How to set up an Engineering Technology class for under $10K

The following is a description of the machines and tools that would be required to set up an Engineering Technology lab to teach the Engineering Technology Standards in an average middle or high school. As will be shown, it is not hugely expensive to do this.

The four areas that inhabit the modern workplace and that could be taught in a high school or middle school Engineering Technology class is metalworking, woodworking, electronics and computers. The following equipment is all that is needed to teach the basics in these four areas.

Metalworking and Woodworking

Metalworking and woodworking have a fair amount of overlap since the basic principles of cutting and shaping them are the same. The obvious difference is that metal is much harder than wood so it requires different types of the same machine to shape it. The two main tools in metalworking is the lathe and the mill. They range in size from something that could fit on your desk to something the size of a classroom. A small tabletop lathe and mill is safe and totally adequate for the high school class. A drill press is another essential for either metal or woodworking. A drill press milling vise is a cheaper alternative to a regular mill and is adequate for milling wood or soft metal. A grinder is used for shaping metal in much the same way as a belt/disc sander is used to shape wood. A band saw is another shop essential, along with a table saw, a reciprocating saw and an angle grinder. Another popular piece of equipment is a wood lathe, where students can make all manner of cylinder shaped things such as candlestick holders, chess pieces, and miniature baseball bats. Finally a Dremel kit is a good introductory metalworking tool for students. It is safe and allows students to experiment with different fixtures and drill heads.


Metalworking and woodworking are naturally appealing to young people since it is hands-on, much like most of the modern workplace, and they can create things that they can keep and use and will always remind them that they did create something tangible that was not there before. This is a tremendously empowering thing for most students and that we must restore in the K-12 classroom using equipment that is found in the modern workplace.

Teaching about electronics poses a different challenge since no one has ever seen an electron so there is a certain level of abstraction to electronics which must be dealt with correctly to ensure effective teaching and learning. An oscilloscope is effective for this since it provides a visual representation of electricity which makes it real for students. A digital mutimeter also will indicate voltage, current and resistance-the 3 attributes of electricity that should be first introduced in elementary school. There is a plethora of electronics learning kits that give students a first experience with electronics. A good first use of these learning kits is constructing circuits that make all manner of sounds such as police sirens, meowing cats, tweeting birds, machine guns and horror movie sound effects.

Speaking of sounds, the role of music in an Engineering Technology curriculum must be addressed. The amount of electronics involved in music and audio equipment is obvious and the electric guitar is an excellent vehicle for teaching the basics of electronics. A guitar pickup winder is a good device to demonstrate the basics of electromagnetism, which makes possible the operation of microphones, speakers, cell phones, TV, radio, GPS, radar, and Wi-Fi. A radio scanner is useful for teaching about the different frequency bands used by different communication technologies.

Any Engineering Technology class would need soldering equipment. Solder is a kind of metal glue which connects electronic parts together to make the electronic devices which have become such a part of modern life. Soldering equipment would include a soldering station, a helping hands holder, and a soldering set.

The tools required would include a 60 piece electronic tool kit, an ifixit protech tool kit for working with modern laptops and smart phones, and a 55 piece computer tool kit for a great activity called reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering deals with computer hardware but computer software is a totally different area. Teaching about computer software involves teaching about computer programming and this brings us back to the value of music in teaching Engineering Technology. A computer program is similar to music in that they both only exist in time, not space. This is why many musicians are computer programmers, and vice versa. There is a plethora of educational programming languages in addition to the ones used in the workplace, and a review or recommendation of one over the other is beyond the scope of this article. Facebook's Mark Zukerberg sponsors the Hour of Code which is a good introduction for kids to computer programming. Five or six laptops ($2000?) would be adequate for a class with the appropriate software for teaching programming.

One final piece of equipment would be in order-a 3D printer. These combine the abstract art of computer programming with the hands on thrill of creating something out of nothing.

The total cost of all of these items together plus tax would come to about $8000. The other $2000 would cover enough of the raw materials required to last the entire school year.