For the practicing engineer or any home mechanical and electrical hobbyist, this is my list of recommend tools. I think this selection covers the best tools you can buy at a reasonable price with a good return on investment. Everything in this list has been carefully researched. Almost everything has been used by me personally. If you have a recommendation to add to the list please send it to: contact <at> gerritcoetzee <dot> com.
9-10-2018 I’ve added a suggestion for an oscilloscope and a multi-meter. Check the electronics section! Check back often for the latest additions.
|Soldering Iron||Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering Station FX-888D ~$100|
Digital Soldering Station with Chisel Tip Pack T18-D08/D12/D24/D32/S3 ~$130
|I've always found the Hakko Irons to be extremely reliable and perform extremely well. I still have the Hakko 936, which I expect to last me my entire life. The holder on the FX-888D is much improved over the 936. However, the 936 is more convenient for the hobbyist to set temperature. However, it's not really that hard. The other advantage to Hakko is their large selection of tips which remain unchanged. So the tips from the 936 still fit the FX-888D and I expect this pattern to continue.
I've mentioned a deal I noted on Amazon that comes with some tips. This package is useful for the needle tip and the wide chisel, though I find the tip that comes with the iron the most useful for general work. The name brand Hakko tips are somewhat pricey though there is an off-brand market. I recommend the Hakko tips. They last a very long time.
The last bit of advice I have here is to be extremely diligent when ordering the iron. There are a lot of fake Hakko products. I usually order Hakko direct from hakkousa.com.
|Crimp Tool for Most Crimps|| Engineer PA-09 Micro Connector Crimpers ~$38.00|
IWISS SN-2549 Crimping Tools for AWG28-18 ~$22.00
|Both these crimpers will crimp most Molex, Tyco/AMP, JST, etc crimps.
The crimpers from Engineer are high quality Made in Japan crimpers. While the ratcheting style crimper is certainly faster, I think these are a better value for the hobbyist/engineer. Rather than crimping both the insulation and the conductor at the same time the Engineer crimpers require that you crimp one and then the other. This takes a bit longer but results in a higher number of successful and determinable crimps.
The crimpers from IWISS are perfectly serviceable generic crimpers of the ratcheting style. The fit and finish isn't as high but they will crimp successfully and reliably. I've owned a similar model from Pololu and it works just fine, though the ratchet feature is finicky.
|Side/Flush Cutters||CHP-170 Micro Cutter||These Made in Italy flush cutters are fantastic and affordable. I much prefer the handles, fit,finish, and feel on these to the ones from Xcelite. I've owned my pair for something like eight years and they've cut thousands of wires, pins, solder joints, and leads. They still work like new. The flush cut is also exceptionally good and there is very little burr left.
Hakkousa.com also sells these.
|Electronics Pliers||Most often Used: Snub Needle Nose Hakko CHP PN-2002 General Purpose Short-Nose Pliers, Pointed Nose, Smooth Jaw ~$10|
Right-ish Angle: CHP PNB-2008 Long Flat Nose Angled Pliers ~$10
Needle Nose: CHP PN-2007 Long-Nose Pliers, Flat Nose, Flat Outside Edge, Serrated Jaws ~$10
|These Made in Italy pliers are wonderful. They respond very well to hand movements, have hardened tips and last a long time.
The Snub Needle Nose pliers are life-changing. Definitely buy these if you do a lot of precision work and electronics assembly.
The Right-Ish (angled at 45) degree pliers are also extremely nice. Only hakkousa.com seems to carry these. If you own these you will use these.
Lastly, the needle nose pliers are, well, everything you'd expect from needle nose pliers.
|Wire Strippers||For most small wires: Hakko CHP CSP-30-1 Wire Stripper, 30-20 Gauge Maximum Cutting Capacity ~$10|
For when you need to strip a lot of wire: Ideal Industries Stripmaster Wire Stripper, 20 to #30 AWG ~$40
Random odd wires: IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP Wire Stripper and Cutter, 5-Inch$1-7.00
|These are reliable Made in Italy wire strippers. They never kink or chip into the conductor when used properly. I've had mine for around 8 years and they show no wear
The strip master is a great, Made in USA (though less every year) wire stripper to use when you have a lot of conductors to strip. I've had times where I've had to strip over 300 conductors in one night and this did the job repeatably and reliably. However, for more one-off work the CHP strippers are a much better value.
I have no attachment to the IRWIN strippers at the end. They just display a decent version of a useful style. In fact, I recommend buying the cheapest most awful version of this style stripper you can find, they all work about the same. These are useful to strip odd/larger conductors in a pinch.
|Automotive Crimp Tool||Channellock 909 Crimping Tool with Cutter||This Made in USA crimp tool does a grand job of crimping lug style crimps reliably. These are often the cheapest crimps you can buy and are very useful in cars/chassis wiring/high current wireing/ and home appliances.|
|ESD Tweezers|| |
Wiha 44501 Stainless Steel Fine Point Professional ESD Precision Tech Tweezer with Static Dissipative Grip $20-30
Wiha 44510 Stainless Steel Curved, Extra Fine Professional ESD Precision Tech Tweezer with Static Dissipative Grip $20-30.00
|There are a few things that a set of "ESD" tweezers should have.
1. perfectly square tips.
2. properly treated tips that won't change shape
3. conductive or dissipative material/coating -- dissipative is better
The goal of the tweezer is to pick up a small thing without launching it across the room. If there is any gap or angle between the tips of the tweezer this will happen, especially at 0402 and under. Since the tips need to hold this shape even through repeated use, the ends of the tweezers are usually heat-treated to help. So electronics tweezers are typically very pricey to keep this tip sizing perfect. If there is a charge difference built up they need to slowly pass that charge to the user and then to ground, that's where a good handle and the "ESD" comes from. Though for most home work a simple good pair of metal tweezers will also work just fine. Also worth noting that a set of ESD anything is useless if you aren't grounded.
I think the straight pair is easier to use except when it isn't. If you can only pick one pair, get the curved pair for most SMD work. I've not personally used these Wiha tweezers, but they are more or less what to look for. Made in Germany with all the right features. For my personal tweezers I hand filed a set of cheap Chinese tweezers into perfect square. However they do lose their shape easy. Regardless of the quality of tweezer you get you'll want some rubbing alchohol and a soft cloth nearby as it doesn't matter how fancy your tweezers are if they're dirty.
|Electricians Scissors||Xcelite 86NCG Shear Snip with Plastic-Coated Cushion Grip, 6-1/2" Length, 1-1/2" Jaw Capacity||This is one of those tools that was such a pleasure to use it just stuck with me. The shop shears I compare other shears to. Should still be made in USA. These aren't a true "electricians scissor" those typically have notches and other things to perform various tasks, but I find that these were most reached for when I had the option.|
|ESD Mat / Band||Bertech ESD High Temperature Rubber Mat Kit with a Wrist Strap and Grounding Cord, 18" Wide x 30" Long x 0.08" Thick, Gray||Honestly, most home work shops don't need an ESD mat, but it's nice to have. You can probably get away with just a cheap band hooked to to the ground of a house outlet. However, if you live in a very dry climate and you're always shocking things then you'll definitely find this a solid investment.
I've not personally used this Bertech mat, but I did some research and their mats are made in USA. They don't smell, meet specs, and are heat resistant.
If you need a more professional set-up I highly recommend contacting href="http://desco.descoindustries.com/">Desco. They make really nice stuff that stands up to a lot of abuse.
|Oscilloscope||Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscopes - Bandwidth: ||This is a great scope from a trusted brand. If you know where to look you can upgrade this to a 100MHz scope, which makes it one of the best bargains out there. Rigol is the manufacturer of Agilent(HP/Keysight's) low end scopes.
Check the ratings of the amazon supplier you buy this scope from. This is an often copied scope. I highly recommend purchasing through Saelig, even if the price is a bit higher.
|Multi meter||EEVblog Brymen BM235 Multimeter ||Ever since Fluke stopped making all their scopes in US I've been reluctant to recommend their lower end multi-meters. The quality is sometimes not the Fluke we know and love. So I spent a long time researching the best value for the electronics hobbyist. I skipped over the EEVBlog BM235 a few times. I mean, it's a YouTube star branded Multimeter from Taiwan. How good can it be?
Very good. This is a phenomenal meter with a ton of useful features, TrueRMS, uA measuring capability, and really nice meter leads (hey! it matters!).
Highly recommended. I don't think there's anything better for under 300 dollars, even used.
3D Printers and Small CNC
|3D Printer||Prusa i3 Mk3 $700-$1000||If you want to buy a 3D printer and you want it to work reliably. Just buy this one. Don't do comparison tables. (And definitely don't by the hot garbage that is Makerbot). There's a reason this printer wins all the awards.
It has a top quality Made in England nozzle, Made in Switzerland filament feed, electronics from USA, and Josef Prusa's very extreme attention to detail. It has the latest features in its firmware. Auto bedleveling and more.
|Atomic filament makes the best filament in the US, hands down. I've never had an inconsistent print. Atomic also has free shipping within the US.
For flex filament, I've tried many, but Ninjaflex is still the best. I've had my best results printing Ninjaflex on the 3M painters tape with the green lettering printed on it.
|3D Printer Software||< a href="https://www.simplify3d.com/">Simplify 3D $149||It's expensive, but if you want the best support structures in the business it's worth it. It's definitely not a must buy though.|
Screw Drivers and Things That Turn Things
|Best #2 Phillips of All Time||Wera #2x4in With Laser Tip; 5008720001 $~12.00||Twelve Bucks for a #2 Phillips! Are you crazy? Look, all I'm saying is, when you wear through that Central Machinery screw driver or strip another screw, buy this one. Then thank me. Never strip a screw again. The laser tip is something amazing and the geometry of the screw driver is perfect.
Price is about the same on Zoro Tools.
|Precision Torque Screw Driver||BESTOOL-KANON Adjustable Torque Screwdriver, 5-60 cN.m BCN60LTDK, (Old Model#: N6LTDK), $70-120.00||This is a gorgeous Japanese made torque limiting screwdriver. This has the perfect range for any consumer electronics/mechanics work.However, it's fairly pricey. There are lots of clones of this particular driver, but I don't recommend them. The quality is substantially lower.
Ten-to-one you don't need this tool. If you're building one-offs in the homeshop you can set your torque with feel. When you do need this or are worried about damaging something precision. It really comes in handy. As a bonus it takes standard hex bits that you can buy anywhere.
You might be able to find this cheaply in Japan or China, just watch out for fakes. There are a lot. I paid about $70.00 for mine while visiting China.
|Small Flat Head Set||Small ( medium screw terminals): Wera Slotted Electronics Precision Screwdriver 0.50x3.0x80mm; 05118010001 $3-8.00|
Smaller ( small screw terminals): Wera Slotted Electronics Precision Screwdriver, 2.5mm Head, 80mm Blade Length; 05118008001 $3-8.00
Smallest (eye glasses): Wera Slotted Electronics Precision Screwdriver, 1.8mm Head, 60mm Blade Length; 05118004001 $3-8.00
|These four screw drivers will cover most small flat-heads you can encounter. The Wera drivers can take some torture before they get the telltale "I've-abused-my-flatheads" s curve in them.
Save your small flat-heads from abuse by buying the Channelock Made in USA 4-Piece Pick Set; HP-4A This is the only pick-set I've found that can be used for some serious prying/scraping and still survive.
Zoro Tools sells these less conveniently, but the price can be up to 3.00 cheaper per driver!
|Small Hex Socket Head Screw Drivers||M3 ScrewsWera Ball End Hexagon Screwdriver for Electronic Applications, 2.5 mm x 60 mm; 05118094001 ~$6-8.00|
M3 Low Profile Screws: Wera Ball End Hexagon Screwdriver for Electronic Applications, 2.0 mm x 60 mm; 05118092001 ~$6-8.00
M3 T-Handle Very Long: Eklind 2.5 mm 10" Long Cushion Grip Hex T-Key; 54925 ~$6-8.00
M2 Screws: Wera Ball End Hexagon Screwdriver for Electronic Applications, 1.5 mm x 60 mm; 05118090001 ~2-4.00
As a SetWera 6 Piece Set With Rack (Not Reccomended*) ~$30.00
|This set covers most of the small useful hex screws in hobby electronics. M2, M3 and M3 Low Profile. These Wera drives never strip out and give a great feel to them. The ball head is great for odd angles and general assembly.They are a little difficult when trying to transfer a lot of torque (to break something loose), but Allen keys should help with that.
I also recommend the one ultra long Eklind for both getting more torque and making the 3D printer maintenance process better. This one is intentionally not a round head so you can keep the screw on the end easier. You'll be surprised at how much torque the T-handle can transmit and still spring back to shape. Eklind makes a great product (USA)!
For larger Hex Heads a Allen Key set or Power Driver bits are probably more bang for the buck.
*I don't recommended Wera six piece set unless you know you'll be working with very small hex heads regularly, three of the sizes in the set just aren't that useful!
Zoro Tools sells these less conveniently, but the price can be up to 3.00 cheaper per driver!
|Small Phillips Set||#1 Phillips: Wera Screwdriver for Electronic Application PH1x80mm; 05118024001 $4-8.00|
#0 Phillips: Wera Screwdriver for Electronic Applications PH 0 mm x 60 mm; 05118022001 $4-8.00
#00 Phillips: Wera Screwdriver for Electronic Applications. PH 00 mm x 60 mm; 05118020001 $4-8.00
|Phillips screws really need sharp and hard drivers to work properly. Since they're "designed" to cam out and strip, you might find yourself ruining otherwise perfect screws with bad drivers, camming out long before it was necessary. Learn to like Phillips again with this set.
Zoro Tools sells these less conveniently, but the price can be up to 3.00 cheaper per driver!
|High Speed Rotary Tool||Dremel 8220-1/28 12-Volt Max Cordless Rotary Tool|
Dremel 225-01 Flex Shaft Attachment
Dremel 4486 MultiPro Keyless Chuck
|I was surprised to find that not only did the Cordless Dremel perform exactly as the corded ones. The cordless feature was absolutely killer. If you're burning through a lot of cutting wheels you may want to consider a corded model.
I've tried a bunch of comparable rotary tools, and I think dremel is still king for its purpose. If you need more power then you probably need to consider an angle or air die grinder.
If you're doing carving or detail work all day long then you likely need a more professional solution like what foredom offers.
If you need a thing to spin expensive small abrasive disks dangerously fast... then this is for you.
I highly recommend the flex shaft and adding the key less chuck to the Dremel to really make it a tool for the generalist.
|Heat Gun||PORTER-CABLE PC1500HG 1500-Watt Heat Gun||This is a good heatgun that won't immediately burn out. It put out a lot of heat and a lot of air. It's built like a tank. Is it a professional, leave it on all day heatgun? No... But it's also not nearly as expensive. I've had mine for a long time now and it's still serving me well.|
|Taps and Dies||McMaster or Ebay||I don't think there is a good way to buy taps/dies other than as you need them. Most taps/dies from Harbor Fraught or the endless import re-sellers are great ways to plug a perfectly good hole with a nightmare of half-hardened chinesium. Simply, taps, dies, and their corresponding drill bits are hard to make. There's not much corner to cut on the process and labor isn't the most expensive part. Which means that when they're cheap... they're cheap. There's no price advantage from where they come.
I built my collection of taps and dies (Us/Swiss/German/Japanese) simply by either buying them when needed or buying half-used sets from eBay.
If you do want to buy a "decent new set" that's not 500+ dollars, the Irwin-Hanson sets are alright, but QC wavers dramatically.
|End Mills||Lake Shore Carbide or Ebay for Metal |
Whiteside for general wood
|I've had decent luck with lakeshore carbide for cutting metal. Though if I'm honest I buy a lot of my endmills from "used" usa made stock on ebay.
For wood I've abused the heck out of bits from Whiteside USA and they've yet to fail me.
The caveat here is that I'm an absolute hobby machinist. When you get serious the game changes.
|Small Tap Handle||Starrett 93A T-Handle Tap Wrench, 1/16" - 3/16" Tap Size, 1/16" - 5/32" Square Shank Diameter, 2" Body Length||Tapping small holes can be frustrating. The taps are small and fragile. After breaking a few taps in a part I elected to buy a good tap handle. The Starrett 93A is a work of art and, well, does absolutely everything it's supposed to and nothing more.|
|Drill Index||SKIL 98029 Gold Oxide Drill Bit Set, 29 Piece|
Chicago Latrobe 118 Degree Conventional Point, Metric, 11-piece
|This is a good set that comes in a decent box. It's likely comparable to any offering in its class. I've owned it for a few years and the bits are not bad. My advice for drill indexes is to buy the cheap-but-good set to get all the bits. For the bits that you wear out (in my case the 1/8" has been replaced three times) use that opportunity to buy a good quality drill bit.
Likewise the Chicago Latrobe set is decent.
I typically just order my replacement bits from McMaster Carr and that seems to be adequate quality for general shop purpose.
Why did you make this and what’s in it for you?
Well, two things. One, I realized that I spent a lot of time researching good tools over the years and wanted to share my work. As many of us know tool ownership is a hobby in and of itself! I’ve bought tools not just for myself, but also for labs, hacker spaces, and heavy industry use. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I’ve not added any fluff to the list. If the price is too high on amazon I’ll mention it. Or if you can’t buy a good version of the tool there I won’t link to it. I’ve also listed alternate suppliers when I know of them. I hope that’s honest enough.
Lastly, If you buy something and it sucks please let me know: contact <at> gerritcoetzee <dot> com . I’d really like this to be a trusted go-to list 🙂
If for some reason you really really feel like you just have too much money there are other options: Gerrit’s gotta pay his student loans! Don’t be shy.
Or BTC: 1NPFLxVf3Wnn4bz8Tsm4XUfUhhmxHmtcak LTC: LMyHHS4RMXS4gZMSo7ozcA3NWyG2N6wuNQ