Times change and, along with time, trends change. It used to be, as was the trend, that all RC vehicles were kits. If you wanted a Tamiya Blackfoot, Team Associated RC10, or Kyosho Ultima, or whatever, you had to build it. Then, taking off with the Traxxas T-Maxx in 1999, the trend was heavily RTRs. During this time, which lasted until just recently, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t build many RC cars and trucks. There were simply no kit versions of many offerings. Traxxas, for example, was exclusively RTR. They weren’t alone. It was ready-to-run or nothing for many RCs. Of course, the companies with more of a focus on competitive racing still offered kits, but even they had RTR versions. The Team Associated B4 is a good example. It was offered in a few kit versions with different factory options and also as an RTR. Almost every short course truck that was offered as a kit also had an RTR counterpart. Now, times and trends are changing again. There’s no way we’ll go back to only kits, but make no mistake, kits are making a comeback. Manufacturers are answering the demand. Case in point, even the previously RTR-only Traxxas has kits. So, if you’re tempted to build your first kit or even if you’ve built a dozen over the years, check out of our list (in no particular oder) of the top 10 must-have tools for building RC kits.
1. HEX DRIVERS
I cringe when I see someone wrenching with regular store-bought hex wrenches. Good gawd, man, have some respect for yourself and the hardware you are about to miserable round out. Okay, that’s a little over the top, but the point is the wrenches, whether you got them included with the kit or picked them up at a big box store, are junk. They are made out of inferior material and often fit poorly. The end result is wrenches that round out as well as screws that strip. There are so many options there is really no excuse when it comes to picking up some quality hex drivers. And, use drivers, not bent, L-shaped wrenches. Check out Traxxas, Hudy, Duratrax, MIP, RPM and probably a dozen others.
2. HOBBY KNIFE
Your pocket, utility or snap-blade style knives are not precise. A true hobby knife is. The classic is the X-Acto #11, but Excel and others make good knives that use the same blades. What you want is a pencil-like handle with a replaceable blade.
I’ll warn you now that a hobby knife rolling off a workbench has the uncanny ability to fall tip down and right towards your feet or legs. The fix? No, not stitches. The fix is a rubber pencil grip tool used frequently used in elementary schools. Check out the dollar store. Oh, and don’t be cheap. Replace the blade often.
3. ROTARY TOOL (AKA DREMEL)
A can’t even begin to think how many times I’ve used a rotary tool for RC builds and projects. I’ve drum sanded hundreds of wheel well openings and cut dozens upon dozens of screws and plastic parts with a cutoff disc (safety glasses aren’t optional). I’ve also notched my fair share of stripped screw heads so that I could get them out with a flat head. When building kits, I’ve polished and demurred using my rotary tool. Almost any rotary tool will get the job done, but my top pick is a rechargeable Dremel. As backup, I have a plug-in Black & Decker one that, other than being corded, works just as well.
4. FLUSH CUT SHEARS OR SNIPS
if you’re taking pieces off a parts tree, true flush side cutters are worth their weight in gold. Nothing say “hack” like a build with a bunch of little nubs on the plastic parts. Be warned not all flush cut sider cutters actually cut truly flush. Tamiya makes the best I’ve used, but Xuron makes fairly inexpensive ones that work well too. Again, when it comes to building kits, nubs are hack and shaved out divots from a knife are a fairly close second. Get some real flush cutters.
5. SOLDERING IRON
The key here is soldering iron, not soldering gun. The soldering guns with the triggers and bent wire tip simply do not get hot enough. Get a 40W (that’s the bare minimum) or more iron. Even better get a soldering station. I use a 90W solder station from LRP that gets close to 900º Fahrenheit. Go-to brands are Hakko (really good) and Weller.
One of my favorite accessories is the Hakko Tip Cleaner (599B-02) that uses brass shavings instead of the traditional wet sponge the cools your tip.
6. BODY REAMER
Despite the fact that their main purpose is putting holes in things, drills are not the way to put holes in Lexan bodies. A body reamer will allow you to make cleaner holes that are properly sized. Traxxas, JConcepts, Duratrax and many others offer good reamers. While you’re at it, in addition to the body reamer, get yourself a set of curved body scissors.
7. PIT MAT
Whether you build at the kitchen table or on a workbench in a tricked out man cave, you need a pit mat. In the first example, it will protect your work surface so your mother or wife come after for gouging their table. In the second instance, it will help you keep track of parts as they’re less likely to take a big bounce off a mat than a hard work surface. There are dozens of branded pit mats, so you should be able to find one from your favorite manufacturer. I like one that has a little texture and a little padding to it. It doesn’t have to be plush, but I like a little give. The idea is I don’t want small parts moving around. ProTek RC, AMain Hobbies‘ proprietary brand, has a foam mat that covers almost eight square feet of bench space and they even has a magnetic mat.
While you’re picking up a pit mat, grab some small parts trays. There are fancy aluminum ones, but my favorite is the RPM plastic tray with builtin magnet.
8. SHOCK STAND
Contrary to popular belief, there will be air in even the most perfectly built shocks. Getting 100% of the air out isn’t the real goal. The real goal is getting the same amount of fluid in and the same amount of air out. A shock stand makes this task a lot easier. Fill your shocks in the stand, let them sit, tap the bodies to help any bubbles rise, work the shock shafts a bit and you’ll be able see the fluid level of each shock. A number of companies offer stands such as Kyosho, Pro-Line (the one pictured is a car stand with a builtin shock stand, Duratrax, ProTek RC and others.
Most people don’t think of a set of calipers as an RC tool, but you’ll use them for suspension turnbuckles, steering links, shock length, shock preload, screws, shims and anything else you want to be exact with, which should be a lot when you’re building a kit. Calipers can get expensive, but since you’re not going to be machining parts an inexpensive set will work just fine. Just make sure you’re getting 6 in. calipers and that they are metal. If you’re making an order at AMain Hobbies, go ahead and add a set of ProTek RC digital calipers.
10. SHOCK SHAFT PLIERS
Watching some people build shocks is absolutely horrifying. A few shock shafts are keyed with a flat spot so you can grip them when threading on the shock ends. Most, however, are not and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people try to lock the shaft down with pliers. The end result is never pretty. You need shock shaft pliers, people. For years, I used the Duratrax Shock Shaft Holding tool, which is machined brass. Mine eventually broke, but again that was after years of use. I recommend it because it takes up virtually no space and is perfect if you’re already have regular pliers in your toolbox. Like many of the tools listed above, there are a number of companies offering shock shaft pliers. Team Associated, ProTek RC and STRC all make shock shaft pliers.