Build a better holiday
DIYers are a different set. They may not get excited over a new watch or an expensive sweater, but buy them a circuit board and watch their eyes light up over the possibilities. We have a few people like that around the Macworld/PCWorld lab, so we teamed up to compile the ten best gifts for the tinkerers, makers, and do-it-yourselfers in your life.
You had me at 54 bits: A good electronics tool set
Every DIYer needs a good toolkit, and the Pro Tech Toolkit from iFixit ($65) is our go-to choice. This kit contains a 54-bit screwdriver kit, tweezers, a spudger, a ruler, and all sorts of other goodies.
A soldering iron
If you tinker with electronics, there's no getting around it: You need a soldering kit. Make's Getting Started With Soldering Kit ($65) comes with everything the beginner DIYer would need, including a "Learn to Solder" guide as well as "helping hands"—small clips that hold wires in place as you solder. Cheaper kits are certainly available, though; just get one that fits your budget. And consider throwing in a soldering tip cleaner, too.
Printrbot Simple 3D printer
3D printing is good for more than making silly little trinkets, and it's becoming more affordable. The Printrbot Simple Kit is just under $300—inexpensive by 3D printing standards. It can be a boon to any budding DIY enthusiast as well as a seasoned veteran.
Getting Started With Arduino Kit
The Arduino microcontroller is a key component for many home-built gadgets, and learning the basics of Arduino can help you integrate simple electronics into your projects. Make's Getting Started With Arduino Kit ($65) comes with the tools you'll need to learn your way around this popular electronics board. You might also want to consider throwing in Make's Getting Started With Arduino book (normally $14, but you get a discount when you buy it with the kit).
The Dremel is perhaps the tinkerer's dream multitool: You can use it for cutting, drilling, sanding, buffing, polishing...you name it. Many Dremel models are available, but the rotary tools are generally the most handy for DIY projects. They let you cut easily through both small and large objects, and thanks to a huge range of bits and attachments they give you a lot of options as to what you can manipulate.
A power drill
While it's good to have a Dremel handy, any large-scale project will probably require a more robust electric drill. A cordless battery-operated drill is handy, but a corded drill will work as well—you just might have to run an extension cord. Black & Decker, Craftsman, DeWalt, and Makita (pictured)—among other brands—all make suitable models that might be worth checking out. In general, you'll want to get a single drill that can power its way through an assortment of materials, so look for drills with adjustable speed settings and higher maximum torque.
Locking pliers can be super-handy for achieving a tight grip on something without having to apply force constantly and ending up with a cramped hand. They can also be used as basic clamp. Sears sells a 3-piece locking pliers set from Craftsman (currently at a $35 "hot buy" price), but it's far from your only option. Visit your local hardware store or home improvement center for other possibilities.
If you’re doing anything that requires precise measurements, you’re going to need a caliper. Go digital, and get one that supports both metric and imperial units out to two decimal places for extra accuracy. Calipers are easy to come by on sites like Amazon and eBay. Our Lab uses a model from AGPTek that's available from Newegg for about $15, and it's worked great so far.
An infrared temperature gun can help you determine the temperature of electronic equipment such as a motor or various PC components—without having to touch it. Handy, right? An accurate way to tell temperature without having to come in contact with the surface is by using an infrared gun. Prices and models vary and we don't have a specific recommendation, but Amazon has one from HDE that's currently on sale for about $23.
If you're assembling electronics, it's important to know the voltage for a component, and a multimeter can tell you just that. A multimeter can also help you determine the positive and negative wires when you’re hacking into something or just setting up a small circuit. Both Amazon and Newegg offer plenty of options, ranging from under $10 for a basic model to hundreds of dollars for a professional-level multimeter. If you're looking to buy one for a hobbyist, look to spend no more than about $50 on one.