End of Year Purchases

Well, here we are post-championship, the season is finished. I’m sure my team isn’t the only one with some money leftover in the budget. We have about $2500 dedicated to Building Supplies (Tools, materials, etc) and $3500 for Computer Supplies (Anything electronic can qualify, for the most part) that we need to spend. Any suggestions on what to buy?

A little background on the team: Team 1255 is going into it’s fourth year, third as a two-school team. We have a lot of seniors (Including myself) graduating, so the team will be left in young hands. I’d really like to leave the team with some nice tools to work with in the future, and improve the quality of the robots we produce. In the past three years 1255 has made it to the quarterfinals once, and semifinals twice at LSR, but hopefully that can improve.

Our current machine tools include: 12" Band Saw with a multipurpose blade, Small (10 or 12") bench drill press, small grinding station (With wire wheel and 1 grinding disc), chop saw, miter saw, and a belt/disc sander. We also have several portable power tools from DeWalt that we got in the large combo set. Finally, we have our trusty Dremel tool. That’s about it as far as power tools go. For hand tools, we’ve got a big set of mechanics tools from Craftsman, multiple hammers/screwdrivers/etc, and all sorts of other good stuff.

That being said, can anyone think of what to spend our money on? Here are the ideas that have been tossed around thus far for “Building Supplies”:
A new band saw to replace the broken one (We’d put a metal blade on it): $300
A 15" standing drill press: $320
Another DeWalt XRP drill: $250
One of those DeWalt radio/battery charger things: $130
Another set of mechanics tools (263 piece): $270
A DrillDoctor bit sharpener: $130
Another set of bits (Titanium coated): $80
Assorted replacement parts (Grinding wheels, Dremel accessories, saw blades, etc): ?

And that’s about it.

That doesn’t add up to $2500, in fact it wouldn’t even break $1500. We’ve got a problem. What, in your experience, has been the most useful tool to have in your shop? Do we have the funds to purchase one? Am I overlooking something?

We haven’t even touched Computer Supplies. I was thinking about going to our local RadioShack, which happens to still be stocked with Vex parts, and scooping up a bunch of stuff calling it “programming accessories”. However, that wouldn’t make much of a dent in $3500. We already have two laptops, so we don’t really need anything like that. Once again, ideas are welcomed.

As a final note, due to the way our district does our budgeting, the money is “use it or lose it.” We don’t want to have any leftover, because if we do then they’ll likely cut our budget by that much next year. So, we need the most bang for our buck.

Edit: I added some stuff that got split into two posts.

I know that we couldn’t survive without our table saw. One with a good table and a blade that cuts aluminum.


We also bought our first battery load tester. Get item to have.

Dewalt Drill, way not worth it. Get a Ryobi and save $150. link
For the mecahnics tool set, how many of those 263 pieces are you going to be using? A good number of them you never will. Buy only what you need and save.

Do you have a full set of drill bits? Do you have a full set of taps? Do you have a good vise? Nobody on your team wants some machine tools (mill, lathe?) Do you have a circular saw and angle grinder? Do you have an air compressor? Shop vac? One thing I’ve always found useful is an arbor press. And to go along with that, howabout some keyway and/or hex broaches.

I accquired a nice piece of electronic test equipment on ebay recently that I have fallen in love with

its a Tektronix portable (battery powered)2 channel digital oscilloscope with a built in digital Volt / ohm meter (with a graphing function). It looks very much like a tricorder from the original Star Trek series!

The one I have is the THS710A (60MHz). I think tek discontinued this one and only sell the more expensive THS720A (100MHz) and THS730A (200MHz).

It has struck me that this instrument would be an excellent tool for any FIRST team, for anything from checking the voltage on batteries, ohming out connections, to testing/ demonstrating how the PWM signals work on the robot controller, victor outputs, measuring the loop time of the SW program, testing wheel encoders…

and since it runs for about 2 hours on its nicad battery its great for mobile equipment, like free-range robots.

I have seen them on ebay for $500 to ~$900 (used) with two probes and a good battery. New they go for $3k to $4k (depending on which model you get)

The basic model (THS710) should meet all the needs of a FIRST team.

If you have been thinking of getting a digital oscilloscope for your team, this one gets five thumbs up from me :^)

If you don’t have one of these, get one. It’s really great for cleaning up after a long build session. (And if you share a room with another teacher/class/group, they’ll love you forever for leaving the space clean.)

For the computing parts, you could go with Vex parts–they are nice–but what about a laptop or two for your programmer and/or web team? Or a decent box for animation work? Or what about a printer you can bring easily to competitions? (Trust me, they’re handy for a lot of things.) A good printer for the shop, if you don’t have one, is also a great thing to have.

I fixed the first post, apparently my computer didn’t like just posting once. Thanks for all the prompt responses. I’ll go through them in order…

Steve W: Table saw, eh? I didn’t think about that, simply because I associate table saws with wood, mostly. How much use does your table saw get during the season? What sort of blade would you suggest?

sanddrag: In my experience DeWalts are excellent, however, I’ll take a look at some cheaper options. The only reason we’re looking to get 263 pieces is because we’re trying to spend money. If we were on a tight budget, we’d definately cut down. We have three sets of bits, but they’re all missing a few here and there, hence why I’m looking at buying a new, complete set. We have a brand new set of taps that didn’t get much use this year, and we have a decent vice. We lack a mill/lathe, but I don’t think anyone on our team has the skill to use those tools. We don’t have many (if any) engineering mentors, the students do everything on their own. We have mostly garage knowledge. We’ve got all the rest of those too (Angle grinder, circ saw, compressor, shop vac), except the arbor press. To be honest, I have no idea what that is.

KenWittlief: Sounds interesting, I’ll have to look into it.

Billfred: Our vac is decent, so we keep the shop looking clean MOST of the time, but not all. :smiley: Like I said, we already have two laptops, so we’re not looking for computers. Both of the teacher sponsors are computer teachers that have full labs, so we can also use those machines anytime we want. A printer is a good idea, and was suggested by one of the teacher sponsors. She wanted to look at getting a specialty printer for our “spirit” items, and everything else. Good idea.

Once again, thanks for the suggestions so far.

Our table saw is in use every day. We cut all aluminum and wood and lexan on it. Always have straight cuts and square corners. As for the blade, I will have to get that info once I return from holidays. Look out Florida, here I come.

Oh man, extra money at the end of the year, wonder what that feels like… :wink:

Entering off-season competitions are always so much fun. So much of the pressure is gone because it hasn’t been an insane few weeks before and afterward and your minds aren’t going into robo-overload.

Obviously stocking up on the tools is a good thing to do, however don’t forget other factions of your team. Do you have some sort of a PR team? Maybe they could use some materials to help them out. An animation team? Perhaps they need a new mouse or two. (ok, that probably wasn’t a good example, but you get what I’m saying)

The money could also be used as seed money for summertime fundraisers (pasta dinners etc)…

I wish my team had this ‘problem’ Unfortunately, this year we need to raise about $2500 to cover expenses over this past season.

But I do understand the ‘use it or lose it’, and definitely try to maximize what you purchase, don’t waste money for the sake of it. You may not think you need it now but as your team grows you may find yourself wishing you had bought a table saw or mill/lathe.

We use our table saw all the time, as Steve W said, to cut wood and lexan primarily, but with a good blade, you can rip aluminum to size. Works like a charm. Ours is a Delta saw, only a few years old, with the unifence and extender table. Something like this

This was our team’s fifth (maybe fourth?) year in FIRST, and we found ourselves using the mill/lathe more than ever. One of our seniors is very skilled on the mill and lathe from working outside of school, and he was very busy this year! We made custom gearboxes for the FP drive train, and they worked like a charm. Even simple things like drilling holes in the ends of shafts is made easier on the lathe. One like ours would fit nicely in your budget, a medium sized combination like this

It would be a great opportunity to teach students how to use it and maybe even learn yourself! I have done a few things with it and while I’m still learning a lot, it is not complicated to use, it just takes practice and patience. Remember to budget accordingly for tooling and accessories, they cost as much as the actual machine. Somebody might jump in here with a more knowledgeable opinion.

As far as electronics go, oscilloscopes are nice to have, we have a large Textronix scope that works great for testing signals and circuits.
A battery load tester would be a great thing to have, make sure your batteries are being maintained properly. Also maybe one of those five or six battery charging stations to keep batteries fresh in competitions.

I could go on all day with this wish list, but I’ll stop here, that’s long enough. :smiley:


Must this money be used to buy tools, or can it also be used to buy parts or something? I’m sure you could spend on money on sensors or something to play with in the off season (even if it is for future members).

You could always try upgrading some things as well. I don’t know how your facilties are, but if you’re like us, you may want to use that extra money to get more storage space to hold things. Or you may want to increase the bandwidth/size allowed for your website. Or you could also buy a better camera for your PR team. Or you could buy a high power DVD burner to make team DVDs. Stuff like that is always good.

I Agree with Sanddrag, we are going into our fifth year and are buying a mill due to our realization that all teams need one, and i personally would not be able to live without my lathe. May i also suggest a good set of shelves, i dont know what your shop is like but in my mind when you have a shop, organization is next to priceless and it is always good to have a nice portable layout for your pits if your room already is.

Once again, going down the list of replies:

Beth Sweet: Our biggest non-construction team is Spirit, and they’re likely getting a new printer. We also have an extra account for Spirit stuff, so that’s set. Unfortunately we can’t “put away” any of this money, it has to be spent.

chrisinmd: How much skill goes into using a mill/lathe? From what I understand, you really have to know what you’re doing. Without any engineering mentors, I doubt that the team members would be able to utilize a mill/lathe the way other teams can. However, if it’s not too tough to learn, we might have to look into buying one. Any suggestions on where to get one?

Donut: No, this does not have to be used to purchase tools. The two accounts are dedicated to “Building Supplies” and “Computer Supplies.” I suppose we could go for sensors, but in the three years that the team has been competing, our first time to use a sensor was in the elimination rounds this year, and that didn’t turn out well…

nycpunk: We have a bunch of storage space, shelves included. Good idea though.

It sounds like your are going to need a good toolchest to store all the tools.

I would go for a big one with many smaller drawers and a few big ones for items such as powertools.

Its always handy to have a toolbox that you can move easily roll from room to room.

Although these two tools do require much skill to become useful, the Internet is a great thing, as long as you have done some research on their usages and techniques you can almost teach yourself if you have someone watching to insure your safety. If you want some help finding a good one go to either http://da.harborfreight.com/cpisearch/web/search.do?keyword=lathe&Submit=Go
or PM me and i can help, i can also help you find good lathe sites if you wish and photocopy you some pages out of a retro metal milling text book that you have, so contact me if you want those.

I got a heck of a deal on this lathe and I am much enjoying it. You’ve got to know how to use it though. If you’d like to learn more, a good site is www.mini-lathe.com

The mill and lathe are very powerful tools that can be used to do lots of things. You do have to know what you’re doing, but some internet research or a good book on metalworking should cover the basics of its capabilities, setting up, operation, accessories, etc. It definitely helps to have someone with prior experience to stand over your shoulder, in my team’s case, it was my friend who has a mill at home. Is there any machine shops around? They might be willing to send someone over to get you started. I’m pretty sure we got our mill/lathe from Harbor Freight, decent price, average quality, but all the accessories (mill bits, mill clamp, chucks, cutters, etc.) were donated by a machine shop, and they make all the difference in our work. Hopefully someone else will jump in here with specific reccomendations on where to buy, etc.)

Best of luck,

Maybe you should look into getting all your cutting tools diamond coated, it would greatly increase their life, and maybe reduce the heat from using them. (Less friction that isn’t directly involved in cutting) Just getting some aluminum stock for next year could eat up that much money easily and be worth it too. While you’re at it you could experiment with fiberglass. As for additional power tools… I can’t help you, all we have is two (old) single speed drills, a broken dremel (barely runs, it’s so fried), and an old busted drill press. (My father and I also brought in our miter saw, it really saved our butts) How about aluminum welding equipment? Pricey and useful. For the computers, I’d recommend getting a Dell dual proc (maybe dual proc, dual core) server with lots of RAM and SCSI RAID for your animation team and maybe web serving. A couple of nice old 802.11b wireless switches with high gain antennas would be great for throwing up a network at competition to keep a scouting database and other info on. Although there is a rule against it at competitions, (I don’t know why) you could look into one of those wireless broadband things for Internet access in various spots. Some dual core laptops using the Intel Core Duo wouldn’t go wrong, massive battery life, great for, say a computerized scouting database with automatic ranking functions for choosing alliance partners. (I’m sorry, I used to be diehard AMD, but Core Duo has me almost converted)

I snipped because I’m only addressing that section of the reply.

If your sensor experiences didn’t go well, that’s all the more reason to do this! Once you figure out most sensors, they’re pretty straightforward and you can find a myriad of uses for a good sensor grouping, get some high resolution stuff, stockpile it too, nothings worse than having a sensor-dependent function that doesn’t have a spare sensor when the first one goes bad :slight_smile:

Buy scrap material, lots of it, of all kinds to have around, no such thing as too much. Having plenty of stuff to be able to build simple things quickly is great for teaching with. What about welding equipment?

Ok, so perhaps I addressed more than the sensor thing, what can I say? :slight_smile:

Extra stuff is great for teaching members things though, you don’t have to worry about waste as much, so the inevitable mistakes you make as you go aren’t a problem, and you learn that much more.

Dude, all the cool kids make their own Lathe bits, thats most of the fun and it gives you so many more options in what you can make on your lathe when you have custom cutters.

Some quick electronic things that might start to add up:
A Good Digital Multimeter
A Good Tachometer
Wire Stockpile for the season

Also, if you have a CAD or animation team, consider a high end workstation for them to share, since school computers never tend to be very well suited to CAD work.