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Tools for Amateur Radio

This is an evolving table. I was recently asked about what tools a new ham should work on acquiring first and how to make the best choices for these tools. This is very hard. There are SOOOO many tools. Please advise if we have left something out. The criterion for this list is vague but I'd like to try to state the criterion and then see if we can stick to it.

Let's assume we visit a hundred different experienced-ham work-shops and pick the several tools which are common in most of them. Then we'll try to figure out how much we should spend in this tool or category of tool and what the best products are. Or maybe we'll forget all that and just scattershot this list down onto the nebulous bits of the Internwebs.

First rule of thumb. I suggest getting tools which are made in the USA, Germany, Japan. Pick tool companies which are likely to herald their brand name on all their products so you know who to cuss at when the tool goes bad too quickly.

Good brand names for hand tools. If not getting one of these, get better or get cheaper.
Proto, S-K Hand tool, Klein, Husky, Commercial Electric, Armstrong
Stanley, Black&Decker, Xcelite, and many other brands are all right but your millage may vary. I'd like to say that I keep track of the tools that are horrible but I'm not that good.

The total tool set listed here would be $1000 or more. Don't be discouraged. Once piece at a time. Your best bet as you start is learning what these tools are and do and where to get them so when you need them you can solve the problem. The worst thing to do is to need a tool but out of ignorance you go about solving the problem in some other, more dangerous, more destructive, or less reliable way.

While many hams won't lend out their primary set of basic tools, they are not unlikely to invite you over to use theirs, or to drop buy and help you with their tools.

Here is an ARRL book which discusses tools and goes into detail about how they are used and when you will need them: The Radio Amateur's Workshop

This list is in order of importance. Those who have an oscilloscope and no screw drivers go to the back of the line.

Here's the list

Please email me with suggestions or good links to helpful web pages on this subject or on individual tools. I'm also looking for brand recommendations for those tools for which I did not fully research.

Click to embiggen

Missing from this pic are the workbench, toolbox, socket set, and the SWR meters.
On the table but not on the list are the solder, hex drivers and pain scraper.

Soldering Equipment

  • Weller 8200PKS 140watt gun @ $27,
The 140watt gun is good for soldering wires together especially for attaching wires to baluns and making connections to heavy wire, braided wire and so on. Also, they are really safe to use since they cool down to below plastic and skin burn temperature a few minutes after the trigger is released. They require very little maintenance and can be stored for decades with high confidence that they'll work the next time.

  • Weller WES51 $95 Temperature Controlled Soldering Station.
The soldering station would be desirable for kit assembly. I use my soldering stations (one at work, one at home!) all the time but for some of the things I do with the station a pencil would work, eventually, crudely. The soldering station has several times the power of the soldering pencil so it heats up to solder temperature very quickly, but is safer than a pencil and potentially less damaging to what you are attempting to bond. Temperature controlled solder stations usually have nice holders for the iron, and only reach a temperature needed to melt solder (650 degrees or so). Many models turn off automatically when not used for a couple of hours. It actually can tell you haven’t heated up something with it and does an auto-shutoff.

Iso-Tip #7971 SolderPro 50 Butane Soldering Iron

Butane powered portable soldering iron. This device is under $30 on Amazon. It heats up fast and cools down fast. It can be pulled out of a tool-box to solder a coax connector (after you run the wire through the wall you need to put a connector on it else you need a much bigger hole). It can be used to solder heavy wire onto a balun or to do a splice at field day after somebody runs over your wires. Also cooks Creme Brûlée.


  • ToughOne Soldering Pencil < $8
—would fit many purposes, like soldering mike connectors and making hack circuits for whatever. You can get soldering pencils for as little as $8. My first ham toolkit had one of these. This is a phase to avoid if you can help it. The AC powered soldering pencil can roll off the desk when a cat grabs the cord and do much damage even hours after you forgot it was plugged in. Even though cheaper, soldering pencils are very needy and take care plus maintenance that the more expensive devices do not.


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