Like the Software Recommendations list, this list is not exhaustive. Instead it’s just a list of what I use and why, what I like, and what’s saved my bacon.
The links are to Amazon but there are no affiliate links because a lot of the equipment I use is what I’ve used for many years and the exact model isn’t on the market anymore, so in many cases I can’t recommend an exact model. Since I’m not going to buy something just to review it, I’m mostly just going to tell you the types of things you’ll need. So the links are there just as a convenient starting point for you unless I mention a particular brand or make.
Finally, please bear in mind that you’ll be using these to fill out your existing tool collection. Naturally over time you’ll swap out individual tools with ones you prefer as you customize your tool kits.
Anti-Static Wrist Strap
A must for when you open systems for maintenance, upgrades, and repairs. I’ve had mine for almost 20 years so it’s a bit of an icon of the tech part of my life. [Link]
Basic Repair Kits
You’ll probably use two go-to kits for servicing devices. The first is a small precision kit (above) [Link] with a good variety of specialty bits for the myriad systems out there as well as spudgers for gently separating pieces that have been sealed and locked together. I like the kit above, though I may swap out the driver for something sturdier.
The second is a more traditional kit (below) [Link] with pliers, a wire stripper, and a full-size driver you can use when you need more torque.
Needed mostly in white, I find, for patching up frayed Apple cables, it’s also handy for inconspicuously patching and bundling cables. [Link]
Yes, it’s a good idea to have a big spool on hand for big wiring jobs, but you don’t want to be crimping cables one-at-a-time when the needs arises, you don’t want to be lugging the big spool around or leaving it in your car, and you don’t want to be crimping 1-foot patch cables, so have a variety of lengths on hand. [Link]
Remember that you’ll usually need longer cables than you think, since you’re running them down and around paths to keep them out of the way.
Hard Drive Adapters
With the external power brick these adapters are a clunky-but-necessary tool for transferring data from and wiping old IDE drives. [Link] These adapters also include SATA cables so you can have one little kit that will let you connect most hard drives, but I prefer to keep a simple SATA-to-USB adapter (below) around to avoid the extra cabling of the above setup whenever it’s not absolutely necessary, since SATA is more common anyway, and since the cable is so cheap. [Link]
Hard Drive Boxes
There’s a little PR to using these, because it simply looks bad to shove a client’s drive into an anti-static bag and toss it in your tote and it looks good to seal the drive in a neat box, but they’re also sturdy protectors and can be labeled if you have a bunch or if they’re going to stay on a shelf for a while. [Link]
Hard Drive Dock
While these are handy because they can work standalone for cloning drives, I’ve found they’re more handy because they spare you the mess of power and SATA cables and drives laying around. I find that I usually make some partition adjustments anyway, so again the standalone clone feature is not the selling point. [Link]
It’s handy to have a couple: one on a dedicated disk-wiping system and one at your work desk.
Lanyards & Carabiner
This sounds like overkill until you realize you’re going to have a ton of tiny doodads that you’re going to lose track of: Windows 10 and macOS install usb keys, your go-to usb key, a WiFi dongle, a multi-tool, actual keys (your office, servers, cabinets), a multi-factor token, and on and on.
If you keep any of them on your key chain or even together, then you want a clean way to pull one off. And even if you don’t, you want something conspicuous (or a Tile device) on it so you don’t lose it. [Link]
I like the above lanyards in particular because they’re short.
Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous that this is necessary, but if you work on Macs then having a couple of these is a must because there are still so many of Apple’s old pricey adapters out there. At least these adapters are cheap. [Link]
Multi-Meter & Voltage Tester
These days a multi-meter is probably not going to become one of your most used tools in the IT business, but if you do any circuit designing or you have or serve any equipment that you want or absolutely have to keep running and can’t replace, a reliable multi-meter is a must for checking out the circuits and components.
You might think a voltage tester is overkill too, until you’ve planned an install around using a particular outlet that turns out to be dead. (Hint: Test first, and that goes for Ethernet wall jacks too. You would be surprised how many aren’t wired.)
My decades-old Radio Shack multi-meter is still kicking, but Klein Tools is very good. [Link]
This is a great tool for a lot of places in your business.
In the lab, it will allow you not only to hook up the new system(s) you’re working on to your existing keyboard, video, and monitor, but also to do so without displacing any existing equipment. Just plug the new system into one of the USB and HDMI slots, switch the input, and you can start working. It might not sound like a big help, but trust me it feels great just to pop a new system in and start working rather than pulling out a spare monitor or tearing up your existing setup. [Link]
At your desk, it’s handy for connecting to systems you might seldom access directly, like a security system or test system, but that you don’t really want to have to remote into.
You can even use it for a conference to patch in, say, a couple of systems and an Apple TV (for streaming from an iOS device.)
Even if you don’t intend to do any wiring, get a kit and practice your crimping. At the very least you want the tester, because testing a cable is a lot easier than fussing around and guessing what’s wrong with a network problem. (Remember: these and many testers take 9V batteries.) [Link]
It’s not an obvious necessity until you think of installing routers and cabinets on the plywood mounts in the utility room. And the fact that repair screwdrivers are tiny and you can’t generate a lot of torque with them to loosen anything very tight. I’m a big fan of the Ryobi One+ System so the interchangeable batteries plus the magnetic tray and LED light make this an easy pick. [Link]
Having a portable power supply really takes the edge of travelling, especially if you’re the type to run-down your batteries. Something light and portable with USB and 120v AC is a huge help, and (again) I’m a big fan of the Ryobi One+ System. [Link]
I prefer these mats to the magnetic bins because they’re segmented, only lightly magnetized, and you can even write on this particular mat. [Link]
Honestly sometimes things just don’t quite fit and you need to shave, slice, or lop a little off. Have I mentioned that I’m a big fan of the Ryobi One+ System? I’ve used the cutting disks to reshape a slotted screw head, the drill bit to punch a hole, the sanding wheels to enlarge the pre-cut cabling holes in desks, and on and on.
I like this Ryobi model because: it’s battery-powered, I prefer the pen-style, and I can mount it on the pegboard over my lab station. [Link]
If you’ve been a computer hobbyist or been in the business for any amount of time, you surely have a lot of these lying around, but it’s best to have a bunch of each type on hand. [Link]
Short Extension Cords
These will bail you out of a thousand binds caused by power bricks, cords that just don’t quite reach, and those ubiquitous 1-inch-round holes in desks that are in fact too small to accommodate the prong base of many UPS and surge protector plugs. [Link]
There are so many cheap soldering kits out there, but I’ve found all you really need is a solid soldering iron. If you have a lot of hobby electronics projects, then a soldering station is probably a better bet, but then you probably already have one, done you?
I’ve only used my iron for IT work to repair the power adapter ports on laptops, which people bump until they become loose from the motherboard, though design changes have made this problem less common. Don’t forget your solder and flux. [Link]
As with a lot of my tools, I use my old Radio Shack model, but Weller is reliable. Check out their Amazon Storefront.
You never know when one of those cheap plastic clamps that hold the heat sink will fail, so having some replacement thermal paste at hand is a must. I’ve been using Arctic Silver for over 15 years. [Link]
Everyone comes up with his own system for setting up his own various kits—I keep a separate tool box for internal PC work—but whether you use it for your traditional tools, electrical tools, spare parts, a reliable box is a must. [Link]
I have the above Trusco model and the hinge action is very smooth, the metal is sturdy but not heavy, and the paint job is holding up well.
If you really need to take a lot of parts with you, something portable with divided trays is a must, and the model below has that and also works well in the shop on the counter. [Link]
Even if you have a tool box, you need a laptop bag and a bag for tools and devices you don’t want to get banged up clanking around in a box. This Klein Tools bag has become my go-to bag and has subsumed all of the various kits and tools I bought into one more-or-less complete bag.
It’s really sturdy: the material is thick and fairly stiff, the stitching is double, and the bottom corners are reinforced. The bottom itself not only is hard, but has two hard-plastic rails underneath that help keep it stiff. The zipper teeth are large and the zippers of the two main compartments have lock loops, and the orange piping is a catching accent. [Link]
So you’re sitting there on a simple job setting up a new system or a shiny new network printer when you go to connect it to the network and boom! the other Ethernet port in the wall is dead… or it turns out to be a phone jack. I’ve been there. Very sad. Don’t let it happen to you.
So you know you need USB stick-type storage and a portable hard drive. In 2020, get fast flash memory in the USB key and go for the Solid State drive. You’ll end up moving more data on these than you think. They’re also going to get banged around, so go for metal and/or rubber enclosures. I’m a SanDisk fan, which started in 1998 with my first 8MB SanDisk CompactFlash memory card in my first digital camera, a 1MP HP.
I’m very happy with the speed and durability of this SanDisk flash drive [link], but the front of the enclosure is a little wide, so it bumps its neighbors on my MacBook and needs some finessing to get into recessed ports. I also find that sometimes its recessable plug recesses as I attempt to insert the drive. It is, however, fast and sturdy, and while I’ve rubbed all the markings off the drive by now, it’s still performing well.
It’s SSD big brother, however, may be even sturdier. [Link]
Also, SanDisk stuff goes on sale pretty regularly.
Portable USB DVD Drive
Yes, you still need one. Every so often: someone will give you something on CD, you’ll need to burn a boot CD to leave running at a client’s office, or you’ll just be too afraid to put any other USB device into the system. [Link]
Of course you already have one for your existing office , but don’t forget another for your lab setup for client computers you’re working on. [Link]
From getting desktops onto the wireless network to replacing dead Wi-Fi cards in laptops and all-in-ones, these are too handy not to keep a few of in your bag. [Link]
Even if you keep it to a minimum, you’ll be using your phone a lot, so constantly connecting and disconnecting the charger is going to drive you crazy. I’ve been happy with a few of these Anker chargers for the last couple of years and they go on sale pretty regularly. [Link]