Getting in to a maker scene can be a relatively cheap hobby to get in to. You can do a lot with a few simple tools that are relatively easy to obtain.
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Some of the items are listed multiple times because they fit in multiple categories. Tools are not listed in any amount of importance.
A soldering iron is a very handy tool to have around. From fusing wires together, making a Gameboy Zero, to just reflowing a joint to making a xbox controller work again. You won’t get very far without a soldering iron. One feature that you definitely want is temperature control. Another strongly recommended feature is changeable tips. Having a power switch is a very good feature to have as well so that you don’t have to unplug it every time you are done using your iron. A stand really helps to keep from accidentally burning things we don’t want to burn.
- 898D+ Soldering + Hot Air Rework Station
- I have one of these stations and highly recommend it. I did not think I was going to use the hot air station as much as I do. I use it to strip boards for parts, to fix stringing on my 3D prints. Having both the soldering iron and hot air station is an added bonus. Brand names really doesn’t matter in this; every one is essentially the same. This is also one that you may find cheaper in other places like on eBay. It won’t hurt my feelings if you get it from there.
- Weller WLC100 Soldering Iron
- This is considered a mid-range soldering iron. Has everything we want and should last you a lifetime if you take care of it. I would highly suggest that you pick up an assortment of tips and/or extra fine point tips if you decide to go with this iron.
- Tabiger Soldering Kit
- This is about as cheap you can go while retaining all of our recommended features. It also comes with a few extra things to get you started like a solder sucker, solder (though probably poor quality), tweezers, wire strippers, some extra tips, and a case. If you are not going to be soldering a lot, this option would be adequate.
Hot Air Station/Gun
A hot air station is really good for people who want to do things with circuitry or even if you have a 3D printer. For SMD, a hot air station helps to heat up every lead and remove parts. This is how I remove components off a Raspberry Pi to slim them down for a Gameboy Zero build. If you are more going for 3D printing, I would lean more towards a hot air gun. It will do the same job. An added bonus with a gun is if you have an enclosure for your printer, you can use the gun much more effectively to heat up the enclosure faster. Before you print, just let the gun get up to temperature, aim the air in to your enclosure, move it around a little, and then close your enclosure.
- 898D+ Soldering + Hot Air Rework Station
- Yep, listing this again. Seriously, it is a good station to have.
- This is a hot air standalone version of the 898D. I would get this only if you have a soldering iron and would like a rework station but would also recommend getting the 898D+. You can use the soldering iron that you have as a backup. Plus, you can get the 898D+ for cheaper or maybe even the same price on eBay.
- Genesis Dual Temperature Heat Gun
- This includes a dual temperature heat gun. Great for 3D prints. Low temp to fix small stringing and high temp for heating up an enclosure.
- REXBETI Variable Temperature Heat Gun
- This heat gun can range from 140°F up to 932°F. Very good to fine tune the amount of heat that you want. Also comes with accessories and a case.
Helping hands are awesome. They hold items for you so that you can free both hands to complete a task. They can range for cheap, to expensive, to make (3D print) one yourself! If you decide to get helping hands with alligator clips, I highly recommend that you cover them with something small and soft. I have used the outer sheath of an ethernet cable and it works quite well if you can double them up. Wermy from Sudomod has said that he uses thread protectors to protect the things he is working on. I know you won’t need 100 of them, but you really can’t get just a few for a low price.
- Helping Hands with Magnifier Glass (Cheap)
- This is the helping hands I started out with. Great for small objects. While they do work, I had a very hard time keeping them in one place while I was working. I finally ended up putting a rubber grip on the base to prevent them from sliding around. Somehow weighing it down would help also.
- Hobby Creek Magnetic Helping Hands (Less cheap)
- This set of helping hands has 2 articulating arms attached to a magnetic base. Though it provides a lot more flexibility than the previous set, you need a magnetic surface to put them on. Adding on a weight plate to your order will fix this.
- QuadHands Workbench Mini Helping Hands (Middle child)
- QuadHands is a very popular brand for helping hands. This particular set comes with 2 magnetic gooseneck arms and a 4″ x 6″ base plate. The arms are movable on the base plate so you can get the perfect positioning. You can also purchase extra arms and a magnifying glass. Links to those are at the bottom of this section.
- QuadHands Third Hand (Better)
- This is the original QuadHands. It comes with 4 gooseneck arms (2×8″ and 2×12″) that are in a fixed position. You can not go wrong with one of these.
- QuadHands Deluxe (The best)
- This is the deluxe version of the QuadHands lineup. Featuring a 8.5″ x 11″ plate and 5 (3×12″ and 2×8″) magnetic gooseneck arms. This is truly one that should get you through most hobbyist project.
- QuadHands Magnetic Arms + Magnifying Glass
- If you purchase any QuadHands system, you have the option of purchasing more arms or even a magnetic magnifying glass.
- QuadHands Flip Circuit Board Holder
- This is handy if you are soldering on to small circuit boards. You can easily adjust the board to an easy angle to work with or even flip it over!
- PCB Workstation by giufini (3D printed)
- A highly versatile PCB workstation for smaller boards. You would need to source your own probes or alligator clips but still a lot cheaper than buying a setup. The added bonus is that you can build and customize it to suit your needs.
- Octo+ PCB Workstation by giufini (3D printed)
- A larger workstation by the same maker as above. Same attachments and everything. Still need to source your own parts like alligator clips or other probes.
- Wire Soldering Aid by Karlosek (3D Printed)
- A nice holder if you are soldering wires together. Simple and effective.
- Flippable PCB Holder by braincodec (3D Printed)
- A 3D printable of the QuadHands flippable PCB holder. You will need to find outside parts that are listed in the description.
If you need to remove a part of a board, you are going to need some way to remove the solder holding the part to the board. There are multiple methods to do this. The two main methods are a solder sucker and desoldering braid. Solder suckers are better for things like through holes and larger amounts of solder while braids are better for small amounts of solder, SMD removal, and cleaning excess solder off of a pad.
- Tabiger Solder Sucker and Desoldering Braid
- This is a combo kit of a cheap solder sucker and desoldering braid. This will work for entry level.
- Tenma Vacuum Desolder Iron
- This is basically a soldering iron with a solder sucker built in. This will be the one for most people because the next option gets really expensive. I highly recommend something like this over the traditional solder sucker because you don’t have to try to be quick to get a good seal before the solder solidifies. Prime the pump, place the iron over the joint for a second or two, and hit the button to suck the solder. I recommend also getting a soldering iron holder to place this iron in while not using it.
- Desoldering Gun
- This desoldering gun is for the people who will be taking stuff apart all the time. This has a vacuum pump built in. Place over the joint, let the solder melt, and press the button to turn on the pump. This is the most effective method but also on the expensive side.
- Desoldering Braid
- Soldering braid is one of those things that you need to find a brand that works. Look for something with flux in it because that will help you immensely. Place the braid over the area that you want to desolder, heat the braid with your iron until the solder gets sucked in to the braid, and remove the braid and iron at the same time. A larger tip usually works better with braiding. You might also want to find some heat resistant gloves because copper is an excellent heat conductor and can travel up the braid quickly.
Other Soldering Tools
Just some other odds and ends.
- Can’t do much with electronics without solder, right? The most common is 60/40 or 63/37 tin/lead with a rosin core. I personally like 63/37 better because it creates a better bond overall and has a less likely chance to have a bad joint. The other factor to solder is the thickness. You can get anywhere from 0.5mm up to 2mm in diameter. I prefer smaller wire because it gives you more control on the amount you use. This is also a thing where I believe brands don’t really matter as solder is solder.
- Soldering Mat
- Take your pick… I use this one and have no problems with it. It is a decent size and the holding area is rather useful if you are dealing with screws. These mats are generally made of silicone. Very heat resistant and useful for more than just soldering. You can drop hot materials like solder and hot glue on it, wait for it to harden, and peel it right off. If it gets dirty, just wipe it off with a little isopropal alcohol and it will look like brand new!
- QuadHands Wire Type Solder Tip Cleaner
- Comes with a magnetic base so that you can attach it directly to your helping hands base! I found this to help a lot that a free standing one because the free standing one has a tendency to move around unless I hold it in position.
- Thermaltronics Tip Tinner
- Tip tinner makes it very easy to tin a soldering tip that may have become untinned by any means. It is good practice to have something on the tip of your iron while in storage. You can use solder, or I like to just dip the tip in this, take it back out, and turn my iron off. This stuff will prolong the use of a tip and keep it tinned and clean.
Multimeters are one of those things where you can go for the cheap end and get very far with. More expensive models have more QoL or specific use cases. Things to look for:
- Etekcity MSR-R500
- This is the multimeter that I own. Has everything you would need. Continuity test with sound, hold button, and backlight.
- $10 multimeter at time of writing. Still has everything we need.
- Banana Plug to Alligator Clip Wires
- These are useful to have on hand. I use mine a lot when I need to hold one lead somewhere. Also useful if you are dialing in a buck converter.
- Neoteck 8233D Pro Autoranging Multimeter
- This is the multimeter that Wermy over at Sudomod recommends. It has everything we want plus auto ranging functionality, and also comes with alligator clips which are very useful.
Just some other odds and ends that I’m sure you will find use for at some point.
- Gorilla Full Size Hot Glue Gun
- Gorilla makes high quality adhesives. Their hot glue gun is not different. It comes with a dual temperature switch. The lower temperature (311°F) is useful for more delicate operations while the higher temperature (374°F) is used for better bonds. Gorilla brand refill sticks come in 20 count and 45 count packs.
- Gorilla Mini Hot Glue Gun
- Same as the full size, but smaller. The other difference is that this takes smaller glue sticks also. The come in 10 count, 30 count, and 75 count packs.
- Neiko 6″ Digital Calipers
- I use mine a lot more than I thought I would. While the are not entirely super accurate, they are accurate enough for my uses. The wheel is nice for getting precise measurements and the screw on top of the display box locks that measurement in to place. Comes with a decent case and an extra battery.
- ESD Safe Tweezers
- Really? Tweezers? Yep! Tweezers make thing a lot easier for working with small components. When I do SMD work, I like to tin a pad with a small amount of solder, place the component where it needs to go, and use tweezers to hold the part where it needs to stay while I heat the pad to attach the component.
- Utility Knife
- Useful for many projects. I found that I use mine way more than I thought. I know you can get cheaper ones out there but if you are going to use it a lot, the comfort of a more expensive one makes it worth it.
- Hakko Flush Micro Cutters
- Flush cutters are a great thing to have. These are meant to cut through soft metal such as small copper wires or cutting the tips off of solder joints.
- IRWIN Wire Strippers
- A good wire multitool should be in every toolbox. This single tool includes wire strippers for 10-22 AWG wires, bolt cutters, wire crimpers, and a looping hole. If you are using a smaller diameter wire than 22 AWG, I have found that just using your finger nails works just fine to strip wires.
- Kapton Tape
- If you are doing any kind of electrical work, you should have kapton tape. Kapton tape is made from polyimide film and usually comes with a silicone based adhesive making it very heat resistant, non conductive, and leaves no residue. This pack has an assortment of widths for the same price as the single rolls that I have found.
- Center Hole Punch
- A center hole punch is recommended if you are going to be drilling a lot of holes. This tool will create a divot to help keep your starting bit from wandering. This one is recommended because it has an adjustable impact so you can make the impact low for soft things like plastic or high impact for hard things like metals.
- Neiko 5pc Stepper Bits
- Stepper bits are amazing for drilling round holes in thinner materials. These bits will start out small and then ‘step up’ to a larger size. You can even use the very bottom of the next size to kind of round out the edge so it is not as sharp.
If you have any recommended tools, be sure to leave a comment below!