Make Ultimate Kit Guide

DIY Gift Guide

Long live kits! Here is a fantastic collection of 175 of the best kits available today. Each one selected, tested, and reviewed by the folks at Make magazine. Each kit is rated on five criteria.

Kits offer many of the benefits (fun, thriftiness, satisfaction, personalization) of making something yourself while removing many of the hurdles. A kit relieves you of sourcing all the parts (only a mildly creative task), insures compatibility of ingredients, and increases the likelihood you’ll finish it and that the project will work. These are no small advantages, and worth the small extra expense of a kit — which may still be less than buying a similar product. This kind of directed assistance is perfect for kids, giving them confidence they can eventually build things without kits.

Kits are also perfect and cheap way for adults to try out new areas of interest. In recent years I’ve completed a number of kits to get a feel for a brand new craft. My greatest achievement was in making a dulcimer from a kit.  I’ve also made some things from kits that did not work as advertised, which is why the recommendations from Make are worth getting.

Kits have been around a long time but are undergoing a renaissance due to innovations in fabrication which permit small economical runs for niche products. There’s an intoxicating variety to choose from. About half of the kits reviewed in Make’s Guide involve electronics, but the other half are refreshingly diverse. There’s a kit to make a working replica of the original Apple I computer, or to make airplanes (both model and actual), an egg decorating machine, RC vehicles of all sorts, real boats, complex scientific tools, cool toys and rockets, food and wine-making, and various musical instruments.

Of course, kits make great gifts, too. I recommend this Guide as a first step, or even as a gift itself.

-- KK 12/7/11


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Analog Geiger Counter, $139
MAKE contributor John Iovine has been designing and improving affordable Geiger counters for decades. After Japan’s nuclear crisis last spring, his company was swamped with orders. Now they’re working on even better designs and DIY kits. This analog counter detects beta radiation above 36 kilo-electron volts (keV) and gamma above 7keV, signaling each radioactive particle detected with an LED flash and a click in the headphones. For digital output, logging, and graphing, add the DMAD-03 digital meter adapter kit ($60).

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Pottery Kick Wheel Parts Kit, $551
A friend and I tried to build a pottery kick wheel ourselves, but the concrete flywheel we poured cracked immediately, rendering the wheel a bit wobbly. Fortunately I later discovered these two kits, which include everything you need to make a solid kick wheel, including the wheel head, ball bearings, and all the pre-cut wood. And if you’re a better woodworker than me, you can just buy the metal kit and build the wood frame yourself. I use it all the time to make pottery, which is what it’s all about!

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South Pointing Chariot Kit, $59
Indie makers RLT Industries of New Braunfels, Texas, sells this lovely wooden model kit of the classic “south-pointing chariot” mechanism. Set the chariot down with the vane pointing in an arbitrary direction — south, north, whatever — and a geared differential connected to the wheels will keep it pointing the same direction regardless of which way the chariot turns. Their version went through eight prototypes to get the gearing just right and seems like a hella deal at $59.

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Drum Kit Kit, $19
Turn anything into a drum set with your Arduino and this simple kit. Some makers build custom drum sets from fine hardwoods, while others take the easy route and make practice sets from mouse pads and sheet metal. Instead of building my own, I used the included piezo elements to trick out my Rock Band drums, hooked them up to my friend’s Yamahas, and gave him a few more drumheads to tap. With software like GarageBand or Ableton Live, you can start making music right away. Simply map your notes with the Arduino sketch, and start recording.

(Note: Two of the kits featured in the Make Guide were first reviewed here at Cool Tools: Dean Knudson's review of Eskimold and Mark Fowalter's review of Pygmy Coho Kayak Kit.--OH — editors)

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