Inexpensive tools that changed your build


Two? That’s it? Drills are the best tools to have duplicates of; I recommend at least 4-6. It may seem like a lot, but they’ll always be in use.

While on the topic of drills, a right angle drill can be useful.

Oscillating multi-tool. More useful than you might think. There are some inexpensive options.

Angle grinder, especially if you use iron or steel often. This Makita is an excellent value.

I haven’t tried these personally yet, but these welding holders seem useful.

Vise Grips are always great to have around.

A heat gun wouldn’t be a bad idea.


This might be on the outer edge of “inexpensive” but a handheld, battery operated band saw will change your life. We bought one for last competition season and fell in love with it immediately. Here is the model we have:

They cut through aluminum like butter, can fit in a tight spot if needed (like cutting a protruding hex axle to acceptable length), and are perfect to bring to a competition if you need to cut things in your pit. We actually intend to get the smaller M12 version for our pit, and leave our M18 one for shop use only.


We have only had the Pulse XE for about a week but the biggest advantage we have seen is we were able to be printing CF-Nylon and Polycarbonate in under an hour after we unboxed it. The build surface was the biggest draw we have been printing on garolite that we added to our airwolf for around 3 years, I don’t know why anyone prints on anything else. It’s great for polycarb and nylons with just a little gluestick and you never have to remove the bed from the printer. It’s an all metal hotend so it can hit temps of 299C out of the box. I would prefer if it could do 315C or so but for the price it’s been pretty good. Basically I didn’t want to spend $3500 for a Markforged Onyx One. We’ll do a full review on our blog over the summer. Also the Prusa’s were backordered for over a month when we were looking at buying one.

As for the rivets vs bolts, that list is what we would do if we were starting a new team, I assume someone else would have a different list of how they would spend $10,000.


Other than weird, one off applications we are totally standardised on allen head bolts (1/4-20 and 10-32) mostly socket head, with button head where we need the low profile. This year we have 4 3/8 hex bolts as arm stops, and 16 3/8 hex bolts in our elevator. Everything else is allen head. We use “allen key” tools a lot!

Other than in weird confined spaces where you only can snake an allen key in, leave your standard allen keys in the drawer and use either T-Handle or screwdriver handled allens. Way faster, easier to use, easier to apply higher torque, and have greater reach. Get a ball end set for off axis work and a set of straight cut ends for when you need to hold an allen bolt straight as you stick it through a gearbox or inside of a box section. So far this year, I have not picked up a standard allen key.

I have not tried the ones you mentioned so I cannot prove you are wrong (can think it, just can’t prove it) but we are very very happy with Bondhus. Great machining, very strong, and they have a true lifetime warranty. They are also made in the USA, if that matters to you.

They certainly are not the cheapest, but once you experience the joys of removing a shaft collar with a cammed out setscrew you become a believer in better tools.

Their long shaft T Handle ball end allen keys are the go to in our shop. The screwdriver versions are also very good, and faster to use when you don’t need the higher torque application.

The other allen variant that is most wonderful is the micro ratchet and 1/4" insert bit style. We use both Wera and Wiha micro ratchets with various hex insert bits. I like the Wera ratchets slightly more.

Much more comfortable than a standard allen key, stronger, ratcheting, and can get into almost every place that you can get a standard allen key. With a fine tooth ratchet you can tighten down a fastener in a very confined space, without having to go through the hassle of turn, remove, fight to get back on the head of the fastener, turn… Add in ball end insert bits for some off axis action and life is much better. One of the issues with standard allen keys is that most only have ball end available on the long end.

We also use insert bits in 12V Dewalt drivers for disassembly work (like removing skid plates). Tend not to use them for assembly as “tighter is gooder” seems to be a mantra that many of our students are fully committed to.


If you use rivets, get a air riveter. You can get a decent one fairly cheaply and they turn riveting into a job that (a) any student can do, (b) speed up the process significantly, and © produce much more consistent rivets. Couple it with a smallish pancake compressor and you are good to go.

I think all teams should have at least one small compressor. No replacement for shop air, but they allow you to setup anywhere, and are also fabulous to pair up with a pistol grip air nozzle and blow nasty aluminum bits out of all the nooks and cranies of your robot.

I think we set like 4 rivets this year by hand, as we could not get the air riveter into a confined space.


Controls mentors are sooo picky. At least we did not use a sawzall or a grinder with a cut off wheel. The Dremel was surgical (almost).

I will concede that the control boards mark II are somewhat less pretty than the mark I version.


It’s just a (tragic) confluence of circumstances - we underestimated our weight, in the same year that the controls team saw this picture of the Holy Grail of wiring from team 1538. To everyone’s credit, even mark II looks better than some of what we’ve done in the past :smiley:

On the subject of wiring – silicone wire. This stuff practically organizes itself. I see us using this much more in the future.


At a fraction of the cost, zip wire is really nice because conductor pairs are bonded together:


+1 on these welding holders. Just don’t forget to remove it after tacking otherwise your arc will be dancing.

+2 On the Porta-Band. These things are awesome.


+3 on the porta-band. It was great for cutting our chassis in half at competition in 2016… from the comfort of our own pit :ahh:


This. If you can deal with a cord and you’re willing to try it, you can get one at Harbor Freight for just under $140.

+1. In addition, small pancake or hot dog compressors can drive air staplers and nailers, and inflate pneumatic tires or other inflatable objects (you never know when we’ll see inflatable game pieces again).


For portable Milwaukee cordless saws, I will throw a vote to the Hackzall series saws. I have the 18v. My saw came in a kit, with a drill. Very handy, cutting metal, or trimming trees. We had to do a little kitbot sculpting in 2016. One of the students didn’t think we could make a certain cut, made him a believer.

18v $99.00 tool only

12v $89.00 tool only


I just picked up a few of these 6" strap duplicators:

I think they will prove to be rather useful. Here’s how they’re used:

Our team also uses clecos quite a bit, but I hadn’t seen these:

They can help get into much tighter areas than you can with normal cleco pliers.


These are awesome, thanks for the links. We’ll probably buy some before next season.


I second this… We went from being dead for 1-2 matches every event to not being dead in 3 events this past year… We credit this tool for much of the gain in reliability.

It is also faster than tinning every wire and easier to teach the students.


In the last 2 years we have started using this stuff for our boards.

It is very light weight, reasonably ridged, and best of all we just use wood screws to hold down our components… Just a quick poke with a screw and it is started. We cut it with a cordless circular saw.

We also use the 8mm version for other side panels that we need.


Heat shrink shrinker (currently $12)

Helping hands for your PanaVise


Oh, not a tool per se, but definitely an inexpensive way for teams with just a drill press (or even hand drill) to control hole placement. It doesn’t work in all cases, but with a bit of creativity, you can usually get what you need.

Shortly before getting into FRC, I started buying plain 0.1" perf board to do templates for control panels and LED grids - label holes to drill with a sharpie, clamp, drill with 1/16" bit, then remove the perf board and drill real holes. Good enough to (with a drill press or steady hand) do an odd number of small holes every 0.2", drill pilots, then drill 1/4" in the first, last, and every alternate holes, then finish up with the other holes. Then, a bit of work with a file and possibly a deburring tool, and you have a 1/4" slot, suitable for chain tensioning or a clevis.

Note - by drilling 1/16" first, you are able to re-use the board to drill 3 or 4 pieces with the same template. If you want to do more pieces than about 4, I’d recommend using the perfboard to make a template in metal at least 0.1" thick that is, metal at least 50% thicker than the hole diameter) which will be used to make the actual pieces.


I second the recommendation for Bondhus in terms of general quality, but my go-to set is still the Pittsburg T-handle set from Harbor Freight. The solid hex key set into the handle is the most fail-safe and comfortable way to really torque down or loosen up stuck bolts. And for less than $20, it’s pretty easy to justify.

The Husky set from Home Depot is similarly good.

We also use insert bits in 12V Dewalt drivers for disassembly work (like removing skid plates). Tend not to use them for assembly as “tighter is gooder” seems to be a mantra that many of our students are fully committed to.

While it can be a bit frustrating to keep reminding people about using the clutch settings on the drivers, it’ll produce the most consistent results. A bit of colored nail polish on the clutch ring can help remind people to use it, mark about how tight of a clutch they should use, or just put a big “NO!” over the drill setting. You could even go the extra mile and make some hard stops that would have to be removed to set it to drill setting. Definitely wouldn’t want that at competition, but might be nice when you get a large influx of freshmen who’ve never been taught how to use a driver properly.


I actually own all three of theses sets. Thar Harbor freight ones sucked. Managed to crack a handle and they’d round out all the time. Stand was really annoying to use. Thankfully they were cheap

Husky set has this really impossible to read tiny lettering and are really difficult to tell apart unlike the Bondhus set since the handles stay roughly the same size. Stand is non existent but they do have a good warranty, I give them a meh out of 10.

The bondhus set is nice. I like the bright colors for visibility and the lettering is easy to read. The stand is nice too. They always feel really solid in the hand though maybe a little less ergonomic.

My favourite T-handles are the Wera hex-plus wrenches. The hex is optimized so it won’t strip out which is great because I’m a big fan of button head bolts. They fit in the hand well and are of great quality. They are the most expensive of the bunch but are well worth it if you can afford it.