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What tools do find invaluable? Answered

Hey everyone, I'm doing a degree project about bringing product hacking more into the mainstream, something that this site does really well,but I've been wondering:

What do you find are the most valuable tools for modifying products?

What tools or materials are hard to find or source that would help you if they were more mainstream?

I'd appreciate any extra insight you could give!

cheers, Leo



8 years ago

I keep these handy:
  1. Dremel : I resisted buying for a long time, but what amazed once I got my first. Very useful.
  2. Metric + English tape measure : Pretty much use metric unless I have to use english units. Much easier when prototyping.
  3. 4 bit Screw Driver : Nice to have two phillips sizes, one day I'll 3D print a replacement bit that is 1 flat-blade and 1 torx, only need one of each.  Like the socket, also, lets me swap in other bits.
  4. Razor Knife
  5. Laptop CPU : With wireless, running Linux and Windows.
  6. Needle Nose Pliers :  High quality.
  7. Fabric Scissors : Really high quality.  Can be resharpened.  Makes my clumsy hands deft.
  8. Craft Vise : I use one for tying fishing lures.
Life would be easier if I could more readily get
  1. Small screw driver bits : Mainly for hacking electronics.  Radio shack sells a nice kit, but usually when you get all the sizes/types you need, the ergonomics of the tool has not been designed well.  More commercial competition would help this.
  2. Standardized Recharging : I own something like 12 chargers, counting the CPU, cell phone, tools, batteries, camera...  Industry DEFINITELY needs to develop some sort of ISO on this.  Make it so much easier to hack power circuitry.
  3. Storage Bins / Systems : This really seems like there is a inconsistency between producer and consumer.  Seems like it is impossible to cost-effectively produce systems that
    1. are large enough, ie Book shelf / Wall size
    2. have enough small compartments

8 years ago

For those of you that need a shop (portable!):


I started doing a "mini-truss" building method using 2x2x8 sticks.
People have been doing similar things like this for a while:


If you want storage, build a gridbeam wall shelving type unit or use my undrilled 2x2 method. You can make furniture or anything like this. Endless building ideas.
Ikea be damned :)

All you need is a good miter saw with high tooth count blade (60+), cordless impact driver and good glue gun with high temp glue sticks. Polyamide sticks are the way to go:

Drill press is needed if you want to make DIY gridbeams.
Lowe's in the US sells 2x2x8 premiums ($1.33) but also had Douglas Fir 2x2x8 for $7 each. This is if you want to make something REALLY strong.

In this age of financial scams and "engineered scarcity", you have to be able to go around the system and build your own future.

See also:


8 years ago

Tools I can't live without.
1. Mash hammer (99% of problems can be fixed by hitting it harder)
2. Instructables (Ideas, skills, inspiration= a dangerous combination)
3. 115mm sander (Angle grinder)
4. My family of welders MIG, TIG and ARC
5. Die grinder (Dremel)
6. Router
7. Bench sander
8. Drill press
9. 1/4'' Impact drill
10. Air compressor

Highly under rated tools - The small things that make life so much easier.
1. Safety glasses (saved my eyesight more than once)
2. Digital Verniers
3. Quality set square
4. Scribe
5. Quality set of screwdrivers
6. Quality socket set.
7. Metric and Imperial tape measure
8. Fixed blade knife
9. Good set of clamps (Sash, Bar, 'C', 'F', Vicegrips, and quickset clamps)
10. Automatic centerpunch

Tools I dream of.
1. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 bay for metal fab
2. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 for woodworking
3. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 bay set up as a paintshop
4. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 bay for working on the ute
5. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 to park the ute
6. Plasma cutter (maybe when the price is right)
7. Planisher (power hammer) (pipe dream)
8. 3D Router (Plans drawn up, sourcing parts)
9. Furnace (Under construction)
10. Industrial bench grinder with linishing belt. (when I have a shed to put it in)
11. A Shed, BIG shed, 1 bay to just sit and drink

your dog

8 years ago

I like my dremel tool for small projects, so I do not have to get a saw out. It also has a bunch of other attachments. Obviously, a drill is helpful, or at least a screw driver with a bunch of heads. It helps to have a cutting tool, a.k.a. scissors, pliers or a sharp knife. Paper is great for quick sketches even though I am not an artist at all. Internet access is fun. Finally, a hammer is nice when nothing works. Internet access is fun.

Helpful tools that I don't own:
CNC machine or a Lazor cutter!
More accessible vice
a furnace


8 years ago

Tools I find valuable for modding or hacking.

My computer
Leatherman Wave (used to use a Kick, Wave rocks)
Utility knife
Soldering iron for electronics
Flashlights (I do like Ryobi's little lithium powered flashlight, it's well made)
Heat Gun
my giant Hobart stick welder (I like my wire feed too, but the Hobart has so much power it's just fun to use)
I don't know if my forge or melting furnace counts
My truck Frank for carrying all my tools.
I like my Dremel Multimax, but it overheats quickly.
I also like my Dremel but it's out of commission, I need a new one.

Tools and materials that are hard to find.
Stainless steel sheet metal over 12" x 12"
Refractory that can survive 3000 F. I've obtained it over the internet before but shipping is murder.
A light saber

Okay the last three are just pie in the sky wishes.


8 years ago

Well, I prefer electronics over mechanic (but am going to put my hand to them soon so I can get my feet wet on the subject), and so my soldering irons (yes plural, about 5 pencil irons and one instant heat 120 watt iron), my "extra hands" clamps and magnifying glass, and of course my GIANT lighted magnifier (wasn't of any use 10 years ago, but my eyesight has diminished a lot since then), solder sucker and desoldering braid, the upright magnet wire spool holder I made from a rod from an old impact printer, and my work bench and how I wired it.

I have to include my recently acquired set of Torx ®  drivers too; helped me open many a "box" I was otherwise unable to open without damaging the box.

Ole bally

8 years ago

Leatherman! Absolutely invaluable!


8 years ago

I find these useful on a near daily-basis.

1. A sturdy pair of pliers
2. Dremel
3. Electric drill
4. Box-cutter
5. An orbital sander (Great for small woodworking, you don't have to worry about sanding you fingers off...)
6. Micro-screwdrivers, whether disassembling a VCR, or harvesting it for tiny screws, these are invaluable.


8 years ago

without a doubt the all time most useful tool i have is the drill press, followed by my yankee screwdriver.but i have loads and loads of tools and never miss or regret the opportunity to buy new ones which has to be cleared with my better more sensible (moneywise) half beforehand.

Nostalgic Guy

8 years ago

Tools don't always have to be enormously expensive, as long as they are well put together & you look after them they will look after you.

My DSL multi tool is seldom out of reach.
My Estwing hammer, they are not cheap by any means but when you are using it a lot you would be surprised how much difference it makes to have a well made well balanced hammer.
Glue gun, glue gun, glue gun.
Always have a good vice (vise for our American friends) & good clamps slippage costs materials glue & occasionally a knuckle.
My Rolson tape measure, its good accurate & clearly marked.
A good set square, if its not a right angle it is VERY WRONG.
My Stanley tool box, a decent sized strong portable tool box pays for itself (I do lots of stuff outside) with plenty of storage for fixings & small tools, hunting around at the bottom of a black tool box for a black needle file is frustrating GRRRR.
If you are not already a member join your local Freecycle or Freegle group it is amazing how often that hard to find item is sitting in someone’s garage unwanted & forgotten.
As for things that are hard to find.
Why is it that whenever I get to the shop ALL the pva glue is gone?!?!?!?!?!
Proper duct tape not the cheap clone stuff that seems to be turning up everywhere, it looks the part but I may as well use masking tape.
Why does nowhere near me sell real sash cord? I love the stuff I used to use it for everything; I even rode 80 miles with a sidecar held down with it once.
I agree with CrLz  on his point 3. storage bins/systems why can't someone produce something that is flexible enough to serve a multitude of needs that costs less than your house????
Your most important tools of all are.......
1. Your imagination.
2. Your willingness to get it wrong & learn by it.
3.Being able to talk to other people when you get stuck, another set of eyes can often make a potential failure into a great success.


8 years ago

Your hands and a search engine on the internet. If you have to take apart something, either someone has done it before or you can get plans, insight or details on how to approach it, see if it is feasible to do or not.

Money is nice but being frugal gives you the appreciation for hacking something that you need and probably wouldn't buy if you could do it yourself. It also makes you a more resourceful and creative person.

I think with the internet and mail-order, location doesn't seem as much of an obstacle on sourcing tools or materials. Cost and delivery charges may be a factor but I am lucky to be in a big city(NYC) where I can find things(mostly in NJ).
Lasercutters and 3-d printers, mass quantities of chemicals, electronic parts/kits are all out there but the truly resourceful can make do with alternatives.


Reply 8 years ago

And the house is filled with tools, odds and ends collected over the years. You never know what you might need.