Hardline Tubing, AN Hose, and Performance Automotive Plumbing Tools You Need to Know About
Flip through the electronic pages of Motor Life, stroll through the pits at a big drag race or attend a good size car show and you’ll often come across some pretty fancy engine compartment plumbing. That plumbing can consist of many different forms but some of the nicest include polished stainless steel hardline along with cleanly assembled AN hose. It’s definitely eye-candy for the enthusiast. But well done plumbing can also prove to be extremely functional.
Let’s look at hardline first: Aspiring to build hardline and actually working with it can be two different things (no secret to many we’re sure). The reality is, you need the right tools in order to get the job done. This is particularly true when it comes to making flares. When flaring stainless steel for things like brake, fuel and nitrous lines (rather than OEM style tin-coated lines) you’ll find the difficulty factor can escalate significantly. This really stands out once the tubing wall size increases. There are two different wall thicknesses typically used for stainless steel hardline – 0.020-inch and 0.028-inch. Sometimes you can get away with 0.020-inch wall tubing, but Earl’s points out, the standard for brake lines is 0.028-inch wall thickness and that’s recommended. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hand-held flaring tools decide to take a time out anytime thicker wall tubing enters the equation. Most simply wilt when you even mention 0.028-inch wall stainless steel.
So what’s the solution? Take a look at Earl’s Pro Flaring tool (p/n 001ERL for single and double flares or p/n 002ERL for single flares only). This is an incredibly stout tool that performs flares quickly in all types of tubing, and simultaneously does zero damage to the tubing. Part of this is due to the robust construction of the tool. The tool body is heavy duty cast steel. The design of the tool allows it to either mount in your bench vise or with a special included bracket, mount directly to a workbench top. The two-piece heavy duty dies (for various tubing sizes and flare configurations) are indexed in the tool body via a die clamping handle. This handle screws into the side of the tool body. Another much longer heavy duty handle is included with the tool set and it’s used to work the flaring punch (by simply snapping into the operating cam). The turret punch also snaps right into the turret post. When it comes to turret punches, the complete kit includes two different examples – one for 45-degree flares and another for 37-degree flares and DIN flares. Each of these turrets include eight different punches. The complete Earl’s tool kit (p/n 001ERL) is supplied with 15 Dies along with the pair of turrets. Here, you can form 37-degree flares for 3/16-inch, 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch tubing. You can also form 45-degree flares for 3/16-inch, 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch, 3/8-inch, 4.75mm, 6mm, 8mm, and 10mm tubing. Finally, the tool has the capability of forming DIN flares for 3/16-inch, and 1/4-inch tubing. By the way, the single flare tool kit (p/n 002ERL) includes five 37-degree flare dies and a single eight punch turret, but the balance of the components are the same.
If you’re attempting to flare conventional brake line on the car in tight quarters, then you know a big vise-mounted tool isn’t going to get the job done. Earl’s offers another tool solution for this task. The hand held 3/16-inch 45-degree double flaring tool (p/n 038ERL) is small enough you can use it on a car. While it cannot be used with stainless, it's perfect for use with steel, olive (double wall, low carbon steel), copper, as well as “Easy Form” (copper/nickel alloy) hardline tubing. The tool includes a removable handle (which allows you to use the tool in a vise if needed), a locating bolt, a pair of formed punches (to form a double flare) as well as die lubricant.
Something else to ponder when working with hardline is this: Brake line tubing is commonly 3/16-inch or ¼ inch. The tubing is usually annealed and today, stainless is very popular. Fair enough, but there’s a hitch: a lot of tubing is sold in rolls. Sometimes a pre-cut straight section of tubing will have a “bow” in it. Both spell trouble (sometimes Big Trouble) if you’re building brake lines from scratch.
It’s almost impossible to get it straight with home-brewed “fixes” (for example, clamping the tubing between a couple of lengths of lumber). Fortunately, there’s a very easy fix and it’s available from the folks at Earl’s Performance (p/n 039ERL). The way the tool is designed, it can either be bolted directly to your workbench top or held in place by a bench vise (by way of an optional mount kit, Earl’s p/n 040ERL).
To use the tool, hand straighten (uncoil) the very end of a coiled tube and insert into either side of the tool. Use the adjustment knob on the top to bring the rollers into position and feed the tube through the rollers. Once there is a sufficient amount of tubing clear of the tool wheels, begin to pull the tube through with constant pressure. Use the adjustment knob to fine tune the alignment for your tube and pull the desired length of tube through the tool. Bingo. The coiled section is now straight.
Straightening a shorter pre-cut length is just as simple: simply push the piece of tubing through the alignment wheels and work it back and forth. You can fine-tune the adjustment knob until all bends in the piece have been straightened.
Additionally, the Earl’s tubing straightener works for 3/16-inch or ¼ inch tubing. It functions perfectly with stainless steel, aluminum, copper, copper-nickel or conventional steel tubing. The bottom line here is, this is a simple, robust tool that flat works.
Obviously, you’ll need something to cut the tubing. While there are several different methods out there, Earl's tubing cutter (p/n 003ERL) is ideal for slicing through all types of hardline tubing including steel, copper, copper/nickel, and of course, stainless steel. The cutting wheel is replaceable and there’s also a deburring tool that fits into the handle. The tool cuts tubing from 1/8-inch all the way up to 1-3/8-inch diameter tubing.
Bending tubing is another issue. If you’re simply bending regular steel tubing, copper, copper/nickel tubing or olive coated steel tubing, you can get away with a universal bender. Earl’s offers one under p/n 036ERL. It measures 11-inches overall in length and can perform bends up to 180-degrees for ¼-inch, 5/16-inch and 3/8-inch tubing. Another handy bender for softer materials is the Earl’s mini-bender (p/n 035ERL). This little bender is only 5.5-inches in length and it can perform 90-degree bends in 1/8-inch, 3/16-inch and ¼-inch tubing.
When bending stainless you’ll need a beefier bender. Earl’s offers several different lever style Professional Benders. Each example is dedicated for the specific tubing diameter – p/n 025ERL for 3/16-inch tubing, p/n 026ERL for ¼-inch tubing, p/n 028ERL for 3/8-inch tubing, p/n 029ERL for ½-inch tubing and p/n 030ERL for 5/8-inch tubing. Earl’s points out the open side of the tool slips over the tube at any point, and makes smooth, tight radius bends without scoring or flattening the tube. Each tool bends one size of tubing.
Working with hoses requires a different tool set. If you have assembled AN flex hose of any sort, you’ll know that securing the hose end during assembly can prove troublesome. And if you don’t secure the hose end properly, you’ll quickly find the fitting can be damaged easily. The solution is a set of vise jaw inserts. Earl’s has two different types available: One set (p/n 1004ERL) is manufactured from aluminum while the other (p/n 1044ERL) is manufactured from nylon. Each jaw insert is configured so that it can accept any size of common AN hose end and both have magnets on the back side to secure them in the vise.
It’s not uncommon to use aluminum wrenches when you’re tightening AN fittings. Aluminum does little or no damage to the fitting when tightening. Earl’s offers two complete sets. One is a single open end set (p/n 230402ERL) while the other is a double open end set (p/n 230401ERL). The double end set works for -3AN all the way up to -20AN. Meanwhile the single open end set works for -6AN fittings all the way up to -20 AN. In either case, you’ll note the handles are short. This allows you to get into tight locations, but it also limits the torque you can apply to (and consequently overtighten or otherwise damage) a fitting. All of the wrenches are color-coded for quick identification. And by the way, Earl’s also offers these wrenches singularly. Check out the online catalog for a list of part numbers.
That’s not the end of the wrenches available from Earl’s. Also included in the mix are two different adjustable wrenches. Both are manufactured from 7075 billet aluminum. They’re anodized black and they incorporate a knurled, nickel-plated steel adjustment wheel. The lower jaws are curved with a chamfered nose to allow for clearance when working in tight spots. Tool p/n 230400ERL works on everything from -3AN all the way up to -12AN while tool p/n 230350ERL works on fittings from -3AN to -8AN. You can also buy both tools in one package (p/n 230351ERL). In any case, you’ll find these tools allow for quick adjustments in the pits – simply because you don’t need to carry a complete set of wrenches with you.
If you’re working with Vapor Guard, Super Stock™, Pro-Lite 350™ and even Ultra-Flex 650™ Kevlar® hose, Earl’s offers a slick hand held hose cutter to make the job easier (p/n D022ERL). This cutter is extremely accurate and it can save a lot of time by eliminating jagged or angled cuts on the hose ends. The way the tool is designed, once the blade becomes dull you can simply rotate it to a fresh cutting surface. Additionally, Earl’s offers inexpensive blade replacements (see the catalog for part numbers).
Earl’s offers a wide range of hose expanders. Some (kit p/n 600ERL) are professional shop jobs designed to expand Ultra-Pro and Ultra-Flex hose prior to machine-crimping. Others such as the hand held braid spreader (p/n 007ERL) allows you to install the olive into -3AN and -4AN Speed-Flex hoses. With this hose, the outer stainless braid must be separated from the PTFE liner in order to install the fitting. Normally, the task involves a lot of physical pain that comes from the braid poking holes in your fingers. With this tool, you simply insert it into the cut end of the hose and push. This spreads the braid painlessly. Earl’s notes the next step involves placing the olive on the tool mandrel, pushing it over the hose liner and under the braid. Here the liner will bottom against the shoulder of the olive and you can complete the hose end assembly.
Finally, a must-have tool for anyone assembling hoses is a pressure test kit. Earl’s offers an inexpensive example (p/n D016ERL) that includes components for every hose from -3AN all the way up to -16AN. In operation, one end of the hose is plugged (the kit includes all sizes of plugs) while the other end includes a special fitting equipped with a Schrader valve. Next you air up the hose to pre-established PSI and immerse it in water. And just like testing a tube you watch for bubbles. If it bubbles, there’s a good chance the hose leaks. If it doesn’t, then the hose end is sound. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly effective.
As you can see, there are a lot of tools available to make life easier when forming hardline or building AN hoses. Not only will these tools shorten the time required to perform the task, they’ll also go a long way toward making flawless, but extremely functional eye candy. That’s something we can all appreciate. For a closer look, check out the accompanying photos:
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