Are you considering pulling the trigger on your first R/C kit but not really sure how to start? Maybe you have a few under your belt and want to take your building to the next level? There might seem like a lot of unknowns that are getting in your way but I hope that after reading this article you feel things are not as overwhelming as you might have initially thought.
I got into the R/C hobby when I was in middle school. I had no tools of my own and just used whatever my dad had lying around the shop. As I picked up the hobby again in my adult years, not much changed in terms of the tools I used to do my restorations.
Over the years I have come to find out there are a basic set of tools that you will need to start your first build, but this list if very minimal. As you gain some experience there are a larger set of tools that make your life easier, or more efficient. However not having these tools should not prevent you from jumping in and getting your feet wet building your first kit.
Just for clarity here, I am NOT going to go through all the tools you will, or might, need to dive into painting your R/C. Painting is a whole other discipline that you will need to master and has its own set of tool requirements, but I will leave that toolset discussion for another time.
Ok so lets start by going over the basic toolset you will need. The most important, and most used of all tools will be a screwdriver. Almost all Tamiya screws are philip “style” heads. More specifically Tamiya uses a JIS standard and not a standard philip head but I will talk more about that later. You “can” use a philip screwdriver and get things done. I did it for years, so if its all you have for now then run with it. You will also need a large and small flat head screw driver. You don’t need these very often with Tamiya kits but you do occasionally.
The next two most important tools you will need to build a Tamiya is an allen key and a hex wrench. Luckily every Tamiya kit comes with a hex box wrench which will work on all the nuts provided in the kit. Also, if the kit involves an allen screw then the kit usually also includes the sizes you need.
Another useful tool to have is a pair of standard and needle nose pliers. These come in handy for things like snapping on steering rods and ball connectors. You don’t need both, but there are certain use cases where one is a little more convenient than the other.
The last tool I will list in the “Must-Have” toolset is a set of cutters. These are going to be needed when its time to take the plastic parts off of the parts tree. Any kind of wire cutters will do.
That’s all I am going to list as my “Must-Have” toolset, seriously! Just like any other project, having the perfect tool for the right use case is always easier and more efficient, but with just the small set of standard tools I listed you can successfully build your first R/C.
Ok, ok, so before you hate on me, I said that you “can” get started with just these tools. As I mentioned, I did it for years. So now let’s take a look at the set of tools I would consider a reasonable set of tools that most builders should have in their toolbox to help preserve your sanity. There are very few other tools I need outside the following list to build a Tamiya R/C kit.
Let’s start with improvements over the items listed above, first up, the screwdrivers. If you are building Tamiya, get a good pair of large and small JIS screwdrivers. These are “Japanese Industrial Standard”. Google it if you want the technical differences. The bottom line is you should get them. Now that I use them, I can definitely feel the difference when driving screws. I always thought that the Tamiya screws were “weak” since they felt like they would strip out at any time. In fact, this was just because of the JIS vs philip tip differences. Now that I use JIS screwdrivers, the number of times the screw driver actually gets stuck in the screw head is amazing.
The Tamiya set is great, but is a bit expensive. If you are going 3rd party make sure it has magnetic tips. I can’t stress enough how useful magnetic tips are when building R/Cs. A lot of times you can’t tilt the parts you are working on to be in a position where the screw doesn’t fall off. You will thank me later.
I would invest in a good set of allen keys and hex wrenches as well, they are just easier to use. For both, make sure you get metric sizes. You can just get a cheap foldable set, or you can spend a little more money and get a set where each one has its own handled driver. Likewise, having a set of individual hex wrenches makes getting into tight areas easier.
The pliers are my “fru-fru-iest” nice to have item in the list. Honestly I bought them just for the hell of it but I have come to use them in very limited but specific situations. The soft needle nose pliers are very useful when you need to hold something that might gouge easily. One that comes to mind is when you need to hold a ball joint connector when you screw the rod in place. If you don’t have these, you can just use a rag over the plier tips as well. Don’t use them for any heavy duty application since it didn’t take me long to snap off the tip of one of the plastic inserts. Likewise, the soft channel locks I use when I need to grip something round and don’t want to scratch the piece. I use these a lot to snap shocks onto ball connectors since they usually need a wider opening than the needle nose can do efficiently. You can also just use a rag here also.
Next up are the cutters. The thing about cutters is the amount of work needed to make the cut look neat. Most wire cutters are not designed to give you a completely flush cut off the plastic tree. Its not the end of the world, but this requires you to trim what ever parts might remain, which just adds work. I have been very successful using Tamiya’s side cutters. They are designed with minimal clearance between the blade which means that once you clip a part from the parts tree I very rarely need to make any other modifications to make the cut neat and flush. This will definitely save you time during a build.
So that is the list of upgraded must have tools. I have a few more nice to have’s that I have not yet mentioned but can be very useful at times. The first one is an e-ring tool. I will be 100% honest, I still have not come close to mastering this tool. However trying to insert an e-ring with a pair of pliers has bent or flung more than one e-ring into oblivion. The goal is to insert the e-ring into the tool which seats it securely and then press it into place with minimal effort. I can’t say it always works out but it can be easier than pliers. I usually still resort to a pair of needle nose pliers to remove e-rings.
The last item is not really a tool and I just recently acquired one so I have done without it for many years, but it does have its moments. Get a nice R/C work stand. Traditionally these are for doing maintenance while at the track but I do also use them now during builds. They are less useful earlier on in the build but as your chassis starts coming together its nice to have the build elevated and have it spin freely 360 degrees.
Ok that is it! I am sure there are a million other tools that people use that make life easier on a build, but these are the ones that have gotten me over my pains when building. Just for reference here is a cheat sheet of my “Must-Have”, and “Nice-To-Have” tool lists.
- Phillips Screwdrivers
- Flat Head Screwdrivers
- Allen Keys (Provided)
- Box Wrench (Provided)
- Standard & Needle nose Pliers
- Wire Cutters
- JIS Screwdrivers
- Allen Key Set
- Box Wrench Set
- Soft Needle nose Pliers
- Soft Channel locks
- Side Cutters
- E-ring Tool
- Exacto Knife
- Work Stand
For a good starter set of JIS screwdrivers here is a good option JIS set. You can also do an amazon search for R/C starter toolsets.
There are lots of other things that contribute to working in the R/C hobby. Today I have only focused on building. My goal was to try to convince you that you just need to get started. As with everything in life, you learn and grow along the way. If you have pulled the trigger on your first purchase and have started building your kit, congratulations. From here I would recommend starting to branch out on these other topics as well.
- Radio, receiver, servos, & electronic speed controller (ESC)
- Batteries & chargers
Happy Building! For those that prefer video 🙂