Whether you’re new to the hobby or a sponsored racer, having the optimal tools can speed up the process of building and repairing your FPV drone. Here are the some of the tools and supplies we recommend and the jobs they’ll help you accomplish. We have included links to some of the high quality products you can find in one trip to Amazon.com. Let us know if we missed one of your favorite tools.
One of the most important tools for your FPV mini quad is a sharp precision blade. Hobby knives like these come in small pen-sizes for precise cuts and larger utility sizes for tougher materials and more pressure. Brands like XACTO have been around for years and provide a swath of different sizes and blades. From stripping motor wires, to trimming adhesives, and cutting plastics, a hobby knife will make your life much easier. We like this heavy duty utlity knife by Excel Blades.
A good pair of wire strippers can make the process of building and soldering much quicker. While we often use shortcuts like razor blades and finger nails to strip very small gauge wires, wire strippers will ensure you don’t stretch the wire insulation or break the wire strands when stripping your leads for soldering. Make sure to get a high quality pair that has sharp edges. There’s nothing worse than a dull pair of strippers! You might consider this 20-30 AWG wire stripper by Klein Tools.
Time to scrap your scissors for a good pair of flush cutters aka side cutters. These will help you cut your motor wires to the perfect length every time due to the accessibility and snipping-power they provide. Looking to get a straight cut on some shrink-wrap or get a nice flush-cut on your zip-ties? A flush cutter will do the trick! Check out these CHP-170 Micro flush cutters by Hakko.
Needle files can be used to chamfer the edges of the frame before you build it and perhaps after a crash when repairing the carbon. They are essentially the same as a jeweler’s file. The ridges of the file are very narrow for filing thin materials. In a high-impact crash the arms of a carbon fiber drone-frame can become delaminated. There is a theory that chamfering (rounding) the edges of the arms allows the arm to sustain greater impacts before delaminating. If your frame’s arms are chamfered your are set! If not, you can buy some needle files to chamfer the carbon fiber arms yourself. These also help with fitting carbon-to-carbon (fpv camera mounts) if the tolerances are too tight. We found this brightly colored Needle File Set from Tarvol.
Whether building frames or changing props, a good set of socket drivers are a must-have. While many frames are starting to use press-nuts embedded in the frame, there are still many reasons to have a few common size sizes in your bag and on your bench. The most common sizes are 8mm for M5 Prop Nuts and 5mm for frame and stack hardware. Invest in a beautiful set of these socket-head drivers from MIP.
The most commonly used tool to build or repair your FPV quadcopter is an allen-driver. Forget trying to use an L-shape allen key, a good set of drivers will save you a lot of time and frustration. Frame hardware, camera, mounts, and motor bolts all use metric hardware and you can get away with having just three sizes for most 5-inch and 6-inch builds. The most common metric sizes for FPV are 1.5mm, 2mm, and 2.5mm. We couldn’t live without these allen-head drivers from MIP.
A huge part of building and repairing FPV quads is soldering. A high-quality soldering iron is a fantastic investment if you are planning on flying a lot. New hardware is coming out all the time and it’s likely your going to have to repair a few builds. Nothing makes building easier than a great soldering iron. Any soldering iron will do the trick, but investing in a quality piece will last you years. Having precise temperature control as well as interchangeable tips will allow you to conduct heat as quickly and efficiently as possible. Digital displays are nice but if you’re looking to save some money, analog temperature controls will work fine. Take a look at this digital soldering iron from HAKKO.
Nothing prevents heat transfer like a dirty tip. A wet sponge can help but it will constantly drop the tip temperature. We’ve been using this soldering iron cleaner by HAKKO.
60/40 ROSIN CORE SOLDER
Choosing the right solder for your FPV quadcopter components will save you a lot of time and frustration. Some solders require much higher temperatures to become molten and will sometimes not even stick to component pads. To prevent this, we recommend using a 60/40 rosin-core solder. The rosin core works similar to flux in helping heat transfer and allowing the molten solder to stick to wires and a component solder-pads. Check out this 60/40 Rosin Core solder from WYCTIN.
FLUX PEN OR PASTE
Flux can help you achieve the best solders possible. By preventing the formation of metal oxides, flux enables the solder to adhere to the clean metal surface, rather than forming beads, as it would on an oxidized surface. You can use rosin-core solder as shown above but a paste flux or flux pen will help you get great looking solders every time. Here is an easy to use soldering flux pen from SRA.
Sometimes soldering these small components can be very challenging. If you end up getting too much solder on a component board, or bridge a connection, you can use a “solder sucker” to remove the excess. The solder sucker works in the opposite way of a syringe to essentially suck up any unwanted solder. This is the original solder sucker from OMorc.
Flux fumes can be toxic if inhaled, so making sure you have sufficient ventilation is very important. A small fan is helpful when soldering to blow away any fumes. Keep the fumes out of your face with this quiet USB powered fan from Fancii.
ADHESIVES & HEAT SHRINK
Any exposed leads or solders can lead to a short. To prevent your solders from shorting out, use some good heat shrink tubing for your soldered wires. Heat shrink tubing comes in all sizes and colors. Marine-grade heat shrink includes an adhesive in the inside to insulate and secure your solders even better. We have a nice suprlus of heat-shrink after picking up this assorted Heat Shrink kit from MILAPEAK.
Stop using a lighter on your heat shrink and get a heat gun! Heat guns come in large and small sizes and many different power levels. We recommend smaller hobby-style heat guns that can be stored easily and focus the heat on a smaller area. If you want a heat gun that will do the job and not takeup an entire drawer, check out this small heat gun by Wagner.
VHB or MOUNTING TAPE
There are almost an infinite number of uses for mounting tape. Mounting tape can work well for attaching receivers, VTXs, capacitors, and any other component to your build. VHB made by 3M is incredible stuff and highly recommended. It’s lighter than zip ties and stronger than hot-glue. VHB stands for Very High Bond. When building a new FPV drone, we prefer to “stick” with the trusty VHB by 3M.
Hot glue is bad for many reasons. It makes a mess and can get brittle in colder climates. If you need a dab of adhesive that is not permanent and will come of easily from electrical components, we recommend using clear silicone. Clear silicone is an adhesive that is safely comes off of electronics and remains flexible after it dries. Pick up a tube of clear silicone by Loctite.
CA (CYANOACRYLATE) & ACCELAERATOR
Whether you’re looking to seal the edges of your carbon fiber, repair broken parts, or even surgically glue a wound closed, CA (cyanoacylate) is what you want. Cyanoacrylate is a strong fast-acting adhesive often used in modeling, but was developed to be less toxic than other super glues for use on skin. It cures in less than 30 minutes but you can expedite the process with an activator spray. Looking for the best, take a peek at the line of CA from Bob Smith Industries.
Keeping your bolts torqued and securely fastened is critical for smooth footage and proper tuning. One loose motor bolt or frame bolt can cause unwanted vibrations. Checking and retightening every few flights can become a chore. We recommend using Threadlocker on bolts that won’t require continued replacement or adjustment. Red Loctite Threadlocker, also known as Red 271, was designed for the permanent locking and sealing of permanent fasteners. We do NOT recommend Red on ANY parts of your drone build.
Blue Threadlocker, also known as Blue 242, is a less permanent form of Loctite that still allows removal of the hardware with handtools. We highly recommend using the Blue version on your motor bolts. Pick up a small tube of this Threadlocker Blue 242 by Loctite.
Conformal coating is a thin film which ‘conforms’ to the contours of a printed circuit board to protect the board’s components. It is typically applied to electronic circuitry to act as protection against moisture, dust, chemicals, and temperature extremes that, if uncoated (non-protected), could result in damage or failure of the electronics. Most flight controllers, VTXs, and ESCs are coated from the factory. If you fly in wet areas and want to protect your gear from shorting and water damage, brush on a few extra coats once the build is complete. The only component you won’t be able to use the coating on is your camera sensor. Although we’ve never used it, we’ve heard great things about this brush-on conformal coating from MG Chemicals.
MULTIMETER & SMOKE STOPPER
A typical multimeter can measure voltage, current, and resistance. You can use it to test for shorts and continuity before you power up your freshly built quad. A smoke-stopper is essentially a fused circuit that tells you if it’s safe to plug-in a battery. It will also prevent damage to your system from a short by tripping a resettable fuse (PPTC) in the smoke-stopper. We use this smoke-stopper from Bengineering Labs and this multimeter from Etekcity.
BATTERY CHECKER & BALANCER
One of the most used tools if you are flying daily is battery checker an balancer. If you are flying ten or more packs a day, you will most likely be charging fast to get back in the air. It’s crucial to check the voltage on all of your packs and keep them as balanced as possible. This becomes even more important when making the shift to 6S-powered platforms. We’ve had great luck and long use with this battery checker and balancer from ISDT.