Top 5 Engineering Tools

Basic desk setup at my engineering day job.
Here's something that has been on my mind for a while. The top 5 tools for engineers, tinkerers and people who just like to build stuff. Now, I don't mean expensive computer software or machinery. Mills, laser cutters and a copy of Solidworks are amazing tools but they are not on this list. This list is about basic tools that I think are often overlooked by up and coming tech people. Also, everything on my list is free, or can be purchased for under $100.

Machinery's Handbook by Erik Oberg

An amazing reference book filled with all things mechanical and engineering. Want to know how to design a gear or sprocket? How about calculate the clamping force of a bolt? More than 3000 pages of mechanical knowledge is in this book. Here is a link to the newest 30th edition large print hardback on Amazon for $96USD. ( 30th Machinerys-Handbook) The older versions 27th, 28th and 29th can be found in good condition on Amazon for under $50. I personally have the 28th edition and find it completely relevant for all of my needs.

If $50 is to much for you then a digital copy can be downloaded for free here. It is the Fifth edition published in 1914 and was digitized by Google to be made available for free for everyone. I haven't used this version much but it seems to have enough info for most projects. If you are tech savvy and don't mind taking legal risks you can always search through various engineering and tech forums for download links to newer editions. Often there is someone hosting a digital file.

Pocket Reference by Thomas J. Glover

The Pocket Reference by Thomas J. Glover is the perfect compliment to The Machinery's Handbook. Where the Machinery's Handbook focuses on mechanics and metal cutting the Pocket Reference has a wealth of info about everything else. Knot tying, cloud formations, difference between grade 5 and grade 8 hardware, home insulation, plastic material standard symbols... the list could go on and on. It's small (pocket sized) and can be purchased for $6 to $12 depending on edition and if theres a sale. I bought mine for $6 at the local Harbor Freight store when I was in college.

A Drill/Tap Chart

A Drill and Tap chart is a simple page that shows all the standard drill sizes and what drill you will need to use before using a tap to cut threads in a hole. This tool is so simple but yet often forgotten. I have seen countless ideas and designs require a hole to be drilled to am exact .472" diameter or other similar non existing standard size which makes the design difficult or impossible to manufacture. Get a Drill/Tap chart and reference it when you are figuring out hardware choices and hole sizes for your project. You will save a lot of time and headache ahead of time.

You can get these little handheld charts for free usually. They are often a good way for companies to market themselves so they are handed out for free during tours or trade shows. You can also find thousands of them via google image search. If you are determined to buy one I would suggest getting a nice laminated poster with large print to hang on your garage or office wall. Also be sure to get one that includes metric and imperial standards. This way if you really do need to drill a .472" diameter hole, you'll realize that a standard 12mm drill is the perfect fit.

Programmable Calculator

A graphing calculator is an engineers best friend. I personally like the TI 83 and 84 series but Ive owned an 89 and a few older Casios. The TI calculators have a basic programming language I use to create simple calculator apps for repeat jobs. The TI-83's big screen, epic long battery life and easy operation has made it my favorite for doing calculations away from my desk. Also the overall durability is awesome when using it in a garage or machine shop. It took years of being dropped on concrete, being soaked in machine coolant and having large blocks of aluminum being set on it to finally kill mine.

I carried my TI-83 Plus around like a super nerd all throughout college. After I graduated I had one at my desk at work and bought a second at a swap meet for $10 for my garage. Eventually they both died from years of use and abuse so I upgraded by downloading the free Wabbitemu app on my Android smartphone. It exactly emulates the user experience of my old calculator and I have never had any bugs with the software. I still have a TI-84 at my desk but hardly use it now that I have this app.


A set of calipers is an extremely useful measuring tool. Their qualities ob being small, lightweight, accurate and generally easy to use make them handy with any project. I use my often to check 3D printed parts and reverse engineer parts to 3D models. A micrometer, metal ruler and a tape measure also come in handy but in my experience they are usually used secondary to my digital calipers.

I mostly use a Mitutoyo 6" digital caliper that I bought used on Craigslist for around $40. (They sell for around $100 new.) You can also buy cheaper non-namebrand ones for about $25 that work pretty well.


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