The Tools Built for Competing
By Tyler O’Hara
For this column, I want to dive into the tools I like to use and the tools necessary for paint protection film (PPF) competitions. Not much in my in-shop tool set-up differs from what I’ve been bringing to the PPF competitions for going on a decade. I’ve seen many trends and fads come and go over my 14-year PPF installation career. Every year it seems like a new company pops up with the latest and greatest new tool or tank set-up. I have always resorted back to the golden rule—keep it simple, stupid. I am not a fan of fancy or complex set-ups. Inside my shop, we run hard day in and day out. I like simple set-ups free of complexity and points of possible failure.
We need ways to spray water when installing PPF because it is installed wet. Without water or liquid, installing PPF isn’t possible. Back in 2015 at the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) in Reno, Nev., I was one of the only guys using a tank sprayer. I don’t want to claim to be the first, but I know I was the only one there using a tank.
It’s actually comical because my tank setup at the time was a modified weed sprayer with a built-in plastic pump. We would jerry rig the pressure relief valves shut with strips of PPF wrapped tightly around the tank. This would keep more pressure in the tank. I ran homemade set-ups like this until 2018, believe it or not. I bought parts and made my own sprayers.
In 2018, one of my friends had the idea to start modifying 2.5 gallon beer kegs. It was love at first sight! This is the set-up we run to this day. We drill a hole in the lid and add a semi-truck Schrader valve to it. This allows us to charge the tank with pressurized air from our air compressor with a tire inflator. I’ve also used a bike pump and a Milwaukee tire inflator while installing mobile or at competitions. We use a 1/4’’ ball valve and add a 20-foot hose.
One thing I’m very particular about is the spray pattern of the water. I like a sprayer tip that can go from a fine mist all the way to a jet stream. For this we use the Gilmore brass tip spray nozzle. This part of the set-up is the only weak point. It’s known throughout the industry that these sprayers aren’t very reliable. We have had decent luck with them, usually seeing a few months of service and then swapping out as needed with spares we keep stocked in the shop.
I’ve seen fancy tanks with battery-powered pumps and five-gallon tanks. I have even seen a tank set-up mounted on someone’s back. I and my team at American Wrap Company like to keep it simple.
Nowadays, I see a lot of people going crazy with various types of blades and blade holders. I’ve seen people using surgical scalpels, multi-blade capable Olfas, metal red dots, the classic metal Olfa and all types of actual blades. This year at WFCT, I was talking to some of my friends from Chicago Auto Pros, and they asked me if I felt that Olfa blades were inconsistent in sharpness lately.
The first thing I always tell people when they talk about the sharpness of a blade is that they have to be using a plastic blade holder. The Chicago Auto Pro guys were using plastic blade holders. My theory on this is that, as the blade extends and retracts in a metal blade holder like a red dot, the actual blade rides in a metal V out to the tip of the knife. This, in turn, dulls the blade, so as your break tips off by the time you get to the middle of the blade, it is too dull to cut PPF safely. My preferred blade holder is just a standard plastic 9 MM blade carrier. These can be found at Home Depot, Amazon and Harbor Freight; and nearly every online tint/PPF tool seller carriers them. While you’re cutting PPF, you want your blade as sharp as absolutely possible.
Since about 2013, I have worn a headlamp to install at my shops and in the competitions. I have had multiple people make fun of me for this, saying that I must not be able to afford good enough lights in my shops. I can assure you that’s not the case as funny as it is. I see many people spending tons of money online on elaborate overhead lights. I have found that overhead lights can’t do everything. I love using a good headlight, but it must meet some criteria.
The headlight must have multiple brightness levels, an on and off motion sensor and it must be rechargeable. The most important factor is the on and off motion sensor. This is crucial for me because there are certain colors of paint and environment conditions where I actually don’t want a lot of light. So having the ability to quickly wave my hand and have the light turn off is a huge plus. Rather than having to cycle through settings to click a button, I like the speed of waving lights off; another quick wave and its right back on where I had it.
Using a headlight is a huge advantage because it puts the light exactly where my eyes are looking. I also love tucking my knife between my head and the headlamp band. I saw Sergey Yakobchak of New Layer Customs in Troy, Mich., doing this at WFCT 2022. He ended up placing second in the Paint Protection Film Division.
I hope you find some of this information helpful. Some might say I’m a salty old dog—and I kind of am. But over the course of 14 years and nine medals in the PPF competitions, my tool set-up hasn’t changed much. I like to keep things simple, easy to maintain and cost efficient.
I see a lot of people waste a ton of money on the newest hype man’s tools when most of the stuff can be made for yourself with easily-sourced parts for a fraction of the cost. Spending a ton of money on fancy tools will not make you a better installer— repetition and practice will.
Tyler O’Hara is the owner of American Wrap Company in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
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