Must-Have Tools: Pololu Crimper

By Max Maxfield |

When you are wielding the Pololu Crimping Tool, this little beauty gives the impression of being crafted with the precision of a Swiss watch.

One of the problems you experience when you've been around as long as yours truly is that you get to see a lot of things. Actually, that isn’t the problem per se; the real issue is that you tend to assume that everyone else is au fait with the same things as you are.

As a case in point, I was just helping a young lad from the manufacturing bay downstairs to whip up a quick test rig using a standard 0.1" pitch breadboard (his boss had sent him upstairs to my bay to ask for help). As part of this, we needed a couple of flying leads with male connectors on one end and female on the other -- all he had was male-to-male. 

Breadboard and male-to-male flying leads (Source: Max Maxfield)

"No worries," I said as I reached into one of the large plastic containers under the workbench and pulled out my trusty Pololu Crimper. "What's that?" asked my young companion. "The answer to all your flying lead problems," I replied.

It took only a few minutes to build the required custom leads, and the young lad was duly impressed, as well he should be. The point of all this is that it had never struck me that he wouldn’t have seen one of these tools before. This led me to realize that quite a few people may be unfamiliar with this device, so I decided to expound, explicate, and elucidate (don’t worry, I'm a professional, it doesn't hurt at all).

The first thing you'll need is some wire. The Pololu Crimping tool can handle 16 to 28 AWG (American Wire Gauge). I typically use 22 AWG stranded wire for this sort of thing.

The next thing you'll need is some 0.1" male and/or female metal crimp pins along with some 0.1" crimp connector housings as illustrated below. 

Male crimp pins (left), crimp connector housings (middle), and female crimp pins (right) (Source: Max Maxfield)

The male and female crimp pins come in packs of 100, all presented on a metal strip. All you have to do is wriggle them back and forth a couple of times to separate them from the strip. It has to be said that the folks at Pololu have a lot of great products. It also has to be acknowledged that tracking down what you’re looking for on the website can be inordinately time-consuming and frustrating, so use this link to take you to the male crimp pin page and this link to take you to the female crimp pin page.

In the case of the crimp connector housings (the same housings are used for both male and female crimp pins), the ones shown in the image above each hold a single crimp pin and are referred to as being of type 1x1. You can use this link to take you to the 1x1 housing page. From that page, you can use the "Select Options" field to take you to a wide variety of housings, like 1x2, 1x3... 1x10 and 2x2, 2x3... 2x20.

But the pièce de résistance is the Pololu Crimping Tool itself. When you are wielding it in your hands, this little beauty gives the impression of being crafted with the precision of a Swiss watch.


The Pololu Crimping Tool (Source: Max Maxfield)

The best way to see this in action is to look at one or more of the videos that abound on YouTube, such as this offering by a guy called Ewan.

It's obviously impossible to say, "this is my best tool," because you need different tools for different occasions. I certainly wouldn’t use my Pololu Crimper as a hammer or a screwdriver, for example, and I cannot imagine what life would be like without my temperature-controlled soldering iron (I really need to get out more).

Still and all, at the end of the day, my Pololu Crimping tool -- along with its associated crimp pins and housings -- is a mainstay when it comes to creating my capriciously cunning contraptions.

Have you used one of these, or similar, tools? If so, do you agree with me as to their efficaciousness? If not, do you think you might be tempted to invest in one of these little beauties? Do you have any other items that you regard as being key members of your own tool collection?

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  • by  Aubrey Kagan (edited)
    - Max The problem with crimp tools is that they match connectors. If you have several types of connectors/wiring aids then you will need a few crimp tools. If I open my drawer there are 4 crimp tools there and if I go to production, perhaps 5 or 6 more. The trick is to find whose connectors are compatible, but if you are commercially producing stuff with crimp terminals you want a reasonable degree of confidence that the crimp has been done correctly so you end up using the crimp tool from the terminal manufacturer. Of course automated ones (mostly) take the human error element out of the equation. Still, if you can narrow your selection to a particular style (and sticking to someone as Pololu (actually a middleman) would help in this) means that you only need one tool. At times I have not had the tool for a particular connector and have had to resort to solder and/or crimping with pliers- there is no substitute for the right tool!
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Aubrey: "...if you are commercially producing stuff with crimp terminals..." I agree that creating stuff in a commercial environment is a different ball game -- but for what I do this is the only such tool I use.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Aubrey: "...Pololu (actually a middleman)... I wondered about that -- way back when someone told me "get a Pololu Crimper" and so that's the name that stuck in my mind. So who actually manufactures these little beauties?
  • by  Aubrey Kagan (edited)
    - Max I am not absolutely certain if Pololu is a middleman- I should have hedged my statement. Nevertheless, the crimp die format I saw in closeups on the website looks remarkably like the format on my Molex crimper. TE in its many acquisitions (in its growth from just AMP) must have several companies that make crimp terminals. Amphenol is another big name that comes to mind.
  • by  David Ashton (edited)
    I soooo need to get one of these. I was making breadboard jumpers some time ago and used test points salvaged off old PCBs (you know what a cheapskate I am) and soldered wires to them and half covered them with heat shrink. Looked OK and did the job but boy were they fiddly. This is one of those tools you'd use only once in a blue moon but when you do, it's the only one that would do the job. Thanks for this MAx. Now all I need is enough spare cash to buy one of these.....
  • by  John Beetem (edited)
    Max Wrote: "the real issue is that you tend to assume that everyone else is au fait with the same things as you are." ... and you starting assuming 'Mercans know what "oh fay" means :-) Perhaps something like "oy vey"?
  • by  Conrad Mannering (edited)
    Hi Max, I have been buying these little rascals ready made from E-bay I had not thought of custom building. Wanting something I could source in Blighty (since the Brexit vote I tend to think we are blighted) I have been amazed how many of these crimps tools and crimps are for sale once you search for them with the name Dupont. That aside I will be getting a selection of male / female connectors housings and tool. The other crimp tool that I consider is a must, is for those tiny JST connectors PA-20 or PA-21.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Conrad: "...That aside I will be getting a selection of male / female connectors housings and tool..." You won't regret it -- for the longest time I just used the 1x1 connectors for everything, but it's so much easier if you use things like 8x1 or 6x2 as the occasion demands.
  • by  Steve Manley (edited)
    Ive used a similar crimping tool in the past for Molex pins, but I don't recall it being called a Polou. I do have a similar ratchit crimp tool for the standard red, blue & yellow crimps though. For the Molex connectors I do have a non-rathit crimp tool that requires 2 actions, one to crimp the bare wire, and a second to crimp the insulation, so has 2 drawbacks, it requires 2 actions to make a successful crimp, and you can over crimp if your not careful. Should I ever need to crimp a lot of Molex terminals (which is not a every day occurrence for me) I would get one, otherwise i'll just stick with the one I have.
  • by  Steve Manley (edited)
    More interestingly, I like the wire stripper tool shown in the video and I might get one of those. I tend to use a pair of side gutters, which for the most does okay, but runs the risk of removing some of the conductors, and therefore not recommended for serious applications, bur for most things I do, its quick and easy.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Steve: "...I like the wire stripper tool shown in the video and I might get one of those..." YES! That was exactly my thought as soon as I saw that video -- great minds think alike :-)
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Steve: "...I do have a non-rathit crimp tool that requires 2 actions, one to crimp the bare wire, and a second to crimp the insulation..." The ratchet action of the Pololu Crimper (or whoever makes it) is a pleasure to see and hear and use.
  • by  Steve Manley (edited)
    @Max: "The ratchet action of the Pololu Crimper (or whoever makes it) is a pleasure to see and hear and use." I just ordered a wire stripper from Amazon and looked at the crimp tools also and managed to find what looks identically in appearance for a quarter the price of the one on Proto-Pic, A company I use from time to time as it happens. Being of an acceptable price, I decided to order that as well, got both for £22. I'll let you know it it's any good.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Steve: " both for £22. I'll let you know it it's any good..." Let me know what you think about the wire stripper tool -- if it receives your seal of approval I will order one for myself
  • by  Elizabeth Simon (edited)
    I've got two very similar crimpers. One is from Jenson and the other says on it. These crimpers have removable dies which are generally interchangeable. The Pololu crimper looks to have similar crimp dies. I've had the Jenson tool for years and just got the andycrimp a few years ago in a kit to crimp coax connectors and Anderson PowerPoles.
  • by  Tony Tib (edited)
    Come on, Max, your elucidations could've been better. Pololu is reselling a standard crimper, almost assuredly made in China, along with cut tape crimp pins and sockets, which are also readily available from Mouser, Digikey, and the other usual sources (cut tape is typically much cheaper than loose pins). Similar crimpers are readily available on Amazon for $20 and up. I learned to crimp at work from our tech - for example, Molex MicroFits and MiniFits have to inserted the right way, but it doesn't matter for others such as DSubs and Universal MateNLocks. We have dedicated crimpers for MicroFits and MiniFits, because we use them a lot, the price was reasonable (~$250 each), and the crimpers are awesome: made in Sweden with exquisite quality, they hold the pin, and prevent the wire from going in too far. If you're not doing production work, it's possible to use a much smaller number of crimpers and still get acceptable results. I have a 2-position blue crimper from Hansen Hobbies (at $40, a bit overpriced, but it works well), and an iWiss SN-28B (about $25 from Amazon and even better than the Hansen one). I set one with higher tension for doing smaller connectors. Between these two, I've managed to do Mini-Fits, Micro-Fits DSubs, and Universal Mate-n-Loks. HD Subs are manageable but not ideal, but truly tiny stuff like Molex Picoblades are impossible. I've been specially happy with the iWiss, and am planning on getting a iWiss SN-01BM since it has a narrower die that should work better for HD DSub and tiny connectors. iWiss also makes a dedicated Anderson Power Pole crimper for ~$35
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Tony: "...Pololu is reselling a standard crimper, almost assuredly made in China..." They are obviously doing a great marketing job, because the way I came into this deep in the mists of time was someone telling me "You have to get a Pololu Crimper" and so this association just stuck in my head.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @Elizabeth: "...I've got two very similar crimpers..." Show off LOL When I remember the years I spent making hodgepodge breadboard cables by hand -- now using my crimper always brings a smile to my face.
  • by  Steve Manley (edited)
    @Max: "Let me know what you think about the wire stripper tool -- if it receives your seal of approval I will order one for myself" Well the strippers arrived today and although I went for the cheapest version on Amazon (there are multiple manufacturers selling the same item in different liveries), I have to say they look to be of good quality. They are rated for 0.2mm - 6mm on the web site but on the handle it suggests 0.5mm - 6mm. They do struggle to strip finer wires, like those of ribbon cable size and below, a bit hit an miss as to whether or not they damage the conductor. Can still do a better job with my teeth or side cutters on that size of wire, but on the whole for the larger stuff, very good indeed . Link to the item I purchased: Will see how the crimpers are when they drive tomorrow.
  • by  E3 Designers, LLC (edited)
    I think this is great for hobbyists - nice alternative to buying a $300-$500 tool per connector family. Might even pick one up for E3 to use in a pinch.
  • by  du00000001 (edited)
    Another reasonable wire stripper is the "Stripax" (google it): while looking 'cheap', it actually is a reliable automatic stripper. It comes in different sizes, starting with a pistol-shaped mini version. You can set the length of isolation to be removen by means of a mechanical stop, and unless you've got some very sturdy or slippery wire isolation its easy-peasy stripping.
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @U Dreher: "...while looking 'cheap'..." Are we talking about this one ( )? It's $89 on Amazon Prime (sad face)
  • by  du00000001 (edited)
    Yes. Or about this one: Which I've been using for the last 20+ years. Thus it was a good invest :)
  • by  Max Maxfield (edited)
    @U. Dreher: "...Which I've been using for the last 20+ years..." This does look good -- but funds are short at the moment -- I'll have to add this to my Christmas Wish List.

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