This article explores some of the most common tools that engineers who do mechanical machine design utilize. You will find a brief overview of each tool and why I recommend it. The following are presented in no particular order.
This is a very important piece of engineering equipment and it seems too basic to put in this guide, but it isn’t. I usually buy one on the cheaper side simply because I will wear out the numbers or lose it before I break it. Buy one with a magnetic end on it so that it won’t slip off the end of your steel parts. Also, note that the tape measure end slides for a reason— when you push or pull against something, it accounts for the tab width and still gets you an accurate measurement. The most highly recommended version is 1-inch wide and 20- 25 feet long. I recommend this one because it not only has the magnetic end, but it also has the measurement on both sides. This way you can wrap it around tubing easier.
It is important to have a reliable set of calipers as an engineer. Unless you are running the company’s QA department, there is no need to go high-end here. Two different types of calipers are available: Dial calipers and digital calipers. I prefer the dial calipers primarily because they are always ready to use. Digital calipers use batteries–it’s frustrating when you grab your digital calipers only to find that the batteries need to be replaced. A 6-inch standard set of calipers will serve your needs well and is easy to carry around. Calipers are used to measure in 3 ways: Measure something that fits in between the 2 prongs of the calipers, measure inside of a tube, and measure a depth down into a
hole. Both types can be found on Amazon: Dial calipers or digital calipers.
This is a more advanced too and go one step beyond calipers which will not always measure depth as you would like. If I have a hole that goes straight down, my calipers can give a reliable measurement. But if I had something like a hydraulic cavity that has multiple ledges and edges needs to be measured, calipers will not work and a better tool is required. This is when a depth gauge comes in handy. A standard depth gauge in divided into one inch increments, and measures down to a thousandth of an inch. Metal bars on this device can be inserted into a hole to measure 0-1 inch, 1-2 inches, and so on. Click here to find a depth gauge on Amazon.
These helpful tools measure from a 2” to 6” bored hole in increments of ¼ inch. You can then measure down to a thousandth of an inch. Buy them here on Amazon.
While more and more is done on a computer, there is still a need for doing quick hand drawings. While I do not in any way promote going back to hand drawings, every engineer should be able to create a decent looking concept drawing. These drawings should look professional enough to reflect you in a good light. The truth is that if you have these tools at your desk, you will use them. As a result, I recommend some inexpensive drawing tools.
As far as rulers go, I would choose a metal ruler over a wooden one any day. Wooden rulers wear out so fast and often chip and splinter. Metal is flexible, plus, you can draw curves with a metal ruler. Use either 1/16 or 1/32 of an inch delineations. Metal straight edges give straight crisp lines, Find one on Amazon.
Similar to graph paper, this is a paper pad that is sectioned off into little squares (sizes vary). However on an engineering pad, you will see some darker lines in addition to lighter lines and it often comes in a light shade of green. They are available on Amazon.
Nothing says professional like file folders with printed labels. Although that is not the only use for a label maker, it is one of the main ones you will use as an engineer. Ok, now I am going to get some heat on this one. Have your own label maker and don’t share. Whew I got that out of the way. It’s not that I’m worried about someone stealing it, but there is a weird thing that goes on in the human brain. If you don’t have it right there when you need it, it won’t get labeled for a long time. Until that time, whatever needs to be organized remains on your desk creating clutter. I wish I could explain it better. I won’t make a recommendation on this one because of all the options out there, but be sure to look at how much the replacement labels cost. You may spend more in labels than the printer is worth. (I wonder if they are in “coo hoots” with ink jet printer manufacturers…)
Small dry erase board
I recommend a small, portable white dry erase board. When working in a group with your engineering peers, you will have the ability to jot down your ground-breaking ideas. You can also erase with ease. Several varieties and sizes can be found on Amazon. Don’t forget the markers!
Protractor, Compass and French Curves
A Protractor is good to have around for any number of measuring tasks. Use a compass for drawing precise circles when needed.
French Curves can help you draw quick circles, squares, triangles and other shapes. You can also use the really curvy templates to trace complicated curves.