Skip to main content

5 Unique Gift Ideas for Engineers and Students

My areas of interest include computers, audio recording technology/studio setups and any kind of hardware in between.

Gifts for engineers

Gifts for engineers

Finding the Best Gifts for Engineers, Students and Aficionados

If you're lucky enough to know an engineer, you'll know that they're a unique breed. Intensely curious and passionate about precision, design, and how the world works, they are fascinating to talk to. Truthfully, our world wouldn't be what it is today without them. Finding a great gift for an engineer or engineering student is a great way to show how much you appreciate their interests.

Finding a gift that will pique their interests is always a challenge. You'll want to get them something unique, something that will hold their attention and something that they'll remember (and potentially use). That's a tall order, especially if the engineering world isn't something you're overly familiar with.

I have written this article in order to help you out! I'll be listing nine great gifts to give an engineering buff or student. In case you don't get the purpose or the reference, I'll include a little description of what the item is and what it's good for. Hopefully, this will help you find something great, memorable and affordable.

What an Engineer Digs

As I see it, the best way to go about choosing a proper present for your engineer is to analyze the things that they tend to like. Here are a couple of themes to work with:

How Things Work

Engineers tend to be fascinated with how things work. They love to pull things apart and put them back together. It's not enough to see something that has a function and just accept it at face value; they want to know why it works. Any present that caters to that thirst for knowledge will be a hit.

Utility Is Important

A great gift for an engineer is one that has a practical use in their day-to-day lives. If it makes a routine task or tedious activity a bit easier or more efficient, they'll absolutely love it. Try to find a gift with a useful application.

Humor Is Key

Ask anyone who has spent time with engineers: they love a good joke or prank. They tend to have that delightfully geeky, 'inside joke' sense of humor too, so playing up to their funny side is a good choice. A funny gift for an engineering buff will go over very well.

A Good Book: The First Place to Start Looking

For an inquisitive and curious mind, a book is almost always a top choice. There are literally hundreds of fascinating books on a wide swath of subjects related to engineering. I'd pick something that appeals to their specific interests. If they love circuits and electronics, get them a book on Arduino boards. If they love structures and buildings, get them a biography of their favorite architect, or a study of ancient structural practices.

I've got a few suggestions to present to you to get the gears turning.

  • Basic Machines and How They Work is a fascinating book that even a non-engineer could read and enjoy. It goes over a number of common machines and tools, explaining them inside and out with full illustrations and cutaways. It's a fantastic gift choice for engineering students or anyone who has expressed interest in the subject. It's just the right amount of technical.
  • Engineering and the Mind's Eye is a look into the art and vision behind technical undertakings. It studies where the real, practical world and the realm of numbers, figures, and formulas intersect, and it's an absorbing read for students and masters alike.

There are many more works of technical writing and non-fiction that will appeal to just about anyone. I'd encourage you to look around further.

Working Stirling Engine: For Mechanical Engineers

This is a working model of the classic Stirling external combustion engine. The engine is designed to work using energy from an external heat source. It's a wonderful gift for anyone who appreciates the inner workings of an engine.

The heat source is an alcohol-fuelled flame that's mounted at the rear of the engine. Once it heats up, the twin pistons will start moving. They power an included dynamo that provides enough electricity to power a small LED light.

It's a great teaching tool as a visual representation of the conversion of heat to electricity (as we use it in vehicles). It's also gorgeous, sitting on a dark wood platform and using brass and steel components. It's a wonderful little item to sit on someone's desktop.

The Stirling engine is a good gift idea for an engineer who loves engines and mechanics in general. Check it out.

Inspection Wire Camera for Their Projects

Another fascinating facet of the engineer: they love to build stuff. There will almost always be a project on the go, and it's almost always unique and complex. Regardless of the project at hand, the human head is a specific size, and it can be tough to see what you need to, especially when it comes to the inner workings of some gadget or other.

A wire camera is a gift for engineering types that has so much utility. The idea is pretty simple: there's a small camera attached to the end of the flexible wire. You can guide that wire into extremely small spaces in order to get a clear view of what you're working with.

It utilizes a small LCD screen on the handle attachment that gives you a clear, color picture of whatever you point it at. It's easy to use and has an LED light at the end. It even has night vision capability, and the tip is waterproof.

It's the perfect companion for an avid builder. Take a look inside the walls of your house, inside an engine block, or even under the couch looking for a lost item. You'll wonder how you ever got along without it—definitely an engineering gift worth giving.


Miniature Wooden Trebuchet: For Engineering Students/Teachers

Does your recipient love destruction as much as construction? The trebuchet is an ancient war machine that was a triumph of engineering when it was first developed. (It still is today, in my opinion).

Using a system of counterweights, the trebuchet is designed to fling an object (usually a rock or similar blunt and heavy thing) over the battlements of a castle to cause mass destruction. Fortunately for you, the only destruction this trebuchet will likely cause is spilled paperclips.

It comes with pre-cut wooden pieces, glue and everything you'll need to put it together. It's a great desktop accessory, and it's suitable for kids and adults alike. It even includes the modelling clay you'll need for the projectiles, and it shoots up to 20 feet!

Perhaps your engineer can even figure out ways of improving the range and accuracy! It's a great opportunity for them to play and have some fun.

Calliper Pen: For Technical Types

The Calliper Pen is a useful present for any engineers who like a little utility with their utility. The pen serves as a writing implement, a ruler, a calliper ruler and more. The pen comes in a nice little display box, and it has instructions on how to make use of it.

The pen is great and very usable, with a nice weight to it. You can refill it easily with standard ballpoint refills. And pen thieves beware: this one is unique enough that you'll be able to track down your coworkers if they walk off with it.

It's useful and novel, and any engineer worth their salt will really dig it.

Cautions and Extra Tips

Technical types can be quite picky, so buying a gift for them with no input can carry some risk. I wouldn't be too offended if they don't show much interest in your present, it's a tough task. Here are some cautions that I hope will help:

  • Don't lump their interests into common engineering paradigms. If they don't have any exposure to or interest in structural design, for example, don't get them a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright. It's a broad field with tons of applications, be sure that your gift appeals to them specifically.
  • Go for inside jokes and technical humor, but avoid cheese. If it's a joke t-shirt that most people will get right away, your engineer probably won't like it! I know that sounds elitist, but it's true.
  • Listen to them about their current passions. Many people tend to go through 'seasons of interest' in certain subjects. The best gift for engineers is the one that applies to their fascination today, not last year.

If I've missed any gift ideas, please feel free to post a comment in the field below. I'm happy to add to this list over time, so give me your best shot. Thanks for reading!

© 2013 Will Henry

What do you think about these engineering gift ideas?

Georgia Lyons on March 20, 2019:

Cool gift ideas for students. But in my opinion, the best gift for students would be an excellent service that will help them with their studies. You can find all the information on the site about papersowl review. After all, this is what every student needs. And it is very unique.

Dean Walsh from Birmingham, England on November 19, 2013:

Love the phone camera microscope - I've never seen anything like that before!