What We Like in a Kit

What’s the ideal kit? For starters, it should be well designed, made, and documented. You can read our criteria for rating those qualities below. Beyond this, it depends on you — your interests and abilities, and where you want to take them.

Our favorite kits are ones that:

  • Save money when compared to buying a finished product, and make something of equal or higher quality.
  • Are easy to fix when they break, because you know where every nut, bolt, and component is and how they fit together.
  • Are fun to build, and teach you during the building process.
  • Elicit admiration when you tell people you built it yourself.
  • (Most importantly) push the limits of what you thought you were capable of, giving you a great feeling of accomplishment.

About the ratings

To give our reviews a common basis for comparison, we asked reviewers to subjectively rate each kit on a 1–5 scale for five qualities. Kits without a reviewer byline were previously tested and approved to sell in the Maker Shed store (look for the Shed logo).

Complexity

(1=Easy, 5=Difficult) Is the kit easy, moderate, or challenging to build for its most likely target audience? Kits clearly aimed at children would, for example, be rated differently from microcontroller kits.

Component Quality

(5=Highest quality) How nice are the components in terms of materials, design, fit, and other qualities? Well-made circuit boards, computer-cut plastic and metal parts, and other precision components add to the experience.

Documentation Quality

(5=Highest quality) How clear, complete, and polished is the documentation? Some of the best instructions, like from Makey award-winner Lego, don’t use words, so they can be understood by anyone.

Community

(5=Most community) How much of a community is there around the kit? Are there builder groups, online forums, circles, and meetups? Is the kit used in classrooms or after-school programs? Do the kit makers or builders have a presence at events like Maker Faire?

Completeness

(5=Most complete) How complete is the kit? Plans only? That rates a 1. Parts bundles and kits rate 2–5, depending on whether it’s just key components, almost everything, or absolutely everything you need, including any unusual tools.