2012 Holiday Headphone Gift Guide from Nate Maher
... from Nate Maher
Looking for the perfect gift for that DIY'er looking to make the move from newb status to serious electronics enthusiast? There are many categories worth considering, but for the purposes of keeping this short and actually giving you time to do your shopping, we're going to look at three types of tools: flush cutters, wire strippers, and multimeters. Nothing is quite so frustrating as burning what little time you have available to get something done by trying to use the wrong tool for the job. I got lucky, when I started in DIY I found a great resource (previously mentioned in another one of my articles--www.tangentsoft.net) where the author took the time to layout several options for a pretty full set of DIY tools and equipment. That guide has long since expired, all of the part numbers have changed and heck, even some of the vendors have been bought and sold and don't operate under the same name anymore. So where to go to get some decent tools? My personal favorite is Stanley Supply Services. This is the reincarnation of the place where I bought most of my original tools and I still use all of them.
So what do you actually need? That's probably a decent subject for an entire article but you aren't going to get very far without the following: a pair of flush cutters (for trimming leads on pcb-mounted parts and other assorted wires and such), a set of wire strippers (obvious), and a good quality multimeter (indispensable). Sure, there are lots of other things, but I've seen far too many people cheap out on the basic stuff and get really frustrated trying to do something that otherwise would be pretty simple if they had the right tool for the job. Here are a few examples of what I'd consider good tools.
Xcelite MS54J Miniature Diagonal Flush Cutter ($18.90, part # 115-087)|
Diagonal flush cutters - Xcelite MS54J Miniature Diagonal Flush Cutter (part # 115-087). There are a ton of variations on this theme but Xcelite is my chosen brand and I've only once broken a set using it to cut aluminum plate (err, wrong tool for the job prime example right there). Figure around $20 for a good set, including shipping.
Stanley Supply product purchase page.
Gardner Bender GS-394 Automatic Stripper|
Wire strippers - I carry a quiver that includes: Ideal 45-416 Premium T-6 Wire Stripper (part # 411-017), Klein 11055 wire strippers (part # 457-263), and a Gardner Bender GS-394 Automatic Stripper, but you really only need this last one if you're going to be churning out cables. The first two really should have you covered. Figure around $15 for the small Ideal and $30 for the larger Klein.
Product purchase page at Tool King.
B&K Precisions 2709B Multimeter ($105)|
Multimeters - oh boy, this is one of those areas that gets DIY'ers all revved up and hammering on their keyboards. I'll simply state my position and if you disagree you are welcome to that position. I believe a good DMM will save you more money that you can imagine. So I spend money on them. Right now I use a completely overkill Fluke 189, but for years lived quite happily with a Fluke 73-III. I picked up the 73 brand new off Ebay for $75 (I got really lucky) and you can still find good used 73-IIIs for under $100. But if I had to make a recommendation for an affordable, but good quality new DMM, it'd be the B&K Precisions 2709B (part # 457-742) for $105 + shipping. Whatever you do, don't rely on the cheap $5 Harbor Freight (or similar) meters that some will claim are all you'll ever need. I have one. I use it as a fuse. On its best day it's within 10% of reality which is in not nearly accurate enough. Some examples are likely better than others, but if it's all you've got you may end up very sorry when something goes poof and releases its magical smoke.
Stanley Supply purchase page.