Our first tool gift guide of the 2012 holiday season is aimed at makers, robotics hobbyists, modders, hackers, fabricators, and tinkerers. Here are 20 tools and accessories ideas to add do your holiday wishlist!
Did we leave something out? Share your own gift picks in comments!
1. PanaVise 301 Hobby/Small Project Vise
PanaVise is a leading name when it comes to small work-holding clamps and vises, with the 301 standard vise being one of the most popular vise configurations in their lineup. If you already have a PanaVise vise, there are a couple of accessories you could kit it out with. Or maybe it’s a good time to pick up an alternate clamping head to cover a wider range of your clamping needs.
2. Wiha Precision Screwdriver Set
As you might have seen the other day, we use a lot of different precision screwdrivers. And if they were all lost, broken, or indefinitely borrowed? This Wiha 8pc set is what we would buy first to replace them with.
This 8pc set includes 4 Phillips (#000, #00, #0, #1) and 4 slotted (1, 2, 3, 4mm) screwdrivers that tuck away into a handy canvas pouch. With the current price of $22, the value of this set is hard to beat.
Buy Now(via Amazon, $22)
If you’re looking for an everything-in-one set, the ifixit 54pc bit driver kit is also a great buy at $25 via MakerShed.
3. Big Gator Tap and Drill Guide Blocks
Big Gator’s tap and drill guide blocks are designed to help you drill holes and tap threads straighter than if you were to go by eye. They’re smaller and cheaper than the smallest and least expensive drill press you can buy, and are made in the USA.
4. Bondhus Ball-End Hex Driver Set
What do you mean the only hex keys and drivers you have are the ones that came with your last IKEA furniture purchase? If you’re working with socket cap screws, set screws, and other hex-drive fasteners, it’s about time you upgraded to a good ball hex driver.
Bondhus is the first brand of ball-head hex driver I tried out. Since that first illuminating purchase years ago I have since purchased many more ball-head hex screwdrivers, T-handle drivers, and L-keys/wrenches. Bondhus tools are made in the USA and cost a lot less than you might think.
Tools with the ProGuard finish offer the most bang for the buck while BriteGuard and GoldGuard finishes are easier to wipe clean.
Buy Now(via Amazon, starts at $12/set)
5. Xuron Cutters and Pliers
Xuron’s USA-made precision cutters and pliers are very well built and priced at a great value. They may be plain and simple in design, but they’ll help you complete your cutting and manipulation tasks with great results and without sore hands or fingers.
Buy Now(via Amazon, most are $7-15)
6. Oscillating Multi-Tool
With the right attachments, oscillating tools can cover many of your cutting, sanding, and grinding needs. That’s why these tools are often described as multi-tools. This is one of those products where you don’t just buy the tool, you buy into the accessories system. It’s a good thing many brands now have adapters that allow for near-universal blade and attachment compatibility.
7. Tool Storage: Craftsman Ball Bearing Chest
Digging through a toolbox is no fun, especially if you have it packed with hand tools. Drawered tool chests are more space-efficient and make it easier and quicker to retrieve the tools you need, even if you choose not to organize the drawers. There are many options to choose from, but I feel that 6-drawer ball bearing tool chests are one of the best options to start out with.
Craftsman came out with a special edition matte blacked-out version for the holiday season, and it looks great in person. On sale it will set you back about $220, and a matching 4-drawer rollaway cabinet is also available for about $280.
Buy Now(via Sears, $220)
8. Parts Storage: Stanley Removable Compartment Organizers
The better sorted and organized your parts and supplies, the less time you will have to spend digging around looking for the components you need.
Stanley’s 25-compartment organizer is one of my favorite storage products for small-parts and accessories. The newest shallow and deep organizers seem to be built tougher and can be connected to each other, but they offer fewer and larger bins than I prefer. When working on a project, removable bins provide for a less cluttered workspace.
These organizers can be stored vertically or horizontally, and when you store them vertically all but the smallest parts (e.g. #2-sized machine screw washers) stay in their respective bins.
Buy Now(via Amazon, ~$16)
9. Hakko FX-888 Soldering Iron Station
In early 2011, Hakko replaced the venerable 936-series soldering station with the smaller-footprint FX-888. In almost two short years the FX-888 has become an extremely popular model for through-hole soldering. And for good reason – it’s a well-built and high performing soldering station.
I used a simple 30-watt soldering iron from Radio Shack for years before moving up to the FX-888, and in hindsight I am kicking myself for waiting so long to upgrade.
Buy Now(via Amazon, ~$82-90)
10. Multi-Tool or Pocket Knife
Can anyone cut this wire for me? Remove this zip tie? Reposition that jumper? Do it yourself. A lot of makers are becoming more involved at hackerspaces, club meetings, and Maker Faires, and there is often work to be done in the field.
If you don’t have a multi-tool on your keychain or stashed on your belt, get one. They come in handy on-the-go but also at home and in the shop.
My current favorite keychain-sized tool is the robot-themed Victorinox classic Swiss Army Knife, but the Leatherman Style CS is a close second with its stronger scissors. Ideally, you should also have a full-size tool around for the pliers and more usable knife blade. With Home Depot’s Leatherman holiday promo set you get one of each.
Buy Now(via Home Depot, $30 combo)
11. ESD-Safe Nylon Spudger
A spudger is a multi-function nylon prying/picking/manipulating tool that I use far more often than I thought I would. I bought a 3M version from All-Spec, but there are many other brands available.
Be aware that ESD-safe and “non-conducting” are two different things.
12. Maker’s Project Notebook
Are you keeping a project notebook? You should. Moleskine, Whitelines, and MAKE’s Maker’s Notebook are all good choices.
13. Upgrade Your Wire Strippers
Too many makers struggle with cheap combination wire strippers. If you’re looking to finally upgrade, there are several good recommendations in our roundup of wire strippers and electrical combo tools. Clean results and comfortable handles make Klein’s Kurve wire strippers, model 11057, a great choice for anyone working with smaller wire gauges.
Buy Now(via Amazon, $19)
Sugru is a wonderful “hacking putty.” It’s one of those things that you never know you needed until you try it out for the first time. After that first repair/hack/tweak application, ideas will pour out of your imagination and you’ll be on your way to ordering your second packet.
Pliers and hemostats are toolbox essentials, but they can be a bit too large and rough for handling small or delicate parts and components. If you don’t already have tweezers in your precision tool kit, now is a good time to shop around. We reviewed a couple of models from All-Spec and found them to be of better quality than their low prices suggest.
There’s no need to spring for research-grade Swiss-made tweezers. For soldering and casual workshop use, look into Wiha, Aven, and Erem.
16. Black & Decker Gyro Cordless Screwdriver
If you’re not drilling holes and driving in long or large fasteners, a fully-featured 12V or 18V drill/driver might not be for you. The Black & Decker Gyro, which we recently reviewed, is an inexpensive and compact lithium-ion-powered cordless screwdriver that is well suited for light to medium duty needs. It does not have adjustable clutch settings, but that’s okay if you work carefully not to strip or damage smaller fasteners.
One more thing about the Gyro – it is built with gyroscopic controls, meaning it operates via the twisting motions of your hand.
Buy Now(via Amazon, $40)
17. Dremel 3000 Rotary Tool Kit
Dremel’s new rotary tools are more powerful and user-friendly than ever before, making now a good time to upgrade. The 3000-series rotary tools are a good choice for anyone new to Dremel. They’re not as powerful as the 4000-series (and upcoming 4200) rotary tools, but the smaller size and lower price of 3000-series models make them appealing even for frequent users that don’t need the extra power.
Buy Now(via Amazon, $69+)
18. Engineer Inc. Screw Pliers
Engineer Inc. screw pliers should not be the only pliers in your toolbox, nor should it be the second one you own. Or the third or the fourth. These pliers will make working with smaller screws and fasteners a heck of a lot easier, but it is still somewhat of a specialty tool.
There is a danger in trying them out – once you examine the great build quality and feel the handles the first time you use them you will be hankering to buy more Engineer Inc. tools.
19. Soft Faced Hammer or Mallet
Are you the type of person that uses a 16-ounce claw hammer for everything? Steel claw hammers are meant for driving in nails. For nudging plastic panels together, installing press-fit parts, and general light duty assembly tasks a plastic or non-marring hammer or mallet is the way to go.
I find 8-ounces to be a good weight for general all-around usage, but also have 12oz and 24oz models always at the ready if I need a little more persuasion in my swing.
Buy Now(via Amazon, $17.50)
20. Craftsman LED Lighted Multi-Bit Screwdriver
Craftsman recently came out with a lighted screwdriver. While this seems like a gimmicky combination of features, it is actually quite handy for working in dark places (such as an under-the-desk computer case that has a disk drive vibrating out of control), where a headlamp might be impractical.
Buy Now(via Sears, ~$13)