Like any pursuit, to do the job right, you need to have the proper tools. Amateur radio is no exception. To do certain things, you’ll need tools that you may not currently have. Without them, you’ll seriously handcuff yourself when it comes to enjoying amateur radio.
You may already have a set of hand tools. Most homeowners, for example, have a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, a set of wrenches, and some pliers to make common home repairs. All of these tools will be useful for amateur radio work, but you’ll also need some tools specifically designed for working with electronics, including:
- Needle-nose pliers. Needle nose pliers are possibly the most used tool on the electronics workbench. They allow you to do things that your big, fat fingers just can’t.
- Diagonal, or flush, cutters. You use diagonal cutters to cut wire and trim soldered leads.
- Wire strippers. A good pair of wire strippers is essential when making cables or when you have to solder wires to circuit boards.
- Terminal crimper. You use the crimper to properly attach terminals to wires. Make sure to also purchase a selection of crimp-on terminals.
- Precision (jeweler’s) screwdrivers. Many of the screws you’ll find in electronics equipment are just too small to use normal-sized screwdrivers. A set of jeweler’s screwdrivers will have a couple of Phillips-head screwdrivers as well as several conventional screwdrivers.
- Hobbyist knife. This is the type of knife that modellers use. It’s just as handy in electronics work as it is in building models.
- Digital multimeter. With a digital multimeter (DMM), you can make voltage, current, and resistance measurements. It’s the most basic piece of test equipment you can own, and every ham should have one.
- Soldering iron or soldering station. Even if you’re not going to be doing a lot of building, you need a soldering iron to make simple repairs and build simple cables. Being able to solder is an essential skill for a radio amateur.
- De-soldering tool. If you do any soldering, there will undoubtedly be times that you have to de-solder a connection. Buy a spring-loaded “solder sucker” and not a hand-operated desoldering bulb. The spring-loaded units work a lot better.
Other tools that you’ll find useful if you intend to do a lot of building include:
- Anti-static mat and/or wrist strap. Many electronic components can be damaged by an electrostatic discharge. That’s why you want to use an anti-static mat and/or wrist strap. These drain off static electricity so that you don’t zap your electronics. Amazon, not surprisingly has a wide selection. You can also get them at Radio Shack.
- Tweezers. You need tweezers if you’re working with very small components, such as surface-mount devices.
- Table vise. You need a table vise to hold a circuit board while your building or repairing it, or to hold a connector that you’re soldering wires onto.
- Lighted magnifier or magnifying visor. If you’re north of 40 years old, then you need good lighting and probably some magnification. Some of the parts used today are very small, making the markings hard to read and making them difficult to handle. A magnifying light or magnifying visor makes working on circuits a lot easier.
If you’re really starting from scratch, you might want to consider buying a complete tool kit. Sears (yes, Sears!) sells many different electronics tool kits. Some of the tool kits include a digital multimeter and soldering iron. The nice thing about buying a tool kit is that some kits include a carrying case. Other sources for toolkits include Jameco, Sparkfun, and the Electronic Tool Box.
My own tool set has evolved over the years. I still have some needle-nosed pliers and some diagonal cutters that I acquired over 30 years ago when an electronics manufacturing company that I worked for took them out of service. I got a set of tweezers at some hamfest. The table vise I use is an el cheapo from Harbor Freight. You could do the same, acquiring the tools as you find them, but the problem with that is that they may not be on hand when you need them.
However you get your tools, make sure that you do get them or have access to them. If you can’t make a cable or perform a simple repair because you don’t have the tool to do it, it will be frustrating at the very least, and it could be expensive if you have to pay for a new cable or pay someone to make a repair for you.