Podcast - Adam Savage Project

Building an Inexpensive Toolkit for Beginners

This week, Adam, Will, and Norm discuss the tools they’d put in a toolkit for beginning makers, if they were on a budget. Also, spacesuits. If you want to see the complete list of tools, it’s at: http://tested.com/toolkit.

Comments (56)

56 thoughts on “Building an Inexpensive Toolkit for Beginners

  1. Two things that you didn’t mention that I have found INCREDIBLY useful for all sorts of things are zip ties and vice grips.

    Zip ties even just the cheap plastic jar thing of 5 different sizes/colours you get at whatever big chain hardware store you have locally are super handy.

    Vice grips cheap is also fine. If you don’t know what they are they look like this http://yourfixitshop.org/media/vise$20grip.jpg

    I have used vice grips for everything including clamping things, picking up/holding hot metal while working it, holding bolts while grinding them down on a bench grinder, undoing stripped/siezed/wierdly sized bolts, bending sheet metal, EVERYTHING.

    Hell, I’ve even used them as a hammer in a pinch.

  2. As a 24 year old guy who just bought his first house and putting together his first tool box, this was awesome!

  3. crowbars are awesome.

    If you’re talking larger stuff a sledgehammer is a surprisingly versatile tool. Even when you don’t want to smash something the large mass means you don’t have to swing it much to get a decent amount of force. Can be surprisingly useful in tight spaces where you can’t swing a normal hammer properly.

  4. So have the Mythbuster guys bought this website or something? Every article completely centers around them now. One day, no Mythbusters anywhere. Next day, everything is about Adam Savage.

  5. I think the book is Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de de Monchaux published by the MIT Press.

  6. I never had to buy tools I’ve got my grandpa and dad’s tools I don’t even know what some of them are

  7. Great episode!

    One of my favorites is a propane torch. Screws right onto the top of those little propane bottles. Even the cheap ones are super handy.

  8. Once again, a great show that tells and teaches a ton of info. Several great ideas to add to our home box. Also is anyone going to make a “Adam Burp reel”? I find myself waiting as the show progress to get my fix. Always awesome!

  9. I keep a pair of Knipex cutters with my saltwater tackle to cut hooks and leaders and my GF uses them for her silk floral arrangements.

  10. haha yeah when they do make a mess of something, they definitely make a REAL mess of it. I suppose the idea would generally be at the point you are using vice grips you have tried pretty much everything else short of a torch and punch.

    For that matter a punch isn’t a bad tool to have.

  11. an important thing to keep in mind is lighting. i have a 300 watt halogen light that gets worryingly hot but it is so bright (my mum moans that it costs £££ per munite)

    with power tools a good thing to do is buy a good compressor and get air tools. they are cheap and can run for hours on end with no risk of burning out.also the cheap die grinders make nice motors to power projects.

  12. every job or project makes a mess get a shop vac it just works better then your home vac and always look at reviews for power tools and big purchases always buy the best you can afford most good tools will last a very long time cheap ones do not as far as power tools go and always remember tools and knowing how to use them can put food on the table

  13. if you are left handed, you’ll find that the standard xacto knife’s knurled section will unscrew when you are using it and the blade will fall out. to defeat this, buy the xacto gripster model. it has the screw mechanism on the opposite end of the device and doesn’t interrupt your maker zen.

  14. Adam,
    Please oh Please do a show on those incrediable toolboxes you made, loved the articale but I want to see more of those tool boxes.

  15. I’ve frequently used hammers that were bought by my great-grandfather (or possible even made on their farm), better than anything I can get at most hardware stores these days. Nice and heavy, but no claw.

  16. comment about drilling out 3mm screw reminded me. Get a tap and die set varies in price from $20 to $100’s – also secret ive found to get greasy residues from projects –SHAMPOO– its soft non abrasive and works wonders. and Fiskars scissors pricey but they are so worth the outlay.

  17. That would be his Alien cosplay suit if I am not mistaken

    i have been wondering for a while…the black suit in the background? is it a stillsuit from dune? or am i imagining this?

  18. The one tool I wouldn’t be without is just a plain simple folding and locking pocket knife, preferably with a partial serrated edge. Leathermans are great and all but I just find them to big, bulky and clumsy when all you need is a quick or precise cut. With that said a good sharpening stone is invaluable as well.

  19. Brilliant podcast once again!

    Me and my father love tools, and whenever possible we take a hike down to the local chain hardware and tool store just to have a look. One rule we live by is when we need a tool, we buy it.

    How we evaluate our purchase is the frequency which we will intend on using it, the we weigh up if we spring money for either the cheap one or the expensive one. Generally if we buy the Cheapy tool and we end up using them so much they blow up, then we will replace it with a better quality one.

    I really do appreciate how cheap tools have allowed us to have everything we need!

    My word of advice, if you are working with steel alot don’t buy the cheap drill bits, they will cause more heart ache then they are worth.

    A recent job required me to drill an odd sized hole. I purchased the cheapest HSS drill bit possible $3 ea, I thought hey I’ll buy three then I will have two spare (going off previous advice Adam gave!), I went through all three in the first 5 holes (out of 20) and it took me about half an hour to drill those holes. I went back to the store and bought a Cobalt one which was $15. Went home drilled the other 15 in 10 minutes, and the drill was still sharp as a knife.

    Thanks again guys! Awesome work!

  20. One of the basic tools I always use is fishing line. durable, cheap, cuts really soft things, melts easily, ties things quite nicely.

  21. I have to say this was another fun episode to listen to. In our house my husband has a pile (literally) of tools in the basement/shed/other areas of the house. I tend to collect *my* tools into my tool bag or at least my general work area.

    I can say that much of what Adam mentioned, we have. In order to get some of the more expenseive good power tools (drills, miter saw, etc) we hit up some of the local pawn shops. You can get crazy good deals on used tools most of the time. Our shops will even let you test them out to make sure they work correctly.

    Another good thing to invest in is a good set of drill bits. Learning from much experience, don’t buy the cheap ones because you will be buying them again after a few uses. Spend the $50 and get the good ones. Sears during Black Friday is a GREAT place to pick up these small accessories for minimal cost.

    A good quality hammer is also another good investment as well as some sturdy work gloves. I’m partial to the Craftsman leather and canvas work gloves for most projects that require them. Also get some safety glasses. You can pick these up for fairly cheap at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc. Safety first in the shop.

  22. A De-soldering pump is essential for tiny circuits. Even if the pump is big and clunky and doesn’t look precise it should get the solder up! It was essential recently in a laptop DC jack repair.

    Also Tie wraps and use a tie wrap to tightly hold together all your tie wraps in a bundle. Just pull from the bundle when you need one 🙂

  23. no picture, but we have started building up personal toolkits for our two boys (ages 6 and 9). So far they have basics (a toolbox, a handsaw, a reciprocating saw, a cordless drill, hammer, tape measure, drill bits, screw drivers, and some wrenches and pliers). They are so proud of having their own tool boxes and are ready to help their mommy and daddy build a new dog house for their doggies! (mommy’s tool boxes have a fair bit more in them, so I don;t have to steal my husband;s tools every time I need to fix something around the house)

  24. If you want high quality hand tools for cheap…old American, Swedish, and German forged steel is where it’s at. You can usually tell by the name stamped into the steel. You can find these tools at flea markets, antique stores, and garage sales. Most of the time people don’t know what they have and sell it for super cheap. These tools can last you a life time if cared for properly. The only draw back is that they look terrible and require a little bit of work when you first get them. But after some filing, sharpening, and an occasional re-handling…they are good to go and will be your favorite tools to use.

  25. Great podcast guys, I know that this topic could take days to cover in depth, but I’ll try to throw in a couple things I’ve found along the way.

    From the comments so far,

    whoever mentioned third hands, YES, so good, also great if you have one with a magnifier.

    + 1 Pocket ref, and its buddy, the the handymans ref (I think) The pocket ref is great for finding stuff you didn’t know you needed. Lots of great formulas for figuring things out. Even materials strengths, so you can estimate what you actually need to make a project happen. They are available everywhere, I think 4th edition is the newest.

    Tools to not cheap out on:

    Multitool, yeah, its not a real tool, like soldiers say about pistols, its just something to fight your way back to your rifle with. It can be just enough to keep a project moving without breaking your rhythm. But buy a name brand one, the house brand ones have garbage tools, are over bulky and heavy. My recommendation is the Leatherman ReBar. Decent price, built to take some beating, and it will let you know what you like and don’t like for the upgrade. And if you find yourself reaching for a certain part of the multi-tool all the time, you’ll know it time to invest in the real thing. A fish scaler is a clue that the tool is cheap crap its how marketing folks sell a dull saw. (most of the time)

    Slip-joint or channel-lock type pliers. just buy the channel-loc brand. they adjust when you want them too, stick when you don’t, and don’t get all wobbly. The “parrot beak” pattern is really handy for all kinds of pipe, large nuts (that just need to come off, don’t need to survive) great for ripping stuff off pick-and-pull cars if you don’t feel like dragging piles of tools around. (although some folks get mad if you “waste” stuff at junk yards, so take the thing as though you want to use it as is, and gut it at home)

    Sockets, if and when you decide you need some, only ever buy six point sockets. 12 point sockets lead to tears, gnashing of teeth, and pain. If by some strange happening you run into a square bolt or nut, deal with it, with a big hammer.

    SAFETY GEAR buy the best you can, the comfiest stuff that fits, and the lightest weight. Industrial deafness sucks, so does crap in your eyes. if you have the good stuff, you’ll wear it, and it can make all the difference. Even just owning safety toed shoes when working with heavy stuff, or around power tools. Or on scavenging missions. No one needs to have a nice long weekend of making ruined by having an injury. It just happens way too often. If you find you ever need to take your safety glasses off to get a better look at something, get new glasses, because that is when its going to bite you. If you wear glasses normally you can get either impact rated Rx lenses, or there are companies that do an impact lens with an Rx holder. also makes an ugly, but serviceable backup pair. Grinding is a great way to kill poly-carb Rx glasses, and the coatings.

    Times to cheap out

    consumables. If you find that you end up breaking a screw-bit, drill bit, or other simple tools, especially small ones, you might find that having a stock of the cheaper ones keeps you going better than buying one of the good ones. learning to drill small holes free-hand will break a big pile of bits, so might as well get the cheap ones, also look a the set price vs the individual. Don’t get blinded into just buying the one you need if the whole set is just a few dollars more. You might end up with a big pile of things you will never use. OR you’ll end up with a big supply of tools that owe you nothing and you have no problem taking a file or grinder to to modify to do your bidding. Heck, sometimes its worth getting all those junk garage sale tools, and sale day bargain sets just so you can hack your own custom stuff. You are a maker right? And if you find you have a pile of bent screwdrivers, you might not need better screwdrivers, you might need a prybar.

    Random thoughts

    If you have access to a welder, stubby flat wrenches can be hard to find, and expensive. why not roll your own? custom off-sets? mismatched sets? Need two sizes of wrench for your bike, mower, tardis? cut them and weld them back together swapped, so instead of needing four wrenches, two per size (or risking stripping stuff with crescents) you have a custom two wrench set.

    Avoid tool “kits”. By that I mean sets of tools that contain more than one type of tool. If a tool comes in three sizes, and you can get the three, for the price of the better one, and its a tool you want to try, buy the three. but anyone putting hammers and wrenches in the same box knows nothing about either. There are are some types of tools that almost all the sets sold are crap, but if the set costs 10$ and the case looks like it costs 5$, you do the math on the ten tools inside. Just do a comparison to the high dollar tool, and you should see the difference. And if you don’t, it just might not matter.

    Fluid film, its thick, it stinks like wet sheep, but it keeps rust off tools, especially if they are going to be stored for a while.

    And if you are looking at getting stuff as gifts, ask for gift cards, or be really specific. If you have other makers in your family, maybe someone has old tools they are willing to pass down. you don’t know if you don’t ask, but asking non-makers to buy tools is a good way to get lots of cheap, crappy tools that are for the wrong task.

    Also, do lots of looking around at different tool stores, and industrial suppliers. Something that is specialized and expensive in one industry might be nearly disposable in another. Only pay for precision you need, cheap tools will teach you where you need the precision. And for every job there is a $1000 tool that almost does the job itself. But there is also a cheaper way. Talk to the folks who build what you want to build.

  26. I keep a basic set of duplicate tools in a drawer in our mudroom so I don’t have to go out to my shop to get something. It has most things that I would generally need in the house. I use it all the time.

  27. Avoid job mate clamps. We set them and went for lunch. When we got back they were all broken and had flung themselves across the lawn.

    Dollar stores have a wide variety of cheap tools for 1 time use projects. I get a bag of sacrifisial paint brushes and rollers for fiberglass that way.

    Always ask if a tool will be on sale soon. Sometimes they give you a sale price on the spot.

  28. Not to be pedantic (okay, I obviously do mean to be pedantic), but the Apollo spacesuit was the A7L, not the “AL7”. Actually, from Apollo 15 on they wore the A7L-B, which had added articulation and a repositioned zipper so they could sit down on the lunar rover. Also, Apollo and shuttle suits are built by ILC-Dover in Frederica, Delaware, not David Clark, which is in Worcester, Massachusetts.

  29. What a great topic!

    Here’s one lesson learned the hard way: Don’t buy a cheap set of snap ring pliers! You’ll regret it every time.

    As for what IS good to buy cheap, I’ve had nothing but great results from the entry-level Ryobi power tools at Home Depot. I’ve got their 18V drill and impact driver. I’ve got their belt sander and angle grinder, and I’ve got their mid-tier 10-inch chop saw. Not a one of them has ever failed.

    Right now I’m running two maker spaces at home. One is a mostly motorcycle focused space out in the garage, and the other is my basement maker space:

    The far bench is 8′ by 2′ and at a standing height. The nearer bench is 10′ with a 4′ end section that’s topped with a white board panel. There’s peg board backing all the bench space and in the far corner is a 180 CFM fume hood that I built after seeing Adam’s Blade Runner shooting case. In fact, on the right, hanging on the pegboard you can see the Rigid staple gun that I bought specifically to complete the fume hood. I’m running that staple gun off of another cheap tool – a small pancake air compressor from Home Depot that was on sale for $30 after christmas.

    Another recommendation on where to spend actual money is on a proper shop vac. I’ve had the cheaper, small ones and in the end they just suck up dirt only to blow it back out again. A great vac will only run about $100 and it’s worth every penny — especially if you’re working in a space in your house like I am that needs to stay tidy.

  30. In Europe, Lidl has a line of Parkside tools that are amazing value. I got a drill press for €50, and it’s better than the €100 ones at the hardware stores in pretty much all respects. Hand drills, non-bladed hand tools, sawing machinery, all these things are good insofar as I’ve seen. I even got the Japanese hand saws from them. Cheap plastic handle, these things cut like a dream with almost no kerf. Now if only they’d offer a band saw…

    “Good” is relative, I’m sure, but for starting out it’s great.

    Paul Sellers, a woodworking craftsman, has a series on good cheap tools as well: http://paulsellers.com/series/buying-good-tools-cheap/

  31. I would say that my favourite tool when I design is definitely a compass. I will go out of my way to find things to design with it. A really nice one that has a screw to adjust the distance is totally worth it. You can draw any angle with a compass as well as perpendicular lines, bisect line, bisect angles. All perfectly without using a ruler or protractor. So quick and simple.

  32. I was taught by an electrician. Never cut the tail of a zip tie. Always grab it with a pair of dikes at the knuckle and twist off. You will have a smooth surface. Rather than a sharp end.

  33. An example of what not to buy: a hole saw that has all the different size saws nested together on a blue pot metal mandril. It is junk. Buy individual good quality hole saws one at a time to build a good set.
    Cheap, faulty or ineffective tools should go into a tool box that you lend tools out of. Try not to borrow tools but never loan out your good stuff. Loan out the tools in your loaner box. Pretty soon your pals will get the idea.

  34. Regarding self measurements: I am a University Student in North Carolina and at our Textile Design lab, we have a machine which will accurately determine every measurement your body has to offer. You put on a quite tight full body suit and step into the scanning device and with a set of lasers it scans you collecting data which gets turned into a digitized version of yourself complete with dimensions. I am sure that there is similar technology at universities and design labs in California. For something as technical as a space suit, it definitely warrants a look.

    Here is an example of the technology: http://www.tc2.com/index_3dbodyscan.html

  35. +9999999999999999

    awesome podcast for starters, but i would like to see a “best of” list for those of us who are ready to invest in quality tools. i love my wiha stuff and i cant wait to get my hands on knipex snips!

    Great podcast, this is what brought me over to your website. I’d love to see a similar video on quality tools. I find Adam’s advice on Knipex snips and Wiha precision screwdrivers really indispensable and I’m wondering what else he left off the list to keep it within the budget.

    I see the merit in cheap tools but I also believe in buying things for life whenever possible, especially hand tools.

  36. Two tools that I find really useful are:

    Pin vice – which I use for all sorts of small drilling. Useful for circuit boards, wood, metal pieces, etc.

    Tapered Reamer – this tool is invaluable for making holes in plastics for switches, pots, whatever. I use mine when I circuit bend.

  37. Thing you can buy cheap: Angle grinder.

    Thing you shouldn’t buy cheap: Grinder disks.

    Picked up my angle grinder for about £20 for my project car. Grinder works fine, but using cheap disks is a false economy as they last for about 30 seconds, a good quality disk lasts for ages and works super efficiently.

  38. Regarding tweezers. I did some consulting for this company TDI and they sell a lot of electronic tools to the hard drive companies. I got some “rejects” and they were the best precision tweezers. Like the podcast mentioned, they are “go through your finger” sharp but could be very useful in a delicate situation. They are going to be opening up a hobbyist site for selling those specialty items.

  39. Great episode. I feel like I have a million recommendations to give on this subject, but what self-respecting tinkerer wouldn’t.

    1) 3M Citrus Based Cleaner: It comes in a spray can, smells of oranges, and removes stuff from fabric brilliantly without damaging it. I used to work in a car audio shop and when we would overspray glue (contact cement actually) on the box carpet, a quick spray with 3MCBC and a light rub with a paper towel would remove it like nothing. Do be careful to let the cleaner evaporate out before you try reapplying glue though. And avoid over-applying.

    2) Knives: I tend to only buy the black utility knives from OLFA, and I use them without a handle for cutting material. And just like with scissors, use your fabric blades for fabric and your “everything else” blades for everything else.

    Adam mentioned how great these (http://i00.i.aliimg.com/photo/v0/365847604/hand_tool_wire_stripper_plier.jpg) wire strippers are. But these are another thing you should avoid cheaping out on. The cheap version will really struggle to properly strip wire and will wear out very quickly.

  40. If you are one of those who use dremel and fordham tools (and I have had a Dremel since I was 12 and at 50 I have 2 ( I have only bought three as the first one lasted almost 30 years) the best place i have found to buy bits and such is Widget Supply, Good prices and not the cheep junk that you see at some places. Good sales I only have to buy once every 5 years or so. Thanks for this episode there were a few tools I did not know about. Thanks

  41. Thing about Japanese saws (besides that I love them): For the two-sided ones, the different sides don’t actually have different size of teeth as much as different types of teeth – One side is for crosscutting and the other is for ripping.


  42. If you wish to go into any electronics work, spending the money on a good multimeter is a must. Just the other day a friend and I were working with some chain hoists and the power distro box (3phaze) was blowing through fuses so when through a multimeter on and checked what the voltage was. That circuit was not supposed to see more then 1/2 a volt. When we flipped the switch it hit 6 volts instantly and if it were not for my friends expensive Fluke multimeter which has a 4 volt protected circuit there would have been a serious electrical fire

  43. Hey, Im setting up a maker space at home with my 3d printer, sewing machine etc etc and am wondering if you guys know of any great places to find work benches? Ive tried the usual craigslist, Ikea etc, but maybe there is a hardware store you guys know about I don’t?

    Im in Canada eh, but would ship from anywhere if the bench/desk is right.

    Thanks a lot!

  44. One thing you mentioned with the beginning maker is the use of a cutting surface. One of my favorite things to use for a desk was always a simple hollow wood door on some saw horses or clamped to my drafting table. The simplest easiest way to create a large surface to work on!

  45. Hey there all, I know I am extremely late to the show. But thanks for all the videos! I enjoyed the idea for a toolbox to be a radio tube salesman case. Adam have you ever built anything like that? Thanks!

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