Engineering is an endless obstacle course, as you solve problems. I’m going to go over a list of 22 useful tools for engineers to make your life easier.
Some are tools you can use in the office, while others are for fieldwork only.
Most of these tools I use myself on a daily basis. While others I use here and there.
For the most part, I’m listing useful tools for engineers of all backgrounds.
These days, we all have a powerful camera on our smartphones. This will do just fine not only for photos but for video capture.
If you do any fieldwork, pictures can be lifesavers. I’m in the field a lot, and I ALWAYS take photos.
These photos greatly help me later with my design work.
Also, a single picture can show a project’s status or highlight a problem. This will then become useful in the office for any work you’re doing.
What’s more, sometimes people try to screw you over. Someone will say a given problem never existed.
But if you have photos or even video footage of the problem, no one can twist your arm.
I’ve even had someone once tell me, “I was never there. How did you discuss the problem with me?” But I had snapped a photo of everyone in the meeting, so he couldn’t weasel himself out.
Also, media capture is great for troubleshooting.
It’s why NASA and SpaceX have cameras plastered everywhere and at every angle in launches. Every media capture is data.
And the more data you have at your fingertips, the better you can improve designs.
2. Microsoft Excel
I use Excel endlessly. I even wrote an article about why Excel is so awesome for engineers!
In short, Excel allows you to do so much in all types of engineering.
For example, I do the following:
- Organize collected data and equipment information
- Write programs to solve problems
- Manage and analyze data to look for patterns and trends
So, learn as much about Excel as you can. It’s one of the most useful tools for engineers.
You can do just about anything with it.
3. LED flashlight
Get a trustworthy, durable, and high powered rechargeable flashlight. I also find the more compact the better, as long as you don’t compromise on the power quality.
Because lugging something heavy when you need to hold another tool is a huge nuisance.
I crawl into many dark corners to inspect various things. So, a good flashlight can be a lifesaver when you need to peek into dark areas.
Again, be sure it’s durable, as I’ve dropped my flashlight many times. Plus, I’ve banged it into even more walls.
4. A second monitor
Even better get 2 or 3 widescreen monitors.
I personally work with two 32-inch monitors. I’m so much more efficient with this level of monitor real estate.
This is especially important if you’re always multitasking. Having to switch between tabs is very inefficient.
The more data your eyes can process in the least amount of time, the better.
For example, when I do CAD work, I have the following applications open between my two monitors:
- CAD software
- Product specifications
- Design parameters
5. Architectural scale ruler
I always have one at my desk. Drawings come at you in all dimensions.
Having an engineering scale ruler will help you quickly dimension drawing elements.
Also, I find clear rulers to be very helpful. Being able to see what’s under your ruler surprisingly comes in handy from time to time.
These days, most people have smartphones. We use our smartphones for just about everything.
So it’s a no brainer, why it’s in our list of most useful tools for engineers.
But, there are some outliers who still don’t own a smartphone.
If you don’t own one, and you’re an engineer, go get one!
They’re helpful in so many regards. Here are some ways I use my smartphone:
- Photos and videos
- GPS logs
- Engineering applications for quick calculations
- Researching information on the spot
You’re doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t own a smartphone. You’re losing out on efficiency big time.
Plus, it actually saves you a lot of physical space.
I used to carry around a small notebook and pencil with me everywhere I went. Then there was my camera, and a bunch of other things too.
But now, my smartphone does so many things for me in an all in one small package.
Further, depending on your line of work, an iPad or laptop may come in handy too. I know your smartphone is already a powerful computer. But sometimes you need a bigger screen with added functionality.
7. USB drive
Whether in the office or in the field, they always come in handy.
I can quickly transfer large amounts of data on the go.
In the field, many times I’ve had vendors and customers ask me if I had a USB drive on hand. They wanted to do a data dump for a new project.
I typically carry a SanDisk 128GB USB drive with me. This way, I know I always have enough space to upload anything.
8. Reliable pencil and eraser
It doesn’t get any more basic than this.
Just go to a project site without a pencil and you’ll quickly see how limited you are.
Sure, you have your phone. But you can’t quickly draw diagrams with added notes on your phone.
Plus if you have a pencil, you can find all types of things to write on quickly. A scrap of paper in your folder, or the back of a business card.
In other words, a pencil gives you a lot of flexibility.
And I can’t think of any field or factory work I’ve done, where I didn’t end up using a pencil.
A calculator that’s reliable and durable.
I don’t need anything too fancy, like a graphing calculator.
But these are functions I can’t do without:
- Trig functions
- Square root
Also, I want my math steps displayed on the calculator screen. This limits my mistakes.
In addition, I want a delete function. This way, I can delete inputs, without having to delete my entire calculation string.
I use a Texas Instruments TI30XIIS scientific calculator. It’s cheap, durable, and has yet to let me down.
I have a stapler in my office, as I’m constantly stapling papers.
I also carry a small stapler with me in my bag when I go into the field. Clients, customers, and other engineers always hand me papers.
The best way to organize these floating sheets is to quickly staple them in an organized fashion.
11. Dual head screwdriver
I carry a small screwdriver with me, with dual heads.
Both a flat head and a Phillips heads. They come in handy when I need to open panels and other things from time to time.
Better to have them with me, then to be stuck and not be able to do what I want.
12. Waterproof folder/clipboard
When I go to the field, I carry a waterproof folder. The waterproof element is critical.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen other engineers tuck their papers in their jackets. Your papers will still get wet and deform.
Plus, without a hard surface to write on, you’ll constantly be looking for a surface to place your paper on. Very inefficient when you could just bring along a clipboard.
Also, my folder has all types of useful things inside. Like pencils, erasers, rulers, calculators, and so much more.
I keep graph paper and regular notebook paper inside my folder too.
13. Rugged bag
You only have so many pockets in your pants and jacket. To store your other stuff, you need a rugged bag.
Be sure it’s durable, waterproof, and has good handles for carrying. Because you’re going to be abusing the bag in the field.
A rugged backpack works too.
The benefit is the organization of your tools. Also, how you can bring almost anything with you.
You never know what you’ll need in the field, so always come prepared!
14. Safety glasses/goggles
Sometimes I need to protect my eyes from flying debris in factories.
I have a pair of safety goggles for these instances. Be sure they fit good and don’t slip off your face when you look down.
Many of them quickly slide off your face as you’re inspecting something. Not only does this defeat the purpose, but it’s annoying.
15. Tape measure
My tape measure always goes with me. I use a 25-foot length tape measure.
I’m always measuring equipment and various clearances in the field. Whenever I forget my tape measure in the field, I always kick myself when I return to the office to design.
Engineering is all about the fine details of measurements. Without proper measurements, you can’t do many designs.
Also, as the saying goes, measure twice and cut once. Of course, if you’re in the business of cutting things.
16. Hard hat and steel toe shoes
This isn’t a tool per se.
But you need the proper attire. In most places you go in the field or in factories, you need to protect yourself.
The last thing you need is for something to fall on your tennis shoe and break your foot. Or even worse, if something falls on your head.
Sounds trivial, but they come in handy.
Because I know one too many people who hear poorly because they dismissed loud noises. They all regret it now.
I visit hydroelectric facilities a lot, and it’s very loud inside.
So, you need to protect your ears, just as you would your eyes. Plus, they’re small, so it’s not like they take up much space in your bag.
18. Analog and digital calipers
They come in handy when you need to measure some clearances on something small.
Some small measurements look plenty until you try to fit something inside. Hence the importance of calipers for accurate measurements.
I keep both electric and Scotch tape in my bag. You never know when you need to tape something to hold it together.
I’ve had instances where something I was carrying with me began to fall apart. I instantly used my tape to hold it together. Problem solved!
When I go into the field or a factory, I always carry tissue with me. My hands always end up very dirty.
A lot of the time, I don’t have time to wash my hands properly either.
So, I wipe my hands with tissues. Or I use a tissue to hold my pencil.
I don’t want to make my other belongings dirty.
21. Hand sanitizer
Like tissues, hand sanitizer is important in the field. You’re touching all types of gross things.
So having hand sanitizer next to you is important, to hold you off until you find access to water and soap.
For example, you don’t want to wipe your dirty hands all over your car steering wheel and front dashboard.
Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll carry different types of gloves.
I typically carry heavy-duty gloves.
They help protect my hands when working with sharp objects. Plus, they’re super helpful when I need to lift something heavy.
An added benefit is, they keep your hands clean.
I know I left out many tools.
Depending on the field of engineering you’re in, you’ll of course rely on different tools. But hopefully, I captured a lot of the main useful tools for engineers.
As a new engineer, I recommend you find out from your colleagues what tools are most beneficial.
The trick here is to learn from others to improve your efficiency and effectiveness. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
What do you think are the most useful tools for engineers? What other useful tools for engineers would you recommend?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.