After many years of bitching and improvising, I just ordered a compressor and a grinder. The relatively major purchase inspires me to reflect on how my workshop has grown over the years.
When I finally started to pay close attention to bicycles in 1975, I realized this was a vehicle anyone could maintain with ease, even when living in a small apartment. A few special tools were required, but they were relatively cheap and would pay for themselves many times over as I did my own repairs at my own convenience.
I don't remember the exact order of purchase, but I bet cone wrenches came high on the list. Hub overhauls and adjustments are simple procedures. I needed a freewheel tool to remove whatever type of freewheel I was running at the time.
Somewhere in there I got a fixed-cup and lock ring spanner, and a 32mm and pin spanner so I could service the bottom bracket and headset. Later I got a second 32mm, with a 15mm pedal wrench on the other end. I'd gotten a crank puller with my first alloy cotterless crank. You got a lot of goodies with a component purchase back then. Later I got the Park universal one.
Early on, I recognized the value of the "fourth hand" cable tensioner. I'd bought a third hand to hold the brake pads against the rim, but found myself using it less and less once I could manipulate everything through cable tension. I use it from time to time when the fourth hand doesn't quite apply, so it still earns a place on the pegboard.
I would post pics of my workshop arrangement if I was proud of it. It's barely a step above chaos, however. With the compressor and grinder I will shift a number of operations out to the detached garage to keep the noise and dust level lower in the house. The next priority will be to insulate said garage so I can work there in the winter and so things don't freeze solid. Alternatively, since funds are perennially tight, I might just bring the compressor into the crawl space and mothball it for the winter. At 20 below zero my garage is 20 below zero until I institute some climate control. But that problem is months away.
For many years my tool purchases slowly filled larger and larger tool boxes. Now I have two with drawers, one a 2-drawer, the other a 3-drawer, plus about a dozen drawers in a weird gray cabinet that came off a trash pile 20 years and five or six dwellings ago. Those drawers are about 10 inches wide and perhaps a foot long, and about three or four inches deep. Half of them are full of small parts like chains, cogs, freewheels, half-eaten headsets, cup-and-cone bottom brackets, miscellaneous derailleurs and so forth.
In addition to the bike-specific tools I have the basic mechanic's outlay, circa 1974, suggested by my far more mechanically-inclined brother. He spent many years driving Model A Fords all over the eastern half of the country, and could rebuild anything, anywhere, on those simple machines. In the mid-1970s, even what passed for modern cars would yield their secrets to ordinary hand tools much of the time. So I had basic metric and English socket sets, assorted screwdrivers, pliers, box-open spanners, hacksaw, and, once I had the Triumph Spitfire, the indispensable CIRCLIP PLIERS. With a 9/16 box-open wrench, a medium screwdriver and a set of circlip pliers you could probably tear down and rebuild the entire car. Oh yes, and let's not forget the ball-peen hammer, vise grips and other implements of destruction.
Spoke wrenches came on the scene within a couple of years. Wheelbuilding is the last mystery short of torch work. Once you can do that you are completely independent until the bike industry finally manages to quit making and supporting normal crap and fences us off from self-sufficiency forever. But with all the product out there based on tried and true methods, I don't see that happening soon, if ever. Only the speed freaks who have to have eggshell frames and tweaky, weird wheels will have to haunt their dealers, with hollow eyes and grasping fingers. "You gotta hook me up, man! My bike has started to feel HEAVY to me! You don't unnerstan'!"
My heart goes out to you poor bastards. Get some help, okay?
As the spoke wrench goes, so goes the truing stand. Shell out for a decent one and treat it right.
I did cough up for the big-boy professional shop-type work stand. Not everyone can do that, but get as close as you can. It might be better to buy the shop-type arm that bolts to your bench than to get a folding stand with a lesser clamp. Use the big-dog, iron-base shop stand as your standard and work from there.
At the other end of the work stand scale, you can hang your bike from a cord tied to a nail driven into the top of a doorway to perform many adjustments. You can't apply a lot of torque, as when setting a fixed cup in an old-style BB or seating a cartridge-type BB, but you can pop a wheel out, and adjust gears and brakes. I did that for decades.
Before I had a headset press I knocked cups into the frame with a block of wood and a hammer. Bear in mind the damage you could do with a ricochet.
After decades in the bike business I have acquired most of the heavy tools for basic handling of steel frames. I have the BB reamer-facer, the taps to chase BB threads, head tube reamer-facer, crown race setters, some tubing tweakers for various applications and I still have a shopping list. Torch work I have yet to master.
I have no illusions about becoming a master frame builder, or even a minor one. My torch aspirations extend to minor repairs like dropout replacement and braze-on installation on the rare frame these days that might not have every imaginable nubbin on it. As such it has not been as high a priority as some other lines of endeavor outside of cycling. I like cycling to support my life, not be my life. The extent of my tools is probably overkill for mere independent maintenance, but not by much. I've found occasion to use just about everything at least once. And I do pick up side jobs from time to time.
My addiction to the QBP account keeps me chained to the shop. That and the other wholesale sources are my pipeline to fresh parts when other sources like scavenging won't suffice. But with a full arsenal of tools I could tackle the parts issue by other means if I lost access to the easy ones. Knowledge is freedom.