Help Make this Space happen: Suggest your favorite tools and resources
September 19, 2013 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I am tasked with stocking up a Maker Space gallery that will be part of a museum. I'm very much a crafter and maker myself, but am looking for the Makers of MetaFilter to tell me your favorite tools, especially ones for small hands (we will be catering to kids and families, as young as 3 years old). We will be doing simple woodworking projects (already looking at Japanese Pull Saws), sewing, circuitry, paper art, lots of tinkering (including activities with recycled materials and new materials). We are focusing on "real" tools (no plastic Fisher Price kids stuff, please), and I expect to buy a couple different versions of some items (hammers for smaller people, hammers for bigger jobs). The tools will get lots of use, so I'm happy to spend a bit more if it means I don't have to constantly replace broken items. I am especially looking for specific recommendations for specific tools, reviews, or resources ("these sewing scissors are amazing for the price" or "don't buy this brand of clamp" or "this site sells very good quality paper punches"). Thanks in advance!
posted by leastlikelycowgirl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Trawl around in Cool Tools for exactly these sorts of recommendations and reviews. Examples: Extra Large Rubber Bands, Knipex Cutters (via Mefi's own asavage, who knows something about tools) and more.
posted by jquinby at 5:42 AM on September 19, 2013

Eggbeater drills can be used by very young children to pre-drill holes for nails or screws.
posted by mareli at 5:50 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have a look at the MakerSpace Playbook, school edition.
posted by saucysault at 5:52 AM on September 19, 2013

Seconding Cool Tools, especially the older reviews. I can vouch for those Knipex cutters, they are amazing.

I might suggest a bench top drill press. Very versatile. I don't have specific brands to recommend but they have a million uses. Also buy some clamps for it and learn about drill press safety.

I love Craftsman hand tools. If you dig up a wrench that was buried and abused 40 years ago, you can take it in to Sears and they will replace it. If you're buying at Sears, make sure you buy Craftsman brand as they also sell lower quality stuff.

A couple good X-Acto knives and a few dozen replaceable blades. Just stick to one or two type of blades as I find the specialized ones don't get used much.

You can buy a box of 500 tongue depressors for a few bucks. They're good as crafting material as well as a tool. You ca use them for clay shaping, gluing, or shimming. You can shape the end with sandpaper to get a finer point. A billion uses.
posted by bondcliff at 5:57 AM on September 19, 2013

Jewelery-making shops usually have sets of pliers for relatively cheap -- they're small enough for kids for normal-plier-things and useful for making jewelery for adults. I *think* mine is a smaller version of this kit and it's held up for several years and some stupid non-jewelery uses thus far.

Sewing cutting mats and large, clear, acrylic rulers are very useful for sewing (quilting and normal sewing), but also terrific for just about anything else -- it's amazing how many uses they have once you've bought a few. Using proper cutting mats with Exacto knives also helps the blades last longer. Jo-Ann Fabrics periodically has 40% or 50% off sales on their cutting mats and rulers, so if you wait for one of those, they're reasonable to buy. (For ruler sizes, get at least one long ruler that is at least 24" by 5" and maybe a couple squares, 6.5" and 12.5" are useful.)

I'd get the mats and rulers even though I would specifically recommend against the rotary cutters that are generally used with them. Rotary cutters are brilliant at cutting fabric very quickly and accurately, but they are also terribly dangerous for unsupervised children and adults. Avoid unless you are 100% sure everyone involved will be impeccably supervised. Use some sort of fabric marker and a pair of scissors and/or pinking shears instead.

What types of sewing are you planning -- will you have machines and have people preparing big things like quilts, or is it more small-kid's-project level sewing?
posted by pie ninja at 6:03 AM on September 19, 2013

Sears' Craftsman hand tools come with a lifetime warranty.
posted by corey flood at 6:22 AM on September 19, 2013

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh has a space that sounds almost exactly like what you are looking for. It may be worth contacting them for advice.
posted by dforemsky at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2013

You mention "circuitry" but I see no mention of any electronics tools, which makes sense, given your stated crafting background. But it also points to a need for a local expert, not just recommendations, in this field. (Likewise, I myself wouldn't try to teach textile arts, even with a bunch of good tools.)

That being said, if you need budgeting and purchasing stuff now, I can recommend:

The Hakko FX-888 or 888D soldering station. Teaching is easier when the student's not fighting a cheap iron, so I do believe it's worthwhile to invest in good temperature-controlled (not cheap wattage-controlled) stations. As a bonus, Hakko is the class-act that all the ripoffs have chosen to rip off, so replacement tips are cheap.

For large-ish wire, I can recommend these particular no-brand astonishingly cheap wire cutters/strippers. They're surprisingly decent for the price, although they only go down to 22AWG so you'll need something else for the finer-gauge stuff.

For smaller wire, these look like they're worth a try, though I have no personal experience. (I carry a set of now-discontinued Craftsman strippers for the really fine-gauge stuff, but they're both overkill and unergonomic for small hands.)

As a soldering aid, you'll do well to keep some orangewood sticks around. Get 'em from a nail-salon supply outfit, it's cheaper than ordering from Techni-Tool. Orangewood is a dense, heat-tolerant hardwood, and is ideal for keeping fingers out of harm's way. (Sometimes you just can't avoid having to hold a component during soldering.)

Understanding circuits is more than just building circuits, though, and for that, you need math and measurement. A big whiteboard will help. A simple handheld multimeter (non-auto-ranging, preferably) is fine, but avoid the Harbor Freight ones; their lead connections get loose in frustrating ways. My usual recommendation is "whatever digital meter Sears has for $20", as they're usually decently made and that's a cheap enough price-point to avoid the silly feature-bloat that afflicts the beefier models.

If you have the budget for it, an oscilloscope is an absolutely invaluable tool for understanding what's going on in a circuit. It's one of the big ways (aside from simple exposure to new ideas) that a hackerspace/makerspace can help its members/visitors leap forward with their concepts that they wouldn't do working alone because the 'scope is fairly expensive. Opinions vary on whether a simple analog unit or a low-end digital scope makes for the better entry-level tool, but I'll say the analog is better for understanding how an oscilloscope works, and the digital is less hassle to jump right into understanding how everything else works. Just get the cheap Rigol, and write the "restore factory settings" procedure on a poster behind it, because someone's wacky preset will frustrate the next user.

I do believe this stuff is thoroughly within kids' reach, having taught soldering to students as young as 9. (That's about the cutoff, though -- her 7yo sister didn't yet have the dexterity for it.) But it really needs a mentor who's facile with the tools and the theory, to answer questions and nurture future exploration, and make sure nobody ever walks away thinking it's "too hard".
posted by Myself at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2013

I've had reason to contact McMaster-Carr with odd questions before and they've been unfailingly polite and knowledgeable. A call to them might bring up some interesting stuff. I'd do the same at your most local small handyperson store. And Wards Scientific, which specializes in science education supplies. They'd be the most likely place to stock things that work for small hands, or know who does.

The one thing I don't see mentioned much here is safety gear. Kid sized goggles, aprons, gloves, etc.

My son's preschool recently did a woodworking session and they used balsa wood. The kids loved it because it was real, but it was still very easy to work with.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:12 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wristbands, so you can keep track of which 3-year-olds have parents who've signed your liability waivers and get to use the saws and that sort of thing.

we will be catering to kids and families

So, no adults who come by themselves then? Do you just need things for children to use that adults will be assisting them with?

I'm not clear if this is just a space with tools, or if there will be staff/volunteers available to assist with guidance in how to use the tools. If guidance is going to be available, for things like "circuitry" that you are unfamiliar with it would be best to talk to the people who will be doing that about what tools to get.

Also, how big is this space? Are all these things going to be going on at the same time?
posted by yohko at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2013

Response by poster: It will be typically be a facilitated space - with museum educators helping kids, parents, and families make things. Sometimes there will be Adult (or Teen) programs, sometimes there will be Kids Only camps (but always supervised).

The space is just under 5000 square feet, and there will be other exhibits out all the time (digital microscopes, ferrofluid table, wind tunnel, etc.), so the crafting/making activities will be a bit more focused and brought out in a managed way.

I have a pretty strong electronics and circuitry background, and we already have a lot of programming around that - so "circuit blocks" circuit components with alligator clips, switches, motors, etc. Conductive dough, soft circuits, soldering, etc. are all things we are already doing. Our next big leap is microcontrollers and incorporating a 3D printer.

My boss set up the MakeShop in Pittsburgh, so we're in good hands there - I'm really looking for the collective wisdom of the MeFites for things we might have not thought of, or if you have a favorite tool you just can't live without.

Thanks for all the tips so far!
posted by leastlikelycowgirl at 3:57 PM on September 19, 2013

I got some Scotch Titanium scissors at Costco that cut fabric quite nicely, maybe not as good as a pair of $50 sewing scissors, but the three pack of scissors was $9.

Sears Craftsman hand tools do come with a lifetime warranty, but personally I find it not worth dealing with the hassle, and usually you can only get them to replace it if it's actually literally broken -- I've had no luck with tools that are merely damaged or worn. Plus someone has to take the time to go in person to the store.

There are many interesting tools in the Cool Tools craft section, it's not a store but rather reviews of tools that people have found to be especially useful. I'm going to avoid mentioning anything specific there so I can avoid being tempted to buy more stuff.

As an adult without kids or what is often meant by "families", I'd find the language you are using about kids, parents, and families very othering and unwelcoming, and if adults without kids or families are going to be welcome at some of your events, you might want to avoid using language leaves them out of who this is for. Many kids also have legal guardians other than their parents, and can feel pretty left out by these sorts of unnecessary references to parents as well. Using language like "children, teens, and adults" is much more inclusive.
posted by yohko at 6:22 PM on September 19, 2013

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