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Today, we’ll take a break from coding and electronics to review the tools needed for your electronics workshop.  You’ll also get a peek at some of the tools in my workshop if that interests you!



They say that a craftsperson is only as good as their tools, and while that may sound a bit folksy, it’s essentially true. It’s also true that good tools tend to cost a lot of money. 

Fortunately, when it comes to working with electronics, putting together a basic tool set of reasonable quality isn’t going to break the bank. While you can certainly spend several thousand dollars on a large selection of top-quality tools, you can also get a small set that will handle most of your needs for about a hundred dollars.

Today, we’ll look at some of the tools you might want to have around your workshop.

Long Article – Please Read This First!

Here are a few quick tips in case you don’t want to read all 7000 words of this article:

In a Hurry?There are Shopping lists for Beginners, Creator/Builder and Service/Repair users at the end of the article (click links to go direct)

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Enjoy the article and video!

User Types 

To assist you in making the best selection of tools for your personal situation, I have created three “user types.” These “user types” are broad personality definitions, and you should be able to position yourself in one or more of these groups.

Beginner / Student

If experimenting with microcontrollers and electronics is new to you, this is likely your group. 

You probably don’t have a lot in the way of tools, nonetheless, you want to try and get by with just a small investment.  Perhaps electronics is just something that you need to do for school, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever do it again after you graduate. Or you might just be “testing” electronics as a possible hobby; if you like it, you can upgrade your toolkit later. 

You needn’t necessarily be a beginner to fit into this group. You may be a seasoned programmer or product developer who wants to work on microcontrollers and needs a few tools for prototyping.

Creator / Builder

The “Creator / Builder” likes to get their hands dirty (figuratively, anyway) and build cool projects. They know all the basics and appreciate that they will need some decent tools to create beautiful projects.

With that in mind, folks in this group are willing to make a small investment. They would rather purchase a few high-quality tools they know will last instead of a big set of lower-quality items.  Having used all the basic tools many times, these folks know how a good tool should feel and perform.

You don’t have to be a dedicated maker to fit into this group. Any electronics hobbyist who enjoys constructing the occasional item from scratch will be most welcome here. 

Service / Repair

You probably already have a decent toolset if you’re in this group. You can probably skip past the basics and get to the more specialized tools.

People who hang out in the “Service / Repair” group take this hobby pretty seriously. It may be more than a hobby; many lifelong technicians and developers fit in here.

If you need new tools, you research and buy the best; as you know, there is no value in cheap tools. 

Selecting Your Group

Don’t be dismayed if you don’t fit exactly into one group; few of us do.

Many folks fall into both the “Creator / Builder” and “Service / Repair” groups; personally, I think that is where I fit. I don’t really repair a lot of stuff, but I do perform a lot of custom installation work along with my electronics experimenting.

People who have been doing this for a while may feel they are in both the “Beginner / Student” and “Creator / Builder” groups.  Perhaps you’re no longer a beginner and want to jump into building bigger projects, but you also want to keep an eye on costs.

Between this article and its associated video, you should be able to determine what tools you need to purchase, if any, and what ones you don’t need to worry about – at least now!


We will start with one of the most basic hand tools there is – the screwdriver.

No one knows who actually invented the screwdriver or the screw. They were likely invented in the late 15th century, either in Germany or France. The tool’s original names were “Schraubenzieher” (screw-tightener) in German and “Tournevis” (turn screw) in French. As screws were difficult to produce in quantity, widespread use didn’t begin until the First Industrial Revolution.

Screw Heads

There are literally dozens of types of screw heads, Wikipedia has a nice list of them if you are interested.  The chart below shows the ones you are most likely to encounter when working with electronics:

The chart also shows the types of screws that are most commonly used in electronics assembly. It is useful to know these names if you are building a project and need to order screws.

Screw Sizes

Most modern electronic equipment uses Metric fasteners, as opposed to SAE ones.  

Metric screws are measured by their “M” size, with the number indicating the screw diameter in millimeters.  The most common one you’ll encounter is the M3, a 3mm wide screw.

The screw length is also in millimeters, so an M3-20 screw is 3mm wide and 20mm long (the length refers to the threads section and does not include the screw head).

Other common screw sizes you’ll run across are M2, M2.5 (a lot of Raspberry Pi stuff uses this size) and M4.

Selecting Screwdrivers

I will go out on a limb here, and guess you already have a few screwdrivers lurking around. Perhaps it’s one of those “all-in-one” combo-driver things that store bits (sometimes double-sided ones) in the handle. Better yet, a complete set of screwdrivers from your local hardware or “big box” store, with a selection of the most common types and sizes.

Precision Screwdriver Set (click to go to Amazon)

While I encourage everyone to have a set of general-purpose screwdrivers, you’ll find that for electronics work, you will need to also have a few smaller drivers in your collection.  Users in every group should pick up a set of small Phillips and Flathead drivers. Spend a few extra dollars here and get a good set, as cheap ones will wear the heads quickly.

Here is a set of small screwdrivers that I use. I like these as they have good-quality heads, and they also have rotating tops. This is very useful when you need to apply pressure to a screw when rotating it, a technique used to open screws sealed with thread sealant like Loctite. 

Security Bit Set (click to go to Amazon)

If you do service work, you will want to have a wide selection of screwdriver types, and the most practical way of doing this is to get a large bit set, one that has every bit imaginable. These are not that expensive, so advanced makers might also want to pick one of these kits up.

Multifunction Precision Screwdriver Kit (click to go to Amazon)

Service folk may also want to pick up specialized screwdrivers, such as security drivers or extra-long ones, for job-specific service work.  Beginner and creator types probably won’t need such esoteric screwdrivers!

Nut Drivers

If you’re a beginner or have no plans to do any assembly work, Nut Drivers fall into the “nice to have but not necessary” category.  

Metric Nut Driver Set (click to go to Amazon)

But if you are a maker or do service work, these tools are essential, as they make assembly and disassembly easier. Much easier than using pliers or wrenches in most situations (case in point- I don’t even cover wrenches in this article).

As most of the fasteners you’ll come across will be Metric, you must get a set of Metric nut drivers. These come in all sizes. 

Metric Nut Drivers (click to go to Amazon)

The ones you find at your “big box“ store may be too large for electronics work. A better place to shop would be a hobby shop specializing in RC vehicles, watercraft, and aircraft. The fasteners used in these hobbies are the same ones used in electronics.

Here are the nut drivers that you really should have; you’ll find sets containing some or most of them:


Screw Size Nut Driver Size
M2 4.0mm
M2.5 5.0mm
M3 5.5mm
M4 7.0mm
M5 8.0mm

An important feature to look for when selecting a Nut Driver is a hollow, or partly hollow, shaft. This is essential, as it allows the screw to extend beyond the nut.  This is why Nut Drivers are preferable to using socket attachments for screwdrivers.

Allen Keys

Allen Keys are also called Hex Keys; the term “Allen” is a trademark established in 1910 by the Allen Manufacturing Company (now owned by Apex Tool Group).

These rival screwdrivers as the simplest tools. In their most basic form, they are just a piece of hexagonal rebar bent at 90 degrees.  If you have assembled any Ikea furniture at any point in your life, you already own or more, although those are a bit big for electronics.

Once again, Metric sizes dominate the field, so you’ll want to pick up a set of Metric Allen Keys. You can also get screwdriver bits with common Metric Allen Key sizes.

One feature that I suggest you look for is Allen Keys with a rounded end, as shown here. This design makes it easier to work on a fastener at an angle, a situation you’ll often find yourself in.

Metric Allen Keys (click to go to Amazon)

This tool will benefit the creator/maker and service/ repair user types. Beginners won’t need to rush out and get a set of Allen Keys.

Pliers and Wire Strippers

Pliers and Wire Strippers fall into the “essential” tool category when working with electronics. 

Your “big box store” complete tool kit likely came with a set of pliers (perhaps a few styles) and some diagonal wire cutters. These are usually too large to use when working with electronics. 


When it comes to pliers, you should spend some time and make a good selection. Pliers become an extension of your hand, so selecting a well-made tool of the correct size is essential. If you have very large or very small hands, you’ll want to take that into consideration.

Tsunoda Needle Nosed Pliers (click to go to Amazon)

The most common type of pliers used in electronics are needle-nosed pliers.  These are available in many different configurations. You will probably want at least a straight and bent pair, no matter which user type you identify with.

Vampliers 5.5″ Precision No Serration (click to go to Amazon)

If you are a beginner, then a good way to get a good selection of pliers, and probably some diagonal cutters, is to purchase a complete set. If you budget about 30 dollars, you’ll have a wide selection of decent tools to do the job.

Tsunoda SPB-140 Bent Nose Lead Pliers (click to go to Amazon)

More advanced makers and service folks will likely want higher-quality pliers. A higher-quality tool is made of stainless steel or carbon steel and is precision-mad, with ends that mesh together perfectly. They will be spring-loaded, using either a spring or leaf (the jury is still unsure which one is better; I use both).

Tools of this caliber will cost 20 dollars or more a piece, but they are well worth it to someone who spends a lot of time working with them.

Tsunoda TM-06 Needle Nose Pliers (click to go to Amazon)


A special type of plier that will interest those in the service/repair group is the Vamplier. 

These are actually a set of pliers made by the Vampire Tool Company, and they sport a unique “clawed” design. This gives them the ability to extract screws even when the screw head is damaged, preventing removal using a screwdriver.

Vampliers 2-PC Screw Extraction Pliers Set (click to go to Amazon)

I own two sets of these, which have already proven their worth. 

Vampire Tools also makes conventional pliers, a few of which I own as well.

Wire Cutters & Strippers

Your set of pliers or your “big box” tool set may have come with a set of diagonal cutters, which are made to cut wire.  They are certainly useful, but other tools can also assist in cutting wire and removing its insulation.

Wire Cutters

Many tools cut wire, and some tools, like wire strippers and crimpers, have a wire-cutting function.  Which one is best really depends upon what wire you want to cut and where it is.  This applies to users in every group.

Tsunoda TM-12 Nippers (click to go to Amazon)

If you simply have a piece of hookup wire you want to cut into smaller pieces, then any wire-cutting solution, including diagonal cutters, will do the truck. All you really require is a sharp blade (be careful when working with any cutting tool).

Engineer NS-04 Micro Nippers (click to go to Amazon)

But if the wire is the lead of a component, then you might want to look at a pair of side or flush cutters or “snippers.” Electricians commonly use these, and they are quite inexpensive. Their design allows them to get right up against the circuit board. 

One cautionary note: when clipping those component leads, be careful, as the excess lead can often fly off at high velocity in a random direction. If that random direction happens to be the direction of one of your eyes, you could be seriously injured. A good technique is to cover the lead end with your thumb to prevent the lead from taking off; otherwise, wear eye protection.

Xcelite 170M General Purpose Shearcutter (click to go to Amazon)

Miniature diagonal cutters are also useful for this task.

Manual Wire Strippers

A simple pair of manual wire strippers is popular among electronics technicians. They can be used to strip insulation from most types of wire, and they also serve as wire cutters. Indeed, if you could only own one wire tool, this would be it.

But using one of these tools properly requires some experience, and without it, you’re likely to nick or break the wire instead of stripping it. 

Klein 11057 Klein-Kurve Wire Stripper/Cutter (click to go to Amazon)

A better choice for users of all levels is to get a set of dedicated manual wire strippers. These work with a range of wire gauges, and you may find that you need two of them to cover all the different wire types you’ll encounter:

  • A set for 20 – 30 AWG. This is what I would recommend to everyone at every level.
  • A set for 10 – 20 AWG. Beginners won’t need these; other users will find them useful.
Klein Tools K12065CR Wire Stripper (click to go to Amazon)

Don’t buy a “bargain-basement” version of these tools; there are many of them out there, and their price is the giveaway. They are not precision devices; they are made of inferior material and won’t last long. 

A good set (or sets) of precision wire strippers may be the most expensive hand tool you need to purchase, setting you back 30 to 50 dollars. However, they are well worth the investment and should last you for many years.

Automated Wire Strippers

If you anticipate doing a lot of wire stripping, perhaps as a maker building a giant robot, you might want to invest in an automated wire stripper.

Klein Tools 11061 Self-Adjusting Wire Stripper/Cutter (click to go to Amazon)

Automated is a bit of a misnomer; these are manual tools, but they have a mechanism to hold and strip the wire. Once the wire is inserted properly, it is stripped with a handle squeeze.

Klein Tools 11063 8-22 AWG Katapult Wire Stripper (click to go to Amazon)

These tools are best for low-volume production work, or anywhere you need to strip a bunch of wires. They are best used by advanced makers and installation technicians.


You may think of tweezers as grooming accessories or medical instruments, but there is also a category of tweezers manufactured specifically for electronics.

Precision Tweezers Set (click to go to Amazon)

Electronics tweezers are used with small components, like SMD chips and tiny microwave connectors.  They are made to disperse static electricity and are available in several jaw configurations.

These are essential for makers and service people working with surface-mount components. For beginners, you can omit a set of tweezers from your shopping list.

Soldering Tools

Soldering is an essential skill for anyone who wants to build and/or repair electronic devices. Even if you are just prototyping with solderless breadboards, you’ll run into microcontrollers or sensors that arrive without the pins soldered. 

It boils down to this – if you want to work with electronics, you’ll need to know how to solder. And, of course, you’ll need some soldering equipment.

Stand-Alone AC-Powered Soldering Iron

This is the classic soldering tool, with hundreds of them to choose from. You can buy them alone or in a kit with a stand, cleaning pad, and perhaps a few other soldering accessories.

This is your best choice if you are working on the go, such as a service technician or a maker who sets up shop on the kitchen table.

You’ll want to select an iron with a selection of tips, as we use different tips for different types of soldering.  Make sure to pick up extra tips when you purchase your iron.

Look for a 40-60 watt iron, preferably with variable temperature. This will heat up fast and allow you to work with different types of solder.

Soldering Station

A soldering station is your best selection if you have a permanent work area. As the power supply and control circuitry are kept in the base, a station iron is lightweight and performs well.

Weller WE1010NA Updated Model (click to go to Amazon)

A station generally consists of the base unit with a temperature control and indicator and a separate iron with a stand and cleaning pad.

USB-C Soldering Iron

One newer option is a USB-C Powered Soldering Iron.

FNIRSI Soldering Iron Kit (click to go to Amazon)

Earlier attempts at using standard USB for soldering irons were not very impressive, limited by the current capabilities of earlier versions of USB. But USB-C has changed all that, allowing power supplies of over five volts and higher currents.

Modern USB irons are lightweight, heat up quickly, and come with an assortment of tips. The key to getting them to work properly is to use a good USB-C power supply. Most manufacturers will either include a power supply or will provide suggestions for the correct one. Heed their suggestions, and your iron will perform properly.

You can convert your iron to a portable unit using a USB-C power bank, making this an ideal iron for automotive and marine applications.

I’d call it a great tool for users in every group, if you are a casual user it makes an ideal soldering iron as it can just be filed away in a drawer until you need it.

Butane Soldering Iron

Another option is to use a butane-powered soldering iron. There are many of these on the market, and they offer a few advantages over traditional irons:

  • They are portable.
  • They heat up instantly.
  • They can be used as a (small) blowtorch.
  • They can be used as a (small) heat gun.

Naturally, these irons require butane as a power source, and you should use high-quality filtered butane with an impurity level of 50 PPM or less. That will keep the iron running properly for years.

LEXIVON Butane Soldering Iron (click to go to Amazon)

This is an excellent tool for repair and installation people due to its portability and reliability.

Soldering Gun

A soldering gun is not an essential tool for beginners, but for most makers and service people, it could be considered highly desirable, if not essential.

Soldering guns have a lot of power, and they heat up instantly. Unlike soldering irons, which tend to be kept running, a gun is only used when required.

Weller 9400PKS 100/140W Soldering Gun (click to go to Amazon)

If you have a large area of printed circuit board to solder a big cable to, like a ground plane, then soldering guns can make quick work of this.  It’s also great for soldering wires to lugs and to work with low-gauge cables.

A gun with at least 100 watts should be sufficient for most people. Many guns offer multiple wattage selections.

Solder Extractors

If you are going to be soldering, then at some point, you’ll probably have to do some desoldering.  Perhaps you are fixing something and need to remove a defective component, or you might need to correct a wiring error when building a project.  Either way, you will need a way to remove solder.

Although electrical desoldering equipment is available, for most of us, it is too expensive. The “bargain-basement” type you can get on Amazon and eBay usually cause more trouble than they are worth.  The professional ones are very expensive, and some require a vacuum source.

Unless you are doing repair work on a large scale, I don’t think an electrical desoldering tool is necessary. But you do need a method of removing solder.

The classic method is the big blue (or black, for the ESD version) “solder sucker” or solder extractor pump. These have been around for decades and work pretty well:

Engineer Solder Suction Device SS-02 (click to go to Amazon)
  • Depress the plunger until you hear (and feel) it click.
  • Place the tip at the solder joint you wish to remove.
  • Heat the solder until it melts and flows.
  • Press the trigger button.
  • The vacuum should pull the solder into the extractor.

You’ll probably need to clean the extractor after doing a few removals. Open the tube and dispose of its contents. Make sure to clean around the rubber o-ring seal.

There is a smaller version of the same thing. Despite its size, it creates a powerful vacuum and is very effective. The tip is made of silicone so that it can be placed right up against the soldering iron tip.

If you are soldering, then a solder extractor is essential. I would mark this as something for all user types.

Crimping Tools

Another way of joining wires and attaching terminals is to crimp. Crimping is a purely mechanical method of attaching wires to a terminal or pin, compressing the connector around the wire to make a solid connection.

The most common reason for crimping when working with electronics is to make cables using crimped pins. Common varieties include the Dupont and JST connectors. Crimping is also used with wiring lugs. 

Although you can perform simple crimping using a pair of pliers, a variety of tools are available to make this job easier.

Do You Need a Crimping Tool?

Before you run off and purchase a crimping tool, you should determine if you really need one. 

If you make cables using common connectors like Dupont or JST, remember that you can purchase premade cables in popular configurations. These are constructed using automated equipment, so the crimping jobs are perfect, and they are also pretty inexpensive.

Most beginners will not require crimping tools. Repair and service folks may occasionally use one, especially if they do custom work. 

Maker/Creator users are the best candidates for a crimping tool, and they should make their decisions carefully, as the price range of crimping tools is pretty astounding. You can buy a set of basic crimpers for 20 dollars, whereas a set of professional crimpers with interchangeable heads may set you back over 2,000 bucks!

Basic Crimpers

There are several basic crimpers you can purchase.   Some are virtually worthless, while some are magnificent!

Avoid the cheaper units in this category; they give the rest a bad name.  As with most inexpensive tools, you get what you pay for, and tools in this price range can be challenging to use. They may make a passable crimp on 18-gauge lugs, but seldom work with Dupont pins. The jaws won’t align, and you’ll eventually repurpose them as a paperweight!

A hint is that if they are selling them in the checkout line of your drugstore, they probably don’t belong on your workbench!

Now, not all basic crimpers are low-end or low-cost. There are some excellent tools in this category. They are well-made and will set you back 30 dollars or more.

These basic crimping tools (in fact, most crimping tools in general) require a bit of practice before you can make good crimps. Expect to use up a few dozen pins when you first get started!

In most cases, with this sort of tool, you’ll need to make two passes on each crimp to finish it. This isn’t too much of a deal if you only have a few to do, but it can get tiring on a large multiconductor cable.

Engineer Crimper

A basic crimping tool that is a standard among technicians is the Engineer PA09 manual crimping tool. This beautifully crafted tool has a professional “feel” that sets it apart from cheaper varieties.

Engineer PA09 Crimping Pliers (click to go to Amazon)

This is an excellent tool for Makers who want to make their own custom Dupont cables.

Simple Ratchet

A ratcheting crimping tool can make more reliable crimps than a basic one. Once you fix the pin into the tool and start the ratchet operation, there is no turning back; the pin is held firmly in place and gets crimped in one pass when you finish squeezing the handles.

A simple ratchet has a fixed head with positions for several types of pins. You’ll need to ensure that the one you select will work with the pins you plan to use.

You can purchase a reasonable quality simple ratchet crimping tool starting at around 40 dollars.

Crimper with Interchangeable Heads

If you plan on doing a lot of crimping, if you work with a wide variety of connector pins and lugs, or if you insist on having top-quality crimping jobs every time, then a ratchet crimping tool with interchangeable heads is what you want.

Ratcheting Crimping Tool Set SIMILAR PRODUCT (click to go to Amazon)

Most of these come with a set of heads to accommodate various pins. You can also buy the tool and heads “à la carte”, so you only pay for the heads you require.

These tools start in the 150 – 200 dollar price range, so they are only for users who really need this quality of crimping tool.

Power Tools

The term “power tools,” as used here, simply refers to tolls that require electricity. Well, OK, tools that require electricity and aren’t soldering irons!

Drill Press / Drill & Bits

If you are the maker sort, then there is a good chance you already own a drill. You may even own a drill press.

If you plan on working on projects that require a chassis or if you do installation work, then a drill is mandatory. Also, there may be the occasional need to drill holes in circuit boards with very small drill bits.

If you have the space and budget, a drill press is a wonderful tool for a maker. I use mine all the time. If you do get one, I suggest that you enhance it with two accessories:

  • A Drill Press Clamp – As the name suggests, this clamps down your work to drill safely.
  • A Sewing Machine Lamp – These are magnetic-base LED lamps with goosenecks, perfect for your drill press.

Of course, not everyone can afford or accommodate a drill press. A standard hand electric drill is a fine alternative; any reversible variable-speed drill will work.

Drill Bits

You’ll want to get a few sets of drill bits. A standard set, of course, and a Metric set (if you’re in Europe or Asia, then a Metric set probably is a “standard set”).

Metric Drill Bits (click to go to Amazon)

Remember that we use small fasteners in electronics, so a small set of Metric bits is a good investment. You can also get very small bits for printed circuit board work.

If you get small bits, you might also want to invest in a “Pin Vise.” This is a small drill bit holder that fits into your drill’s chuck, allowing you to work with small bits.

Expansion bits can be useful when drilling plastic and light aluminum chassis plates. Make sure you clamp down your work when using them.

Once again, a drill or drill press is a real benefit to a Maker and can also be useful for service folks. Beginners won’t need one, although they are an essential “around the house” tool, so you may already own one anyway.

Hot Glue Gun

Another “maker tool” that is also useful to service technicians is the Hot Glue Gun.

Hot glue can be great for holding down components on circuit boards. It can also be used to hold down the circuit board or a bunch of wires.

Hot Glue Gun (click to go to Amazon)

I find it handy to have two sizes of hot glue gun, which necessitates two sizes of glue sticks. I find the tiny gun is more useful for the tiny boards and boxes we generally work on in electronics.

Once again, beginners, a hot glue gun is another item that is not on your shopping list.

Heat Gun

A heat gun is very useful for working with heat-shrink tubing or connectors. While it is possible to shrink those items with a lighter (or a butane soldering iron), a heat gun does a far better job.

Heat Gun (click to go to Amazon)

As most heat-shrink products require 90℃ or more heat to shrink, a hair dryer isn’t going to work very well. A heat gun looks suspiciously like a hair dryer, but please don’t get the two mixed up – the heat from a heat gun would likely set your hair on fire, and at the very least, it would cause serious injury.

Aside from its hair dryer-like appearance, a heat gun is pretty basic. Like a soldering gun, it is rated by its wattage, and dual-wattage heat guns are common. 

Most heat guns come with attachments to focus or reflect the heat. For most electronics work, you’ll just use the basic end, but a heat gun has many other uses, so they will probably come in handy.

Beginners won’t require a heat gun, but makers and service professionals will make good use of one.

Rotary Tool

This is a bit of a luxury tool for makers; most others won’t need it.

Rotary Tool (click to go to Amazon)

A rotary tool is essentially a small drill-like tool that accepts small grinding, cutting, polishing, and drill bits. It has a variable speed with a wide range and can spin much faster than an average drill.

This tool finds a lot of use in many hobbies, such as Jewelry making and Lapidary (the art of cutting and polishing stones, in case you didn’t know!).

In electronics, a rotary tool can be used for chassis work and is also great for cutting circuit boards to fit.  You can also get a drill press adapter to turn it into a rudimentary drill press, useful for PCB fabrication.

They often go on sale (as do their bits) and can be handy to have around. I’d categorize this as a “nice to have” tool for makers.  

Prototyping Equipment

You may not think of prototyping equipment as “tools,” but many electronic devices would never be developed or built without it. 

If you are a service or repair person, then you might not need prototyping equipment, as you mostly work with stuff that is already built.   But for all the other groups, it’s essential stuff. In fact, for beginners, it will probably be the equipment you use the most.

Solderless Breadboards

Solderless breadboards are essential for electronic experimentation. They allow you to hook up a circuit and test it quickly. If you need to make modifications or additions, they make that a breeze. 

Jameco Valuepro Solderless Breadboard (click to go to Amazon)

You’ll likely want more than one solderless breadboard.  They come in different sizes, and breadboards from the same manufacturer (and from others) can interlock.

You can also buy solderless breadboards mounted on metal plates, with banana jacks for hooking up external power supplies or test equipment.

While you can purchase bundles of breadboards and hookup wire on Amazon and eBay, I recommend you go for a slightly more expensive board. I have had great results with the Jameco ValuePro line of solderless breadboards.  They keep making excellent pin contact even after repeated usage. Cheaper breadboards will have often-used pins wear out, after which they make poor contact. 

Preformed Jumper Wires

You’ll also need jumper wires for your breadboard(s). Here, you have two choices: buy them or make them.

Making jumper wires is pretty straightforward and might be a good case for purchasing one of those automated wire strippers we looked at earlier. You’ll just need some 22 or 24-gauge insulated solid copper wire.  It’s a good idea to obtain the wire in different colors, as using colors to identify power, data, and other signals is a good prototyping technique.

Homemade jumper wires are actually the best type; you can also buy them pre-cut and bent at the ends. You can build a very organized layout using these jumpers, as you have the luxury of cutting them to the required size. 

These types of jumpers make the best contact, but they will oxidize after a few years and require replacement.  The solid wire can also weaken and break if flexed multiple times. 

You can also buy manufactured jumper wires, flexible wires with pins on each end. These are available in many colors and sizes and often come bundled with solderless breadboards.

The flexible wire is a bit easier to work with, and buying a bunch of premade jumpers is much less effort than making your own. That is the solution that I employ in my own workshop.

One disadvantage of premade jumpers is that they sometimes make poor pin contact after multiple uses. I’ve had more than one project that didn’t work due to a defective jumper. Be prepared to troubleshoot with an ohmmeter if this happens to you. 

Buying or making your own, I suggest keeping a good stock of jumper wires on hand.  You’ll also want to pick up test leads with alligator clips and banana plugs for hooking up external components, power supplies, and test equipment.

Shields, HATs, and Proto Boards

Another category of prototyping equipment is prototyping boards for microcontrollers and microcomputers.  These boards will be of great use to beginners, experimenters, and makers, as they simplify prototyping by providing all the host board connections in an easy-to-use arrangement.

Most of these boards are device-specific, so the ones you need will depend upon which boards you experiment with.  A few examples of these are:

  • Proto shields for the Arduino Uno.
  • T-Cobbler connectors for the Raspberry Pi 40-pin GPIO
  • Terminal connectors for the Arduino Nano series
  • Prototyping boards for the Seeduino XIAO and Raspberry Pi Pico series of microcontrollers.

You can also wire your own adapters using perfboard and hookup wire. This is a great technique for building custom tools to simplify a task you often perform.

Miscellaneous Tools

The following tools don’t fit any category, so I’m labeling them “miscellaneous.” Don’t overlook them, as some of them might turn out to be among your most useful tools.

Pry Tools

If you are a service person, you either have a bunch of these or you really need them. These little plastic and aluminum wedges and sticks allow you to remove the cover from laptops, tablets, and phones.

You’ll usually get these in a set, sometimes with other service tools like screwdrivers. The set will often include a suction cup for removing screens.

Pry tools are very inexpensive, and if you are a service person, they are very handy. Otherwise, you don’t really need them

Tie Wrap Tool

This is another “nice to have” tool that will be useful for makers and perhaps some repair folks.

Tie wrap tools come in several configurations, but they all do the same thing. They tighten and cut the tie wrap in one operation, usually by squeezing a trigger.

Tie Wrap Tool (click to go to Amazon)

If you use a lot of tie wraps or are working on a big wiring project, these inexpensive tools are very useful. Otherwise, if you only use the occasional tie wrap, you can continue to get by using pliers and cutters!

Nibbing (Nibbling) Tool

Although this was originally called a “nibbing” tool, it is more commonly called a “nibbling” tool. The latter is actually more descriptive of what it does; it essentially “eats” metal.

Nibbling Tool (click to go to Amazon)

This is a maker’s tool that is really very useful if you work with lightweight aluminum enclosures. Nibbling (or nibbing) tools allow you to “eat” away at the metal to fit items like AC power inputs, meters, and other things that won’t fit into a round hole.

Make sure to wear work gloves when you use this, as metal edges can be sharp. It’s actually pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it. I suggest practicing on some scrap metal first.

Nibbing (or Nibbling) tools are quite inexpensive and should last for years.

Tap & Die Set

Yet another tool of interest to makers, a tap-and-die set is great for those who do a lot of chassis work.

Taps allow you to thread a hole, which is useful when mounting standoffs. Dies let you thread a rod, which is not as useful for electronics but extremely useful in mechanics.

Tap and Die Set (click to go to Amazon)

You can get a large tap-and-die set with both SAE and Metric taps; however, most will be a bit large for electronics purposes. Buying a tap handle and some metric taps is a better and less expensive choice. You likely won’t need dies anyway, and this will save you money while getting you the tools you really need.

Chip Extractors

As their name would imply, a Chip Extractor pulls out chips – IC chips, to be exact. They are useful when extracting DIP-packaged devices like logic chips and microcontrollers from sockets and solderless breadboards.

This is a tool that will be of interest to those in every group, but especially beginners. A Chip Extractor applies equal pressure on both sides of the chip, allowing you to pull it straight out. Using a screwdriver, you risk pulling it out sideways and bending the leads.

These are inexpensive and often included in small “computer service” kits.

Plastic Tuning Tools

Plastic tuning tools are used in radio and television work, so they will likely interest those in the service and repair group.

Anti Static Ceramic Screwdriver Kit (click to go to Amazon)

These tools are used to tune torrid coils, transformers, and variable capacitors in RF (radio frequency) circuits. They must be ceramic or plastic so their own inductance doesn’t become part of the circuit during use.

If you don’t work on RF circuits, you may not need these; however, they have other uses. I use them to press the tiny pushbutton switches on many microcontroller boards; being non-conductive, they are ideal for this purpose.

Circuit Board Holders

This is something that everyone needs, no matter which group(s) you fall into.

Trying to solder or assemble a circuit board that is not held down can be frustrating. It can also cause you to damage the board, or it could even be dangerous if something moves accidentally when you are trying to solder it.

The simplest way I have ever seen of holding down a circuit board is modeling clay, like Silly Putty.  Press it down on the work surface (note that it might stain the surface) and press the corners of the board into it. Cheap, and it gets the job done.

If you want something a bit more advanced (and reusable), there is a wide variety of board holders to choose from.

PCB Holder SIMILAR (click to go to Amazon)

The most basic is the so-called “third-hand,” a simple arrangement with alligator clips and aluminum bars. Some of these add a magnifying glass to let you see what you are working on.  They are inexpensive, but they don’t hold a lot and can suddenly let go of the board.

An advanced version of the “third-hand” is made using gooseneck tubes with padded alligator clips. The tubes have strong magnets on their bases, and the set comes with a steel plate to use as a base.   The sets also come with pointed board holders; you can get other accessories such as clamps, magnifying glasses, or soldering iron holders. 

These are very well-made and work well – personally, it’s my favorite board-holding method.

Another device is the dedicated PCB holder. This inexpensive device clamps the board on two sides and allows you to position it at any angle. Great when soldering components onto a board.  The PCB holder can be adjusted to accommodate boards of almost any size.

You can also use a bench vice to hold down your work. A dedicated bench vice can be purchased at your lock hardware store, or you can visit a hobby store and get a small bench vice. Some mount permanently on your workbench, while others use a suction cup base.

The small bench vices are great, as most use a ball in the base to allow you to place them at any angle.  This makes working on your board a lot easier.

Bottom line – a method of holding down circuit boards and other work is essential for anyone working with electronics.

My Favorites

After you work with your tools for a while, you will inevitably come up with a few favorites, tools that you think are clever and useful.

Here are my two personal favorites, one of which can be had for next to nothing.

Air Blower

During the pandemic, I found it difficult to get compressed air in cans, something that I used to always have in stock in my workshop. I use it to blow out the dust from electronic devices, especially computers, power supplies, and anything with a fan.

Air Blower (click to go to Amazon)

I found an air blower on Amazon, and since receiving it, I have never bought a can of compressed air. It’s amazing and comes with a complete set of attachments for almost every application.

Mine is a corded model, but you can also get cordless ones. 

If you are a service person and your shop doesn’t already have a compressed air source, I highly recommend picking one of these up.

Extending Magnet

I have to confess, I have no idea where I got this. I expect it was probably at the checkout counter of a hardware or auto supply store back in the 1970s, one of those things they hang on a card and tempt you to buy while you wait in line.

It was a good buy, indeed. It probably cost a dollar back then, and I’ll bet you can get one for not much more than that. Maybe a fancy one for ten bucks.

What is this wonderful tool, you ask? It’s a magnet on a telescoping rod. A magnetic pick-up stick. Perfect for extracting those nuts and bolts that you drop into a chassis.

I have used this tool for decades in electronics work and around the house. If it broke (unlikely, as it’s a pretty basic tool), I would immediately buy a new one.

Do yourself a favor and pick one up. Maybe at the checkout counter of your local auto supply store!

Shopping List

We have covered quite a selection of tools. Let’s put together a shopping list that is right for you.

Shopping List – Beginner / Student

One of the great things about electronics is that the list of tools required when you are just getting started is pretty minimal. You may already have a few of these tools.

Electronics Beginners Tools Shopping List

Here is a list of tools for those just getting started with electronics:

  • Basic Screwdriver Set
  • Small Flat and Phillips Head Screwdrivers
  • Basic Straight Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • Basic Bent Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • Basic Diagonal Cutters
  • Basic Wire Strippers
  • Simple Crimping Tool (optional)
  • Soldier Station or Soldering Iron with Tips & Stand (optional)
  • Basic Solder Extractor (if soldering)
  • Solderless Breadboard(s) with Jumper Wires
  • PCB Holder
  • Proto Boards (optional, as required)

You’ll note that I made both soldering and crimping optional. Beginners probably won’t need to do any crimping, but if you have the need, you should buy a decent, manual crimper.

Soldering, on the other hand, is something you may be able to get away without doing. However, remember that modern microcontrollers and sensors come in a castellated pin design, so even if you just plan on breadboarding three components, you may still have to solder pins to them. Some adapters with Felxy Pins can get around that, but only for certain boards.

Shopping List – Creator / Builder

The Creator/Builder has the largest shopping list, but that is to be expected. In most cases, you’ll already have an impressive set of tools and are just looking for additions or upgrades.

Electronics Creator/Builder Tools Shopping List

Here is a list of tools for those who want to build electronics projects:

  • Advanced Screwdriver Set or Multi-bit Set
  • Small Flat and Phillips Screwdrivers
  • Metric Nut Drivers
  • Metric Allen Keys
  • High-Quality Straight Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • High-Quality Bent Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • High-Quality Diagonal Cutters
  • High-Quality Wire Strippers
  • High-Quality Tweezer Set
  • Better-Quality Crimping Tool
  • Soldering Station or Iron with Tips & Stand
  • Soldering Gun
  • Advanced Solder Extractor
  • Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
  • Heat Gun and Heat Shrink Tubing
  • Nibbing (Nibbling) Tool
  • Drill or Drill; Press with Assorted Bits
  • Tap & Die Set (or just small Metric taps with Tap Handle)
  • Solderless Breadboard(s) with Jumper Wires
  • PCB Holder
  • Prototyping Boards (as required)

If you are working on a specific project, you might need some additional tools, but this list should get most makers on the road to creating some amazing projects.

Shopping List – Service / Repair

As with makers, most people in the Service/Repair group already have tools. Many people with this experience level have many tools, well beyond what I’m presenting here. But if you are new to this group, the list may still prove useful.

Electronics Service/Repair Tools Shopping List

Here is a list of tools for those who wish to service electronic devices:

  • Advanced Screwdriver Set and Multi-bit Set
  • Small Flat and Phillips Screwdrivers
  • Metric Nut Drivers
  • Metric Allen Keys
  • High-Quality Straight Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • High-Quality Bent Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • High-Quality Diagonal Cutters
  • High-Quality Wire Strippers
  • High-Quality Tweezer Set
  • Vampliers
  • High-Quality Crimping Tool or Crimping Tool Set with Heads
  • Soldering Station or Iron with Tips & Stand
  • Soldering Gun
  • Portable Soldering Iron (Butane or USB-C)
  • Advanced Solder Extractor
  • Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
  • Heat Gun and Heat Shrink Tubing
  • PCB Holder
  • Air Blower

Of course, if you specialize in servicing or modifying specific equipment, you may need additional tools specific to the devices you are working on.


I started out this long article with the cliché “ a craftsperson is only as good as their tools.” I stand by that: without good tools, even the most gifted craftsperson won’t be able to do their best work.

There is certainly nothing wrong with searching for bargains when shopping for tools; some of these tools can be very expensive. Just try and avoid buying cheaply made tools; they will only become a source of frustration.

Think of good tools as investments. Buy them one at a time, whenever your budget allows, and build a portfolio of valuable tools, ready to take on any electronics task.

Happy shopping!


Tools for Electronics – Selecting Tools for Your Workshop
Tools for Electronics - Selecting Tools for Your Workshop
Article Name
Tools for Electronics - Selecting Tools for Your Workshop
A guide to the hand and power tools used when working with electronics.
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DroneBot Workshop
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