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How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: Must Have Tools For Your Geek Toolbox?

While we’ve asked you about the software you keep in your virtual toolbox, this week we’re interested in the actual hardware. What must have tools have you tucked away inside your geek toolbox?

A USB drive full of trouble shooting tools is awesome, but there’s still a time and place for real world tools that make running cable, cracking open cases, and retrieving parts that go missing in the bowels of machines, an easy task. This week we want to hear all about the tools you’ve tucked away in your toolbox specifically for your adventures in fixing, tweaking, and deploying technology.

Sound off in the comments and then check back on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/9/12

Comments (50)

  1. Burned

    I dont see a guitar pick in that set of tools. They are great for opening LCD panel bezels and anything plastic that is snapped together. I also carry dental picks, electric screwdriver and telescopic magnet.

  2. Citrus Rain

    I used to have a mini ratchet set, I can’t remember if I misplaced it or if my brother grabbed it… Or if it’s on the shelf.
    I have a lid for a stack of blank CDs turned upside down to hold screws and parts that fill in areas on my computer tower, and a anti-static bracelet. But that’s about it.

  3. Dave

    Other than a multi-plier (Gerber’s version of the Leatherman, includes needle-nose, various screwdrivers, and cutters), a CAT-5 crimper, and a 2.5″ to 40-pin adapter for connecting laptop drives to towers, I don’t really carry anything.

  4. andyr354

    Screw driver and a sledge hammer.

  5. Michael

    @Burned: that’s a great tip for the LCD stuff. Ad for me I have a Philips screwdriver a mini screwdriver and a mini torch. I use the side of the computer case for holding screws and stuff.

  6. Benjamin Spaulding

    5 years ago:
    Stack of CD’s with various tools (UBCD4Win, Ubuntu, Password resets, etc.)
    Full set of jewellers size screw drivers in Flat, Phillips, Torx and Hex
    4 port hub, 4 port switch
    Laptop
    Serial Cable + Cisco cable.
    Fluke network tester
    Cable crimper w/ spare ends, and pre-made jumpers, cross-over cables, etc.
    Linemans pliers (dykes)
    Magnet Tray
    Multi-Tool
    hex drivers
    Hemostat

    Now I don’t even think about it most of the time:
    small pack of thumb drives many pre-loaded with tools. 500 GB Portable drive with all the apps I could need.
    Small length USB cables on small USB 2 hub for storage (Micro USB, Mini USB, Apple Dock, A-B) plus 3′ USB extension cable
    Spudger and Guitar Picks
    Ultrabook (HP Folio) tethered to phone if I need to look anything up.
    USB-Serial Adapter with serial and cisco cables
    Jewellers Screw drivers and Multi-tool in the truck if I need them.
    Same Fluke meter and Cable Crimper get grabbed if hitting anything non-wireless.

  7. Romberry

    1, A retrieval magnet for tiny screws in tight places.

    2. An assortment of screwdriver tips to fit a variety of screws.

    3. A brush for the dust bunnies.

    4. Band-Aids. Really. I know they aren’t a tool, but some of those cases have very sharp edges.

  8. Martina

    1. 10 pc set of screw drivers
    2. RJ-45 crimpers
    3. wire cutters
    4. assortment of programs on thumb drives and cd’s, including Ubuntu, PortableApps, etc
    5. hammer for stupid end-users

  9. TechGeek01

    Whenever I fix a computer, I carry a backpack with me. This has my laptop, and mainly, a couple of flash drives, including one with portable apps on it, and few cables. I make sure to have a 25′ CAT6 Ethernet cable on hand, and a 10 ‘ CAT5e crossover cable just in case. I also keep a few miscellaneous USB cables on hand as well. I keep my laptop charger and a 500GB external hard drive at all times.

    Those are just what I have on hand all the time. However, depending on the job, I also may bring any other cables that I may need, a few assorted screwdrivers, some computer parts (including a spare hard drive or two) if some need replacing. Occasionally a few extra computer cable also come with me if one needs to be replaced. I may also carry some zip ties and a stapler, because there are quite a few things that can be temporarily fixed with either of those.

    I also have a CD storage case with a multitude of LiveCDs and utilities to diagnose and fix lots of problems.

    Aside from that, I also always make sure that I install TeamViewer on every computer that I’ve ever worked with. That way, if people have other problems, they can email me the temporary password, and I can use TeamViewer to come in and help remotely.

  10. davin

    While I carry a lot of tools… the one thing that I just started carrying that made me wonder why I never had one before is a good keyring led light beats crawling around behind a PC and not being able to tell the color of a port

  11. roy

    It depends a lot on what you are repairing. For electronic repairs I would recommend the following.

    * Magnetic Tip Screwdriver.
    * Screwdriver bits – Set of Flathead, Philips and Torx.
    * Magnetic Pickup Tool.
    * Set of Spanners.
    * Set of Allen Keys.
    * Pliers.
    * Nut Driver.
    * Phase Tester.
    * Anti Static Strap.
    * Multi-Meter.
    * Wire Stripper.
    * Solder Gun.
    * Tweezers.
    * Stanley Blade.
    * Compressed Air – for blowing out dusty sensors etc.
    * Magnifying glass.
    * Adjustable Mirror.

  12. ryan_bigl

    -Compressed air
    -two flash drives (one with apps, one for saving stuff with a portable dropbox on it)
    -mini screwdriver
    -screwdriver with multiple heads
    -lil plastic baggies to store screwdrivers and stuff in
    -blank dvds
    -boot cds with alternate OSes, anti-virus, UBCD4Win, Hiro’s, SARDU, etc.
    -spare cat5 cables < 5'
    -spare usb mouse
    -spare usb hub
    -spare usb cables (mini, micro, whatever lol)

  13. 4ensicPenguin2

    A Leatherman and a rubber hammer.

  14. Aurora900

    My kit is mostly the same as everyone elses, except I never go anywhere without my full set of security bits for the occasional strange screw here and there. It has everything from torx (including the security ones), to pozidriv, to those S shaped bits that only go one way.

    My favorite tool of all time to carry though would be my butane soldering iron. I can be anywhere and still be able to solder. No wires to get caught in, no need for electricity…

    I also use my cellphone extensively for wifi diagnostics (with wifi analyzer).

  15. Aurora900

    Oh… and I can’t live without my self adjusting wire strippers. Those are the greatest invention ever made.

  16. QQ

    Screwdrivers set (Wiha, Craftsman)
    Digital Multimeter 1.5v
    Pry tool (for laptops)
    Post diagnostic card tester (PCI/Mini PCI)
    Power supply tester
    Cable tester (RJ-45)
    Crossover cable
    Cable crimper
    Wire stripper
    Soldering iron
    Desoldering Pump
    Air duster
    Lint free wipes
    ESD wrist strap
    Flashlight
    Thermal paste (for CPU)
    Magnetizer demagnetizer tool (for ‘not’ magnetic screwdrivers)
    Antistatic bags (for storage)
    Tweezers
    Needle nose pliers
    Wire Cutter
    Hex Keys set
    Electrical Tape
    Parts/Screw case
    Tape measure
    Needle File Set
    Magnifying glass
    Cable Ties
    Knife
    Krazy Glue
    Helping hands stand
    Static dissipative brush
    ESD Purell Hand Care
    USB thumb drive
    Extra Spare Parts: RAM,HD,Cables, WiFi-Card, Wires for repairs and Screws

  17. Anonymous

    There’s usually not a lot of tools I need to have available in an instant. That said, the tools I try to keep nearby at all times are my Leatherman “all in one” tool (on my belt) and my flashlight (also on my belt next to my Leatherman). You’d be amazed at just how much I can get done with just those two tools alone.

    Tools I might actually carry with me the majority of the time might be my DVM (multimeter) or hammer a.k.a. “the fix-all tool” (which can be quite therapeutic on those really stubborn problems).

    But seriously, other tools I actually keep in a “toolbox” or in my vehicle could range anywhere from a spudger (similar to a guitar pick) all the way to a spectrum analyzer. It really depends on what I’m doing – or plan on doing.

  18. Rich

    Sonic Screwdriver

  19. Peter Munch-Ellingsen

    This handy little credit card sized 11-in-one multi tool is something I carry with me everywhere. Whether the task is to crack open a case, screw a screw or open one of those crazy-hard plastic cases it does the trick. dx.com/stainless-steel-11-in-1-multi-functional-tool-card-2-pack-12590?81868765 Plus it opens my Friday beer when I’m celebrating my repairs :P Apart from that it’s basically just some duct tape and my memory stick full of programs I carry.

  20. Citrus Rain

    @Rich

    Oh yes. Sonic Screwdriver! Great flashlight that you can hold in your mouth without it being too heavy.

  21. RandyRan

    1. I use Active Bootdisk extensively. Both a usb boot version and CD version. (Good for password resets, bootdisk recovery, data recovery, etc…) This has been the best of the best when it comes to boot disks/rescue cd’s.

    2. Ethernet cables (crossover, standard,) various lengths.

    3. External Drive

    4. Toolsets (various sizes of phillips, flatheads and other types)

    I have other equipment/tools but these are the ones I use most.

  22. badger_fruit

    Blow torch and UZI 9MM!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. chris

    I keep a large notepad to tear pages off and set screws on to keep them organized

  24. 4ensicPenguin2

    I saw electrical tape, but no Duct Tape. Might have to fix a cracked case.

  25. lizbit

    3 huge toolboxes full of suff, in our office fixing a computer leads to fixing the printer, fixing the aircon, putting up shelves and surely if we are in IT we know how to electrically rewire the entire building too, o a ladder and a big ass drill

  26. Tritac3

    One very useful tool I have not seen listed is a

    Tone and Probe kit.

  27. Dana Ross

    I walk around everyday with a small Crescent Wrench and Swiss Army Knife. The SAK is mostly used for the Phillips Head Screw Driver but the other blades come into play. Everybody knows that I can fix stuff for them, not just computers, and I’m always ready.

  28. Michael

    3 items for all situations:
    – Channellock 424 1/2-Inch Jaw Capacity 4-1/2-Inch Tongue and Groove Plier – Ultra slim pliers for just about anything with incredibly strong grip and leverage. My father carries these and calls them his “wizard pliers”.
    http://www.amazon.com/Channellock-424-2-Inch-Capacity-Tongue/product-reviews/B00004SBCR
    – Coast C7200 Lockback Knife – Ultra slim knife for anything that the pliers won’t do.
    http://www.amazon.com/Coast-C7200-Lockback-Knife/dp/B000FJS18E/ref=sr_1_78?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1336664630&sr=1-78
    – Credit card with $10k limit – If the first 2 items don’t correct the issue… replace situation and bill accordingly.

  29. ICONlarry

    How about a USB 2.0 TO SATA/IDE connector?

  30. Thrower of Anthing

    All of the above tools + PATIENCE.

  31. Byron

    Add a bent paper clip to reach into those tiny reset holes. Actually I have a broken off dental tool that works just great.

  32. Zagreus

    I have a 12” length of plastic tubing. Makes retrieving those screws dropped into the casing a doddle. just locate the screw and suck.

  33. czl

    Power supply analyzer
    Motherboard test card
    usual assortment of hand tools, and utilities

  34. Blacknight22

    For the most part all I carry a pocket full of USBs with me, and my swiss army knockoff pocket knife. The pocket knife is the only one I’ve ever found that has small pliers, and small scissors (perfect for snipping wire ties or striping wires) along with the usual suspects and isn’t ridiculously over sized.
    The USBs are all identical since I’m usually working on a large number of comps at the same time, and each has a slew of bootable tools on them along with a number of windows virus removal and diagnostics tools on them.

    My full sized “Nerd Kit” (packed in a nondescript flat black brief case… sue me I like to make an entrance and it matches my sun glasses)

    -A multi-head screwdriver with a plethora of bits including torques and security bits
    -A multimeter
    -my spair soldering set (cheapo 30watt iron along with a solder pump, braid, and small spool of solder
    -wire ties
    -mini-pci/LPT post analyzer
    -USB Floppy along with a few discs for XP installs on newer systems
    -A modded cigarette case full of mini DVDs with utilities like Clonezilla on them
    -thermal grease
    -a small can of canned air
    -wire strippers/cutters
    -jewelers screwdrivers (for when screws are set in to deep for me to get with my mulit-head one)
    -Antistatic wrist strap
    -Non-marring pry tools

    and finally…
    -a sandwich baggie full of spare screws

    Few, sorry for the laundry list, as I’m sure most people carry a similar kit for house calls.

  35. Innkeeper

    Plain and Simple
    Phillips Head screwdriver
    Brush for dust bunnies
    Torch
    Long Nose Pliers

  36. stevieb

    The most useful tool (sorry, second most useful tool) I have is a short length (about a foot) of bicycle brake cord, with a low power magnet glued to the end.
    The next most useful tool is a corkscrew.

  37. Steve-O-Rama

    The best tool is your brain. It’s with you all of the time, usually working right (I hope it is, at least), and can be used in any situation. It’s been in development for over 250,000 years (at least as far as I can tell, in its current form). What’s best is that it is somewhat adaptable to different applications, and you can always make it perform better with a little work. I could go into the importance of having a hacker mentality, the usefulness of technical knowledge, experience, and the like, but I think Cody Lundin said it best: Knowledge is power, and it’s very lightweight. Think about how important it is to select the correct tool for the job, and the subsequent importance of using it correctly.

    Okay, enough abstract BS. The tools in my lab I regularly find most useful are my:
    – DVOM
    – oscilloscope
    – SK-Wayne ratchet from my grandfather (thing is ANCIENT)
    – engineer’s hammer (oh yes, they exist)
    – Android phone
    – Kershaw/Ken Onion/Leek speed-safe knife
    – Sharpie (industrial! lol)
    – adjustable wrench
    – wire strippers
    – Hakko FX-888 soldering station
    – WFMC ‘Super-Deluxe’ ratcheting driver & bit set

    All of my tools are kept in portable storage, so if I need to perform field service, it’s just a matter of throwing a couple of toolboxes, and maybe a few instruments, into the truck and heading off.

  38. Juergen

    Leatherman (always with me)
    and a L.A.R.T. ;-)

  39. Patrick

    My backpack is my McGuyver back with more tools on the average day than actual work supplies. A leatherman or gerber multitool is in all of my bags, my crimping tool is with me when working in the lab, a usb to serial cable for consoling into devices. I also have one of these, which are great for stripping random cables: http://www.amazon.com/Automatic-Wire-Stripper-with-Cutter/dp/B0002KR95W/ref=sr_1_32?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1336735895&sr=1-32. Not to mention my HP Touchpad, there’s also a solid state external in my bag for carrying data, along with two thumb drives full of tools, images and documents.

  40. Woody

    I used to carry a lot of tools around, until I finally decided that the pocket screwdriver with a phillips tip on one end and a stand tip on the other was the only tool I needed. The whole tool kit fits in my pocket.

  41. Bubba

    I like to take a User-Experience Design Engineer with me always. He doesn’t fit in the tool box all that good, but makes people realize how fun life could be if I were in the office a couple times a week.

  42. Kevalin

    A mini screwdriver with multiple heads
    A mini torx screwdriver with changeable heads
    Compressed air
    And anti-static wristband to keep me from electrocuting my computer
    A rubber doormat to keep me from being electrocuted BY my computer

    Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but I do keep a rubber doormat to place my computer on when I’m doing repairs. Keeps it from sliding around on the kitchen counter (my usual workspace, these days) and adds extra static protection. I recently completely dismantled, cleaned, thermal pasted and reassembled my laptop with just those tools, minus the torx.

  43. Brett

    As Arthur Dent said, wherever you go, you only need your trusty towel. Works in every situation.

    Mind you, Linus got by with only a blanket.

  44. Bernard

    I often carry a Victorinox Cybertool, it has several screwdriver tips for computers, plus pliers, scissors, wire stripper etc etc. It is really usefulMy mobile also has a powerful flashlight, very handy for getting to the rear of badly placed computer cases. The only other item I leave in my wallet all the time is a rubber (eraser) for cleaning RAM connectors.

  45. adrian

    Where’s the DUCT TAPE?

  46. Bob Abela

    can opener…’cause opening a computer can be like opening a can of worms
    hammer…hard drives crash, saves time by speeding up the process
    buggle gum…just in case I need to perform some “MacGyver” magic
    duct tape…wouldn’t be a “repairman” without it
    toilet plunger…ok…maybe I’m taking this too far

    Cheers!

  47. sonnet

    for hardware problems i call my hubby,

    software glitches, i contact my online friend.

    me…one of those “stupid” users. sorry, geeks

  48. MartinN

    I carry:

    - a screwdriver set which includes a bunch of the security bits.
    - wire cutters
    - wire stripper, spare cables
    - 3 flash drives – with various software for dx and checking for malware or virus.
    - I have other software on Dropbox and a file with various websites that might be useful from time to time
    - a small pill box with several compartments to store screws in (that I remove from the computer)
    - a small plastic pill container that holds extra screws in case I lose one
    - fingernail clippers – for stripping or cutting wires in close quarters
    - needle nose pliers
    - automotive pick up tool for when I drop a screw
    - I also have a magnetic pick up tool for dropped screws, but seldom use it. This is a carry over from the old days when we used floppy disks and magnets were taboo.
    - small mirror on a extension to help see in hidden areas (usually to find a screw)
    - magnifying glass (a must have for reading small print on cards and chips)
    - various other tools that are useful from time to time.
    - Compressed Air
    - Excedrin – I almost always have a headache before I finish

    I don’t carry bandaids but that is a excellent idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, but will be adding it to my tool box.

    My most useful tool is a hat I bought at Sears (you can also buy them at Lowes or Home Depot), which has two LEDS on the front. The back of the hat has a switch that turns on the lights, and lets you chose between using one or two LEDS. I have found that no matter where I am the computer is situated so there is never enough light so I have the lighting turned on most of the time and it frees up my hands for working on the computer, and the light is always pointed where I am looking.

    I don’t do a lot of repairs anymore but these and other common tools are what I carry to aid me in trouble shooting and repair computers for friends and family.

  49. Larry

    …and what software is on those flash drives?

  50. Ezrab

    My favourite tools- headlamp and small mirror

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