To do the right thing, you need the right tools. Have you ever tried to cut a wooden frame using a pen knife? Or tightening a screw using a hammer? Certainly the tools might work, but they are not intended to do so and also make your life harder.
Tools can generally be categorized into “Basic”, “Advanced”, and “Specialized” tools.
Even if you are not seriously into robots, but intend to just build a simple robot and go on, you still need to acquire these basic tools. If you willing to, you can also request a friend to lend it to you on a condition that he might not get it back in the same condition.
If you inspect carefully, most of these tools will be readily available with you. As a robot builder, you might have to invest on few more tools. Don’t bother on the quality of these tools if your wallet is light. Get the work done and later invest in a better quality product which lasts longer if you intend to continue building robots.
A Multimeter is the first and foremost tool I would recommend. You can do away without using a Multimeter, but they are your best friend when you are troubleshooting your circuit. Digital Multimeter (DMM) is cheap and can be found in most local radio shops (A big “NO” to analog multimeter, especially if you are a beginner). These devices can be used to measure voltage, current, test continuity, resistance etc. More advanced features let you test other electronic devices too.
Hobby knife is the best choice for those quick and dirty works. One will never know the advantage of this multipurpose tool unless you get one.
Wire cutters help you cut a wire and wire strippers help you to rip off the plastic insulation around the conducting wire. Generally, a single tool doubles as a wire cutter and a wire stripper.
As the name says, a screwdriver drives a screw inside and out of an object. Most electronic devices are fastened with screws and owning one does no harm. I have a small cheap electronic screwdriver set with magnetized end and works brilliantly.
Soldering Iron as the name says, is used to solder (or weld) electronic parts and components on a circuit. It is always advisable to purchase a temperature controlled soldering iron, but you can do away with a decent one if you intend to build only one or two robots. I rarely use a temperature controlled one for my robots. You can also ask a friend to loan it to you for a day or two. You even need solder (the alloy which melts on heat) with a melting point below that of your solder iron. There are lead and lead free solder available and for me the best results are with lead based ones as they have low melting point. If you care for the environment, use a lead-free solder.
Lead is one of the most important component used in soldering. Lead is simply a wire made of Tin, lead and their alloys. Due to their low melting point (generally 180°C to 200°C), easy availability, they are widely used.
Just make sure to wash your hands after using lead as the material is poisonous (or so known to be).
This iron stand is a steel spring like object mounted over a base. When you are not soldering, drop your solder iron into this and continue with your work. Few stands come with a sponge at the base which helps clean the solder iron’s tip. The one I use does not contain a sponge and I use a wet kitchen scrubber to clean the tip.
Flux is a substance which reduces metal oxides from the point of contact while soldering and improves electrical connection and mechanical strength. They are available in various shapes and sizes (pens, tubes, metal containers etc.). It actually does not matter what type you get unless you are into SMD soldering.
Also known as desolder wick, is a fine braided wire generally made of copper. If you have made a bad solder joint, or have excess solder, then you can use this wick to remove excess solder, or desolder a joint. You can also purchase a desolder pump if you wish to, which sucks excess solder into it; (sadly I have never found success with it).
Needle Nose pliers
Needle nose pliers are good for twisting, and bending components. They can also be used to hold objects and small components and pulling out wires from tight spaces.
What is a set of tools without a breadboard? Breadboard helps you to quickly test your circuits without soldering the components. It is a plug and play gadget for your circuits with rows of tiny holes. All you need to do is plug your components into these holes and test if everything is working as expected. Breadboards are commonly available and cheap; if you can afford, buy two breadboards instead of one and they turn out to be extremely helpful in some situations.
Also known as jumper wires, these are wires with different sizes and colors. If you are using a breadboard, they are most useful. I normally prefer purchasing wires and then use a wire stripper and cutter and make these jumper wires. If you decide to make your own jumper kit, prefer using a single strand wire instead of a multi-strand wire.
Scissors along with a pen knife would complete most of your cutting and tearing requirements. Get a medium sized kitchen scissor (also known as kitchen shears) with insulated handles.
Burning, cutting, soldering, tearing, rubbing, smoke; any of these things can affect your eyes. Always and always use eye protection. You don’t want to be blind, do you? Invest on a safe and nice looking (not really, but if you want to look COOL) pair of goggles and wear it whenever you are working on and with robots.
Programming a robot involves a bit of calculations. Although you may not use those complex mathematical functions, it is better to keep a calculation handy for quick calculations. If I choose to add another category as “Optional”, then a calculator would fall into optional category.
These are plastic tapes coated with an adhesive. If you want to quickly and temporarily fix a component or an object, this is the best solution. If you are willing to invest in adhesive tapes, add double sided foam tape to your list. When you are building a robot, you can use them to quickly stick two components together, and the tape holds them really strong.
This is a simple clip with the jaws resembling an alligator’s jaw. The tip is a metal and can be used to create temporary electrical connection and can also be used to hold light components. Get a pair of these alligator clips (also known as crocodile clips) and they might come in helpful. Alligator clips are optional tools and not really necessary to do most of the job.
Metal ruler, Pen, Paper towels, notebook
A metal ruler to measure components, Pen and a notebook to write down your observations. A marker pen on your table is still a finicky addition to this list. These are again in the optional list and it is good to have them on your table. Few paper towels on your table also help to clean up grease and other mess.
Avoid buying a plastic ruler to save money; it breaks quicker than you can think of, and even if it doesn’t, looks awkward after a couple of days.
Bolts, Nuts and Screws
If you build a robot, you need a way to fasten up the wheels, platform, servos, and sensors to each other. It is always good to have a lot of screws, nuts, bolts, washers, nails and other fastening materials of different sizes and shapes. I have an entire rack in my cupboard filled with these miscellaneous materials.