1. Soldering Iron — Weller WESD51 Digital Soldering Station
For me a good soldering iron is really a necessity, specifically something with changeable tips and a flexible cable. I now have the best solder iron I have ever owned. The Weller WESD51, a digitally controlled iron with a max output of 50 watts. The iron is microprocessor controlled with a temperature range of 350F-850F. Digital LED display provides temperature setting and actual tip temperature readout in degrees. If I leave my iron on for some reason, it has auto power-off after 99 minutes.
2. Xuron — Cutters and Pliers
Nippers, cutters and precision pliers make life so much easier. You can cut closer to your solder points and hold small parts better. I normally would be a little more general in my recommendations, but I really these tools compared to my Kobalt needle nose.
3. Wire Strippers — Klein Tools 1010 Long-Nose Multi-Purpose Tool
I own this exact tool and it is a really strong and useful product. The sharp stripper part rarely goes to far in and breaks my copper. I do not typically use this tool for crimping. I have a standalone ratchet type crimper for mechanical electrical connectors. The little bit of pliers at the tip is very useful as well. This might seem a little redundant with the tools above but you must know that they are two different purposes. Above is meant for thinner wire and this tool is specifically for stripping and cut thicker wire.
4. PanaVise or Third Hand Tool
I do not currently own one of these tools but in the past I used them quite a bit. A good heavy third hand tool or vise makes populating a circuit board much easier. Obviously handling a 500+ degree soldering iron can be hazardous if you are prone to sneezing so having a tool hold wire or a board is much safer. You can get yourself a nice 3rd hand tool for under 10 bucks, but where it is at is a Panavise. These are typically mounted or clamped to your working surface. Holding a circuit board for solder is great in a third hand, but being able to trim the board with a Dremel will require a bit more beef. A PanaVise 350 is what I use and it has never let me down. It holds differently sized objects perfectly and securely. In the base is a built in tray for small parts.
5. DMM or Digital Multi-meter
As far as electronics measurement tools go, there are lots out there and a lot with more ability, sensitivity and features than a DMM. These though require a big drop in capital. For someone tinkering, I, don’t think there would necessary. A good DMM is going to tell you voltage AC/DC, circuit draw, wattage, resistance and a few other measurements. If you really want to get fancy get yourself a bench top DMM, but ultimately it will still tell the same thing as a handheld. You can get yourself into a decent DMM for under $30, but with my wants and needs I am looking to spend under $200, like for my Fluke 115. Auto ranging, tough, simple interface and controls and comes with a good set of leads. Yes you can get them with diode testers and temp. measuring, but I never use that. I have a Craftsmen DMM as well and I have never ever used the temp sensor past the first day when I read my skin temp.
Are there other tools needed, absolutely!! Blades, screwdrivers, tape, hardware but these are a strong set, I believe, of tools to get yourself going.