How to Make a Robot – Lesson 8: Getting the Right Tools

Posted at: MONday - 24/04/2017 09:59 - post name: SuperG
How to Make a Robot – Lesson 8: Getting the Right Tools

How to Make a Robot – Lesson 8: Getting the Right Tools

At this stage, you should have all the main components for your robot including actuators, motor controllers, a microcontroller, sensors, and communication systems.

Workbench by zatalian

Image credit: zatalian

You are now approaching the integration stage where you will put all these parts together in what will likely be a custom robotic frame. For this, you will need to get your workshop/laboratory/bat cave ready with the appropriate tools.

Robotics Workshop

We have set up three possible robotic-oriented labs scenarios. Choosing which parts to add to your lab depends on how many robots you plan to make, and how involved in robotics you would like to get. We have outlined three broad categories for labs, but don’t assume the three labs are exclusive; in the real world, you will undoubtedly find robot builders who have tools from more than one section, and can give you a list of other tools which they have found useful.

The Essential setup is intended for first time robot builders who foresee building a few inexpensive robots for fun or have a single project in mind. It is the least expensive setup at less than $100, but don’t be fooled by the price tag. In the right hands, a workshop such as this can be used to create professional robots too.

The Intermediate setup is intended for builders who are not quite “professional” but are willing to invest a bit more in tools and equipment in order to ease fabrication, assembly, testing and troubleshooting.

The Ultimate setup is intended for users who plan to make many advanced robots and prototypes, using a variety of parts and materials. This type of builder wants the finished prototype to look as professional as possible and may even want to produce some small production runs of the finished design. This is the type of setup would likely find at a small robotics company. We cannot cover all the tools required at this level but can give some general suggestions.

As always, it is very important to have the right tool for the right task and only you know your needs best. Below, you will find the various tools and materials suggestions for your workshop classified by level and type.

Mechanical Tools

  • Wire StripperEssential
    • Small screwdriver setThese small screwdrivers are necessary when working with electronics. Don’t force them too much though – their size makes them more fragile.
    • Regular screwdriver setAll workshops need a multi-tool or tool set which includes flat / Phillips and other screwdriver heads.
    • Needle nose pliersA set of needle nose pliers is incredibly useful when working with small components and parts and is a very inexpensive addition to your toolbox. These are different from regular pliers because they come to a point which can get into small areas.
    • Wire strippers/cuttersIf you are planning to cut any wires, a wire stripper will save you considerable time and effort.  A wire stripper, when used properly, will only remove a cable insulation and will not produce any kinks or damage the conductors. The other alternative to a wire stripper is a pair of scissors, though the end result can be messy.
    • Scissors, ruler, pen, marker pencil, exacto knife (or other handheld cutting tool)These are essentials in any office.
  • Dremel Rotary MultitoolIntermediate
    • Rotary Tool(Dremel for example)Rotary tools have proven to be incredibly versatile and can replace most of the conventional power tools provided the work that needs to be done is at a small-scale. They can cut, drill, sand, engrave, polish, etc.
    • DrillA drill is very useful especially when creating larger holes or using stronger / thicker materials. If you are prepared to make the investment, a drill-press allows you to reliably create perfectly perpendicular holes.
    • SawA saw of some type is beneficial at this stage to cut thicker materials or make long straight cuts. You can use a hand saw (although you may need to finish the edges), a bandsaw, table saw, etc.
    • ViseAs your work become more complex, you will need to hold materials and parts firmly in place while you work on them. A vise is essential for this and allows to go further in terms of precision and quality.
  • Sherline 5400a CNC Tabletop vertical millUltimate
    • Tabletop CNC millA tabletop CNC machine allows you to precisely machine plastics, metals and other materials and creates three dimensional, intricate shapes.
    • Tabletop latheA (manual) tabletop lathe allows you to create your own hubs, shafts, spacers, adapters and wheels out of various materials. A CNC lathe tends to be overkill since most builders only need to change the diameter rather than create complex shapes.
    • Vacuum Forming MachineVacuum forming machines are used to create complex plastic shells that are moulded to your exact specifications.
    • Metal BendersWhen making robotic frames or enclosures out of sheet metal or metal extrusions, using a metal bender essential in order to obtain precise and repeatable bends.
    • Other Specialized toolsAt this stage, you will be very aware of your machnining needs and will probably require more specialized tools such as metal nibblers, welding machines, 3D printers, etc.

Electrical Tools

  • Boe Bot Breadboard - By robotroom.comEssential
    • BreadboardThis has nothing to do with slicing bread. These boards are used to easily create prototype circuits without having to solder. This is good in the event that you have not fully developed your soldering skills or want to quickly put together prototypes and test ideas without having to solder a new circuit each time.
    • Jumper wiresThese wires fit perfectly from hole to hole on a solderless breadboard and not only look pretty but also prevent clutter.
    • Breadboard power supply When experimenting with electronics it is very important to have a reliable and easy to use power source. A breadboard power supply is the least expensive power supply offering these features.
    • Soldering tool kitAn inexpensive soldering iron kit has all the basic components needed to help you learn how to solder and make simple circuits.
    • MultimeterA multimeter is used to measure voltage, resistance, current, check continuity of connections and more. If you know you will be building several robots and working with electronics, it is wise to invest in a higher quality multimeter.
    • Wall adapterStandard voltages used in robotics include: 3.3V, 5V, 6V, 9V, 12V, 18V and 24V. 6V is a good place to start since it is often the minimum voltage for DC gear motors and microcontrollers and is also the maximum voltage for servo motors. A wall adapter can also be a good replacement for batteries since they can be very expensive in the long run. A wall adapter can allow you to use your project without interruption whereas even rechargeable batteries need to be recharged.
  • Soldering StationIntermediate
    • The Intermediate electronics lab builds upon the essential lab by adding the following:
    • Adjustable temperature soldering stationA basic soldering iron can only take you so far. A variable temperature soldering iron with interchangeable tips will allow you to be more precise and decrease the risk of burning or melting components.
    • Brass sponge for solderIn combination with the more traditional wet sponge to wipe away excess solder, a brass sponge can help clean the soldering iron tip without cooling it down, allowing you to spring back into action quicker and solder like a ninja.
    • Variable power supply(instead of wall adapter)Having a powerful and reliable power source is very important when developing complex circuits and robots. A variable power supply allows you to test various voltages and currents without the hassle of needing several types of batteries and power adaptors.
  • Digital Oscilloscope DSO NaoUltimate
    • OscilloscopeAn oscilloscope is very useful when dealing with analogue circuits or periodic signals.
    • Logic AnalyserA logic analyzer is like a “digital eye” when working with digital signals. It allows you to see and store the data produced by a microcontroller and makes it simpler to debug digital circuits.


  • Third hand with magnifying-glassEssential
    • 22 gauge hook-up wireThe most common wire diameter (gauge) used in robotics is 22 (0.0254 ” or 0.64 mm). Although there are advantages to multi-strand wires, single strand (solid core) allows you to easily plug them into pin headers and breadboards.
    • Third handWhen soldering, having a helping hand that is impervious to heat is extremely useful. A third had is an incredibly helpful tool since it holds the PCB and components in place while you solder.
    • Hot glue gunA hot glue gun is incredibly useful no matter what your level of expertise and will only set you back a few dollars. The glue which comes out of a hot glue gun sets rapidly and provides a good bond. Unlike normal glue, this glue is three-dimensional, which means you can use it as a spacer; glue; filler; bridge etc.
    • TapeThe most popular types of tape used in robotics are duct and electrical. Electrical tape is best suited for electrical components (since it does not conduct) while duct tape is best for structural elements.
  • Digital Vernier CalliperIntermediate
    • Thicker wireAs you build larger robots, DC motors will require higher current and therefore larger diameter wires. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire and the more current it can handle.
    • Vernier calliperIn addition to a regular ruler, a vernier allows you to more precisely measure parts as well as diameters (both inside and outside).


  • Essential
    • CADSketchup 3D ModelGoogle SketchUpis a free program which can be used to create your robot in 3D, to the proper scale, complete with texture. This can help you ensure that parts are not overlapping, check dimensions for holes and change the design before it is built.Autodesk 123D is another free 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) software aimed at hobbyists. While it shares many of the same features as Google Sketchup, it has some interesting features such as solid-based part design, assemblies, parametrized transforms and other functionalities that are usually seen in higher end CAD programs.
    • Programming softwareYour first programming software should correspond to whichever microcontroller you selected. If you chose an Arduino microcontroller, you should choose the Arduino software; if you chose a Basic Stamp from Parallax, you should choose PBasic and so forth. In order to use a variety of microcontrollers, you may want to learn a more fundamental programming language such as BASIC or C.
    • Schematics and PCBsThere are many free programs available on the market, and CadSoft’s EAGLE is one of the more popular. It includes an extensive library of parts and helps you convert your schematic to a PCB.
  • Ultimate
    • CADSolidWorks is the CAD program of choice for many when doing mechanical design but it is certainly not the only one available. Whet working at this level (i.e. using programs worth several thousands of dollars) you should have a good idea of your needs in order to choose the right tool (Unigraphics, Catia, ProE etc.).
    • CAMIf you are using a CNC machine, you will need a proper 3D CAD program such as ProE, AutoCAD, SolidWorks or other similar program. In order to convert your CAD model to useable code to send to the CNC machine, you need  a CAM program. Often you can purchase a CAM program specifically for the CAD software you selected, or find a third-party supplier.

Raw Materials

  • Essential
    • Plastic SheetThin sheet metalThis material can be cut easily with scissors and can be bent and shaped as needed to form the frame or other components of your robot without necessarily having to do machining.
    • CardboardThe right cardboard (thick but can still be cut using hand tools) can easily be used to make a frame or prototype. Even basic glue can be used to hold cardboard together.
    • Thin plasticPolypropylene, PVC about 1/16” thick can be scored or sawed to create a more rigid and longer lasting frame for your robot.
    • Thin woodWood is a great material to work with if you have the means. It can be screwed, glued, sanded, finished and more.
  • PolymorphIntermediate
    • PolymorphPolymorph allows you to create plastic parts without the hassle of having to create custom moulds.
    • Sheet metalIf you have thicker metal-cutting sheers, sheet metal makes an excellent building material for a robot frame because of its durability, flexibility and resistance to rust.
    • Plastic sheetsPlastic sheets are fairly rigid and resist deformation. If you are cautious and slow when cutting or drilling most plastics, the results can look professional

Practical Examples

Essential Workshop: Ard-e

Ard-e robot

Ard-e, the Arduino based robot , is an example of what you could do achieve with a simple workshop including only essential tools.

Intermediate Workshop: POLYRO


POLYRO is a very advanced robot that can be built with an intermediate workshop. It has most of the features professional robotic platforms used in research laboratories have. Although it has many complex parts, mostly all of them can be put made using simple hand tools.

For the standard practical example included at the bottom of every lesson, only an intermediate level lab would be needed to put the robot together. We will go into more detail in the following lesson.

Ultimate Workshop: BaR2D2


The BaR2D2 is a good example of what can be achieved with such an advanced robotic workshop. It has many intricate custom-machined parts and requires good tooling abilities

RobotShop - Robotics at your serviceFor further information on learning how to make a robot, please visit the RobotShop Learning Center. Visit the RobotShop Community Forum in order to seek assistance in building robots, showcase your projects or simply hang-out with other fellow roboticists.




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