Engineer me a great gift.
December 12, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

UK Giftfilter: My mid-20s younger brother is currently teaching himself about workshop stuff and electrical & mechanical engineering. Help me find the perfect christmas gift for him on my minuscule budget! More detail? There's more inside...

My brother's a difficult one to buy for. While he studied photography and documentary filmmaking, he's never wanted to follow them as careers. Through another hobby that's seriously waned in interest, he's discovered a passion (and an aptitude IMO) for engineering. He's acquired a small mill, enhanced it with lots of bits and bobs (some self-made), and is about to invest in a lathe. He's definitely passionate about it, and hopes to make money selling some of his niche-interest inventions online. As these inventions need electronics, he's bought various Arduino things and has taught himself some basic Arduino programming, and figured out how to transfer the programs onto smaller chips. For now, he's working to perfect his inventions.

He's completely self taught, and his passion and aptitude is really impressive. I know he feels like there are lots of gaps in his knowledge, and I'd love to give him something that keeps his interest up. He loves learning through forums, videos, and books. However, the subject as a whole is something I know next to nothing about, thus I have very little idea what to get him.

Any relatively budget suggestions would be very much appreciated. I'm hoping to keep the cost to £15-20, but I would consider something spendier if it's really special. If it helps, I'm in the UK, in London.
posted by Magnakai to Shopping (14 answers total)
A copy of Making Things Talk would be pretty swell, unless he's got one.
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2011

A subscription to MAKE magazine would link him in to the maker community. They LOOOOVE arduinos, milling stuff, etc.

A UK digital subscription is only US$20. It would also get him all the online back issues, etc.
posted by rockindata at 7:45 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: I wonder if you could get him a copy of Machinery's Handbook. The current edition is pretty expensive, but there are some cheaper used/older editions you might be able to find.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:49 AM on December 12, 2011

The Handbook is a good idea, there's also the IEEE and Mechanical Engineering versions. If you're on a budget you could shop around thrift/secondhand stores and probably find a nice, awesome looking, older version that will have 99% of the necessary material/formulas he'll need. It's not like he's doing bleeding edge research but he might want to know what speed to set his lathe at for various materials/tooling combinations and the older versions will be just as valuable for that.

Other than that just a nice set/pair/single of some sort of tools he needs, I'm not a great surprise gift giver so I'd just ask him what tool he wishes he had and go from there. It could be a set of calipers or a nice bench vise, who knows.... he will.

These are cool and very handy if you're doing any soft of smaller work. Since you indicate arduino he may be doing some soldering/electronics work.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:56 AM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: Cheers guys, great answers!

Machinery's Handbook or the Mechanical Engineering Handbook is a fantastic idea, and pretty much perfect but is unfortunately very expensive. London-based charity shops are very savvy and I suspect I won't find a bargain with that one. However, maybe I can get other interested parties to buy one together with me.

I have tried to buy tools in the past, and it has not gone well. They're been graciously accepted and then swiftly replaced, so I think I'll leave that up to him.

The Make series are excellent, and I have thought about them in the past. I was a little concerned that they are too project-based, which might not (or might!) ever get realised. That said, Making Things Talk is probably the current front-runner, but I'll watch this for a bit longer in case something more appropriate is suggested.
posted by Magnakai at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: Not sure how interested your brother is in the social aspect of his hobby, but I've been told there are some very friendly folks down at the London Hackerspace. They do weekly events and such, it might be a fun community to turn him on to. I've always found that nothing sustains a hobby like having people to talk about it with.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:03 AM on December 12, 2011

This book is a classic for understanding electronic circuits. It looks like there are used softcover versions available in your price range.
posted by doctord at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: It looks like has the 25th edition (1996) used for 17.88 GBP (Here)

24th Ed (1992), 18.98 GBP

27th Ed (2004), 41.05 GBP

The basics won't change, so even an older edition should be helpful.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2011

My husband has "The Art of Electronics" linked by doctord above, and he reads it all the time. It's definitely very, very well regarded (and very well written; I even peruse it sometimes).

Another book he reads all the time was passed down to him, an ancient copy of Machine Tool Technology – that exact version. I also leaf through this occasionally, and there's so much info stuffed in there it always amazes me.
posted by taz at 9:41 AM on December 12, 2011

I would lean towards the other recommendations in this thread over Make stuff, for someone at your brother's skill level. I love the Make folks, but I feel like they're a gateway drug -- you start reading them, get inspired, learn stuff, and pretty quickly move beyond the level of project they're talking about. Making Things Talk might be the same way, if he's already moved on to programming smaller AVRs without the Arduino sugar on top. On the other hand, if he hasn't dealt specifically with computer programming and networked communications, it might still have useful information for him. Also: the Make stuff is fun, if you're looking to feel like part of the DIY community and see other people's neat projects, rather than get detailed instructions for complex complex engineering projects.
posted by Alterscape at 9:47 AM on December 12, 2011

Throwing something random in here, if he has a mill and is going to be getting a lathe, it might be worthwhile to get him some scrap aluminum or brass bar stock. There should be a small local scrapyard that sells scrap metal by the pound. A lot of them have short offcuts from larger bars. Any round or square bar under 3cm diameter would be useful in the shop. Should be about 2-3 bucks a pound or so for brass. Fairly cheap, and the nice thing about having scrap bars in the shop is that it encourages one to play.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 2:18 PM on December 12, 2011

I'm not sure what their shipping policy is like, but might I recommend Lindsay Publications? They mostly reprint public domain stuff from back in the day and odd how to books that would be right up your brothers alley.

Here are some titles I recently picked up that he might find useful:
  • Accurate Tool Work by Goodrich and Stanley - How to put three holes in this disk, centered and in an equilateral triangle within 0.001 of perfection.
  • Model Engineering by Henry Greenly - How to make steam powered garden scale railroad engines and the like but full of useful knowledge even if you aren't interested in steam power)
  • Modern Toolmaking Methods by Franklin D. Jones - (for values of modern equal to monoplanes are the new hotness) Lots of how to make really precise things like mandrels and thread chasers and such that, sure, you could buy relatively cheaply from somewhere in Asia and get nickled and dimed to death (or whatever you get when a bunch of little purchases add up to a big bill in the UK).
  • Tricks and Secrets of Old-Time Machinists - A compilation of letters to American Machinist Magazine where machinists basically were writing in to show the world how clever they were by managing to do something amazing with the kinds of tools a normal shop would have on hand.
Also, Electronics for Inventors is pretty good. Not the same as "Art of Electronics" but maybe exactly the sort of thing your brother would be interested in.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:19 PM on December 12, 2011

Raspberry Pi - it's a dev board like an Arduino, uses many of the same sensors, but get's him out of the 8-bit, no-OS world, and into a 32-bit, linux, OpenGL, ethernet, USB ARM world (ARM chips power many smartphones, including the iPhone, many routers, etc). Problem: it's supposed to be available in December, and here is is mid-December... but if he'll take a rain check, it'd be a great gift. It's being developed in Cambridge, so u'd be buying (almost) local.
posted by at at 10:44 PM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! Thank you everyone for some amazing suggestions.

I've decided to get Machinery's Handbook for him this time round, but with his birthday only a couple of months away, I am definitely going to come back to this thread for more ideas. I'm really intrigued by The Art of Electronics - that could be very useful to him.

Wretch, I'm definitely going to point him to the Hackerspace. It sounds like the sort of thing that he'd absolutely love.

Pink Fuzzy Bunny, scrap metal stock is a great idea, but is a bit impractical unfortunately as I don't drive. It's definitely worth bearing in mind, and there seem to be a few within a short drive from him.

Kid Charlemagne, I also investigated the Lindsay Publications books, and I'll definitely be picking up one of those for a future gift. If anyone else in the UK is looking for them, they're sold online by Camden Miniature Steam Services, who are confusingly based in Devon.

at, Raspberry Pi is really neat, but is probably more in my line of interests than his at the moment - he's not really into computer science per se, only using it as a tool. I think the Arduino is probably more than enough for him at the moment.

Thanks all!
posted by Magnakai at 6:43 AM on December 14, 2011

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