Electronics workbench recommendations?
August 12, 2005 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for what I should have on my electronics workbench?

I've recently gotten into electronics (building kits, etc), and would like recommendations for what good "general purpose" supplies and tools I should have.

So far I've started out building lots of mini kits, and am working my up to this single-board Z80 computer, with a stop along the way to play with PIC microcontrollers.

Right now, I've got the following tools and supplies:

- Weller 25W pencil soldering iron
- 1/2-lb roll of .032mm 60/40 rosin-core solder
- Soldering iron stand w/sponge
- Solder wick/braid
- Needlenose pliers, tweezers, diagonal cutters, razor blade
- Digital multimeter

As for books, I've got Forrest Mims' "Getting Started in Electronics", along with Rodnay Zak's "Programming the Z80" and Leventhal's "Z80 Assembly Language" for when I work my way up to the SC1 kit. I"ve got "The Art of Electroncs" on my "to buy" list.

Any suggestions or recommendations for tools/supplies/books would be greatly appreciated.

What do you have on your bench / workspace?
posted by mrbill to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really like my old-school Tektronics 4 bay chassis which allows me to swap in and out various modules. I have several great modules:

Frequency/wave generator
Power supply
bench style multimeter

I bought them all from eBay, for $20-$60 apiece. Just be patient, and you can score them as well. I love the knob-filled old-style electronics parts, and those modules are really super useful for my robotics hobby.

Also, get a better soldering iron. You really want a nice 2-piece anti-static iron which you can adjust the temperature on the bench part of the unit.

Lastly, get a bench-mounted anti-static grounding system. I like the kind which has a bunch of female ports into which you can plug your wrist strap and bench antistatic mat. Mine has leds indicating proper grounding, which helps reassure me when I am working on sensitive/expensive parts. Mine was eBayed ... approx $15.
posted by Invoke at 8:59 AM on August 12, 2005

As long as you only build kits, you're ok with what you have. Next thing might be an oscilloscope. For analog projects, that's a necessity and often helpful when doing digital things as well. An adjustable DC supply will come in very handy as well.

Ebay is a good source. You can also call the physics section of a local highschool and ask if they have anything to sell. The equipment isn't used much for education any more and they may be happy to clean the cupboards and get some cash for consumables.
posted by springload at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2005

Perhaps there are similar products that are better-featured, but I've used a decade resistor at least ten times. (Mine's a 20-year-old Heathkit)
posted by Kwantsar at 9:46 AM on August 12, 2005

At some point you will want an oscilloscope if you stay with the hobby. I got a great Tektronix off ebay for $150. This scope cost $6000 new back in the 80s. It's big and heavy and I was worried about shipping damage so I found one for sale close to me and picked it up. You might want to keep your eye on auctions until something decent and close to you becomes available. Make sure the seller is willing to have you pick it up as some sellers are not. Finding a good scope at a good price nearby might take some time which is why I mention this now.
posted by 6550 at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2005

Things I find useful:

- lots of little drawers, filled with a variety of resistors, capacitors, LEDs, diodes, transistors, timer ICs, counter ICs, etc.
- one of those heavy based things with a couple of little clips on it as an extra pair of hands
- "Electronics Fundamentals: Circuits, Devices, and Applications" 4th Edition (International Edition), Thomas L. Floyd, Prentice-Hall 1996.
- PIC chips (simpler, assembly-only from microchip, not the Parallax BASIC stamps) and USB programmer
- a nearby electronics bits shop that isn't Radio Shack (I wish it was closer)
- various websites for ideas on new circuits to build
- willingness to blow up a few things while learning
- ability to learn from blowing things up :)
posted by 5MeoCMP at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2005

- one of those heavy based things with a couple of little clips on it as an extra pair of hands

I've got one, it also has a magnifying glass on it. VERY handy.

"Electronics Fundamentals: Circuits, Devices, and Applications" 4th Edition (International Edition)

Just ordered a used copy off Amazon - thanks for the recommendation.

- a nearby electronics bits shop that isn't Radio Shack (I wish it was closer)

I've got one of those too, its where I bought most of my stuff. :)
posted by mrbill at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2005

I'm actually looking for a good electronics workshop bench. Mind if I ask what you're using? (Sorry for the hijack/derail)
posted by achmorrison at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2005

a solder sucker....l
It's a ittle spring loaded tube that sucks up hot solder out of through hole boards. I use mine all the time. Great for removing components without having to cut/damage the leads.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2005

On top of all the great things mentioned above, two things I can't recommend enough are magnifiers and task lighting. Most of the task lights for sale are fairly cheap and don't last, I suggest looking for industrial surplus ones. Magnifiers are subjective and depend on the kind of work you do. I used to do surface mount work and it required a jeweler's loupe. Now I get by with magnifying glasses (the kind you can buy in the store without prescription).

Once you can see what you're working on, then it's time for a good, adjustable height chair sized appropriately for your bench. A long session of soldering is tough on the back and neck, but it's worse if you're not at the right height. Again, industrial surplus is your friend.

Last but not least, I recommend a broom and dustpan. Small parts have an incredible tendency to drop on the floor and I feel better knowing that I'm not running them through a vacuum cleaner. Also, through-hole parts generate a lot of cut leads and I don't like using a vacuum with them (even my shop vac).
posted by tommasz at 1:06 PM on August 12, 2005

a fan and good ventilation work wonders too. Soldering stinks and is bad for your health
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2005

Coming to think of it, I second getting one of those little holders with crocodile clips and a magnifying glass. They are nice to have when soldering.

I always had better luck with wick than solder sucker (even fancy stationary ones).

When you move off the pre-fabricated PCB, get a bunch of veroboards and sockets. The plastic prototyping boards that you just stick component legs into don't work well at high frequencies (such as microcontroller crystal leads). There's too much stray capacitance. Also, PICs and Atmel's AVRs are wonderful. Once you can program them with ease you never have to use discrete logic gates for anything. You can put five of the small ones on a board to do separate small tasks. Their cheapness is their greatest feature.
posted by springload at 2:38 PM on August 12, 2005

Mind if I ask what you're using?

Right now I've got the same IKEA dining table that I'm using in the other room as a computer desk. As for a chair, it's a Steelcase LEAP from a dot-bomb.
posted by mrbill at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2005

You mention that you haven't yet purchased "The Art of Electronics". Do it now!
posted by ryanrs at 12:39 PM on August 14, 2005

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