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Top 17 Helpful Hints for Constructing Electronic Systems

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Max The Magnificent
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I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/24/2014 5:12:57 PM
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I LOVE that finger wrench shown in Hint No. 8 ... what a GREAT idea -- I definitely want one of those little scamps!!!

Duane Benson
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Duane Benson   4/24/2014 5:41:03 PM
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I can't count the number of nuts and blots I've lot in just that way. Number 8 should be required in every tool kit.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/24/2014 5:46:26 PM
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@Duane: Number 8 should be required in every tool kit.

My birthday is on May 29th (hint hint :-)

Duane Benson
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Duane Benson   4/24/2014 5:49:11 PM
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Number one is pretty awesome too. I just needed that a few weeks ago.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/24/2014 5:52:31 PM
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@Duane: Number one is pretty awesome too.

I agree -- I'd never thought of that -- when I look back at th etime I've wasted hand-twisting this sort of thing...

I also really like number two -- so simple ... so effective...

David Ashton
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
David Ashton   4/25/2014 4:02:26 AM
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@Max - you are in charge of getting a few thousand of these for giveaways at EELive 2015. You should be able to negotiate a good quantity discount.   Please see Karen for funding :-)

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/25/2014 9:44:32 AM
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@David: ...you are in charge of getting a few thousand of these for giveaways at EELive 2015.

I agree -- these would be a red-hot givaway -- no need to ask Karen -- I'll just put it on her credit card LOL

Wnderer
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Wnderer   4/26/2014 6:11:33 PM
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@Max I agree -- these would be a red-hot givaway -- no need to ask Karen -- I'll just put it on her credit card LOL

 


I think an industrious techno-goto guy could get a sponsor to put their logo on it and get them for nothing.

kfield
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
kfield   4/28/2014 11:35:34 PM
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Max, I don't find these comments particularly amusing!  :-)

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/29/2014 9:38:07 AM
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@kfiend: Max, I don't find these comments particularly amusing!  :-)

I don't blame you -- I just found out that I maxed-out your credit card -- I wouldn't be happy either!

GSKrasle
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
GSKrasle   4/25/2014 2:18:27 PM
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As much as I love these, it feels like giving-away secrets, hard-won secrets that give me an advantage. Oh well, you're none of my competitors, right?

The wire-twisting and (mentioned casually in the comments) using pliers like a vice with the aid of a rubber-band, are the most useful. Keep some rubber-bands handy/hidden.

Here are some more:

Draw and label circles on the sticky-side of a post-it (TM) to hold your tiny SMT components. Much better than a cup.

Glue a magnet to the outside of a petrie-dish or cup (or use two magnets) to weight it and hold screws and such. A metal plate on the bench, or a metal bench, reduces spills.

Cut the bristles short(er) on an acid-brush to get better board-cleaning action. Use lots of alcohol, and press a paper-towel onto the workpiece with the brush at clean-up time to blot/clean both the work and the brush. Don't "double-dip" the alcohol dispenser with a dirty brush or swab, or the dispenser will be contaminated.

When soldering test-wires onto a DUT, make a "strain-relief wiggle" and tape it down to reduce accidental pull-offs.

To repair boards (see "pull-offs"), very fine solderable wires can be individual strands from a stranded wire.

The enameled wire used in little transformers, motors and the like is useful, and you can get several colours. Most of this wire has enamel that "evaporates" at soldering temperatures, so no stripping is required. . The cores are handy "spools" and can be stored at the bench with magnets. A visiting team of engineers from Korea each had a different-coloured transformer in their pocket.

Throw-away worn-out screwdrivers. Break used swabs. Save the wire from broken test-probes; it's wonderful stuff, only worn-out/broken at the ends.

Use sewing-needles to probe through wire insulation and backs of connectors.

Buy spools of twist-ties at the dollar-store: cable-dressing makes a workspace better, and saving them is tedious.

Dollar stores have reading-glasses. Get embarassingly ugly ones. 'Just sayin'

Paper-clips are solderable and make great test-points that don't shed shreds with wear, but keep your stash hidden lest someone ruin your wire-cutters.

It's useful to have a scrap of cardboard at the soldering-station to avoid damaging more delicate surfaces. Label it "Don't discard this unless you know why it's here."

And many more....

 

 

 

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/25/2014 2:21:43 PM
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@GSKrasle: A visiting team of engineers from Korea each had a different-coloured transformer in their pocket.

Why?

GSKrasle
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
GSKrasle   4/25/2014 2:33:57 PM
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SEach had a diffferent colour so you could tell whose board was whose, and which engineer had made a given re-work.

Oh, and let me add to the list that LED Christmas bulbs are dandy indicators (for high-voltage) and make your workspace festive.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
Max The Magnificent   4/25/2014 3:00:04 PM
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@GSKrasle: Each had a diffferent colour so you could tell whose board was whose, and which engineer had made a given re-work.

Wow -- impressive

zeeglen
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
zeeglen   4/25/2014 2:31:47 PM
@GSKrasle
Use sewing-needles to probe through wire insulation and backs of connectors.


Another use for sewing needles when dis-assembling an electromechanical gadget with tiny coiled springs - pass a foot of sewing thread through the spring first before attempting to remove it, then pull the thread out after re-installing it.  This prevents the well-known fly-away-never-to-be-seen-again syndrome.


antedeluvian
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 2:41:26 PM
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zeeglen

Another use for sewing needles when dis-assembling an electromechanical gadget with tiny coiled springs - pass a foot of sewing thread through the spring first before attempting to remove it, then pull the thread out after re-installing it.  This prevents the well-known fly-away-never-to-be-seen-again syndrome.

This is sheer genius

zeeglen
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
zeeglen   4/25/2014 3:05:52 PM
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This is sheer genius

True, but not my idea, was passed along in forums like this.  Apparently it was a Swiss watchmaker trick from way back.


antedeluvian
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 2:40:02 PM
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GSKrasle

Great tips. Thanks.

I especially liked


Draw and label circles on the sticky-side of a post-it (TM) to hold your tiny SMT components. Much better than a cup.

and

Glue a magnet to the outside of a petrie-dish or cup (or use two magnets) to weight it and hold screws and such. A metal plate on the bench, or a metal bench, reduces spills.


I am not sure I entirely agree with this.

Throw-away worn-out screwdrivers.


We have ground the tips to make probes and activators


GSKrasle
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
GSKrasle   4/25/2014 2:51:18 PM
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Yeah, screwdrivers: I just hate to see screws ruined by a ruined driver. Maybe grind them down unambiguously? The other use for them is in wire-twisting: run one of your wires in each flute/groove of the handle, and tape/rubber-band them securely. Then put the screwdriver into the drill and twist-away. This avoids pull-outs and squashed-ends, especially when you're twisting lots of wires into a bundle.

On a drill-press, clamp the workpiece, drill a hole, take-out the bit and reverse it in the chuck, and you have a handy punch/press.

Sewing needles won't solder, but "T-Pins" will, and can be used to make very sharp probe wires, just not as sharp, smooth and slender as needles.

And I will be using the "thread" idea: even if the part tries to fly-away, the friction of the trailing thread will drag it down.

David Ashton
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Re: I want a finger wrench!
David Ashton   4/26/2014 6:44:06 AM
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@GSKrasle - some fine tips there too.  Ref your last:

"It's useful to have a scrap of cardboard at the soldering-station to avoid damaging more delicate surfaces."

I had a Weller iron that had a square of yellow fibrous stuff for cleaning the tip.  You had to keep it wet.  It wore out in time and I found that a square of very similar looking material from a floor mop worked just as well.  I recently got some genuine Weller ones and honestly the floor mop stuff is just as good - and much cheaper!

TonyTib
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Cheap Heat Guns
TonyTib   4/24/2014 7:29:28 PM
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Harbor Freight has cheap heat guns (on sale for <$10), but if you use them a lot they burn out quickly (mine still works, but I barely use it).  I notice the more expensive models get better reviews (what a surprise!).

 

David Ashton
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Handy hints
David Ashton   4/24/2014 8:06:50 PM
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Hi Aubrey....awesome array of tips there....

#1 - you can also use this technique for UNtwisting wire if you need fewer strands.  I used it to untwist 2.5mm earth wire to make 1.5 + 1.0 wires once.  Got me out of trouble.

#5.  I have made up some "Suicide leads" with crocodile alligator clips on the ends - very useful for testing transformers etc.  Hint - make the active (live), neutral and earth ground  leads different lengths so the clips can not short to each other (which can be spectacular :-)

#8 - I also want one, my birthday is 6 September :-)   In the past I have used pegs (as in washing line) for this, also get a rubber an elastic band and put it round the handles of a pair of pliers - long nose or other as appropriate - that way if your grip on them slips you don't usually lose the nut.  They're also useful for holding small bits for soldering.

#10 gave me a laugh - in Zimbabwe cable ties were unobtainable so I used to use this technique on the equipment we imported with cable ties holding bits together.  When I tried it in Australia I got some funny looks from my colleagues.....

#12 - I had a Weller iron like this and the piezo igniter stopped working.  I took the tip off completely, light it with a lighter and leave it on the lowest setting. Instant low-power blowtorch.  Works great (with care)  for heatshrink and for getting multi-lead components off scrap PCBs.

#15 - these screws are great - I have even found them in Australia.  Otherwise. keep an old speaker magnet handy and magnetise your screwdrivers or even the screws themselves, not as good but it can get you out of trouble.

#16 - if you always keep superglue, contact adhesive, 2-part liquid epoxy, 2-part epoxy putty, and some silicone sealer handy there is nothing you will not be able to glue, seal or fill.

#17 - I prefer Dymo myself, but I have a Brother as a backup.  Both were "rescues" - one had a corroded battery spring and the other one of the dreaded loose power adapter sockets.  The Dymo is about 15 years old and still going strong.  I also still have one of the old Dymo labellers that uses the plastic tape and makes embossed labels, remember those?  They even have a typeface like that now!

http://www.dafont.com/dymo-font-invers.font

antedeluvian
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Re: Handy hints
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 8:35:54 AM
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David

 I also still have one of the old Dymo labellers that uses the plastic tape and makes embossed labels, remember those?

Believe it or not, you can still get them. I thought I was seeing things when I came across the tape at my local Staples.

 

 I prefer Dymo myself, but I have a Brother as a backup.

I don't know about the Dymo, but the Brother frustrates me with its blatent cynicism- it puts out an inch of tape on either side of the text, chewing up the tape (and maximising their profit). Different models seem to allow you to shorten this, but I have yet to find a way to keep this setting on power down.

 

antedeluvian
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Re: Handy hints
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 8:48:02 AM
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David

#15 - these screws are great - I have even found them in Australia

They should have had a wider reach- when Henry Ford discovered them he wanted them, but his business model was one of vertical integration and Mr Roberston wasn't prepared to part with his company or invention. Henry then was shown the Philips screw (Philips apparently was a travelling salesman who got the idea off someone else) and opted to go down that route.

Robertson's progress was then sidetracked when he did his patriotic bit for King and country in WWI and it was only recently that the idea seems to have got traction outside of Canada. Everything in Canada is screwed together with Robertson screws.

It was considered a tamper proof screw in the US (maybe still is)- I know that some electronic hardware was shippedto a major defence organization that accepted them as such. Also the Gehry bridge in Chicago uses Robertson screws for the Brazilian hardwood floorboards.

zeeglen
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Re: Handy hints
zeeglen   4/25/2014 9:40:00 AM
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It was considered a tamper proof screw in the US (maybe still is)-

No longer, the multi-bit screwdriver sets here in the USA contain various Robertson sizes as well as torx, philips etc.  Robertson screws are available but have to be purchased in bulk from specialty suppliers.  I have hundreds of various sizes of Robertson screws in my garage workshop, would not even think of using any other type.


As for twisting wires together with a drill, a little-known fact is that if one uses AWG30 Kynar insulated wire (the common wire-wrap and pcb green-wire jumpers stuff) the differential impedance measures 102 ohms on a Tektronix reflectometer.  Great for breadboards where one needs impedance-controlled differential interconnections.


antedeluvian
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Re: Handy hints
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 9:43:14 AM
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zeeglen

As for twisting wires together with a drill, a little-known fact is that if one uses AWG30 Kynar insulated wire (the common wire-wrap and pcb green-wire jumpers stuff) the differential impedance measures 102 ohms on a Tektronix reflectometer. 

Good to know. Thanks

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Handy hints
Max The Magnificent   4/25/2014 9:42:42 AM
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@David: Hint - make the active (live), neutral and earth ground  leads different lengths so the clips can not short to each other (which can be spectacular :-)

Oooh -- clever!

boblespam
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thermocouple
boblespam   4/25/2014 2:53:41 AM
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In the thermocouple soldering trick I read: "the red wire is always the negative"

Those english people must always do things oppositely !

capriracer351
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Re: thermocouple
capriracer351   4/27/2014 10:24:46 AM
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Actually, when it comes to thermocouple work, the red wire is always negative. Somewhat confusing as compared to regular DC

salbayeng
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Re: thermocouple
salbayeng   5/2/2014 1:20:16 AM
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re  "the red wire is always the negative" ,  

Well, you must be from America , where "the black wire is always positive" .

I also notice there is a European standard (for wiring of machinery) where all power wiring (220vAC) is red and all DC wiring is black

While on the topic of confusing polarities , Tantalum capacitors have the black stripe on the positive end , and TVS's have the black stripe on the positive terminal (They are zeners after all) . The problem is that Tants, diodes, and TVS's are all available in SMA size packages. 

 

salbayeng
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Magnets:
salbayeng   5/2/2014 2:23:55 AM
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I find magnets are really useful (e.g. the 1/2" diameter NdB type) . 

e.g. You can keep all your jewellers screwdrivers and PCB tools in a neat row stuck to a filing cabinet.

One of the best uses is with small heatshrink, take a bundle of 2 foot lengths of different colors, fold them in the middle, now take a keyring (of the split variety) and feed the bundle in the same way you put a key on the ring, but stop halfway, so the keyring acts like a spring clamp. The steel keyring will stick to any convenient magnet on a  filing cabinet maggy lamp etc. 

The old style Maggy lamps are almost completely steel, so can be covered with magnets to keep all those small screws etc literally "in your face" .

I tape a magnet to my 4 dioptre "reading" glasses , so it sticks to my maggy lamp. ( Note put the magnet on the left side if your maggy lamp is on the right)


Most crocodile clips,  some banana plugs, and all D-types have steel shells, so a lot of test cables will simply stick to magnets. 

salbayeng
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Re: hint10 cable ties
salbayeng   5/2/2014 6:56:59 AM
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Yep, I wrote a SOP on cutting cable ties using the "cut through the block" method after a helpful employee cut through a soft silicone coolant tube buried deep inside a machine (took 4hrs to replace that tube, after a replacement was airfreighted to him.)

In lieu of twist ties, I prefer to use single conductor wire, e.g. alpha 6715S is hard drawn, no real need to twist once you have wrapped them around the bundle, and you can make S hooks and
other shapes that you might otherwise have made with paperclips. Enamelled magnet wire is also good for soft twist ties. Great for getting the loom nice and neat before applying cable ties

n.b. I keep most of my wire under the bench , rolling on something like curtain rod. Under the lip of the bench, about 1" in from the edge, I screw a length of aluminium extrusion (1/8" x 3/4"
or whatever ) , it has a strip of self adhesive foam stuck on top (3/8" x 3/4" or thereabouts). The extrusion is screwed enough to half-compress the foam , then you simply push the wire end
through the gap between the foam and desk, and the wire stays there after you cut it. You can usually get 3 curtain rods under the average benchtop, so you get a different colored wire every
inch or so. So to make a cable of red yellow black green, just grab the four colors you want pull them out to whatever distance, put a quick twist on the loose end (so you can put it in a
battery drill as per earlier hint) , cut off the handful of cables, tie a knot at the end just cut, hook that knot over something convenient (the toggle on the bottom of the maggy lamp) and
twist it up with a drill.

Note you can get a tighter twist on the cable by one of these methods
  • give the twisted cable a very strong tug with pliers before releasing the drill chuck
  • apply a hot air gun gently along the cable before releasing the drill chuck


salbayeng
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Hint 18: solder caddy
salbayeng   5/2/2014 7:17:45 AM
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Tired of all that solder tangle on the bench top? 

Make a solder caddy!.
  • Take one of the (empty) shake n bake pancake mix plastic containers. 
  • Cut a cat flap on the back of the carton.
  • Poke two or three 1/8" holes in the front of the carton.
  • place a small solder reel in through the flap, after first feeding the solder through one of the small holes.
  • Put some more reels in , you can get two or three reels in depending on size, write the type of solder above the hole,  I have typically 311 = very active , 362=general purpose, and X39 low-residual in one caddy, (the other has unleaded and 60/40 1.8%) 

All Done! now you have you 3 different solders available with no mess and no tangle, and a  handle so you can pick them up. As the caddies are nice rectanglular shaped containers, they can be easily stored away.

Because of the friction inside the caddy, the solder doesn't unspool if you pull sharply on it. And with 3 spools in the caddy it is quite heavy so won't follow you across the bench.

 

antedeluvian
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Re: Magnets:
antedeluvian   5/3/2014 11:41:59 AM
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salbayeng

There are some great hints here. Thanks for sharing. I will add them to my arsenal.

 

crosland
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Resistance Soldering
crosland   4/25/2014 3:21:10 AM
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Something like n#14 is available commercially as a Resistance Soldering Unit, popular with hobbyists for soldering etched metal kits. BAsed on a low voltage high current power supply, the resistance of the materials being joined causes a power dissipation that generates enough heat to melt solder. Often used with solder paste or paint.

 

betajet
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Re: Resistance Soldering
betajet   4/26/2014 9:43:41 AM
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A high-current low-voltage supply can be useful for melting a weak short circuit on an inner PCB layer or other hard-to-access location.  I've used a lab supply to do this, but the resistance soldering unit should work great.  The voltage has to be low enough so that it doesn't damage anything when (or if) the short opens up.

TonyTib
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Hex screws
TonyTib   4/25/2014 11:33:03 AM
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At work, we almost always use hex screws.  Maybe they don't stay on the driver like Robertson screws, but if you're using Bondhus ball end hex drivers like you should, you can angle the driver quite a bit, instead of having to be vertical -- quite handly for tight spots.

Another tool for tight spots is compact ratching screwdriver, like this Chapman (I have a similar Craftsman model, but with only a couple bits).

perl_geek
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Doing the twist
perl_geek   4/25/2014 2:51:18 PM
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Aviation mechanics, among others, use special pliers to twist safety wires for lock-nuts.

They would probably be more convenient for short lengths of twist than a drill. (Prices range from $12 at Harbour Freight  to eye-watering at "proper" aircraft tool suppliers.)

While you're in the dollar store picking up the cable ties and reading glasses, you can also buy a magentic screw-dish so cheaply there's no need to make it yourself. They make an awesome fridge magnet; no faffing around with postcards, they'll hold a set of wrenches to the fridge.

 

Wnderer
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Binder Clips
Wnderer   4/25/2014 3:09:16 PM
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I put tiny binder clips on my oscilloscope probes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binder_clip

They are useful for holding a scope probe in place with a helping hand or hanging the unused ground clip without chewing up the cable with the alligator clips.

GSKrasle
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Re: Binder Clips
GSKrasle   4/25/2014 3:48:09 PM
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Binder-clips: very nice. I hate shredding the probe cords.
Why don't scopes have "cupholders" for the witch-hats?

I once had to deal with prototypes that were many times larger than the intended product PCBs. Unfortunately, the mfr had used the same very thin PCB material, and even with lots of standoffs as "feet," the boards would flex alarmingly. I screwed them to panels of insulating foam with wood-screws. Luckily, no significant componentry on the bottom).

We've all touched plastic with a soldering-iron before.... To clean-off the smell, use a brass/copper "scrubber" while it's hot.

Cut-out a piece of an aluminum soda-can. Fold/crease it. Cut it into a triangle. Taa-Daa! A disposable tweezers of any dimension you need. (Entomologists do this.)

X-acto blade dull? Break-off (eye-protection!) a bit of it to get to an un-worn part of the edge.

 

 

GSKrasle
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Re: Binder Clips
GSKrasle   4/25/2014 4:22:51 PM
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I want to see other, more circuit-oriented ideas!

Here's one:

Sometimes, you need plain-old diodes, but at high-wattage (e.g. as part of a test load). High-W diodes are costly. But MOSFETs are not! Who needs a "Gate"?

In fact, let me go-on: make a load by attaching a chain of diodes with n*Vf>Vs to the node to be loaded (a resistor in the chain helps with controllability/metering). In series with this, use a bench adjustable supply. No current flows until you adjust the bench supply high-enough, and its I-limit is useful. Just put a diode around it so that it won't hurt the DUT if the DUT turns-off/folds-back.

PabloBrysono
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Removing Labels
PabloBrysono   4/25/2014 4:32:47 PM
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For removing labels a heat gun is even better than WD-40 and doesn't leave any residue or smear the print on the label. 

antedeluvian
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Re: Removing Labels
antedeluvian   4/25/2014 8:17:43 PM
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Pablo

For removing labels a heat gun is even better than WD-40 and doesn't leave any residue or smear the print on the label. 

You are absolutely correct. I use a paint scraper together with the heat gun to make short work of the sticker. The problem is when the sticker is on a plastic housing. Excess heat can have disfiguring consequences.

PabloBrysono
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Twisted WIre
PabloBrysono   4/25/2014 4:38:25 PM
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When I need a twisted pair I just cut up a  spare or faulty network cable and parallel the wires if I need more current capability. 

David Ashton
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Re: Twisted WIre
David Ashton   4/26/2014 6:49:30 AM
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@Pablo - wire from Cat5 / 6 network cable - the solid stuff, not the stranded patch cable - makes excellent jumpers for breadboards too.  At least 5 colours - 8 if you're lucky -  for easy wire identification....

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