

No duh you say, but how many times have you put a Phillips head screwdriver into a Phillips head screw and, after noticing it didn't fit juuuuuuuuuuuuust right, you screwed it in anyway?  Put out your hand...SMACK...now repeat after me..."I will no longer be a screw abuser or risk the wrath of Robo."  Very good.

See, what happens when you do this is very simple.  As you tighten down the screw, the screwdriver...because it doesn't fit juuuuuuuuuuuust right, will slip and wear away some of the material in the head of the screw (and/or the tool too).  Eventually, the head will get "stripped" and you will be unable to remove it or tighten it thus causing its replacement.  In worst case scenarios, you may have to cut the screw out or use a tool called an Easy Out to remove the damaged screw.  Plus, you will now have to go find a replacement and with all our mil-sim markers do you know how HARD it is to find a black screw at Home Depot????

Also into this I will tell you that cheap tools can strip out your screws too. Hex head screws are, by far, the most common types of screws to fall to this problem.  Do yourself a favor, figure out the 2 or 3 most common sizes of hex head screws on your marker.  Then go to a Hobby Shop that sells radio controlled cars.  Radio Shack DOESN'T count.  Then pick up a Allen Driver for each size.  They are expensive...going from $6 - $10 per driver.  However, you will never...ever...strip out a hex head screw again unless your wrenching on it like King Kong on the Empire State Building.  (more on that later).  I have these for my markers (since I had R/C cars) and I have yet to have one screw even start to show signs of wear even though I disassemble my markers with regularity.  Nothing replaces good tools. 

Strippers stink

Mind out of gutter again...not those strippers.

We're talking about the kind that love to strip screws.  To strip a screw, or more often the hole you're putting it into, means that you have overtightened the screw and cut (or stripped) away the threads in the hole just as good as if you had used a drill on it.  This, of course, makes the hole useless and will usually require you replacing the part completely.  Not good.  This is why it is important to take your time and tighten the screws down tight...but do not over-tighten them by really cranking them down after they have become snug.  

Yes, you in the back?  You say you have a screw that keeps coming loose no matter how hard you tighten it?  Okay, still...do not try to over-tighten the screw.  Chances are that this screw is metal and is screwing into a metal part.  Our markers do vibrate when we fire them and vibrations can (and will) cause screws to loosen.  To solve this problem get some NON-Permanent lock-tite.   If you get the permanent stuff you WILL NOT be able to take the screw out again.  They use that stuff on engine blocks people.   Clean out the hole and the screw with alcohol and let the parts dry for a bit.  Once that's done, apply a drop of lock-tite to the screw and thread the part together.  Let the stuff set overnight before you use it.  The screw SHOULD NOT come out again.  Just remember that it will be a bit tougher to get the screw out next time so this is where those well fitting tools will come in handy. Take your time and remember not to over-tighten the screws ESPECIALLY when you are using lock-tite. 

Now, you can also strip out the head of your screws as well.  Remember we talked about the right fitting tools?  Well, if you have a tool that doesn't fit just so you will strip out the head.  Also, if you do not use the proper technique when using the tool you may do the same thing.  For instance, if you do not exert some downward pressure when using a Phillips head screwdriver, the screwdriver can slip out of the screw head and begin to strip it.  Take your time when tightening screws and when you feel the tool start to slip, STOP!

Conclusion

There you have it. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about screws and tools.  However, knowing this will make your paintball experience a little nicer because chances are you'll never have a loose or stripped screw again.  In the chance that you do, at least you'll know how to go about replacing it. 

Speaking of replacing, one last tip for you. If you can, always be sure to take either a screw identical to the one you lost or the part the screw goes into with you when finding replacement screws.  Most of us can't tell what size and thread type a screw is by looking at it (I knew a guy that could do this and it was scary...we're talking he could tell the size down to 0.1mm...that's a TENTH OF A MILLIMETER) so having something to test the screw in will help.

I hope some of you found this relatively boring and mundane topic at least somewhat helpful and entertaining. 

Good luck and remember, it is all about having fun!

- Robotech

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