Free and open-source hardware (FOSH) is rapidly gaining momentum because it provides customized research hardware with over 90% savings compared to the costs of proprietary tools. However, the focused skill sets of researchers who aim to facilitate their own research limit FOSH complexity. The most expensive research equipment normally requires an interdisciplinary team. To overcome this complexity barrier and obtain large returns on investment for research funders by replacing the most expensive proprietary research equipment with FOSH, new development funding mechanisms are needed. To guide such research policy, this paper provides the first analysis of the strategic national benefit of applying the FOSH approach to major research equipment for any nation. The results of an example analysis for a single nation indicate Finland’s science funders could save between 2.84–27.7m€/year directly on scientific equipment purchases if research hardware is converted to FOSH and the nation would likely garner the well-established concomitant benefits of increased research innovation within their economy. Finally, a detailed generalized model for determining national research policy in hardware development is derived and research policy mechanisms for accelerating FOSH deployment and greater accessibility to research equipment are discussed.