Holiday Gift Guide for 2018

Don’t know what to get your loved one for the holidays? Just starting to get into DIY electronics and Home Automation and wondering what to ask for? Today, I’m highlighting some of my favorite tools and products that would be great for any DIYer or Home Automation enthusiast.

Everything I’m recommending I’ve used and owned myself. I’ve purposely chosen tools and products in a range of price ranges to make it easy to choose something in your budget.  If you have additional questions about any of the products shot me a message in the comments at the end of the article!

Tools

Multimeter

Once you start getting into DIY electronics a multimeter makes the perfect first tool. You’ll often find yourself wanting to measure the voltage on a battery, on a microcontroller pin or an analog sensor. Most multimeters (like the one linked here) also come with a continuity tester, which is great for making sure your soldering job didn’t create any shorts.

 

Klein Tools Non-Contact Voltage Tester Pen

If you commonly replace outlets or light switches consider getting a non-contact voltage pen. When working with high voltage circuits safety is the biggest concern. Owning one of these easy no-contact pins gives you an extra check to make sure everything is turned off correctly. You can simply point the pen at wires and it will start to beep if there is any power detected. Klein is a very respected and established brand in the electrician world and this pen is worth the extra assurance you get that the system is safe to work on.

Hakko FX888D-23BY Soldering Iron

Next on the list is honestly one of my favorite tools I own. I received one for Christmas over 5 years ago while in my senior year of college as an engineering major and have used it for all my DIY project since. Hakko is a great brand for soldering irons and the build quality is great on this one. When looking at buying a soldering iron you definitely want one that has temperature control. Getting a soldering iron and learning how to solder is great for taking those messy breadboard based DIY projects and putting them on a protoboard. The final products usually last longer too.

Soldering Accessories

If you’ve already got a soldering iron, consider a couple of accessories to improve your soldering workstation setup. The first is the GBSTORE Sucking Vacuum Desoldering Pump Solder Sucker Remover Hand Tool. Basically, if you ever have made a mistake while soldering (like me) you can heat up your solder again and use this pump to “suck” it off of the board you’re working on. It works surprisingly well and is easy to use.

Another great soldering workstation improvement is an extra set of hands. These “Helping Hands” devices allow you to clamp the project your working on so you can use both hands to solder with. Most versions of these also come with a magnifying glass which can be useful in certain situations.

USB Logic Analyzer

Finally, the last tool in the list can really save you pulling your hair out on a complex issue. If you do a lot of work with Microcontrollers like the NodeMCU or Arduino, you probably have interacted with digital sensors. Wouldn’t it be great to visually see the UART or SPI communication going on between the chips? With this cheap logic analyzer, you now can. Just plug it into a USB port on your machine and connect the jumper wires to the pins on the Microcontroller you want to probe. This is a little bit of a more advanced tool, but it’s really easy to use and comes in handy when debugging.

Parts

NodeMCU

Starting off the parts list is the NodeMCU! It’s my go-to for a cheap WiFi chip that is easy to program for your project. It’s based on the ESP8266 and you can use MicroPython or the Arduino framework with the board. I’ve done several projects using this board like my WiFi RGB LED Strip Music Visualization, DIY Bed Presence Detection, and DIY Smart Garage Door Opener. You can get them in packs of 2 so they’re even cheaper.

DHT22 Temperature Sensors

Like I mentioned in my 4 Essential Tips for Improving Your DIY Home Automation Project article adding a temperature sensor is an easy addition to any project to improve your temperature data collection around your house. If you’ve already got a project planned, it might be worth adding one of these onto your project and sending the additional data over MQTT. They only require 1 pin from your microcontroller and report back temperature and humidity. The DHT22 is a pretty popular hobbyist part so there is tons of software already available including an Arduino library.

Finishing Supplies

Once you’ve got your software and circuit working, it’s time to put it into production! You don’t want your project to be an eyesore and you definitely want it to last so it’s important to put in a robust case to keep it from getting damaged. Protoboards allow you to solder the microcontroller and the rest of your circuit together to hold it in place. This pack of protoboards comes with a whole bunch of different sizes so you can choose one for your project and case.

Finally, once your project is soldered on a board, you need a place to house the board. I use these little project boxes from Amazon which are usually large enough to hold my projects. If you have a 3-D printer that works too, but these work as well. I drill through these when I need to run wires to and from the box and they snap shut.

Parting Words

As the holiday season is upon us we all start to get busy and spend more time with family and friends. I’ve got a few more Home Automation projects I still want to get done for the year so expect so new articles to round out 2018. Hope you find the holiday guide useful and enjoy the holidays!