What Every Ham Should Have in the Shack

Previously, I blogged about what every ham should know how to do. On a related note, the HamRadioHelpGroup now has a thread on what every ham should have in the shack. This is actually a revival of an older thread; the original poster, Jean, W4TYU, is now an SK.

Jean wrote:

There are basic tools that a HAM needs:

  • small screwdrivers – both straight and phillips,
  • cheap set of jeweler’s screwdrivers for the very small screws in microphone plugs,
  • soldering iron- one pencil type and one heavy one,
  • resin (or rosin) core solder,
  • small pliers and diagonal cutters,
  • 6″ slip joint pliers,
  • sharp knife for cutting insulation
  • small scissors,
  • an inexpensive volt-ohm meter,
  • black electrical tape to waterproof outdoor connectors, etc., and
  • cable ties of various lengths.

Bill, AB9BC replied:

I’d add an SWR meter, and be sure to check that it’s appropriate for the bands you are using.

Tim, N9PUZ, adds:

  • A nice long tape measure to measure wire antennas, map out your yard, etc. I have one of those roll up style 250′ long ones that makes a lot of tasks easy. They don’t have to cost a fortune. Buy an inexpensive one at Harbor Freight or somewhere similar. You are going to use it a few times a year to play with antennas NOT try to earn a living with it.
  • Safety goggles. Wear them, don’t store them in your toolbox. You only have one set of eyes and a blob of hot solder, sliver of wire, or a metal filing or wood chip while cutting or drilling can really ruin your day.
  • A decent pair of wire strippers for wire up to about 12 ga. Yes, you can use a knife or carefully held side cutters (DON’T use your teeth) but a wire stripper will be so much easier. I like the style with fixed sizes rather than the adjustable ones. Any home center type store will have them.
  • A pair of “Vise-Grip” type adjustable, locking pliers. You can use them to
    hold coax connectors while soldering, etc. as well as all of the normal things you’d use them for.

I would add some kind of adjustable, bench power supply. This is NOT the supply you use to power your transceiver. If you have such a supply handy, you’ll find yourself more willing and able to play around with circuits. If you don’t have one, I guarantee that you won’t ever do any experimentation.

What else should every shack have? A selection of different fuses, perhaps? Different kinds of connectors and wire so that you can make up a cable when you need it?

Take a look at these related posts:


  1. Instead of electrical tape for waterproofing, rescue tape. Does not gunk up over time.
    A basic multi-meter is also usefull.

  2. I think a dummy load is also important…


    Also a small dremmel for project and also engraving you callsign in your equipment.

    Some rubber bands, you can use them with some pliers to hold something while you solder, just wrap them in the handles, it’s a good idea if you don’t have a small bench vice.

    That’s what I can remember… All the best from CU3HY merry xmas

  3. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    A different, but related list is what you need when going out in the field to work an event. When I go out in the woods to work a rally, I bring:

    - Spare fuses.
    - Extras of the 12V power connectors I use, plus a small coil of 10- or 12-ga. wire, for repairs or making ad-hoc harnesses.
    - A spare mag-mount antenna in case my fixed mount one gets damaged.
    - A spare PL-259.
    - A pocketknife.
    - Wire strippers.
    - Wire cutters.
    - Solder and a butane-powered soldering iron. (Radio Shack’s website sells a pretty decent one for a reasonable price; it’s really handy for antenna work, too.)
    - Phillips and straight-blade screwdrivers.
    - Electrical tape.
    - Duct tape.
    - A cheap DVM.
    - A good flashlight.

    I’ve used all of this stuff at one time or another, except the fuses. (Having said that, I’m sure I’ll blow one my next time out.)

  4. A dummy load. Also, a variety of connector adapters (SO-239/N-Type, SO-239/BNC, etc.).

    And an Elecraft K3. :-)

  5. I am amazed that a dry dummy-load seems to have become a tool of the past. I wouldn’t be without my old Drake model. If it went south, I’d even get an MFJ. 73 de N2UGB

  6. Paul and Dick, you guys are absolutely right about the dummy load.

    Dick, I also have a Drake 200W dummy load that I purchased about 25 years ago. I joke that it’s the only piece of Drake gear that I could afford back then!

  7. A decent small vise. Like a panavise. It keeps your work from skittering across the bench.

    Nothing worse than 700 degree freshly soldered PL259 sliding off the bench and onto your leg (or worse!)

  8. Mike - WM4B says:

    How about a copy of the most recent Part 97 and an ARRL Bandplan chart?

  9. Dennis KR8U says:

    How about every ham should know that you do not need to say “For ID” every time you unkey the mic or key. Your callsign after every transmission is also not required, once every ten minutes and when your conversation is over is the only time it is required. Thanks for the post.

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