Belkin 36 Piece Tool Kit Review
First Impressions - Belkin 36 Piece Tool Kit Review
Computer Repair Tools
A rapidly increasing trend in computer service is the decreasing need for hand tools. In past years it was common for a workbench to include an oscilloscope, signal generators, power supplies, DVM, VTVM, a soldering station, and a wide array of specialty hand tools. Many of us never gave it a second thought to spend thousands of dollars on a single piece of text equipment; having the right tool was extremely important. Too, our vans and pickups carried hundreds of pounds of tools, equipment, and supplies, and we typically had a good use for most everything on a daily or weekly basis.
Today, however, at a customer’s location I rarely use more than a phillips screwdriver. With many computers now having tool-free enclosures, it often seems to be a waste of time to even carry a tool bag.
I recently decided to leave my best tools at the workbench and only carry a few lesser quality tools to residential and small business job sites. Rather than carrying a full set of nut drivers and screwdrivers, it appeared to be far more reasonable to simply use a combination screwdriver that has detachable bits.
If a quality brand would have had a similar screwdriver set I would have gladly paid the normal high prices, but all known screwdriver/bit kits are made in China and there appears to be little difference of quality between the available brands.
I was placing an online order through one of my normal suppliers for a few items that totaled around ten dollars, but the shipping was also about ten dollars. I could get similar parts through another supplier for a similar price but also get free shipping if I spent $25.00 or more. With the screwdriver kit alone costing around $10.00 locally — plus a few dollars for gasoline — I concluded that between the cost of the screwdriver kit and postage the Belkin™ kit’s case and other tools would almost be as free. I would not have ordered the $26.77 kit if it were not for the free shipping.
Belkin tools are not comparable to the quality of American, Swiss, and German made tools, and surely no electronic technician would pretend otherwise. Nevertheless, one sizable advantage of the Belkin kit is that there is little concern if a tool should happen to break or walk off. I would much rather have a one dollar Chinese tool disappear than a one-hundred dollar USA-made tool.
My first impression of the 36 piece Belkin tool kit was that it is a step above the normal Chinese variety because of the tools being demagnetized and placed in an orderly fashion within the case. I will not pretend that I like the tools, but still the tools are usable for their intended purpose of basic computer repair. Now that I have used the tools for over a year my opinion has not much changed.
In the late 80s and early 90s there was a large problem of low-cost phillips-head screws and screwdrivers not having similar point angles. Simply stated, most low-cost screwdrivers did not fit the screw heads, and it was a continuous annoyance to try to tighten a screw with a screwdriver that slipped and stripped screw heads. Normal American-made screwdrivers and screws still worked fine, but the low-cost imported products were a real pain. Most of the bits and screws in the Belkin kit are of the proper angle (or at least close), which is a large step up from earlier imports.
Zipper Case Size
The deciding reason why I chose the 36 piece Belkin kit was because it fits very nicely in the side pocket of my parts bags. I use a large VHS camcorder bag and a laptop case to carry common computer repair parts, which has worked well and in many ways looks more professional than the caddies that we used to carry years back. The 36 piece Belkin kit is the Goldilocks ‘just right’ size for my needs.
The advertised case measurements are for the case open and lying flat. The actual closed size is approximately 9” tall, 6.35” wide, and 1.5” thick.
Country of Origin
The Belkin tools are not marked with the country of origin, and though the outer package states “Made in Taiwan,” the oil on the tools has the very distinct aroma of Chinese oil, the same aroma that has been associated with Chinese manufacturing for over fifty years. Taiwan has been known to produce some rather decent products at times; not the best but not bad. Generally, if an electronics related product is not made in the USA, Switzerland, or Germany, then Taiwan can sometimes be the next best choice. Some Taiwan products are still made in mainland China, however, and the aromas of Belkin tools suggest that they were either made in China or at least manufactured with Chinese oil. (Yes I am aware that the national border between China and Taiwan is somewhat fuzzy and may not truly exist, but differences of quality are often as noticeable as the differences of quality between different states within the USA.)
The inside and outside of the case had a few minor oil stains from where the oil had run off of the tools, and so if you should choose to buy a Belkin kit then expect the case to have a few minor but noticeable stains.
I used the kit for two computer jobs; a CPU replacement and a CD/DVD replacement. The repairs went smoothly and I was pleased with the convenience of the kit. When placing the tools back in the case I noticed that the lower number of tools made it much easier to take inventory. In years past I used to carry an attaché-case tool kit that had at least fifty full sized tools plus test equipment, and it was somewhat of a chore to ensure that all of the tools had been replaced before leaving a job site. The small Belkin kit merely requires a glance to see that all of the tools are in place. I should have gotten a kit like this years ago!
The mechanical fit of the 5” long needle-nose pliers and wire strippers is not bad, actually considerably better than what I expected, and they should work well enough for jobs that do not require precision. While recently repairing a broken power supply wire with a 7” pair of Klein® electrician needle nose pliers I was quickly reminded of how difficult a simple repair can be without the proper tools. The electrician pliers are great for bending solid 10-18g copper wire, but really lousy for tinning stranded 24g! The Belkin pliers are a compromise between precision and electrician grade.
The screwdriver/bit kit has the most often used phillips and flat-blade sizes, plus a good assortment of sockets for hex-head screws. Of the several brands of screwdriver kits I looked at I liked the looks of Belkin’s best of all. A small double-headed pocket screwdriver is included that might be useful for laptop screws. No, the quality is not great, but the tools can get the job done.
I recently ran out of drive jumpers, and rather than spending around five dollars on a new order, the jumpers included in the 8 tray screw bin should be enough to last me several months. The cost for jumpers was included in my determining whether or not to buy the Belkin kit. Too, having my assortment of screws separated in the bin is much better than having the screws mixed in a small baggy.
The zipper case is constructed with the normal thin vinyl, cardboard, and plastic zipper. The zipper will likely break after several uses, and care must be applied each time the case is opened or closed.
At present I am thinking that the kit will be a good means of my determining which tools that I want to keep in the parts bag. Within a year or less I expect the case to ready to be thrown away, at which time I will design and make my own with ballistic nylon or some other washable heavy duty material.
If you do not have a need for high quality precision tools, nor a need to use tools on a frequent basis, then I would think that the Belkin kit ought to work quite well. For individuals who use tools daily, in the long run it would much less expensive to buy quality name brands and hand-craft a case that fits your specific needs.
If you are considering buying a Belkin tool kit as a gift, please allow me to make a couple suggestions. If the intended recipient is a professional technician who has shown wide-eyed excitement when holding high quality tools, then a Belkin tool kit might be more of an insult than an appreciated gift. I would recommend buying the tech a single needle nose pliers or diagonal cutters from a top quality brand like Tronex: the gift would be much more appreciated and treasured. If the intended recipient is a hobbyist whose interest is to tinker with gadgets, and the person’s current choice of tools are mostly of the bargain priced variety, then the Belkin kit ought to be a good choice and treasured for its nifty selection and usefulness of tools.
October 24, 2011: After having used the Belkin 36 piece tool kit for a few weeks I was being repeatedly reminded why I chose long ago to only buy quality brands. The kit's long phillips bit would be good for motherboards if the phillips head actually fit phillips screws. The needle nose pliers would be useful if they were small enough for precision work or finished well enough to not nick wiring, and at present my only choice is to either machine the pliers to a proper size and finish, or only use them for mechanical work, or toss them in the trash. The tips of the tweezers are not aligned and do not meet evenly when closed. The IC puller is barely adequate. The screwdriver's ratchet mechanism sometimes works well and sometimes works not so well. The sockets are a sloppy fit on hex head screws. I have not yet used the wire strippers, and I currently doubt that I ever will. The spring-steel parts grabber works well although it cannot be used where it might cause a short, and the plastic feels, well, like plastic.
I considered replacing the pliers and strippers with quality tools, but the design of the kit places the tools on top of each other when the case is closed, which means that the tools will quickly become scuffed and worn looking. Placing good tools alongside the existing tools is not an option since the quality tools would also begin to smell of Chinese oil, which is an aroma that I am not much fond of. I am still liking the little screw bin, and I am still liking having the detachable bit screwdriver, but at present I am leaning towards using the kit for a few more weeks and then giving it away to someone who might make better use of the tools. The kit did help me decide how to best design my own, and so the kit has served its purpose.
October 25, 2011: While finishing an article about Tronex tools made in the USA I decided to further test the Belkin strippers and pliers just so that I could show a comparison between cheap tools and quality tools. The Belkin wire strippers cannot cut copper wire, the strippers merely tear the wire in two through a crude shearing action. The strippers also cannot strip insulation without nicking the wire itself. Too, the cutting edges of the needle nose pliers do not close tightly enough to cut completely through a Cat5 wire. Performing a simple task like trimming a Cat5 cable usually takes about half a minute with good tools, but it would require close to five minutes to properly trim the wire with Belkin tools. I can get more accomplished in one hour with Tronex tools than what I could accomplish in eight hours with Belkin tools. The strippers and pliers are not useful for common computer-related use, and worse, they are a liability that I cannot afford.
February 24, 2013: I filed down the edges of the needle nose pliers to remove the sharp burrs, and now the pliers can cut wire reasonably okay (not well, but okay). I continue to use the tool kit for both computers and minor household repairs, and surprisingly the case's zipper is still in good condition after a couple hundred uses. For basic jobs like opening computer cases, replacing fans and drives, and similarly simple residential tasks, the tools can do their job well enough. For me, I still have a similar impression of the tools as what I had from the beginning; there may be no pride of ownership, but the tools can get the job done (even if slowly), and I never have a worry about possibly losing them.
During the year of having the kit I have used the pocket screwdriver about 50% of the time, the ratchet screwdriver around 50%, and the other tools perhaps once or twice each. For me the kit's best value is to simply have a handy selection of tools in a small package.
October 07, 2013: After two years of use I am surprised that the case is still in relatively good condition. I am normally careful with my tools, but I did not expect the zipper to last this long even with careful use. The wire strippers proved to be quite good for cutting/breaking CD/DVD disks (the only real usefulness that I have found for the strippers). I used the kit while servicing a lot of laptops for regional government agencies, and as a general rule the tool kit was usually sufficient enough, but if a laptop case required much beyond the removal of a few small screws I normally had to pull out better screwdrivers to get the job done quickly. Over all I would say that the tool kit is adequate for most common PC repairs, but woefully inadequate for any level of work that involves skill and expertise.
Unless otherwise stated, all content and graphics are Copyright©2011-2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.