Our campus radio club has an ARDC grant that will allow us to get some tools. A fundamental goal of our club is to be able to support students where their interests in radio might take them. This means the club needs to be flexible. Also, we don’t have a lot of room, so large testing instruments like signal generators and oscilloscopes aren’t really an option. (We can go use those instruments in the physics labs.) I’m a handy guy who could make up a decent shopping list for tools on my own, but I wanted my ideas to be validated. And I wanted help to see around corners.

On July 4th, I checked in to the BORED Net (which opens Monday thru at 9am on 147.885 MHz) and asked this question. “What tools should the campus radio club try to have in its radio shack?” After qualifying my question for Net Control (with some info that’s in the leading paragraph), the net did what nets do.

Here’s the list of tools they suggested.

  • screw drivers
  • antenna analyzer
  • NanoVNA
  • crimpers
  • wire cutters
  • needle nose pliers
  • bench vise
  • ‘helping hands’
  • soldering iron
  • coax crimpers and cutters
  • powerpole stuff
  • DBM
  • meters - digital and analog (it’s easier to seek peaks in analog meters)
  • microscrew driver sets
  • paper books: ARRL Handbook, operating manual
  • label maker
  • foam board for organizing drawers
  • liquid paper marker, painters tape
  • way to organize the tools, come up with a system
  • tool box for each function (crimping, soldering, etc.)
  • organizing cables for programming
  • organizing paperwork
  • hand drill
  • protective eyewear
  • PVC pipe cutter
  • folding work bench
  • drop cloth
  • a plastic bin with cover for each project that someone is working on
  • desktop variable power supply
  • in-line external SWR power meter
  • dummy load
  • magnifying lamp
  • surgical clamps, forceps
  • muffin tins (for sorting parts when you take things apart) - helps you keep track of the order of disassembly/reassembly
  • velcro strips for cable management
  • Nite-Ize reuasble ties for cable management
  • labels for cables
  • test leads for multimeters
  • magnifying USB microscope (for looking at circuit boards)
  • duct tape
  • electrical take
  • coax self-amalgamating tape (only sticks to itself)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Broom
  • Whisk
  • Dust pan
  • tool boxes and a tool chest

There was a difference of opinion on how to select the tools from the variety of options. One has said, “Go to Harbor Freight and go crazy.” Another ham who was a little offended at that idea said, “Sometimes you want to get the quality tool.” Others chimed in by saying quality tools should be considered for tasks that will be done over and over and over (e.g., better materials, better mechanisms, better performance). At least one other noted he’s never regretted paying more to get a quality tool. This is the ‘buy once, cry once’ principle, but nobody mentioned that on the net.

One ham said that we should also consider skills. Making jumpers is a skill many will learn for the first time when working with radio. Just coming off of Field Day, all hams who participated would agree that one very important skill is how to coil a coaxial cable so that it doesn’t twist up. That twisting, also called torsion, will create kinks and winds in the coax when it’s unrolled. However, if you coil us the cable properly, the coax will uncoil easily and straight.

(Before the net was done, I had googled for video tutorials on the topic and found this video on the over-under coil and this video that shows several ways to coil cord and cable.)

Every agreed that a club can never have too many tools.