One simply cannot engineer without tools. These 25 are some of the most essential pieces of kit any self-respecting engineer needs to have to hand.
The following list is far from exhaustive and is no particular order.
1. Every self-respecting engineer has a good wrench
Wrenches are essential tools for any self-respecting engineer. They are vital for turning nuts and bolts, and are incredibly useful for any task that needs you to 'get a grip' on something.
Wrenches come in a few 'flavors,' with each type being more specialized than others; some are for specific tasks. They include the following but in reality, you'll want to have a collection of each (or get a decent set).
- Box end wrenches are perfectly designed for offering a nice firm grip on a nut or bolt. These types offer excellent leverage for the task at hand.
- Open end wrenches are the simplest of all and their flat jaws make gripping things in tight spaces a breeze. They tend to have two open ends which are usually of different sizes.
- Combination wrenches are, the name suggests, a combination of an open-end jaw wrench and box-end wrench. The open and box end tend to be the same size.
- Adjustable wrenches tend to be low-cost, and are the ones most widely used. They include the venerable monkey wrench and tend to work with both standard and metric fasteners. Most importantly the lower can is adjustable to fit many sizes of bolts and nuts.
- Ratchet wrenches include a ratchet action on one end that moves freely in one direction to engage the fastener in the other direction. Some have pivoting ratchet ends for working in tight spaces.
- Allen wrenches tend to be steel bars bent into an L-shape and are specially designed for hex-head screws and bolts. You'll often get these 'for free' with self-assembly furniture.
2. Jacks are great tools for lifting stuff
Depending on your needs a good jack will go a long way. They are great for anyone who likes to tinker with their car but has many other applications.
They come in a variety of forms.
- Hydraulic floor jacks tend to be in the form of small trolleys with one long lever arm. The take advantage of hydraulics to lift some serious weight.
- Scissor jacks are some of the most common and typically come included with your car.
- Bottle or piston jacks are also hydraulically operated and differ from floor jacks by being cylindrical in form. Their advantage over others is their small footprint.
3. Carry all your stuff in a rugged bag or toolbox
With all these awesome tools in your disposal, you are going to need something to carry them all in. Just make sure it's nice a rugged to take all the punishment it's bound to receive throughout its lifetime.
Whether it's a bag or box is a completely personal choice and will depend on the number of tools you intend to carry around.
4. A good trusty saw is a must
A good saw is essential whether you need to cut wood, stone, or anything else. They come in a variety of forms but generally fall into either the toothed blade or disk types.
Saws tend to come in specific sizes and shapes and can either be hand powered or motorized for maximum cutting power.
The good old fashioned hand saws are the most common and the simplest/most satisfying to use in our humble opinion. These are ideal for small tasks and wood cutting and, of course, living out your dream of being a 'proper' lumberjack.
Jigsaws are great all-purpose saws that are perfect for cutting awkward shapes like curves but can be used to cut straight lines.
Circular saws are power tools which come in cordless or corded varieties. These tend to be used for more hardcore cutting like masonry and metal cutting.
There are also band saws that are powered by a single motor and use a continuous band to cut through anything (within reason). These tend to be used for cutting meat, metal, and wood.
5. Jumper cables are always handy
Jumper cables or booster cables are great for those amongst you who like tinkering with cars.
Better quality ones tend to be able to handle bigger batteries, offer high-quality insulation, provide surge control, and are a good length.
6. A good quality flashlight is always a good idea
When you need to throw some light on a situation a good torch is invaluable. They come in many shapes, sizes and power but a good hardwearing metal cased one is always a good investment.
There are some good guides out there to help you narrow down your choice.
7. Pliers, enough said
Pliers are essential tools for any engineer to have in their arsenal. They are very simple tools by design and you'll want a selection of different types depending on the task at hand.
Pliers are ideally suited for plying (manipulating) something - hence the name. You'll be using them to bend or grip things, "crimp" wires, squeeze something or holding something that is small, sharp, hot, corrosive or anything that your fingers are too weak, too big, or awkward to hold in place.
As you'd expect they, like many other tools, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These tend to fall into the following categories:-
- Extra-long, spring lever needlenose pliers
- Regular needlenose pliers
- Slip-joint pliers
- Tonge and groove arc-joint (aka Channel-lock) pliers
- Locking (Vice-Grip) pliers
- Wire cutters/strippers - though most modern pliers tend to have a wire cutter near the joint.
8. Protect your eyes with some eyeglasses or goggles
With all the drilling, hammering, cutting and sawing you're going to be getting up to you'll want to make sure you protect your eyes from flying shrapnel. If you don’t want to permanently damage your eyesight you should get yourself a decent pair of safety goggles.
They come in a wide variety of styles but generally fall into the categories of full-face visors, safety glasses, goggles or foam line/sealed safety glasses. The choice is up to you.
9. Keep things level with a spirit level
If you want to make sure something is perfectly level, or vertical for that matter, you'll want to get yourself a decent spirit level. Although there are a plethora of smartphone apps out there, you might not want to get our phone dirty or risk damaging it.
Spirit levels come in various forms but good ones will generally have unbreakable vials with some form of magnification and luminescent fluid. You'll also want to make sure they have a low tolerance which should be specified on the device for normal and reverse positioning.
You will also want to make sure they have a strong profile weight, 500g/m is usually considered good.
10. Every engineer needs a good hammer
The hammer. An age-old tool with many, many uses.
If you are going to be hitting something, breaking something or assembling things with nails you'll need a good ol' hammer.
It's always advisable to buy a good quality one as they will tend to last a lifetime and are usually an excellent investment.
As you'd expect they come in a variety of forms depending on the intended task.
- A claw hammer (nail hammer) is the most common type and is superb for most hammer tasks like carpentry, laying floorboards, hammering or removing nails etc.
- Cross-pein hammers are ideal for furniture making.
- Ball-pein hammers (aka Engineer's Hammers) are designed for use in shaping metal, closing rivets and rounding off edges.
- Club or lump hammers are intended for use with chisels to break up masonry.
- Sledgehammers are the granddaddy of hammers as are ideally suited for demolition tasks like breaking down walls, doors or large slabs of concrete etc. They are also used for driving in stakes.
- Dead-blow hammers are specialized sledgehammers designed to deliver maximum momentum on impact to pulverize the intended target.
- Mallet hammers are specialized woodworking hammers used to drive or hit a chisel tap wooden joints etc.
11. You can't talk about hammers and not mention chisels
A chisel is a relatively simple, yet indispensable tool. They consist of a chunk of metal, usually with a wooden, plastic or rubber handle, that has a beveled cutting edge designed for cutting and shaping stone, wood or even metal. Chisels, like other tools, are ancient in origin and have stood the test of time.
They are primarily intended for use during pairing, joint cutting or carving out materials for many tasks ranging from sculpting stone to carpentry.
They come in a variety of shapes and sizes with some specialized for heavy-duty work like fence-building and frame construction which tend to have more robust rectangular cross-section blades.
They also vary widely in width, length and the hardness of the blade material. You'll want to have a nice selection of different shapes and sizes but a good chisel will last you a lifetime though you might want to invest in Whetstone, or other sharpening devices, to keep the cutting edge keen.
12. WD-40, need we say more?
Does it move? Should it? Then you'll need some WD-40. This amazing all-purpose lubricant is great for getting rid of squeaks to loosening stubborn but and bolts, and many more applications too.
13. Metal files are simply a must
For anyone who works with metal frequently, they will attest to the utility of a good metal file. They are unrivaled for shaving, rounding off or generally filing down anything metal in nature.
In short, they are an engineer's best friend and ideal for making that just slightly over-sized rivet fit. They come in a variety of forms and you'll want a nice selection depending on the task.
14. Measure twice and cut once
Need to measure a length of something? Make sure you have a tape measure to hand. Most are spring-loaded and compact so won't take up much room in your fancy toolbox or bag.
15. A good dust mask will protect your delicate lungs
From Asbestos to lead-based paints there is a plethora of airborne stuff out there just waiting to cause you harm. Why not get yourself a decent dust mask to spoil their plans.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends the use of a disposable or cartridge-type half mask who filter should be P100 rating.
16. Screwdrivers are another essential tool
Screwdrivers are another essential took for engineers. As you'll already know they are designed primarily for turning and driving screws into things.
They come in many different shapes and sizes but tend to fall into two main types -flathead and Phillips. As you'd expect you'll want a nice selection of them to cover most tasks.
- Flathead screwdrivers are the more traditional kind and are used to screw in slotted screws. These come with a flat blade that will vary in size depending on the slot size of screw.
- Phillips screwdrivers are the most common type of cross-shaped, cruciform, headed screwdrivers. Most heads taper at around 57 degrees and meet a point. They are commonly used for many tasks from woodworking, furniture building, electronic work, and jewelry.
- Pozidrive screwdrivers are an upgraded version of the Phillips screwdriver that has recessed flanks and angled like traditional Phillips screwdrivers. They tend to be more common in Europe than in the US.
- You can also find square recess screwdrivers for furniture building but these are more specialized than others detailed above.
- Torx screwdrivers have rounded six-pointed star cross sections and are commonly used for automotive and electronic works.
- You can also find hex screwdrivers (Allen Wrench) that are shaped like a hexagon in cross-section. Again these are commonly used for furniture building.
- Tri-wing screwdrivers are less common and have three slots radiating out from a triangular hole in the middle.
- Spanner screwdrivers are used with electronics, stall doors for restrooms, and elevators. These also tend to be used as accessories for power drills.
17. Don't forget to protect your ears
Why risk damaging your hearing permanently whilst tinkering away? Earmuffs, earplugs or headphones provide excellent protection and don't have to be too bulky.
Shop tools, chainsaws and circular saws can operate in excess of 100 dB and anything in excess of 85 dB is known to cause damage to your ears. Try to choose a set with high-noise-reduction rating (NRR) or between 23 and 33.
18. Get yourself a decent vise
Vises are an essential piece of kit for many tasks like cutting length of pipe, bending or shaping things or generally holding something tight in place. They come in either stationary or swiveling varieties but for heavy-duty work, you really want a forged-steel one.
If you plan to do a lot of cutting, its best to get a V-shaped jaw one. For moderate pounding choose one with an anvil on the back.
19. You can't go wrong with a good power drill
When muscle power just isn't good enough power drills can come to the rescue. They are very versatile tools primarily designed to provide powered assistance when drilling holes in stuff or driving screws into things.
They can either be cordless or corded and are ideal for drilling/screwing into metal, plastic, wood, brick, stone, concrete, glass and tiles. They will tend to come with a set of varying length and type of drill bits (more on those later).
They usually come equipped with a slip clutch that allows you to adjust the amount of torque applied to the 'business end' of the drill.
"Drills may have a fixed speed setting, 2-speed settings, or variable speed depending on how hard you squeeze the trigger. Variable speed is most convenient as it allows a drill hole to be started easier without the bit moving all over the place. Also, lower speeds should be used with larger diameter bits to avoid overheating the bit due to friction." - Dengarden.
The right drill for you will depend on the task at hand so you should do some research before buying one.
20. You'll also need some decent drill bits to go with that drill
Of course, any decent drill is useless without a good selection of drill bits. These, as you'd expect, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes depending on their intended use on particular materials.
In reality, you'll need a variety of some or all of the following. Here we'll cover the most common ones but note there are many other specialty ones.
- A twist is the most common form and is intended for use with wood, plastic and light metals.
- Spade bits (paddle bits) are designed for making holes in wood and other soft materials.
- Forstner bits are flat bottomed with a central point are for making more precise and smooth finishes to drill holes usually for decorative or aesthetic purposes in woodworking.
- Brad-point and Auger bits are designed for wood boring and chip removal respectively. They allow for deeper boring.
- Installer bits are specialized drill bits for drilling wood, plaster, and some masonry. They are generally used for installing wiring systems.
- Hole saw bits are used for drilling large holes for things like pipe runs or larger wire/cable pass-throughs.
- Glass and tile bits are, as the name suggests, specially designed for use with glass and tiles. They tend to be made of carbide to prevent chipping and cracking.
- Masonry drill bits are the strongest bits of all and are intended for use on hard materials like concrete, brick, and masonry.
21. A mirror on a stick is surprisingly useful
Whether you are trying to inspect hard to reach places or want to find a loosen screw during vibration testing a humble mirror on a stick is incredibly useful. They don't need to be anything fancy but one that can be adjusted at different angles is ideal.
Dentist type examples are fine or you could cobble your own one together. It's up to you.
22. Don't worry we haven't forgotten about duct tape
Ah duct tape, aka gaffer tape. The internal fix-all for any and all problems.
You should always have some to hand as you ever know when you'll need it.
23. A good quality utility knife will pay dividends
A good quality utility knife (Stanley knife) is indispensable for many different things. Their sharp and replaceable blades are great for cutting things like wood, cardboard or other materials like vinyl or plastic.
Put simply no self-respecting toolbox is complete with one. They come in various forms from retractable to fixed blade to breakaway.
- Retractable utility knives are great for everyday use with the blade being fully retractable when not in use. This keeps it sharp and, more importantly, safely out of the way.
- Fixed blade utility knives are better suited for heavy-duty cutting. The blades are secured in place and very heavy duty.
- Breakaway blade knives are better suited for less heavy-duty work, especially those where the blade is constantly dulled. Each blade usually has 8 to 13 segments to break away when blunt.
24. Don't forget some calipers
Tape measures are great 'and all' but you can't beat a pair of calipers for precision measuring. They can be analog or digital (digital are quicker to use).
If you find yourself using CNC mills, 3D printers, CNC routers or laser cutters, calipers are a must for ensuring your material dimensions in software are consistent with the material’s actual dimensions.
25. An air compressor is also A good idea
Air compressors are another invaluable tool in your arsenal. They are great for a variety of jobs from inflating tires to operating nail guns!
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They come in a variety of forms from large stationary compressors to smaller portable ones. Large stationary compressors tend to be high-horsepower monsters with large air tanks intended for long periods of uninterrupted use.
Smaller portable compressors have smaller tanks and tend to come with handles or wheels for ease of moving them around. Portable compressors tend to come in a few distinct forms.
- Pancake compressors, these have round flat storage tanks mounted to their base.
- Hot dog compressors tend to be horizontal in design with a single cylindrical tank.
- Twin-stack compressors have two horizontal cylindrical tanks. The stacked design adds air capacity without increasing the floor space the unit needs.
- Wheelbarrow compressors also have two cylindrical tanks and tend to come with one large wheel for portability.
- Inflators are the smallest kind and have no storage tanks. The motors need to run continuously to supply the compressed air and are ideal for inflating tires, sports equipment, and other small inflatables.
Whichever you go for they are all ideal for light, quick work like airbrushing and powering nail guns etc.