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In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange, or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.


This week, for Earth Day, we thought it’d be fun to focus some of our content on repair. It’s actually staggering to think of what impact we could have on the entire cradle-to-grave lifespan of manufactured goods if we serviced them rather than tossed the majority of them when they begin to falter. Repair can be seen as significant act of conservation (of both material resources and your hard earned cash), as well as a fun way to learn about and maintain the technology in your life. To that end, in this Toolbox, I asked some of my maker friends what sorts of repair and maintenance tools and supplies they keep in their toolkits.

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For my own repair kit, I’m partial to my Stanley Glue Gun, a roll of duct and electrical tape, nylon zipties, a Wiha precision screwdriver set, needlenose pliers, Make: Open Sourcerer, Gorilla Glue, JB-Weld, and a basic home toolset (socket set, regular pliers, hammer, level, etc.). That’ll cure most of what ails you.

I also have a media repair kit I keep handy. I bought a decent, cheap plastic toolbox at Home Depot. In it, I have all manner of A/V plugs and cables, RJ-11 and RJ-45 plugs and cables, wire strippers and crimping tools, USB cables, all sorts of adapters, cross-overs, and the like. Every time I go to Home Depot, Radio Shack, and similar stores, I toss in a couple of bucks worth of these supplies (and try to find obscure connectors and adapters I might need one day). This way, I rarely encounter an A/V or computer connection issue that I’m not able to address.

Douglas Repetto, Dorkbot founder:

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“Z” Inch and Metric Fold-Up Set 12 Pcs, $10.17
#7324A18, Sizes: 5/64″ – 5/32″, 1.5mm – 5.0mm

From McMaster-Carr, a high-visibility hex key set with both metric and inch sizes in one package! Saves the day!

wd40 Toolbox: My little repair kit

Jay Koby, HacDC:

A wise man once told me: “If it moves and it shouldn’t, apply duct tape. If it doesn’t and it should, apply WD-40.”

That said, I keep a Philips head screwdriver, a flathead screwdriver, a *REALLY* cheap snap-knife (from the Dollar Store or Micro Center), and sometimes, security bits or a butane soldering kit. For software problems, I keep a USB key loaded with a whole bunch of anti-malware, optimization, and general cleaning-up stuff (but that’s another Toolbox, and another email.)

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Justin Sabe, Dorkbot DC, Dorkbot Baltimore, and former member of the gothic/industrial band Ego Likeness:

When I was touring with a band, my repair kit was a needle and thread, multimeter, soldering iron, electrical tape, misc power supplies, a handful of every type of cable end I could find, and some three-strand shielded cable. A obsessive knowledge about voltage, amperage and polarity of all power supplies will save your bacon one day. Most repairs are checking continuity on a cable (also making sure impedance was the same on all the pins for XLR) or voltage from a power supply. Occasionally, a cable would be fixed but more often than not, a break happens somewhere in the middle and you grab a spare or beg and borrow from the venue or another band. or hit a chain mega music store the next day on the way to the next town. DC power supplies can be combined in serial to increase voltage or in parallel for amperage if you don’t mind doing some wire twisting and finger crossing in an emergency. Stock up on 9v AC power supplies because it’s really hard to find one in Berlin two hours before doors open, after plugging it into good old EU mains.

sugru Toolbox: My little repair kit

Andy Walker, HacDC:

I’d put Sugru right at the top of my list, namely because it is a very flexible substance. You can even repair and enhance fabric with it. While I’m on the topic, JB-Qwik is almost as strong as JB-Weld and much much faster–cures in five minutes. I always have some on hand. For hardcore repairs, it’s hard to beat Lab-metal which can be machined and polished. Its high-temp variety can withstand temperatures up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Badass.

Of course, during all of this hacking, you’re liable to incur a few nicks and cuts, and there we turn to the old standby superglue (cyanoacrylate). Still number one in human repair and maintenance; bonds instantly to flesh and is completely painless to apply. (Editor’s Note: Make sure it’s genuine cyanoacrylate and doesn’t contain solvents or other additives that might burn or otherwise harm you.)

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Tim Slagle, Dorkbot DC, HacDC:

I bought a set of watch tools from Amazon recently that make it much easier to adjust the bracelets and change the batteries in my collection of power-hungry LED watches. I went for the cheap $10 kit, but they now have a deluxe model with case and spring bar assortment.

The $10 kit is cheap in both senses of the word, but it managed to do the job for me. I wouldn’t use it to work on a Rolex though, it is possible to scratch up the watch case while prying off the back.

I also got a spanner for unscrewing the backs of better watches, and a press for reattaching the backs, but I am a sucker for specialized tools (and LED watches!)

tape family Toolbox: My little repair kit

Josh Duberman, Dorkbot DC:

My friend Dave Abercrombie told me that good ol’ regular Duct Tape was passe, and gave me some Gorilla Tape. I think he’s right – this stuff is awesome!

I also suggest including earplugs in your everyday repair kit, to use along with the other stuff in the kit for external repairs, or just for some quiet time (internal repairs?). I recommend either Howard Leight MAX (a bit large for some folks) or Hearos Ultimate Softness Series. For reviews see here.

So, what about YOU? What do you keep on hand for repairs and maintenance?

More:

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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