Electronic hand tools play a big role in the hobbyist, repair and small-batch manufacturing sector. As smarter technology gets incorporated into their design, the options they offer users has increased. Read on to learn about the latest choices available.
By Baishakhi Dutta
With electronic devices getting more complex, the hand tools used for repairing and fixing them as well as for troubleshooting are also evolving by incorporating newer technologies. These hand tools have not only become sophisticated but also smarter. Using the right tool for a particular task ensures that the job gets done faster and more easily. The right choice of tool usually also improves the quality of the finished product.
A few types of hand tools
- Electric drill and drill bits: Electric drills and drill bits in the range of 0.31cm to 1.27cm will come in handy when you need to drill holes on the printed circuit board (PCB) that has been etched. Drilling of plastic or metal enclosures that house the PCB is sometimes necessary. A suitable PCB high speed drill can be easily obtained from any electronics shop.
- Soldering iron: A 20-watt to 30-watt soldering iron with tips of 0.31cm to 1.27cm can be used for soldering through-hole components. Soldering surface mount components may require smaller tips, depending on their size. Soldering irons normally last a long time if taken care of properly by keeping the tips clean and well tinned.
- Wire stripper: This is used to strip off the wire insulator from its conductor before it is used to connect to another wire or soldered into the PCB. Some wire strippers or cutters have a measurement engraved on them to indicate the length that will be stripped.
- Long nose pliers: Nose pliers of 10cm length will come in handy when you have to hold components that have short leads and need to be soldered onto the PCB but will be too hot to handle with bare hands. It can also be used to hold the component that needs to be desoldered from the board.
- Side-cutting pliers: A pair of 10cm side cutting pliers is handy to trim off excess component leads on the PCB and cut wires into shorter lengths before being used.
- Tweezers: Small tweezers are used to hold small components, especially when soldering and desoldering surface mount components.
- Flat head screwdrivers: These tools come in various sizes since there are many different screw sizes.
- Socket wrench sets: These include nut drivers, hex drivers, and starters in assorted sizes, which are handy during the assembly work of electronics projects.
- Pocket knives: These are useful to cut PCBs, wires or remove some copper from the board.
Advantages of hand tools
Hand tools are faster than machines. Of course, if many identical parts need to be cut, hand tools are definitely slower. But if you work on a unique project, it will surely be easier to perform some operations with hand tools, rather than waste time in setting up and configuring a machine.
One advantage of hand tools is that they are cheaper than power tools. Another benefit is that they are much safer than power tools, which is important for both beginners and amateurs, who use hand tools for quick repairs.
Top trends in the hand tools market
In the tools industry, there are typically two trends impacting the market. The first is to make tools safer to use, and the second is to make tools more efficient to save time.
Advances in safety: It’s difficult to make improvements to tools such as hammers, wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers, though there have been some products which have seen improvements in safety over the past few years. The utility knife is a great example of a hand tool that’s been given a lot of attention, and there have been some great safety enhancements made to it recently.
Small changes to hand tools go a long way to making them safer. One major safety feature of most hand tools is insulation with rubber or plastic materials. This not only protects those working with live electricity but also gives them an extra grip, making the tool easier to handle and reducing the chance of it slipping from their hands. Plastico offers a number of tool coating services that are great for ensuring the tools used are safe and reliable.
Advances in functionality: Tool manufacturers are working hard to design hand tools that not only work better, but are multi-functional as well.
One of the most common multi-function tools used today is a multi-bit screwdriver. It works in one of two ways—by either storing multiple bits in its base which can be snapped on magnetically when needed, or by using a slide system by which you can simply slide the bits up from a track on the inside of the screwdriver’s base.
Obviously, the main concern with this sudden influx of multi-function tools is that by focusing on the functionality of the tool, its durability may take a hit. While this is true in some cases, the industry is working hard to make higher quality multifunction tools.
Along with the advances in functionality and safety, another recent trend is ‘Next-shoring’. This refers to increased technological innovation, paired with growing consumer demand and higher wages in Asia, which is influencing many companies to manufacture their products close to home.
Many manufacturers are also focusing on creating value through innovation, original design and speed to market. Increased focus on these areas, matched with low-interest rates, is making these manufacturers spend on improving their plants (or purchasing entirely new plants) and on purchasing new equipment.
Making a purchase decision
- Most users are not educated enough about the right way to use these tools, and they are often used without considering whether a particular tool will yield the desired result or not. Besides, as Indian buyers are price sensitive, they are not particularly concerned about the functions of these hand tools. However, when making a purchase decision, it is very important to consider tools that are of high quality. Working with inferior quality tools will not only take more time but will not give a smooth finish to the end product. It’s best to go for branded tools as they ensure high quality. However, branded tools are also higher priced.
- Safety is another important factor to be taken into consideration. These devices, though small, can cause serious injuries and burns. Though there are hand tools that are non-powered, most tools today are either automatic, semi-automatic or power-operated. Thus, it is important to note that serious damage, cuts and bruises can happen due to improper use or lack of maintenance of these tools.
Hand tools can be divided into several groups:
- Laying out tools – used for measuring and marking
- Impact or striking tools (hammers, mallets and sledges)
- Twisting tools or fastening tools (wrenches and screwdrivers)
- Metal-cutting tools (dies, drills, files, punches, reamers, taps)
- Holding tools (clamps, pliers, vices)
- ESD safe equipment (goggles, gloves)
- Grinding and sharpening tools
- Finishing tools and abrasives
- Tool storage and accessory containers
Importance of hand tools
A lot of communication and electronic systems are deployed on the field, and this requires live testing in active conditions. Carrying benchtop or table top equipment for testing on the field can be cumbersome. With the advent of new technology, nearly 80 per cent of the actual testing can today be carried out with handheld tools.
Maintenance tips for electronic tools
Good quality tools can last a lifetime if they are taken care of properly. Ensure that the tools are used only for their intended purposes and lubricate them with a light film of oil to prevent rusting. Keep the tools clean and sharp, keep the soldering tips clean and well tinned, and ensure that the tools are always used properly by following the instructions given in the manual.
A few products available in the market
Hakko FT 801 thermal wire stripper
This is a compact tool that ensures clean-cut removal of wire insulation. It is used to strip electrical insulation from wires, and it does this pretty cleanly. It has three replaceable blades. Interchangeable blades allow working with wires of different diameters. The maximum wire diameter supported is 12mm. It has a ‘Power save’ mode, which cuts power to the blades by 50 per cent when the hand-piece is placed in the holder.
Aven’s adjustable circuit board holder
This adjustable circuit board holder is ideal for clamping PCBs during soldering, desoldering or rework. It features two adjustable grips on a retractable stand to accommodate various board sizes up to 198mm(width) and 4mm (thickness). The adjustable clamps allow the PCB to rotate 360 degrees and stay set in any position. The base of this rigid metal stand features four rubber feet to ensure stability.
Aven’s lead-free solder pot – 150W
This is ideal for tinning the ends of stranded wire leads, pre-tinning small electrical parts, re-tinning soldering iron tips and dip soldering small circuit boards. The variable temperature heating element liquefies solder quickly and provides good thermal stability. The crucible, with a holding capacity of 500g, is made from stainless steel with titanium plating, featuring corrosion resistance and prolonged service life.
Hakko cutting tools
These are designed for precision assembly of delicate and complex electronics work. Their soft-touch grip helps users to work for long periods, with comfort. The product is highly recommended for cutting copper and soft lead wires.
Security bit precision screwdriver set – T2 T3 T4 T6 to T30
This is an ideal 32-piece security bit set for disassembling and repairing cell phones, laptops, iPhones and iPads, and other consumer electronic devices. It comes with a durable latching storage case, and 0.63cm hex shank screwdriver handle with extension. It can be used with cordless drills or power screwdrivers.
Aven’s 10355-ER stainless steel diagonal cutter, with comfort grips
This tool has beveled cutting edges and is hardened for long lasting performance. It has an oval head design and a jaw length of 20mm (0.78”). Model 10355 has a fully polished body and handle, and Model 10345 has a fully polished body with comfort grip handles.