Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: MAKE’s Toolbox Gift Guide

Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009:  MAKE’s Toolbox Gift Guide

All of us here at Make: Online have banded together to produce this guide. Each of us has submitted at least one review of a favorite tool, which hopefully, will help to inspire many of you who are still looking for gifts for the makers on your list. The tools are arranged in order, from the least to the most expensive, so you can scroll as low as your budget allows! Happy Holidays from all of us at MAKE!


Tri-Wing Screwdriver ($4 from Play-Asia)

If using this to get into my Wii remote and Wii Nunchuck controller (I used one for the Make: Television Roller Coaster Flight Recorder project) wasn’t already reason enough to love this little security driver, how about this: I used it again today to open and fix a corroded contact in a battery-operated Thomas the Tank Engine train! They’re also good for getting into GBA cartridges, the Nintendo DS, Zune HD, and a few other products. — John Park


Swiss+Tech UKCSB-1 Utili-Key 6-in-1 Key Ring Tool ($8 from Amazon)

With the Utili-Key on my keychain, I’m perfectly content dealing with most situations where I’d usually opt for a pocketknife. It’s so small, you’ll forget you have it with you. I’ve often forgot about mine until I’ve already passed through airport security. And at under $10, it’s easy to replace. The key unfolds to a very serviceable combination flat and serrated blade. It also comes with a bottle opener and various screwdrivers, including a Phillips head. — Adam Flaherty


Olfa Heavy Duty Cutter/Ratchet Wheel ($8 from Amazon)

I got turned on to this utility knife when it came in my starter art school kit, and I haven’t let it out of my sight since. The blade adjusts easily with the satisfying clicks of the ratcheting wheel. The blade sheath holds the sharp snap-off blade securely, providing optimal control over your slicing action through model-making foam board and heat shrink tubing alike. In writing this review, I examined the condition of my Olfa knife after seven years of continual use. Its handle bears only light surface scratches.The letters of my Sharpie-scrawled name now fade from the dense yellow plastic, once deflecting tool-thieving studiomates. I’ll very readily share any of my tools with friends, but I think twice before lending this knife. — Becky Stern

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Scotch Transparent High Performance Duct Tape ($8 from Amazon)

Oh gentle duct tape, boon to the tinkerers, the dabblers, the fixers of things since days of yore. But forget the classic silver or black, this duct tape rocks it colorless! And when it comes to wrapping gifts, cast aside the boring old Scotch tape, for now, you can wrap gifts with the real deal. Let songs of joy ring out throughout Nerdonia! — John Baichtal


Microplane Cutting Tools ($9 and up from Microplane)

Known as “the woodworking tools that crossed over to the kitchen,” Microplane has a wide offering of sturdy kitchen and workshop cutting tools, each made up of tiny, incredibly sharp planes. I have their classic grater, which works magic on everything from nutmeg to lemon zest to parmesan, transforming that hard lump into the fluffiest cheese shavings you’ve ever seen. They now, of course, offer zesters, spice graters, a rotary Parmesan grater, and even a sea salt shaver — I get giddy just looking at all the options! Whichever you get, it will surely have a myriad of uses. — Arwen O’Reilly Griffith


Zibra Open It! Package Tool ($12 from Zibra)

Only twice in my adult life has design innovation brought me close to tears — the extra legroom and a footrest I encountered on a TransPacific flight was the first. And using the Open It! tool to get through the clamshell packaging of a calculator, then opening a new CD with the same tool (and the same ease), was the second. Seriously.

Opening packages, whether its a new gadget for yourself, or something you’ve got to set up in your role as Santa’s helper, is a bear. Am I right? The plastic is tough and sharp! Those little wire tie-wraps are twisted into a mess and are always in those hard-to-reach places. Until now. Two women (naturally!) have come up with the Open It! tool, and suddenly, my holiday season is looking better already. The Open It! is actually five tools in one. These smart women even thought to include a little screwdriver to get into the battery bay of your toy/gadget/begging-to-be-hacked object. The clippers cut through nasty plastic with ease, and the bend in the clippers makes it easy to get to those wire wraps. There’s a retractable blade that easily takes care of DVDs and CDs, and if these features haven’t convinced you yet, there’s even a bottle opener. Cheers! — Shawn Connally


DuraScoop Original Cat Litter Scoop ($14 from Amazon)

Our two huge cats share a litter box, and we switched from pine (lightweight) to clay (heavy) litter when we realized that it spread around less (we have two young ones and our apartment is a perpetual mess, but that’s another story). Our local pet store carries several litter scoops, and I’ve tried and broken all of them. Plastic just can’t handle the strain; it was a constant source of frustration. So, I searched online and found the DuraScoop, which is sturdy metal, scoops a lot, and doesn’t bend and flick back. This product has made my life easier. — Paul Spinrad


Antex C/3U Miniature Soldering Iron – 15 Watt ($29 from Minute Man Electronics)

I’m amazed I haven’t found someone else who’s heard of these before. They’re great for intricate work, heat up in about 30 seconds, and they’re as nimble as a ballpoint pen (resist urge to do 700Ëš spin/flip-tricks). The slip-on tip installation left me doubting the iron’s durability, but after a few months of use, everything still stays put nicely. And hey, it’s yellow! — Collin Cunningham

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SK 73676 21 Piece Stubby Ratcheting Screwdriver Set ($30 from Amazon)

SK, formerly known as SuperKrome, makes a heck of a tool. They mainly focus on immortal socket sets, but they also make a mean ratcheting screwdriver. This small-profile driver (known as a stubby) ratchets like a Swiss clock, fits all standard attachments, and comes with a bunch of bits, as well as extenders to help you get at hard-to-reach screws. — John Baichtal

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686 Original Tool Belt ($40 from REI)

I really like tools I don’t have to carry. If I have to lug something around, it had better be useful. Lately, I have just enough patience for my wallet, keys, and phone. Needless to say, I was rather stoked when I came across this belt from 686. 100% full grain waterproof leather, double prong buckle with bottle opener, #2 Phillips and flat head, 8MM, 10MM, 11MM wrench loop, and a brushed nickel finish. — Adam Flaherty


X-Mini iHome Capsule Speaker ($25/mono, $50/stereo from ThinkGeek)

When my son gave me one of these capsule speakers last year, I thought it was cute, but didn’t expect that it’d become an indispensable part of my mobile gear. He gave it to me because it had become an indispensable part of his mobile life, and he wanted to pass the tech goodness on. Now I do the same. I use the X-Mini in hotel rooms with my iPhone, when I want to hear music “in the air,” in bed, with my BlackBook when I’m watching TV, and other situations where I don’t care to have earbuds in. Here’s the best situ, which just happened to me recently: you’re hanging out with a few people, at a little impromptu party, and somebody says: “I wish we had music.” You whip this little black ball out of your pocket, expand it, plug it into your phone or MP3 player, and fire up the tunes. Party joy ensues. ThinkGeek claims the sound is “shockingly huge.” That’s a bit of an overstatement. It certainly is impressive for the size of the unit, but it’s not going to win any fidelity or power awards. They now have a MAX Stereo version with two capsule speakers. “Oh son… guess what the old man wants THIS year?” — Gareth Branwyn

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Edsyn FXF11 Benchtop Fume Extractor Fan with Solder Spool Holder ($70 from Amazon)

Because we live in a small apartment, it’s important for me to not stink the place up too often. Here’s a gadget that helps me keep the fowl odors at bay, and also makes our air a bit less noxious. This extractor captures most of the nasty fumes that I produce while I’m soldering, and it looks so cool because the filter itself spins. It’s also much quieter than other fume extractors I’ve used, and it has a solder spool holder built in! — Brian Jepson


Swix FX Wide Ski/Snowboard Vise ($90 from REI)

My snowboard is definitely one of my favorite tools/toys, and I trust its maintenance and tuning to no one but myself. I take pride in my smoothly waxed base and super sharp edges, and the Swix FX Wide Ski/Snowboard Vise has added invaluable ammunition to my geeking. The C-clamps screw securely to my workbench, and the vise extends for working on a snowboard and contracts so I can invite my skier buddies over to work on their whips. With my deck secured in the vertical center slot, I can get down and dirty on my edge precision. It also features rubber grip pads that let me lay my board top down and get zen with the waxing, all of which adds up to big smiles on the mountain. — Goli Mohammadi


Metcal PS2E Soldering Iron ($100-$200 used from eBay)

One of my favorite tools, and one that I use almost every day, is my Metcal PS2E soldering iron. It heats up in a less than 10 seconds, maintains a steady temperature, and it came with several different tips. I purchased mine, slightly used, on eBay for around $100. It’s a great investment for any electronics studio. — Marc de Vinck

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Bosch Multi-X ($171 from Amazon)

We’ve been remodeling our house for what seems like forever. It was recently decided that one of the exterior doors needed refinishing. After struggling with a sanding block, I decided we needed something more appropriate for the job. Since I’m also always having to flush-cut something in some awkward space or grind down the odd nail, I decided to try out the new cordless Bosch Multi-X cutter/sander/grinder/scraper tool. I’m a big fan of any tool that can get multiple jobs done. I also like a cordless tool that can deliver real power. The Bosch Multi-X does both. It’s battery powered, so you’ll have to take that into account, but it more than makes up for it in portability. The tool ergonomics are great and it comes with a decent carrying case. — Adam Flaherty


The LT-XL Portable Office ($225 from Veto Pro Pac)

This soft toolbox is either the most magnificent box you’ve ever carried or the most ridiculously over-designed and over-built, depending on what your needs and expectations are. Because these are tool “bags” (not boxes), and because this particular one is sold as a “laptop bag,” I expected it to at least have some considerations for weight/portability factored into the design. Not in the least. I love the idea of a bag purpose-designed for high-tech geekery, for carrying a laptop, electronics tools, diagnostic equipment, repair manuals, and the like. This bag does all this, in spades, but load it down with all that gear, and it weighs a freakin’ ton! The bag alone, sans any tools, weighs 11 pounds. Add in my laptop, cords, chargers, computer repair kit, and a few reference books, and I can barely lift it, let alone carry it. But if you’re going to use it as an around the house/around the office luggable (which is really what it’s designed for), you couldn’t ask for a more indestructible bag and one with every conceivable type of pocket, slot, clip, and pouch. It’s designed to hold up to 75 hand tools on one side and all your papers, cables, and your laptop on the other. You can basically fit an entire mobile electronics repair shop into this bag. If you have decent upper body strength and a small tech domain you need to administrate, you certainly couldn’t ask for a more complete or well-designed tool carrier. For me, I’d need wheels on mine or I’d need to respond to that “90 lb. Weakling?” ad in the back of comic books. — Gareth Branwyn

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Brother Electroknit KH-930E Knitting Machine ($400-$800 used from eBay)

A Brother knitting machine from the 80s, especially an electronic one, is a true tank in the techie crafter’s arsenal. Be sure to buy one that comes with the complete manual and is in proper working order (never buy the “I found this in my grandma’s attic” one, unless you know a bit about repairing them). The KH-930E is programmable, although I’m still working out an interface for the on-board computer that doesn’t involve entering each “pixel” by hand. Beyond the programming, it knits intarsia (two colors), and lace, with relative ease. I don’t have the g-carriage, but it’s a little robot that crawls along the machine, knitting on its own. To see my Electroknit KH-930E in action, check out the QR Code Scarf CRAFT Video. With the ribber, it weighs about 70 lbs, and can knit a scarf in under an hour. — Becky Stern


Sherline 5400/5410 – Deluxe Vertical Milling Machine ($775 from Sherline Direct)

Another one of my favorite tools is my Sherline 5400 that I retrofitted for CNC. Also, I added a few extra parts to make it even more useful. It has a longer reach, thanks to the headstock spacer block on the column, and a larger table that I simply mounted to the stock table. It’s a sweet little machine! — Marc de Vinck


Epilog Mini-24 ($15,000 from Epilog Laser)

I’ve had an Epilog laser cutter for a few years now, it etches laptops, it engraves metal, now it cuts out plastic cases for an open source clock. It’s the multi-tool of the 21st century. We documented everything about them and a few dozens makers we know bought them and now have them in their homes. — Phillip Torrone

[Here’s some video of Phil’s Epilog Mini-24 in action, etching a Kindle 2. -SMR]


MDC 7722FV Pick-and-Place Machine ($30,000 from MDC Co. Ltd.)

This is a pick and place machine, it places tiny parts that you can’t even see onto a circuit board. It’s made in Japan, lovingly, by hand. It has two cameras to view and analyze the chips before they’re placed. It’s not cheap, but it’s better than trying to hand place almost-microscopic parts yourself. In a few years, this will be a pretty common addition to your local hackerspace and TechShop-like facilities. — Phillip Torrone

[Here’s some video of Phil’s pick-and-place machine installing SMT parts on a circuit board. – SMR]

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan