Let’s face it. The holidays are expensive. When it comes to gift ideas we at MAKE naturally advocate making your gifts because it can be a lot cheaper and, well, we’re MAKE. That’s what we do. But if you’re busy like us, there’s no way you’re making all your gifts. You’ve got to buy some of them. But fear not. We asked around the office for maker-friendly gifts that won’t break your holiday budget. And if you don’t get want you want this year, think about buying one of these items for yourself. They’re all less than $25. You’re worth at least that much.
Maker (and Budget) Friendly Holiday Gifts Under $25
Pocket Monkey $11.95
Perfect for fixes on the fly, the Pocket Monkey is a credit card-sized multitool that features 12 functions in one. This Monkey is TSA compatible, too, making it ideal for your favorite maker on the go! Screwdrivers, check. Hex wrenches, check. Bottle opener and orange peeler, check and check. Cute monkey shape, YES!
I've got a workbench full of cheap goggles, and when I came across these goggles in reading Matt Griffin's Skill Builder, they were an insta-buy for me. They're a little snug over my prescription glasses, but I sure feel safer with them on.
This is the caliper you never knew you couldn't live without. Precisely measures widths and displays them on a convenient LCD in either metric or imperial. The top nut lets you fix the caliper's position, while a thumb wheel allows for precise control while you only have one hand available. Not exactly heirloom quality, but hey, $17.
I imagine many makers, like myself, constantly refer to Google Images for resistor value sanity checks. Well, now we don’t have to - in addition to the colorful resistor value guide on the front, this reference PCB from Octopart also comes with common SMD footprints on the back. Handy!
Looking for an interactive gift that's fun to build and yields satisfying results? The LED Dice Kit provides clear instructions and all the parts to build a die that you tap on a surface to roll and light up. It comes in either red or green and provides great soldering practice for beginners and beyond. I soldered one up for a non-techie friend, and when I gifted it to him, he was impressed I had made it myself, exclaiming, "You're like a scientist!"
You know all those random, unsorted bolts you’ve scavenged from old products or projects? Well, it’s time to pick up a thread gauge and figure out what their threading is. Doing so will not only help organize your parts but make future buying easier as well. I can’t recommend one enough!
Evil Mad Science's clever Art Controller kit has a pre-configured ATtiny2313A microcontroller that controls a relay, allowing you to activate the relay on a schedule, or when a button or other trigger is tripped. All of this without having to learn programming or ever plug in the Controller to a computer. EMSL uses a series of DIP switches and jumpers to control timing and repetitions. This is just the ticket for aspiring kinetic artists (hence the name) who want to play without getting bogged down in technical matters.
I love taking my electronics apart, especially after conquering the annoyance of those tiny screws hidden deep in hard-to-reach recesses. The secret: this flexible-shaft precision screwdriver kit. Sure, it costs a few dollars more than a 20-spot, but the case stores 54 bits, including flat, Phillips, hex, square, Torx, Pentalobe, tri-wing and more — basically, anything you need for small project work. And it really comes to life when you insert the flexible shaft that lets you route the bit into tight spaces. With it, changing the RAM in my old MacBook became such a joyous undertaking that I bought a set of these for everyone in my family. It can even unscrew MacBook Air screws — don't tell Apple. Shhh!
There is absolutely no reason for you to own a plush 555 timer IC. And yet you must have one, if only to remind yourself that you are not the only one who harbors special warm fuzzy feelings about the 555. It's adorable, costs a measly sawbuck, and is named after the original inventor of the chip we all (that's right, all four of us) know and love so well.
Teensy USB Board $20
At $19.80, version 3.1 of the Teensy USB Board from PJRC comes in just under the limit. This update to the popular (and tiny) hardware development board includes more memory, a faster processor, and is now 5-volt tolerant.
Clip-n-Seal Bag Clips $6 and up
DL Byron of Bike Hugger makes all kinds of cool stuff, but his Clip-n-Seal has changed our pantry for the better. It's got an incredibly simple design, but it does what it does so well: creates an airtight seal on an open bag. I should start using it for my 3D printer filament as well as my potato chips.
Chances are you've heard of kombucha, a probiotic, cultured beverage made with sweetened tea and a SCOBY, a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast. But are you hip to kefir? Kefir is similar, but it's made with dried "grains" of yeast and bacteria instead of the gossamer glob used in kombucha. There are milk kefir grains and lesser known water kefir grains. I like water kefir because it's like making your own soda pop but it's a whole better for your than store-bought soft drinks. And it's simple to make—just water, sugar, kefir grains. It's ready in about 48 hours. What's cool about water kefir is you can flavor the carbonated beverage with fruit juice, herbs or spices and re-use the grains again and again. It's a makers's beverage that keeps on giving.
We're really excited about the publication of this book. It's a sweet little book that helps introduce the fun and promise of 3D printing to kids, but parents and kids will enjoy it, too. Children can make some of the objects from the book from the design files that author Carla Diana posted on the website for the book, LEOTheMakerPrince.com.
This is the first multimeter I owned. It lacks many of the bells and whistles (e.g., IR thermometer, autoranging, capacitance testing) of the expensive models and mostly just measures DV and AC voltage, DC amps, and resistance. When it made sense I upgraded, but I always kept this guy around as a backup. It's actually great for 90% of what you're likely to need for a basic project, and useful around the home as well. If the person you're buying for is just starting out, $8.95 is a pretty safe gamble! (The DT-830Bs currently being sold are yellow.)
The Mushroom Hunters — On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook $17
Ever since I learned that there are groups of nomadic mushroom hunters that travel up and down the California coast, gathering elusive, hard-to-cultivate mushrooms, I’ve been thinking about what that sort of life is like. Langdon Cook explores the mushroom hunting subculture in his book, The Mushroom Hunters, and I think it’ll be just the ticket to satiate my curiosity.
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See all our 2013 holiday gift guides here.
Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.
He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.