The tools you take to the field are a little different than what you’d want at home. A few manufacturers now sell items specifically designed for quad pilots. How do these hold up? In tools needed for building a quad, we covered a wide variety of bench tools. Then, in taking tools to the field, we talked about which you may or may not want to carry with you on a flight day. In this article, we’re taking a look at these specifically-designed tools and sets for field work.
Bench Tools vs. Field Tools
Bench tools are built with many goals in mind. At the top of that list are speed, functionality, and ergonomics. You want to select tools for your bench that can do each job quickly, easily, and effectively. Good tools prevent mishaps, hold up over time, and simply do a better, cleaner job. They’re also comfortable to use for long periods of time. To meet these requirements, bench tools are often big and heavy. Bench tools can also require power from a wall socket, or work best when permanently mounted in place.
With field tools, size and weight is the enemy. The more you carry, the larger and heavier your pack every time you fly. For this reason, portable tools often serve multiple functions. In turn, ergonomics can suffer and make the tool hard to hold, impossible to get into difficult places, or even hurt your hands. Similarly, when a tool is designed primarily for portability, function can sometimes suffer: there’s a greater risk that the tool will slip out of place when you’re using it, leave dents/scratches on the equipment, or wear out quickly with use.
When searching for a good set of field tools, you need to find the right balance between portability and usability. This will be a little different for everyone and we’ll discuss where each fall so you can find what’s right for you.
The easiest and least expensive way to build out a kit is to start with a pre-packaged tool set. Tool sets generally lean away from extreme portability, so they are usually easy to use and reasonably functional—at the cost of some size and weight. There are lots of tool sets available, but only a few are marketed for quadcopter pilots. Quads have a different mix of needs than most other hobbies, so tool sets made for other purposes almost always include tools you won’t need while not including some that you will.
- Hex drivers: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm
- Hex nut driver: 8mm
- Philips/cross-point driver #0
- Needle-nose pliers
- Side cutters
- Tool case
The Drone Racing tool kit by RaceDayQuads is designed to be taken with you yet be easy and comfortable to use. It contains nearly all of the tools we consider essentials. The tweezers and pliers have non-conductive handles, protecting your electronics from ESD. Both pliers have a non-conductive coating as well, but I wouldn’t recommend working with any of these tools with equipment powered on. The tools are of decent quality: rubberized handles and knurled finish allow for a solid grip on pliers and drivers. They are also fairly lightweight; the entire kit weighs about 500g. The tools come in their own case, so they aren’t knocking into other things in your bag.
We would have liked to see a 1.5mm hex driver as it’s essential for smaller builds, and the lack of a Philips/cross-point #1 may be problematic for some. The smaller PH0 size doesn’t work on many larger flight controller standoff and camera mount screws. Finally, the scissors probably aren’t necessary for most pilots and the pouch in the middle of the case isn’t very big or easy to access so it has limited utility. But overall, it’s a good set that could even be used as a starting point for someone just getting involved in the hobby. The set is priced very reasonably, near $25.
UPDATE: RaceDayQuads has removed the flat-head driver and now includes a 1.5mm hex driver instead. This is a great upgrade as the 1.5mm is much more common.
- Flat-head driver #1
- Hex drivers: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm
- Hex nut drivers: 5.5mm, 8mm
- Multi-wrench (4, 5, 5.5, 6, 7, 8, 10mm)
- Motor holder
- Prop balancer
- Prop installation tool
- Tool case
Horizon Hobby offers the BLADE Quad Racer Tool Set. This set has the perfect selection of hex drivers, and then adds an interesting set of other tools. The motor holder may come in handy if a broken prop makes a bell difficult to grasp. The prop balancer might be a nice tool to have at the bench, but isn’t likely to be of use at the field where a level work surface will be hard to find. The multi-wrench will not fit into many spaces where it might be needed, and I’m not sure what the “prop installation tool” even does. There are also a number of items conspicuously missing: needle-nose pliers, side cutters, and any Philips screwdriver are essentials you won’t find here. This set is offered at about $75, so it’s really expensive for what you get. While Horizon offers quite a few quality products, they appear to have missed the mark on what racers really need for field repairs.
Helipal Grab ‘n’ Go Tool Kit
- Hex multi-driver: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm
- 2× Hex nut multi-driver: 4.5mm, 5.5mm
- Philips/cross-point driver (Appears to be #0)
- Needle-nose pliers
- Side cutters
- Prop balancer
- Voltage alarm
- Ball-joint pliers
- Pitch gauge
- Compartment box (Screw holder)
- Tool case
On the larger side is the Grab ‘n’ Go Tool Kit from Helipal. This kit looks to be designed for RC helicopters, but has a good amount of crossover for quad pilots. Beyond a good selection of hex drivers, you’ll get useful extras like a voltage tester/alarm and compartment box that’s great for screws or prop nuts. Quad pilots most likely won’t be making use of the ball-joint pliers or pitch gauge. The prop balancer is a little curious without a stand of any kind—but again, prop balancing is probably an activity best left for the bench. The biggest thing you’ll miss here is an 8mm nut driver for props and yet again there’s no Philips #1. Currently at $40, this set offers a lot for the price—but it doesn’t seem to hit the nail exactly on the head as a ready-to-go set for quad racers either.
- Hex drivers: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 4mm
- Hex nut drivers: 4mm, 5.5mm, 7mm, 8mm
- Philips/cross-point drivers: #00, #0, #1
- Flat-head drivers: #2, #3, #4
- Multi-wrench: 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm
Buying just one or two drivers is sometimes difficult and often unreasonably more expensive—especially if you like your sets to match—so we looked for something that covers the entire range you might need and found the Dynamite Metric Startup Tool Set. Neither pliers nor side cutters are included, and though these can be easier to find on their own, they’re still much more expensive when purchased individually. The quality of these tools looks to be below most others on this list, but it’s probably the least expensive way to get all the drivers you need at once. Another advantage here is the entire shank swaps out of the handle; many multi-driver sets only have replaceable tips which makes them difficult to use in small spaces. This set runs less than $30. Other sets that covered the entire driver range were either replaceable-tip sets, or giant hundred-dollar kits.
You can find generic tool sets under a variety of brand names at different retailers. Many are similar to RaceDayQuads’ tool set, with slight variations: one has different nut drivers and ball link pliers, another has a cross-sleeve tool and multi-size wrench, and so on. They appear to be sourced from a similar supplier and are likely to have the same quality. Surprisingly, though, RaceDayQuads offers their set at the same price or better—and has a better mix of tools. It’s not often we can recommend a US-based retailer as the best budget option, but that seems to be the case here.
One of the best ways to save weight is to combine multiple tools into the same unit. Multi-tools excel at space saving vs. carrying each tool individually! The tradeoff here is that often the tools don’t function as well as their full-size counterparts. Some are oddly shaped which limits their ability to be used in tight spaces; others have uncomfortable handles—or no discernible handle at all. In extreme cases, a tool only partly fits its intended use—which can quickly lead to damage if you’re not very careful. However, if you prioritize size and weight above all, nothing else comes close.
- Motor holders: 2 variable sizes
- Lens holder ring grips
- SMA wrench
- Transmitter switch ring wrench
- 2 additional wrenches (unspecified sizes)
FPVModel has upgraded their original motor grip pliers and made them into a much-improved multi-tool. A set of motor grips by itself can be a tough sell, but added function definitely ups the value here. We like that FPVModel has thought beyond “let’s add a flat-head screwdriver” to what pilots actually need, and have included tools not found in any of the kits above. The SMA connector isn’t a typical metric hex size, so a specific wrench for this is welcome. The transmitter switch ring wrench is an inspired addition for RC pilots and nearly worth the price of the grips all by itself! We couldn’t find out what size the additional wrenches are, but we’re hoping that one’s good for props. About $20.
Tarot 6-in-1 Hex Driver
- Hex driver: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm
- Philips/cross-point driver: 3mm (#0)
- Flat-head driver: 3mm
If you’re just looking for a light multi-use driver, the Tarot 6-in-1 Hex Driver covers the basics. This is another tool that opts to swap out the entire shank with each tip, helping it reach small spaces. In this case, it also makes the whole unit collapse smaller when not in use. Unfortunately, the Philips tip is still not a #1. About $12.
- SMA wrench
- Prop wrench
- Bottle Opener
Marketed specifically for quad pilots, the diminutive KwadKey tool is designed as an “everyday carry” item. It could be the tool you need—and actually have with you—while placing your quad on the start block and notice you need a quick tighten. Having something like this on your key ring could also be a conversation starter. If there are any real repairs to be made, though, it isn’t going to take you far. About $15.
- Hex driver: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm
- Hex nut driver: 5.5mm, 8mm
The Strix T-9 Multi Tool is an upcoming offering from ReadyMadeRC, currently on preorder. It’s perhaps the smallest tool you can carry that meets all of a quad pilot’s hex driver needs. You’ll be trading away the ability to get the driver into tight spaces, and it looks like the grip might be awkward and uncomfortable for extended use—but this is a lot of versatility in something very small and light. (But why couldn’t we get a PH1 instead of a duplicate 2mm hex?) About $20.
General Purpose Multi-tools
The Leatherman is often cited as the premiere multi-tool manufacturer offering a wide variety of products; many others make something similar. While these tools are excellent in a wide variety of situations, we don’t recommend them for your field bag. The mix of tools they offer doesn’t match up very well with a quad pilot’s needs. More often than not, using a tool like this where it doesn’t quite belong results in dents and damage to the parts you are working on. Similarly, the Lever Tool Card has an extremely high density of tools for its size. I’ve heard this particular tool being pushed as ‘every drone pilot needs one’ and was given one for that reason—but to be honest, it doesn’t meet the needs of pilots at the field very well.
Though there are now several different quad-specific tools and sets available, these don’t appear to be priority items for most manufacturers. Not a single tool set provides a one-stop solution—every one is missing at least one item (and usually more) that’s essential for basic quad repair. In addition, manufacturers generally weren’t interested in having their tool products reviewed when we reached out to them. So, unfortunately, we can’t speak to the quality of these except from their product descriptions, published reviews, and a few messages to manufacturers.
One notable exception to this was RaceDayQuads, which did provide their set for review. It looks like this is one of the best in quality and value while having a great mix of portability, ergonomics, and functionality. It’s not perfect either—you’ll have to add a Philips #1 and/or a 1.5mm hex—but, overall, the Drone Racing tool kit by RaceDayQuads is still our best value pick from what’s available.
It’s harder to pick a best value multi-tool because they each offer a different mix of items that serve separate purposes. If we’re pressed, we might give it to the FPVModel Motor Grip Pliers. This tool is really unique and adds several items that none of the tool sets include. It appears to be a valuable addition even for those with existing field kits.