2013 was not a very big year for new tool releases, but there are still quite a few new tools and workshop products that caught our attention for being innovative, useful, or just downright cool. All of the following favorite new tool picks are particularly well suited for makers, hackers, hobbyists, and DIYers.
Klein's new multimeter is waterproof, dustproof, and can sustain drops of up to 10 feet, making it practically indestructible. It can measure voltage (AC and DC), continuity, and low resistance. If you need more measurement capabilities, you'll have to spend a lot more than $50.
Third-hand tools are useful for holding components in place for soldering. You can make a Loc-Line modular hose-style third hand kit yourself (here's the instructables how-to), but cutting, drilling, and tapping a solid base can be a hassle. SparkFun's kit comes with 2 complete arms and a tapped base plate that can accept additional arms ($2/each).
Flir released a new line of no-frills thermal imaging cameras earlier in the year, with the E4 being the most affordable at $995. We bought one, followed the instructions posted on the EEVBlog forum, and were successful in boosting the thermal sensor resolution from 80 x 60px to 320 x 240px! Here are some E4 thermal images from "before" and "after" the software mod.
Black & Decker's new LED Snakelight works great as a portable hands-free worklight, but you can also hold it like a flashlight. Also new for 2013 was the less expensive Kobalt Hypercoil at Lowes (review via ToolGuyd), but the Snakelight feels much more solidly built.
We have been watching Hyrel 3D with great interest these past few months, as they have been steadily enhancing their printers' printing and control capabilities. All of Hyrel 3D's printers work with any of their modular printheads, their latest software allows for simultaneous printing of the same part with up to 4 printheads, and their new fully-enclosed System 30 ($4,000+) features a built-in air filtration system and touch-screen control panel.
The new Dewalt 8V cordless gyroscopic screwdriver is controlled by twisting your wrist in the direction you want the attached bit to turn. The faster you twist, the faster it turns. The torque-limiting clutch and 2-position handle make it well suited for projects that involve a lot of small fasteners.
Stanley's 2x4 clamp will turn any standard 2" x 4" (1.5" x 3.5" nominal) wood stud into an adjustable bar clamp. Reverse the direction of the jaws and you have an adjustable spreader.
Beta's new 60-tooth screwdriver bit ratchet has a magnetic 1/4" hex socket that works with common 1" insert bit tips. It is exceptionally well suited for use in tight spaces, and is small enough to always keep out on your workspace. Craftsman's 41716 is a cruder but economical alternative.
While a little on the pricey side, Zebralight's new H502W LED headlamp is by far our favorite headlamp for electronics work and other close-up projects. The neutral white light doesn't play tricks with colors, and the broad uniform beam is easy on the eyes. We tend to use it more as a flashlight than a headlamp, and it's great as both.
SmarJars are a new modular storage bin system that pairs clear hinged-lid containers with pegboard-mountable docks. SmartJars were successfully backed in a late-2013 Kickstarter campaign, and we are hoping to see these hit stores in 2014.
Weller's new soldering irons feature a trio of LEDs around the heating element that help to illuminate components and wires as they are being soldered. The new irons are available in 15W, 25W, 40W, and 80W sizes, and actually work pretty well.
The Dremel Moto-Saw is a 2-in-1 saw that can function as a bench-mounted scroll saw and as hand-held powered coping saw. It is especially useful for making controlled and precise cuts in thinner materials, such as when making cutouts in plywood, plastic, or metal project enclosures.