“A bad technician blames his tools”, we all know the famous adage – but what if the technician legitimately had really bad tools? Over my period working within the event industry I have done the rounds of the screwfix catalogue a few times, trying the ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ method, as well as opting for the more expensive alternatives. What resulted was a lot of wasted money, and a lot of situations on site of not having what I needed.
I wanted to put together this quick list of tools and items that I have proven to be invaluable in my on-the-road tool kit. I think it’s important to emphasise that although the items here may not be the cheapest available, these are the items that have stood the test of time and remain strongly in action.
A word of warning though: with great tools come great responsibility. When word gets around on site that the well-organised, well-stocked toolbox in the corner is yours, you may find that you start making a lot of friends very quickly.
I hope you find some value from this list. It is by no means exhaustive, and if you have any further suggestions, then please do not hesitate to leave them in the comments section below for adding to the list. So without further adieu, I present, in no particular order:
10 Toolbox Essentials every Technician Shouldn’t be Without
1. A really, really bright torch
This is an absolute given. A technicians, we tend to spend most of our time in the dark. Even if you have been eating your carrots, it can still prove too dark to work safely and effectively. That is where the need for a really bright torch comes in. I have defaulted to using anything and everything from the LED Lenser series of torches. Typically these will always feature fantastic build quality and (as the name suggests) an LED light source. This isn’t just any LED light source though – this torch has the capability to be seen from space on a cloudy night. Okay – maybe not, but the point is, it’s really bright, really well built and you should definitely have one. Onto point 2.
2. A really, really bright torch – on your head
I’m not going to go into why you need a torch again, but while using your really bright hand torch, the need will almost definitely arise to have to use your hands. That’s where a head torch really comes in to its own. There is always a subtle smugness that you get from someone wearing one, at full brightness, while you’re trying to talk to them – don’t be that guy. These are really useful for anything hands on, and in the dark – like an event.
As above we really recommend the LED Lenser range of torches, however it is completely a matter of preference, with some people preferring to opt for the Petzl alternative.
3. What if you could combine 8 tools into one?
Ahh, you’ll be looking for the multitool then. An absolute event technician essential, and you will always struggle to come across a technician in the industry who does not have one firmly affixed to his or her belt.
As above, with the head torches, the multitool is a very personal thing, with different brands offering different benefits and prices. The two main brands that I suggest you looking in to heavily are Leatherman and Gerber. Without sounding too biased, I’ve been through 3 Gerbers, and still remain on my first Leatherman. This must tell you something, but ultimately I suppose it must come down to how much and how hard you use your tools. Don’t get me wrong, I look after my kit as much as the next guy – but them nuts doe.
Out of all the products mentioned here, I can only suggest this be the one that you don’t skimp on. A good Leatherman can set you back over a hundred quid, but with a lifetime warranty, and unparalleled build quality, it can only be worth it. Plus if you get it in black, it looks sexy as F…OOURRRR
4. You Dirty Rigger, you
Ahh yes, dirty rigger – a brand that is quickly becoming the industry standard for gloves, tool pouches and increasingly more. There was a time when I sold Dirty Rigger equipment as a side-line business. It sold really, really well – and you know why? Because it’s actually really good kit!
If you’re not a fan of buying in to a brand, then my next recommendation is to go down to your local b&q and pick up some of their unbranded ‘rigger gloves’, they’ll do the trick, and when you lose them, you won’t cry too much. But just know that Dirty Rigger gloves are designed specifically for use within the event industry, with key areas of stress being strengthened, and various other benefits that come from proper R&D. Promise me you’ll give them a go yeah?
5. A portable USB Charger
Turning things slightly away from the typical ‘tools’ for a minute, I wanted to share something with you that has truly revolutionised the way I am able to work away from home for long periods of time.
As we become more and more dependent on smartphones and tablets within our industry for CAD plans, desk remotes and camera apps, it is becoming increasingly important to always keep access to these devices nearby. However unfortunately, as our need for these devices increases, their battery life seems to progressively get worse. That can very often leave you in a situation where you’re at the top of a ladder, half way through working something out, and you’re met with that little swirly icon as your smartphone succumbs to the world of powerlessness. It’s really annoying, but luckily there is a solution.
I recently invested in a high-capacity Anker powerbank. Admittedly it really is not the smallest beast you can find on the market, and certainly not the lightest. But with dual USB outputs, ultra-quick charging, and enough capacity to charge an iphone for a WEEK, this is the beast you need.
In addition to charging your smartphones and other devices, it is incredibly useful to have a 5v power source with you, as more and more things are being powered by this universal voltage, including Black Magic SDI converters, some cameras, media players and even screens. Wireless Connectivity!
6. The Dongle to end all Dongles
Every mac user knows the running joke – as laptops are getting smaller and lighter and thinner, the useful ports and connections are being cast-out in favour of style. This means that we are being faced with an ever-increasing need to have mountains of dongles to carry around with us.
Every event technician needs to have, at the very least a Thunderbolt to HDMI, DVI-D and (increasingly less, but still useful) the old VGA. Have a quick look on the apple website, and this can be costing you the thick-end of £70.
Maybe I shouldn’t really be sharing this, as it’s not typically apple but I have started using the multi-dongles available on various outlets. These connect via a thunderbolt, and offer HDMI, DVI-D and VGA, all from one dongle. The best bit? It costs under a tenner! I’ve been using these on shows for a while now, and know a lot of technicians that have too with absolutely no problems whatsoever. These are great to have as a backup, and really offer you great flexibility.
Even if you’re not a mac user, you could do much worse than just carrying one of these around in your toolbox for that one time a client turns up having ‘forgotten’ theirs. Quick and easy ‘client-buttering’!
7. “You want to play what, where?!”
So the client has just come up to you saying that they would like to display a table plan loop in the foyer, as a .MP4 file, and their laptop is being used on the registration desk, “please, please, please do you have something that can help?”. Well – if you had this then you would. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Sumvision micro media player.
These have been around for absolutely years, and have gone through various incarnations and revisions, however the most recent is definitely a firm favourite. With internal storage as standard, but also supporting SD cards, USB flash drives and hard drives, you have a lot of options to get the content loaded on. Even better, these little babies will play virtually anything, and at full 1080p too! For the cost of the item, vs. helping you or your client out at the last minute, these are an absolute no brainer.
What’s even better is that due to its absolutely tiny form factor, these can easily be hidden behind a monitor or screen, allowing you to do-away with the very steal-able laptop at the base of the stand. Top product. Definitely up there with the best.
8. Laser Vision
Fine, not quite laser vision, but I defy anyone that has ever used one of these, and not pretended to be a super-hero with laser eyes. Even quietly to themselves. Just me? Whatever. I am of course talking about the laser measure. This little gadget allows you to quickly take measurements of a room during a site visit and quickly and easily work out the area and volume too.
Another fantastic use of these gadgets is for working out delay times of speakers – when you have more than one sets of speakers down the room, these all need to be offset by a few milliseconds each to allow for the time taken for the sound to travel. Of course, I’m not mentioning this for your benefit because you’re an industry professional, but some people may not know that.
These laser measures come in a variety of flavours, including my personal favourite the bluetooth one from Leica. This integrates with your smartphone via bluetooth (see USB battery pack also) to sync measurements in real time. This allows you to take a picture of a space on your phone, and have the measurements appear on the picture in real time, before sending them straight back to the office for the design department to get their teeth in to. Awesome stuff.
Let’s bring this back to tools, after all, that’s why you’re here. This is an absolute toolbox essential, and one that if you don’t have then you can be sure you’ll be stealing off someone else: a good pair of side-cutters.
This is, again, one of those items in your toolbox that if purchased correctly can last you a number of years. To be used on everything from stripping cables to snipping cable ties.
There isn’t much more to be said about these, you’re going to need them and you might as well have some good ones. ‘Nuff said?
10. A Quad Spanner
As an industry, we use a lot of bolts. They feature on absolutely everything, from hanging clamps, to yokes to staging. The fact is that you need a spanner to be able to tighten them all correctly, but who wants to carry around a socket set?
The 4 sizes that are most commonly used within our industry happen to be 13mm, 17mm, 19mm, and 21mm, and guess what? There’s a spanner for that!
The Quad spanner integrates all 4 of these perfect sizes in to one unit, and ensures that you will never be left wanting for a spanner. Unless it’s out of these sizes, in which case you should probably get yourself an adjustable spanner too, just in case.
I hope this article has offered you some value, and given you some insight in to what your toolbox may be lacking, or maybe even given you some present ideas for some loved ones. Please let me know if there are any glaringly obvious items I have missed out, and who knows, you may be featured in “10 more Toolbox Essentials”!
Thank you and goodnight.