Wait, what? I might need actual hand tools to do IIoT? Uhh, yeah. Yep. The ‘T’ in IIo’T’ stands for ‘Things’ and those Things exist in the Real World (like the flowmeter in the manhole above). Which is the whole point, isn’t it? To work on the actual hardware that actually gathers the data that ends up all virtual and in the clouds, you’ll need to use your hands. And tools. At the request of one of our favorite customers (hey, you’re ALL our favorite customer, who am I kidding?) – I’m starting this series on the crucial tools to do the work we do.

First up, the absolutely crucial, can’t do this work without them, basics that I use almost every day.

Precision screwdrivers

I can’t live without my set of Wiha precision screwdrivers. And yes, quality matters in screwdrivers. These are made from a very tough, hard tool steel that does not warp or chip under stress, even though they are tiny. Must have.

I bought this as a set with the pliers, on Amazon. The bundled standard-size needle nose pliers are very nice, incredibly high quality, and come in handy often. My only complaint about them is the handle can be irritatingly bulky when working in tight spaces.

The sadly crummy, but unfortunately essential organizer/folder is also on Amazon. If I could get a nicer one, made from tougher canvas or maybe even leather, I think I’d spring for it. You can see this one is suffering after 4 years of field and shop work, and will probably fall apart within another several months. The screwdrivers are fine though.

If you already have a nice needle nose pliers (and you really should ), you can instead get a set with 8 screwdrivers AND the crummy organizer, at a slightly better package price. I’ve never missed that 8th screwdriver – I think it’s a larger philips, which frankly I prefer in a Klein (more on those in an upcoming article) because as the screws get bigger, the requisite torque usually goes up too, and these little Wiha handles are not great for applying a bunch of torque.

Precision Pliers

These three are not offered as a set, as far as I’m aware. But we own at least 3 sets like this, with a couple extras of the cutter because it needs to be at hand all over the shop. Unlike the Wiha screwdrivers, these pliers are relatively inexpensive, despite their near perfection and incredible utility.

The Precision Cutter, CHP-170. You just need this. Maybe more than one.

The Tiny, Flat-Point Needle Nose, CHP PN-2007

These perfect, incredibly useful needlenose are also available with a sharp-point nose , PN-2005, or as flat point with no interior serrations, PN-2008. You might want all three, but I think the PN-2007 is the most generally useful. Whenever your own fingertips seem a little too awkward or bulky or weak (or sensitive to heat!) these pliers are super handy. Holding wires while you solder them, pushing tiny wires into tiny screw terminals, straightening out small kinks in solid stripped wire, or holding a tiny hex nut while you turn the matching screw with your terrific Wiha screwdriver!

AWESOME little wire stripper, the CHP CSP-30-1 – this makes quick and perfect work of stripping insulation off tiny wires, from 30awg (smaller than the interior of ethernet, think breadboard jumper wires) and up to 20awg. You’ll need a bigger one too, but those are a dime-a-dozen (though we do have a favorite, which we’ll show in another article about bigger tools).

Before we wrap up this first article in the Physical Tools series, how many of you noticed the compass in the header photo? We carry a nice lensatic (mirror) compass with angle indicator in the field all the time. It does two things for us: 1. help us orient solar panels (both southerly AND appropriate tip/angle for latitude), and 2. the mirror helps look underneath stuff, like the flowmeter-in-the-mud in that photograph, which had all the data connections on the bottom, right against the mud. The exact compass model in the Amazon link above is for the northern hemisphere and includes American units for map navigation. Depending on where you are, it may or may not suit you. They’re available for global (Northern+Southern) use, with adjustable declination if that level of accuracy matters to you, and of course with metric map units. In any case, try to get a decent one with the mirror and the inclinometer (lean angle gauge) built in.