The Essential Tools You Need For Excellent Helium Deployments



What tools will you need to install Heli­um Hotspots? After putting up Hotspots on hous­es, build­ings, moun­tains, and poles, and spend­ing more mon­ey than I’d like to admit on all kinds of tools, I thought I’d put togeth­er a list for you to find all of ’em in one place. No mat­ter how basic or advanced you want to get, the tool you need to find for an excel­lent Heli­um deploy­ment is some­where on this list. Let’s get started!

I’ll break it down into 3 main sec­tions: Soft­ware Tools, Install Tools, and Cov­er­age & RF Tools.

Software Tools

First, the soft­ware side. Obvi­ous­ly you’ve used Heli­um Explor­er to poke around and see how much your neigh­bors are mak­ing, or what the local scale is. That’s a good(free) start, but there are at least three more great options that’ll let you dive way deep­er into find­ing great loca­tions (Heli­umVi­sion), see­ing where you’re get­ting scaled and man­ag­ing your fleet (Hotspot­ty), and keep­ing track of what all your Hotspots are doing (Heli­um­Track­er.)

If you’d like to keep it super sim­ple, check out HotspotRF. It’s prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar tool for assess­ing loca­tions and very sim­ple to use. I find the oth­er tools allow you to dive way deep­er, but not every­one has the time to dive deep.

If you’d like to make sure you’ve got a good fun­da­men­tal under­stand­ing of Heli­um, I’d rec­om­mend tak­ing the Heli­um Basic Course.

One thing to know about Heli­um’s Explor­er is that both the app and the site can be behind by a few days, and it’s hard to tell how far behind it is. If you want up to date info, use to ping, con­nect, and oth­er­wise diag­nose trou­ble­some Hotspots in more or less real time.

Ok, so that’s the soft­ware side.

Install Tools

Let’s break this down into 3 cat­e­gories: Basic Installer, Enthu­si­ast Installer, and Pro­fes­sion­al Installer. I would place myself firm­ly in the last cat­e­go­ry, but there’s no need to get that deep into it, and in gen­er­al it’s not the most prof­itable way to mine Heli­um; I just like to geek out on tools. How do I define the oth­er two? I think of this in terms of effort. 

A Basic Installer is prob­a­bly going to do most­ly indoor, eas­i­er instal­la­tions. They’ll run eth­er­net cable, set up an anten­na indoors, and keep their cost, effort (and HNT earn­ings) rel­a­tive­ly low. 

An Enthu­si­ast Installer under­stands the val­ue of get­ting out­side and up high. They plan on get­ting after­mar­ket anten­nas, putting them out­side, and being handy enough to install an anten­na on, say, a 20′ mast attached to a build­ing. They’ll do a lit­tle DIY but it’s typ­i­cal­ly not worth it for an Enthu­si­ast to make their own anten­na cables. Most peo­ple in the Heli­um space who read this prob­a­bly fall into this cat­e­go­ry; it’s prob­a­bly the best bal­ance of effort & HNT returns. Typ­i­cal­ly, Enthu­si­asts *won’t* build an off-grid miner. 

Final­ly, there’s the Pro­fes­sion­al Installer. I think of ’em (myself includ­ed) as the bat­shit crazy ver­sion of the enthu­si­ast. These are the peo­ple who will climb cell tow­ers, moun­tains, trees, and pret­ty much any­thing in order to get their anten­na as high as pos­si­ble. They’ll mea­sure twice, cut once, dou­ble check the out­put, test the pow­er draw, go off grid, and love the game of installing just as much as they love the stream of income. 

These peo­ple usu­al­ly don’t need my help to build a toolk­it, but I’ll include what I’ve picked up just as a ref­er­ence point for your tool-hoard­ing obsession.

Ok, let’s start with what you need at a basic level.

Basic Installer Tool Kit

  • Drill - stan­dard cord­less drill, for drilling holes in order to mount the enclo­sure, anten­nas, cable man­age­ment, etc.
  • Drill bit set — A gen­er­al set off Ama­zon is total­ly fine, there’s no need to get fan­cy drill bits. Yet.
  • Dri­ver — option­al for the Basic kit, but a Dri­ver is one of those things that every seri­ous builder should have. It is NOT a drill, though a drill can be used as a dri­ver and is total­ly fine for most one-off around-the-house jobs. I lived for years with­out a Dri­ver. Then I bought one and I’ll nev­er use a drill to dri­ve again.
  • Dri­ver bit set — Again, a stan­dard set is fine, you don’t need the mil­lion option­al bits.
  • Fas­ten­ers (this is what nor­mal peo­ple would call screws and nails)
  • Screw­driv­er set with Phillips & flat head. Yes, you can use the Dri­ver above with bits, but some­times you need to do more del­i­cate work.
  • Pli­ers — You can get ’em one at a time, or just pick up a kit on Ama­zon.
  • Eth­er­net cable ter­mi­na­tor tool kit (this cheap one is fine for small jobs). The abil­i­ty to make cus­tom Eth­er­net cables makes your installs much cleaner.
  • Box Cut­ter — These are use­ful for damn near everything. 

Enthusiast Installer Tool Kit

As an Enthu­si­ast, the main dif­fer­ence will prob­a­bly be that you’re going out­side, so you’ll need a dif­fer­ent set of con­sum­ables. The tools are gen­er­al­ly the same.

  • Hack­saw ‑For trim­ming poles to the cor­rect length
  • Hose clamps — For attach­ing enclo­sures and anten­na mounts to poles. Make SURE you get the right size for your pole.
  • Elec­tri­cal tape — For gen­er­al­ly clean­ing up wire and minor sealing.
  • Sil­i­cone sealant — For seal­ing small holes in the enclo­sure. Meth­ods vary on enclo­sure pen­e­tra­tions, use what works for you.
  • Cable glands — For going through your enclosure.
  • Cop­per ground wire — Size to your local regs
  • Sock­et set - Super nice when you’re tight­en­ing up a bunch of hose clamps with a driver.
  • Tool Roll - A great way to car­ry the essen­tial tools around.

Professional Installer

At this lev­el you prob­a­bly already have a fair­ly well stocked shop. Your Dad, like mine, may have instilled in you the “Right tool for the job” men­tal­i­ty. Here’s a short list of what I’ve got in my shop that I’ve used dur­ing var­i­ous Heli­um installs or for prepa­ra­tion. Some of this is far more expen­sive than it needs to be. Some of it is a lit­tle cheap­er than a true pro­fes­sion­al would want, but it gets the job done well. None of this is need­ed to do a fine job, though it does make many jobs much eas­i­er to do. I’d break this down into 2 main cat­e­gories: Cable Prep, and Every­thing Else. 

Mak­ing your own coax (anten­na) cables is a sign you’re get­ting seri­ous. It’s almost nev­er worth it cost-wise, but for time and effi­cien­cy (I need a 22″ sec­tion of LMR400 today!”) you can’t beat it.

Cable Prep

Everything Else

  • Sol­der­ing station
  • Extra hands for sol­der­ing work — I use Quad Hands.
  • 14 ga wire for in box wiring — Your local regs may vary.
  • Wire strip­pers — These are the fan­cy ones, any options will do.
  • Bench mount­ed mag­ni­fy­ing glass with light — For the lit­tle repair stuff these are super useful.
  • Pow­er sup­ply — For pow­er­ing and check­ing pow­er draw and volt­age on items for off grid builds.
  • Hor­i­zon­tal band­saw — I picked up a super cheap ver­sion of this on Craigslist years ago. Still working.
  • Rivnut tool set — For clean pole installs.
  • Vise — Invalu­able for bend­ing, hold­ing, bang­ing on, and oth­er­wise manip­u­lat­ing met­al & wood.
  • Anvil — Unnec­es­sary, but I LOVE my Nim­ba, and I’ve used it to flat­ten out mount­ing brackets.
  • Drill press — Mine was giv­en to me for free by a fel­low who watched the band snatch and take off his grand­fa­ther’s finger.
  • Tool Bags — Veto Pro Pacs are my go-to bags. They are not by a long shot the cheap­est option.
  • Ham­mer Drill — Want to attach your mast, enclo­sure, or solar pan­el to a rock face? This is what I roll with.
  • Dig­i­tal Calipers — I am for­ev­er drilling and mea­sur­ing holes and bolts and assorted…things.
  • USB dig­i­tal tester - Faster and eas­i­er than the Pow­er Sup­ply above, though not as accurate. 
  • Heat gun — For heat shrink tub­ing. You can get very cheap ver­sions of these (or use a lighter)
  • Heat shrink tub­ing — Get the size you need, this kit is just an example.
  • Prusa 3D print­er — This thing helps make all the lit­tle hold­ers for inside the enclo­sure. Not required, but very clean.

Coverage & RF Tools

Cov­er­age & RF tools are ones that help you test, map out, and prove cov­er­age beyond the fre­quen­cy that a Hotspot will. In gen­er­al, they break down into being used to test the func­tion of anten­nas and then loca­tion test­ing. On the RF side, any seri­ous RF engi­neer will laugh at what we use in Heli­um, but they work for us. Just for com­par­i­son, you can get a VNA for use in Heli­um for under $200. A “cheap” VNA in radio engi­neer land will push $5k.

Here’s what’s in my kit:

  • GLAMOS — Use the GLAMOS to com­pare anten­nas and loca­tions. More on how to do that here.
  • Ade­u­nis FTD — I bought one of these ear­ly on and use it as a Map­per (which is what it is), but I don’t rec­om­mend it. Oth­er options are far better.
  • Map­per — Build or buy your own
  • WioField Tester — Seeed sent me one of these, I used it just a bit then passed it on local­ly for oth­ers to try. Easy to use, this is a great piece of kit.
  • NanoV­NA — Vec­tor Net­work Ana­lyz­er, use to test anten­nas and cables.
  • TinySA — Small spec­trum ana­lyz­er se to test radio envi­ron­ment (are you get­ting blast­ed by near­by RF ener­gy from cell towers?)
  • Bird 43 Wattmeter - You do NOT need one of these, but when I saw a mod­el in Ohio I fell in love and ordered it. You can use this to test an anten­na’s ener­gy output.

If you’ve found oth­er use­ful tools, please drop ’em in the com­ments and I’ll add them to this list. 

I should also note that almost every link here is an affil­i­ate link. If you’d like to sup­port the Gris­tle King mis­sion to help peo­ple under­stand the world of Heli­um, please use ’em!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.