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Gifts to Yourself to Start the New Year Right

A dozen affordable ideas to refresh your toolkit

As a treat to help get your 2022 off to a good start, I thought it might be fun to spend a Saturday afternoon at a hardware store to identify items useful for any radio engineer.

This year’s visit was to Ace Hardware, but these or similar items can be found at Lowe’s, Home Depot or online. I have tried to stay under $25 to $35.

Let’s start with an economical tool box by Stanley. There are lots of varieties at different price points. The one pictured — a 19-inch, one-latch model — has two snap-lid hinged compartments that will hold your rack screws, washers and other frequently used small hardware. No more removing tools to dig out a little box of hardware at the bottom!

The deep toolbox also has enough room for something anyone over 40 needs to have: AirFlow gel-filled kneepads, shown in Fig. 2. With these gel cushions, made by CLC Work Gear, you could crawl on your knees under consoles all day long. (My alternative before discovering these was bubble wrap!)

Fig. 1: Start with a heavy-duty Stanley toolbox; Fig. 2: The toolbox is big enough to store gel-filled kneepads like these from CLC Work Gear; Fig. 3: A small inspection mirror gets into tight spaces; Fig. 4: This probe set from General is ideal for troubleshooting components.

A small inspection mirror like the one shown in Fig. 3, made by General, will come in handy, especially if you can’t squeeze your smartphone into a tight space to take pictures.

However, if you do a lot of inspections, search online for a smartphone endoscope. The scope has a lighted lens on the end of a three-foot cable that plugs into your smartphone. The camera image is displayed on the phone, and the best part is that it’s under $20.

Speaking of medical/dental instruments, the General probe set shown in Fig. 4 is ideal if you troubleshoot and repair to the component level. Another must-have for your kit is a multi-tool like the one pictured in Fig. 5. This Stanley 12-in-one multi-tool can really come in handy thanks to its many functions.

Some other products that can find uses around the transmitter site are Scott Rags in a Box work towels and GoJo Natural Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner (Figs. 6 and 7). And show me an engineer who doesn’t want a can of WD-40 lubricant around, as pictured in Fig. 8. Don’t forget to spray your transmitter site padlocks to guard against frozen lock mechanisms.

Fig: 5: A Stanley 12-in-one multi-tool takes the place of multiple tools; Fig. 6: More absorbent than paper towels are Scott Rags in a Box; Fig. 7: GoJo Natural Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner really cuts the grease after you work on dirty components; Fig; 8: WD-40 keeps locks lubricated and guards against freezing. Squirt in the keyhole and where the hasp locks, then work the mechanism to coat internal parts.

Fig. 9 certainly won’t fit in that toolbox, but the 5-gallon diesel fuel container by Midwest Can may come in handy if your generator runs low on fuel and access for a fuel truck is blocked. Yes, you’ll be making multiple trips to refill the tank; but that’s better than being off the air.

Speaking of the generator, diesel block heaters are welcome signs for rodents seeking a warm home in the winter. Rodents can’t squeeze through half-inch hardware cloth like the Garden Zone product shown in Fig. 10. Make sure all your vents and ventilation openings are sealed. This size screening should deter rodents while not obstructing air flow.

Fig. 9: A 5-gallon diesel fuel container is great insurance for your generator; Fig. 10: Half-inch-square hardware cloth keeps vermin out of generators or air vents; Fig. 11: For really big rat problems, supersize the glue trap!; Fig. 12: Stay warm in unheated buildings with this small but efficient Honeywell ceramic heater.

And while we’re on the subject of rodents and snakes, we’ve all seen (and maybe used) the little glue traps for mice. The JT Eaton Stick-Em Pro Series comes in dimensions suitable even for king-size city rats and large snakes; the “Elephant Size” ones I saw in the store were a foot square.

As we wrap up the tour, consider investing in a ceramic heater — such as the Honeywell Heat Bud pictured in Fig. 12 — as well as an LED trouble lamp, which gives plenty of light. Plus the bulb doesn’t break when it’s dropped.

John Bisset, CPBE. has more than 50 years in broadcasting and is in his 31st year writing Workbench. He handles western U.S. radio sales for the Telos Alliance and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award.

What other useful items should be on an engineer’s New Year shopping list? Email [email protected].