Classic Motorcycle Build

Ironhead Special Tools

Article by Mark Trotta

So, you started tearing into your old Sportster motor, only to find out you need quite a few special tools.

Harley Ironhead Tools

If you're rebuilding the entire motor, along with a piston ring installer, torque wrench, dial caliper, and feeler gauge, you'll need a few special Ironhead tools.

Before you give up and carry the pieces to a local shop, consider a few things. If you can cut, drill, and weld, many of these specialty tools can be fabricated cheaply.

In no particular order, here is a partial list of special tools that you may need during an Ironhead Engine Build.


Clutch Removal Tool

A clutch spring compressing tool is needed to take pressure off the clutch assembly. This tool can be made out of a piece of metal stock and some 1/4-20" threaded rod (same thread as primary cover bolts).

DIY Sportster clutch removal tool

Read: DIY Sportster Clutch Removal Tool

This tool also has a second use. It helps separate left and right engine cases.

Sportster separate engine cases tool


Primary Cover Plug Removal

Ironhead primary covers have two big plugs, one or both will look like the one in the picture below.

Sportster primary cover plug tool

If you don't have the proper primary cover plug tool, the side of a fat wrench sometimes works. Or, you can tap it off (counter-clockwise) with a hammer and blunt chisel.

Sportster primary plug tool

Colony makes a primary cover plug tool that gets placed inside the groove of the plug, and then a wrench is used to turn it.


Sprocket Locking Link Tool

To remove the primary chain on a Sportster, a tool is needed to keep the two sprockets from turning while you remove the hub nut. The tool fits in between the clutch hub and the front sprocket.

Ironhead Sportster locking link tool

The picture above shows a DIY sprocket locking link tool holding the compensating sprocket and clutch basket.

Ironhead special tools

Read: Primary Chain Remove and Install


Push Rod Cover Tool

This one's a favorite. The Motion-Pro push rod tool removes and installs push rod tube clips with no hassle. The flat portion of tool fits under the cylinder head, and the cupped end fits over the bell in the tube. When adjusting Ironhead valves, this tool is a real time-saver.

Motion Pro pushrod tube tool 08-0255

Shop: Harley Push Rod Cover Tool


Ironhead Sprocket Shaft Tool

To remove the compensating sprocket shaft nut (front pulley) another specialty tool is needed. This can also be made, but they're pretty cheap to buy.

special tools needed for Sportster engine

A 1-1/2" socket is needed to remove the large nut in the clutch hub. Some bike shops use an impact gun on this nut, instead of using a locking tool. Either method will work.


Ironhead Bottom End Tools

All pre-2000 Sportsters have taper-shaft cranks that were designed to be rebuilt. Unlike newer Sportsters, an Ironhead bottom end can be rebuilt multiple times.

Ironhead Sportster bottom end

Flywheel Shaft Nut Wrench

You can either buy the two-sided wrench (H-D part number 94546-41), or buy two impact sockets, sized 1-5/6" and 1-3/16".

Ironhead Sportster engine tools


Flywheel Holding Jig

To hold the flywheel while tightening the nuts, you can fabricate a simple holding jig that uses the holes in the flywheel.

flywheel holding jig

Starting with a cardboard template, take a piece of steel and cut out the shape needed. The "V" needs to be big enough to clear the crank pin. You can find 1/2" round stock at hardware stores and home improvement stores.

flywheel holding jig


Flywheel Truing Stand

After rebuilding an Ironhead flywheel assembly, it needs to be trued before being reinstalled in the cases. For this, you'll need either a lathe or a flywheel truing stand. A $900 truing stand is a nice luxury, but homemade units work just as well.

DIY flywheel truing stand

Read: DIY Flywheel Truing Stand


Sprocket Shaft Bearing Puller

For 1967 through 1976 Sportsters, H-D tool 96015-56 removes the inner sprocket shaft bearing. It also removes sprocket shaft extensions.

For early Sportsters, the inner sprocket-shaft bearing tool is Harley-Davidson # 96015-52. The picture below shows our homemade version of this tool, which is needed to remove the inner sprocket shaft bearing on early Sportsters.

Ironhead special tools

This tool was fabricated by cutting a piece of 2" metal tubing in half, then welded on flat washers and a 7/16" SAE nut on the top.


Pinion Shaft Honing/Lapping Tool

Honing/lapping motorcycle engine cases assures precision alignment of engine shafts. Early Sportsters (1957-1976) require the pinion shaft outer bearing race to be lapped in. The tool lines up with the sprocket-side case bearing to lap the pinion-bearing race to the proper size. If you're looking to buy this tool, it sells for about $850.

Ironhead special tools


Sprocket Shaft Bearing Installer

For 1957-1976 Sportsters, the sprocket shaft bearing installer H-D part number is 97081-54. Jims Tools uses the same part number, which sells for about $75.00. The V-Twin part number is 16-0149.

Harley Ironhead Tools


Pinion Gear Puller Tool

The pinion gear tool allows removal and installation of the pinion gear on 1976 and earlier Sportsters. On 1977 and later models it is not required.

Harley Sportster pinion gear tool

The OEM Harley part number for the pinion gear puller is #96830-51. They are available from several aftermarket companies, including Jims Tools.

early Sportster pinion gear

We bought a cheap imported version of this tool because it was 1/3rd of the price of the Jims Tool version. The install part of the tool works fine, but the removal part of the tool is too thick to remove a Sportster pinion gear. If you need to remove a Big-Twin pinion gear, the cheaper tool will probably work for both removal and installation.


Cam Bushing Removal Tool

There is a Harley-specific tool called an inner bearing puller. It's only function is to remove cam bushings. This tool has a part number (#96760-36) that seems to be obsolete, but the factory-designed tool is not really needed, because there are other ways to remove Sportster cam bushings.

The method I chose to remove cam bushings was to employ tools that I already had. This included an electric angle grinder and a 24" slide hammer. You also need a solid workbench vise.

cam cover bushing removal

Read: Remove and Install Ironhead Cam Bushings

Cam Bushing Drill Jig

After new cam bushings are installed, you need to drill and insert new bushing pins, so the bushing doesn't spin inside it's cavity. Jims Tool makes a nice tool to help with this.

cam bushing drill jig

This tool also doubles as a bushing installer when using a shop press.

Cam Bearing Removal Tool

Removing any of the four cam needle bearings requires a special tool. The alternative is to split the cases and press them out.

cam needle bearing removal

Installing cam needle bearings must be done very carefully, so as not to crush the thin outer shell. The cam bushing drill jig tool shown below can be used for this procedure.

install cam needle bearings

Cam Bushing Reamers

The Harley-Davidson service manual lists three tools for reaming cam bushings. They are #94803-37 (cams and timer shaft), #94812-37A (pinion shaft), and #94805-57 #94806-57 (idler gear bushing). The Harley tools are obsolete. Although advertised in the aftermarket, they are hard to find in stock anywhere.

Ironhead Sportster cam bushings

There are many different styles and types of reamers. For line-reaming cam bushings, you want to use a hand-held reamer that is right-hand spiral (RHS) and right-hand cut (RHC). Several different size reamers are needed.

Line-Reaming Cam Bushings

When line-reaming cam bushings with the engine case, pilot shafts are required. If you are not using the factory reaming tools, pilot shafts will have to be fabricated.

Sportster cam bushing reaming tool


Sportster Engine Stand

Having an engine stand makes working on the motor much easier. You can buy one, but if you can weld, consider making one.

Ironhead Sportster engine stand

As an alternative to buying or making an engine stand, you can lay it down on a couple of 4x4 blocks of wood.

If it's in the budget, you can buy one like this TC Bros Sportster Engine Stand.

sportster engine stand tcbros

Shop: Sportster Engine Stand


Factory Manual

Knowledge is the best tool you can have, and having a factory shop manual that covers your year and model is invaluable. You'll end up referring to it over and over again.

Harley-Davidson Sportster factory manual

Chilton and Haynes manuals are OK for minor stuff, but they are nowhere near as complete as a Harley-Davidson factory shop manual.


Getting tired of crouching down on your hands and knees while working on your classic bike? Having a motorcycle lift stand saves you time and space, and makes working on your old scoot more enjoyable.

air powered motorcycle lift stand

Read: Best Motorcycle Lift Table


Articles of Interest:

Ironhead Engine Build
Ironhead Top End Build
Ironhead Bottom End Build
Ironhead Flywheel Rebuild
Ironhead Sportster Pinion Gear (Remove and Install)
Ironhead Sportster Bendix Gear (Remove and Install)
Ironhead Sportster Cylinders
Ironhead Rocker Box Assembly
Install Sportster Cams
Remove/Install Sportster Cam Bushings
how to adjust Ironhead Valves

Read: How To Adjust Ironhead Valves