For any beginners out there, here's a list of tools and equipment I have found to be important when building a personal prototyping laboratory, along with some of the mistakes I've made along the way.
When I first started to become involved with electronics, I realized that it would be important to invest in a set of tools that would help me build my projects. However, I had lots of questions about which tools to purchase and -- since I was on a limited budget -- which pieces of equipment should I acquire first.
(Click here to see a larger version of this image.)
So, for any beginners out there, the following is my list in order of what I have found to be important along with some of the mistakes I've made along the way:
A location: I would recommend first finding a place where you can put all your tools in a somewhat organized fashion. For quite some time, I made the mistake of trying to have things here and there around the house. I found that I would frequently misplace things and -- instead of spending time working on a project -- I would spend time looking for the tool that I needed. The location in your house does not need to be big, but should be a dedicated space.
A desk or a workbench: This is a fantastic addition. It does not need to be fancy -- it's a place to leave your projects in between your working sessions. I started out with a small card table that was approximately $30 from Walmart. I later upgraded to this workbench from Harbor Freight. (Actually, there are few Harbor Freight items that I would recommend, but this is one of them.) It has four integrated drawers and a hardwood top. I got it on sale for $106 delivered to my door, and it has proved to be a great upgrade.
A computer: How would you perform tasks like programming and PCB layout without a computer? This item is a must. It does not need to be dedicated to electronics design, but you can pick up a cheap laptop or desktop for around $300.
A breadboard: I personally have a very nice integrated breadboard that I was able to pick up for a very reasonable price (approximately $35) from eBay. This is the predecessor to the Global Specialties PB505. As you can tell, I got it for quite the discount. All I needed to do was repair a damaged potentiometer to get my eBay special working.
A soldering iron: I am not talking about one of those $10 Radio Shack "fire starters," but a real, temperature-controlled soldering iron. There are a lot of options out there (including this open-source device), but I would recommend saving up your pennies and getting a combination hot air rework station as well as soldering iron. I purchased the Aoyue 968, which has since been upgraded to the 968 A+. It was about $160 at the time. In fact, I have used the hot air rework station for reflowing my boards more than I have used the soldering iron side. This truly has been a workhorse in my lab.
Logic Analyzer: Diagnostic tools are a must. Before the oscilloscope, I would purchase a logic analyzer. I purchased the open source Open Bench Logic Sniffer for $50 and it has served me well. This tool has been great to be able to see if I am actually communicating what I want over my serial communication lines.
Oscilloscope: Once you have acquired all of the tools noted above, it really is well worth getting an oscilloscope. An oscilloscope is great for looking at issues that are harder to diagnose. It can help you identify issues with a serial communications signal, DAC outputs, and many other areas. The biggest problem is that there are so many choices -- where does one start?
Do you go for analog or digital? Will a $200, 10MHz USB scope do what you want it to do? For a starter oscilloscope, I would say that you can get what you need for 50 to $200. I was able to get an analog, 4-channel, 300MHz, Tek 2465 with two probes for $200. I had to do some eBay shopping to find it, but it has proved to be a very good scope for the money. Right now, I am looking to add a digital scope to my tool kit. For that one, I am looking at the Rigol DS2000 series. The nice thing about this series is that they have a gradient weighted display that makes the screen display the signals in a very similar manner as an analog scope. But they run 800 to $1600, so I am going to have to save up for this item.
Power Supply: All of the above and no power supply? Until now, I've been able to get by with simple "wall warts" and breadboard power supplies that had fixed voltages. I finally was given a dedicated, bench-top power supply by a friend. This power supply is an old analog, dual-output supply that can regulate both voltage and current. This may not be a necessity for many folks, but if the price is right it will make for a very nice addition to your laboratory.
So far, I have spent about $700 on my home electronics workshop. This cost excluded the cost of the computer as I already had one around that I use. Do I think that my workshop is complete? Can you ever have enough tools? Of course not! I do have a few things that are yet on my watch list. As I indicated, I am looking to purchase a DSO (digital sampling/storage oscilloscope), but I would also like to have an arbitrary waveform generator, a small reflow oven, and perhaps even a small pick-and-place machine.
One tool that I am very tempted to get is the new Red Pitaya that is on Kickstarter right now. My only hesitation is that it is only a 125Msp/sec (mega-samples per second) per channel device -- ideally I would like to have a 1Gsp/sec device. The nice thing though, despite the lower sampling rate, is that it has a 14-bit sample depth vs. the standard 8-bit sample depth on most DSO scopes.
Have I missed anything? I am always open to new tools for the workshop. Please let me know in the comments below (I'm sure my wife would appreciate it).
You got me, I only shared one mistake, though not explicitly. I will elaborate. For quite some time, I never had a dedicated space for my tools and projects. This meant that frequently tools would get misplaced, and sometimes completely lost. Thankfully, these were small things like jumper wires, tweezers, and misc parts. Though it would probably be fair to say that I have lost at least ~$100 of small odds and ends over the years.
Another mistake that I made (though some might argue that it would not be a mistake for them) was getting the oscilloscope before the logic analyzer. I fought many hours with a few projects before I knew what a logic analyzer was. I had the oscilloscope, but it was nowhere near as useful as the logic analyzer was to me in debugging some of these problems.
@Aeroengineer (a.k.a. Adam): Another mistake that I made (though some might argue that it would not be a mistake for them) was getting the oscilloscope before the logic analyzer.
Ah ... from your blog it appeared as though you purchased the logic analyzer first. In reality thsi is a tricky one -- as you say, different people would argue for one of the other ... this question might form an interesting discussion in its own right...
Yeah, I tried to put them in the proper order of how I should have done it.
The point you bring us is also interesting, especially with many of the newer DSO scopes offering some form of logic analyzer add-ons. I think that there is recognition that there is a need to get more from your tools. This is one of the reasons that I like the Red Pitaya concept. I am really on the fence about getting that one. It would replicate some of the tools that I already have, and not quite get me what I want for the DSO. I would get the AWG, though, which I do not currently have. Tempting, very tempting.
@Max: I have to second that... this is a refreshing column, much appreciated by a fellow mechanical engineer like myself!
One thing I would recommend to add would be a microscope -for starters a Dino Lite or equivalent that plugs into USB. For a few hundred dollars, one can also get a old-fashioned benchtop steroscope that comes in handy for many things.
I would have suggested a lighted magnifying glass most useful for the small parts and for inspection of the PC board for shorts etc. The other addition I would suggest is a low cost signal generator: sine waves and digital would be fine. I am sure there are low cost used options on the market but it does not have to be super fancy just working..
Those are all good suggestions. I am thinking about writing up a follow up article on the other small things that I have around. One of these days I may need to get a lighted magnifying glass. In fact, I have one from the 50's on my desk at work right now. They are useful, though somewhat cumbersome. Thanks again for the suggestions!
One tool that I forgot (and hope that most already have) is a digital multi-meter. The usual suspects of a nice working wire stripper, needle nose pliers, wire cutters, etc.. for all those hand tools that we take for granted. If you are doing any crimp connectors a quality hand crimpper is essential.
The problem with crimpers is that you can't get away with one, but need a whole selection...
I make sure I do a fair amount of crimping at work, because when I'm choosing connectors I want to know what I'm inflicting on our techs. And, I've made sure to get decent crimpers for the connectors we use all the time.
Of course, if anyone has suggestions for THE ONE crimper to get, I'm interested -- can anything crimp ferrules, RJ jacks, DB & HD pins, Mini-Fit Jrs, Micro-Fit Jrs (ugh!), CPC pins, etc with ease?
I have to admit that I frequently have gotten away with crimping with a standard pair of needle nose pliers and a small chisel and hammer. Because I am mostly building personal stuff this has not been an issue. I would love to hear about a good set of crimpers that covered a wide range of devices for under say $65. I realize that is asking a lot as many specialized crimpers are in the $200+ range.
One crimper only works when you need one type of cable. If all you need is RJ's, life is easy. But when you start adding in Molex Mini-Fits, Micro-Fits, KK's, Sherlocks, TE Mate-N-Lock, D-Sub, JST, and more AND you need professional quality (which typically means $300-$1000 per crimper), then the cost of crimpers becomes significant.
Of course, minimizing the types of connectors helps, but then again, if your product has a whole bunch of indentical connectors, it's easier to screw up assembly.
I'll give Molex credit for the $300 Micro-Fit crimper: it's actually a good value, beautifully made in Sweden (just consider that Swedish-made diag cutters can run $70). OK, I still don't like crimping Micro-Fits, but at least it's only an occasional part of my job.
MP, I am glad that you found it useful. It has taken me about 5 years to get to the point that I am at now, but I have enjoyed it, and I have found it to be very useful. Now I am working on developing projects with the ARM Cortex M series uC's. Funny now that I was so scared to jump into electronics so long ago.
I do like your idea, though so far, I have been blessed with 20/10 eyesight, so I can actually do deadbug soldering on a .5mm pin spacing part with unaided vision. I am sure that will go soon enough, so you suggestion is worth considering here in the near future.
@Adam: A location: I would recommend first finding a place where you can put all your tools in a somewhat organized fashion.
I agree -- this is what I lack at home -- I do most of my electronic projects on the kitchen table -- I do have a corner of the garage for my pottery stuff -- but it's all crammed together -- when I want to do anything I have to spend 30 minutes sorting everything out.
One thing I do have is one of those rolling tool boxes with lots of dwawers in the garage (my wife bought it for me for Christmas) -- that's great for storing all my tools in one place -- as you say, before that, whenever I wanted to do anything I had to waste a lot of time trying to track down the appropriate tools.
Yes, there is a very nice Harbor Freight toolbox that I have at home for my mechanical tools. It also houses some of the tools for my two lathes. The only problem is that my garage is about 50' away from my house, and I am not especially motivated to go out during the winter time to get what I need.
As to working on the kitchen table, yes I did that for quite some time as well. It was always such a pain when I needed to take everything into a room when we would have guests over. I have a very wonderful wife that indulges me with my projects. I try not to take too much advantage of it.
You know, I had not considered that because I already had these from doing the mechanical work and modeling that I do. I guess that I took that for granted. I have a really wonderful set of screwdrivers that my wife got me for my birthday. When I get home, I will look it up and see who makes it. They store all the bits in the handle, though not in the way that most do. This one is almost like a pump action loader. At first, I thought that it was a bit lacking, but then one day they were the only screwdrivers taht I had available, and I found out how useful they really were. Now it is my go to set. They come in a set of two. There is a larger one, and a smaller one. It comes in a nice case.
As to wire strippers, I usually just use an exacto blade that I have lying around. I know that there are better things around, it has just been hard to beat a $.10 blade. The ones that are slightly dull for regular work are the best as they still cut the plastic insulation fine, but are less prone to cut the fine wires.
For the tools you use all the time, buy very good quality. I'm in automation, so I do a lot of electro-mechanical work.
I recommend Bondhus for hex wrenches (mine are ~15 years old), and Wiha for screwdrivers (I use mine all the time, although there are other good brands). Invest in a good set of wire strippers; mine are Paladin with soft grips.
I use a lot of Plano 3750 tackle boxes to store stuff like connectors, pins, hoods, etc, with some of the dividers glued down. I find Sterilte 1723 pencil boxes (available at Walmart for ~$1) great for holding stuff bulker items, and use clear plastic shoe boxes (also ~$1) for even bulkier items.
I'd go for an oscilloscope before a logic analyzer, but it depends on what you're doing.
Harbor Freight's stuff varies. Their hand tools are, in general, junk, but if you're only going to use something occasionally then it's not worth spending a lot of money. I've heard great things about their car jacks, and their red tool chests look nice, but I wouldn't take the cheap ones if they were free. I've been happy with their oscillating multitool (<$20 on sale; anything better is going to be >$80), and $40 DMM (you can buy the same DMM for 2x the price; it's got some nice features such as 4000 counts and AAA batteries - I HATE 9V batteries!!!)
I agree about what you say with regards to quality. There are very few things that I would recommend from Harbor Freight. This workbench and the tool chest that you mentioned. I am also fine with hammers and pry bar/chisel/I mean screwdrivers. Their stands for grinders are not that bad.
Though anytime I have gone there because I need an emergency tool, or a one time use tool and they ask me if I would like to purchase the extended warranty, I always laugh, and respond, "I came here knowing that I was purchasing a cheap piece of tooling that will probably break, and I am ok with that, if I wanted something with a warranty, I would go somewhere else." The cashiers always give me a look of shock and disgust.
I use Harbour Freight stuff as a test/filter. If I'm not sure how much I'll use something, or which item in a set I'll use, then I find them ideal.
For example, I bought a set of 20+ router bits from them for something like $20. I wore one of them out, and went out and bought a Freid version of that one bit for $17. But I wouldn't have known at the time which one(s) I would end up using.
Likewise, I bought a couple of woodworking tools. They weren't great quality, but several of them I never used, and one I deteremined had to be the highest quality I could afford. Again, let me get hands on before I pay a lot of money.
Now, soldering irons, and fine-tip tools: Buy the best you can afford.
What to get first? It does depend on what you are doing: analog, digital, RF...
As a youngster, I started out with a cheap card table. Kept my tools in a shoe box. I started with miscellaneous screwdrivers, pliers, cutter...and a cheap Radio Shack soldering iron. When I finally got a temperature controlled iron, it was wonderful. When I finally got a Metcal, it was heavenly. Ebay is great :)
My first "instrument" was an analog VOM from Radio Shack (OK, I started in the early 70's...). I got a better one later.
I'm an analog/RF guy. I suggest DMM, then scope, then logic analyzer. But I think lots more people start with digital stuff first these days, so for that, DMM/logic analyzer/scope is better (unless your scope is REALLY good and decodes serial data streams! :)
I was just thinking about your Allen Wrenches comment. My favorite type are the ones that are case hardened with an annealed center. The reason being is that when you are working on something that has been in there for 30+ years, it is better for the wrench to be able to twist, than it is to round out the internal wrenching features. With the case hardened surface, the wrench flats will stay intact and will not strip. These types of wrenches are viewed as junk by many, but when you are working on an aircraft engine that is worth $30K, they are a cheap loss compared to potentially damaging the engine casing.
I also use tackle boxes for my modeling supplies. I have one that fits my Dremel tools and their bits, my airbrush, paints, and misc supplies all in one box. Once again, it gets back to having a space for your tools.
I need to get something a little better for my lathes. I am thinking about getting another bench like the one you see in the picture to go on the other side of this one.
We use hex-head screws to hold almost everything together (basically, no Philips, Torx or flat), and sometimes there isn't a lot of clearance, so a good set of ball-end hex wrenches is essential. I do the software & electrical, but it's cool having a machine shop in the back.
Another item to put on your list: a good quality lighted magnifier.
To get a bit off topic, of course you should have quality writing instruments for your lab, such as the innovative Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil -- the aluminum Roulette model is exceptional. And for pens....
BTW, Fry's sometimes blows out their test equipment when the new models come in; I bought my scope there for 50% off.
And eBay is pretty good, if you're patient. I've picked up a lot of my servo drives, motion controllers, variable frequency drives, and such from there.
Ah, yes, good writing instruments. Because I do a lot of sketching, both of designs and general doodles, I love to have good writing instruments. I have a few that I think that are really important. The first is this of Pilot Hi-tec C pens. For a stick pen, they are a bit pricy per pen, but they offer a gel pen that does not bleed (so far that I have seen) when you stop or slow down during writing or sketching. They come in sizes as small as .025mm. I am not sure how big they go as I only have the smallest size. I love these pens. They are my favorite by far. I have tried many others, but these take the cake. The smaller sizes may not be for some as you can easily damage the point if you mash them hard.
For pencils, this one is my favorite. It is the Platinum Pro-use II. It has a good heft to it, and despite its looks is actually very comfortable to hold. I get the .3mm led version. This one is my second favorite. It is the Pilot S20. I usually carry it with me when I need to be dressed up and have a good pencil.
Lastly, everyone needs a good Sharpe. When I did aircraft restoration, these things were almost like gold. You did not leave them lying around or they would get reclaimed by others. Finline Sharpies were good for marking out sheet metal, and the normal Sharpie was great for transferring holes.
For 0.3mm & 0.5mm mechanical, it's Kuro Toga for me, since the rotating mechanism keeps them sharper. For 0.7mm, I have a Pentel Graphgear 1000 (from Stationery Art in Hong Kong -- better pricing than JetPens, but slower delivery).
I don't want to start on pen discussion here, so I'll just note that THE starting point for pens is the http://penaddict.com/ and add some quick notes:
-- If you're into pricey pens, don't forget Kickstarter
-- Yes, Hi-Tec-C's are nice, but I'm more of a Uniball guy. I find anything <0.38mm to be too scratchy for daily use, and prefer the Uni Signo DX over the HiTec-C. The best you'll find in normal stores is the Pentel G-Tec-C 5-pack.
-- The Pilot G2 Limited body is wonderful, especially since it will take all kinds of refills (Signo 207, many Schmidt rollerballs, Mont Blanc rollerballs if you chop the end, etc).
-- I just don't like felt or porous pens for writing. Other makes include the Uni PiN and Sakura Pigma Micron.
-- If you don't want to go broke, avoid fountain pens.
Enough on pens, I'll just note that I have 10 mugs full of pens within an arm's reach.
I am not saying that I have a particular interest in pricy pens for the sake of being pricy, but I do have an interest in fine writing instruments (pun intended). I really enjoy very fine tipped devices for making small detailed drawings. I once had a drafting pencil that had 2mm lead that you sharpened. It was 4H lead. My high school teacher told us that we had to copy everything he put on the board (not a good way to get a student interested in what you are doing). I took it on as a challenge to try and fit the entire two semesters of class notes on a single page of college ruled paper. I managed to fit 11 lines of my writing in a single line of the college ruled paper.
You can still get the 2mm lead holders at places like JetPens, and possibly at Staples (in the art / drafting section).
More expensive pens can be very nice, and well worth it if you love using them (e.g. a lot of Kickstarter pens are machined from solid metal, something you won't find at Walmart), but in order to keep my budget under control, I have a informal limit of $15 for pens, and most of the time try to keep well below that -- and I try to (mostly) avoid dangerous web sites like JetPens, Stationery Art, Wiha Tools, etc.
I hear you there on the budget. I am thinking about makning my own custom body for the Pilot Hi-tec refills. I have access to some sintered tungsten that I could add to the front of the body that would make it a real nice device. I would love to make it similar in shape to my mechanical pencil as I really like that shape as it fits well in my hand.
Pen with heft? My trusty Rotring rolling ball pen. Anodized aluminum body, spring base for the ink cartridge. Weighs as much as my Galaxy Nexxus S.
After 18 years, the anodizing is wearing from the corners and the cap does not snap on as crisply as when new, but the way in which it warms to the temperature of my hand and dampens the pressure I may apply keep me buying better quality refills for it.
Side note - distinctive pens are not likely to walk in a small company. Nor are you as likely to leave it laying about. Quality is inexpensive.
I was not familiar with that brand. I just went to their website to check them out. It looks like they have some nice products. I am glad to see that I am not the only one with expensive tastes in my writing devices.
Adam - I have two. Unfortunately they aren't cheap. The standard screw mount bulb I have is an "Ecosmart" daylight (5000K) spectrum from Home Depot. It cost around $25.00. My other is a lamp with an integrated light bar that has about 20 LEDs. I think it was on the order of about $40.00 two years ago.
@Adam, Duane - Speaking of desk lamps, one with a magnifier is great when age and decrepitude are taking their toll. I have one with a regular bulb on the side, but am thinking of modifying it (or getting another one) with LEDs round the lens for more even lighting. They're great when ou're working with SMD components and other small fiddly stuff.
David - I'd like one of the big magnifying lamps. Instead, I just have a pair of diopter 4 reading glasses. Those, a bright light and a pair of fine point tweezers have allowed me to hand solder down to 0402 passives.
I found the screwdriver set that I was mentioning. It is called the autoloader. It can be purchase from Amazon as a set (no I did not get the pink set). It looks like they have an upgraded version. Here is their website.
What impressed me was that they shipped the thing for ~$7. It was a 108lb box and it came in less than a week just before Christmas. That is about the best price I have paid for shipping on such a large item. I do feel bad for the FedEx guy that had to deliver it.
@Aeroengineer: How would you perform tasks like programming and PCB layout without a computer? This item is a must. It does not need to be dedicated to electronics design, but you can pick up a cheap laptop or desktop for around $300.
I think most folks who want to get into this stuff already have a computer -- but it may be a good idea to have one that's dedicated to one's hobby projects. In this case, if one is looking for a really cost-effective option, I really recommend a visit to one's local technology recycling store -- or to a local Hamfest like the Huntsville Hamfest I attended a couple of weeks ago. So long as you can live with something that's not quite state-of-the-art, you can pick up a very reasonably powered notepad computer for around ~$50...
That looks like a nice event. I have looked, and the closest I can find to an event like that is about 2 hours away for me. I do think, though, that I might look into getting my technicians license one of these days to be able to play with some different frequiencies for my RC stuff.
I find that rather than one big solderless breadboard, a lot of little breadboards are a necessity for me. The ones I get are 2.2" x 3.4" and snap together to make a larger board.
The one you've got looks incredibly handy, but what I tend to do is wire up a small section of a circuit on the solderless breadboard, like a sensor or two. I'll then use that with one of my existing PC boards. I typically have a half dozen either in use, or built up and set aside for later use, at any given time.
I like that idea as well. I have taken to either making a breakout PCB for those types of circuits, or to build them up on a small donut board. I got 100 boards that are about that size that you mentioned for about $5 from Aliexpress.
On a side note, I hope to see your posts continued over here about prototyping with BGA. I was really enjoying those. I need to find out if OSHpark supports filled vias, and if because they are filled if I can get away with smaller anular rings. I really would like to use the Freescale KL02 in some of my projects.
I'm with you Duane. I usually have 2 or 3 projects on the go and so need a few breadboards. I recently got a bunch of breadboards in various sizes for a song off a local electronics store which stopped doing small hobbyist parts.
I'm working on something at the moment which will have each breadboard mounted on a small case inside which there will be regulators for +/-5 and +/-12V. I'll plug them into a power supply with +/-8 and +/-16V unregulated outlets, using 8-way DIN plugs which I also have a lot of. I have tons of 150mA polyfuses I got off some old boards and will use them as current limiters. I have enough pins on the DIN plugs to maybe send some other voltages and have higher voltage or current supplies too.
I like also building into my breadboards things like LEDs, switches (debounced if necessary) speakers etc (I do very varied projects). I might make one housing with more tools on it like Adam's - a small DMM and probably my Xminilab - a small MSO + Signal Gen from Gabotronics which I won - see more here
They have some VERY tasty goodies for projects like this - you could make a small self-contained development environment as long as you're not doing anything tooo fast. On that one, I am thinking about making the breadboards plug-in, again so I can work on a few things at a time without dismantling one to do something else.
All I need is some time to get all this done. Work has a nasty habit of interfering with the interesting stuff...
I like your idea, let me know if you end up doing anything with it. The integrated breadboard that I have is really great, but it weights over 10lbs (it has a nice steel case). I have seen a few updated boards of this style, but they are in the $500 range. I see no reason they should be this costly. I imagine that one could make a board like this for under $100 and have the same functionality.
The reason that I do like this breadboard that I have is that it has lots of things like switches, speakers, pots, and a few simple diagnostic and signal generation tools. It also has a variable power supply. It is simple, but it has worked well.
@Adam...just writing about it has got me fired up a bit to do something. My workshop is in the last 5 feet of my garage and until recently I could hardly move there, however I just got a new shed, so can move some of my stuff out there and get a bit more space to actually DO something....
As you say, having stuff like switches, LED, pots etc on-board (I suppose that should really be just off-board?) saves a lot of time when you need them.
I don't think weight is an issue; a breadboard should be fairly solid so it does not move when you're trying to insert wires or connect scope probes, etc. And making one up yourself is very satisfying AND you can get it just how you want.
Lasty, I've been commenting on everyone else's comments but I gotta say this is a great column Adam, and judging by the number of comments I'm not the only one who thinks so - many thanks!
If this has gotten one person out to work in their shop, then I feel that it was a success. I hope to see what you might come up with. Also, I think that the shed might be safe from people putting other stuff in it that might crowd out actual working going on. I have found that somehow garages always get filled up and not with the stuff that you want.
I don't need you to get me into my workshop Adam.... Just need to get it sorted out so I have some space to do things. I strip a lot of old boards - its a good way to get a lot of high quality components very cheaply - but my workbench tends to get full of said components and other stuff I'm working on.
My first breadboard (now almost 40 years old) was in a metal case and only had a power supply inside - +/-5 and +/- 12. Since then I have made a couple of others which have simpler power supplies but also have LEDs and sometimes a couple of frequencies derived from the fullwave rectified mains (100Hz down to 1Hz) which can be useful. I also made up an R-C decade box which can be quicker than finding a certain R or C in a hurry. But having a big one with everything in one place will be great.
If I get it done I'll do a writeup on it so you can see, but don't hold your breath.... :-)
Sorry, Adam, hope you didn't take that the wrong way...wasn't meant to be in any way disparaging....I love getting into my workshop (I work in telecomms so like you electronics is not my primary job). But I'm a hoarder as well and my space tends to get full of stuff - albeit interesting stuff - that I am NOT working on. I wish I was as tidy as you! And yes your article has certainly given me food for thought and encouragement to get my act together!
No worries, I have come to learn a long time ago that getting emotion across on the internet is sometimes a difficult task.
As for my desk being tidy, well I did clean up a bit before the picture ;) When I am in the midst of a project, it is not near as clean as you see it there. This week, I will be getting it a bit dirty as I have 5 boards to solder up to deliver to customers.
@Aeroengineer: So, I am still curious as to what the final result will be.
Oh, sorry -- this was an early incarnation of the control system for my Man vs. Woman Display-O-Meter project using a PICAXE microcontroller -- I was using a lot of shift registers to read in the values from a bunch of switches and to control a bunch of tri-colored LEDs.
Now its' just a piece of "Electronic Art" sitting on the book shelves in my office
@Max....@Aeroengineer:It looks very interesting, also very well laid out with the jumper wires.
Love your work Max, I'll second that. My breadboards usually look like rats nests and it sometimes gets very difficult to trace wires. I got with some breadboards I bought, an assortment of preformed jumpers in various lengths and since I ahve started using those my projects look a little bit more like yours.
I personally use the guts from an old Cat4 cable. It is cheap and plentiful, and the internal wire is color coded. I also have a small set of flexible, premade jumpers. My boards never look quite as neat as Max's, but I usually am not leaving it on the breadboard for long.
That is true, but even for things that I do not know their temperatures, or that my box may not be completely accurate in its temperatures it displays, I usually have a procedure.
For these, I usually start at a low temperature, then keep increasing the temp by 10°C till I get to the point that it is just barely melting the solder. I then add another 10°C after I reach that point. This way I keep the temp as low as possible. There are times that if I am soldering a joint that can sink a lot of heat that I might have to turn it up more.
Adam - re: "...just barely melting the solder. I then add another 10°C after I reach that point. This way I keep the temp as low as possible."
Sometimes hotter is better. The challenge with keeping the iron temp low is that as soon as you touch the iron to the part, heat spreads into the PC board, cooling the iron. That can lead to a longer dwell time on the component and/or a cold solder joint - especially with parts that have more thermal mass.
A hotter iron will allow you to get on and off the lead much quicker. Even though there's more heat, the shorter dwell time means that less will end up inside the part.
The downside to a hotter iron is the potential for thermal shock. Some parts simply don't allow hand soldering for this reason. The localized thermal shock to the part would be greater than going through a reflow oven. And, you do have to be quick with the iron and solder.
This is good information. So far most of my boards have been small, and cannot sink much power/heat. The last board I designed was to be able to sink 1W of power, and this one I reflowed and just had to do some quick touch ups with the soldering iron. Though I can see your point, if the temp is low, but you are on the joint for 20 seconds (hopefully not) vs a slightly higher temp and less than a second, then I would imagine that many parts would absorb less energy in the second case.
As you wrote correctly, analysing tools are essential (Besides quality basic tools like soldering iron, pliers and a well lit workplace).
But first I would suggest to buy a digital multi meter (DMM), if you can afford one that also measures capacitance (helps a lot to repair old stuff). It's always the first thing at hand, check power supplies, check current consumption, check diodes/transistors if they are still ok etc.
For the logic analyser (LA) I don't recomend the mixed signal options build into scopes. Often the software lacks standard features going a little beyond the basics and mainly because you really like to have a big screen to analyse 16+ signals.
Dang you got me again! I need to post another blog, "The Tools I Already Had from Building Full Scale Airplanes/Model Submarines/Working on Cars". I might need to work on the title though.
I had a Harbor Freight cheapie, but then I put together a tool set to be able to do some playing during lunchtime here at work. Max, perhaps we can pull that one over from MCC. For that kit, I purchased a Meterman PM55. I really like it. It is small, but has a lot of features. You can actually see it there in the upper middle portion of the picture sitting on the electronics workstation. It is red and black.
Adam...just seen yours above about your Meterman DMM. I got a Meterman RS-232 interface from the bargain bin or a shop here for $5. It was for a Meterman 38XR meter. I then got the meter off Ebay for about $50 So I got a really classy meter, with a computer interface, for $55. Not as small as yours, but as you say they have a lot of features. I think they have now gone bust, or been taken over (maybe by Wavetek if memory serves me right). One (more) of my intended projects is to get a PC in my workshop, so to be able to log stuff with it will be very useful. I found an article somewhere with decodes of the data format, so might be able to do custom stuff. I also found a VI (software) to interface it to Labview, have not tried that yet though.
Also good thoughts about mixed signal scopes. I guess that would hold true unless the scope connected to an external monitor/computer for displays. You would still be held back by the potential lack of features in the software.
No, I have not actually looked at that as a viable option for me, though it may very well be a good option for others. There are two reasons it was not a good fit for my plans. The first is that the "local" maker group is about 45 minutes away. Considering I usually have only about 2-3 hours a day after work that I am home and awake, this would not be practical as I would spend most of my free time traveling. The other advantage of it being in the house is that I get to be with my wife and son as I am working on things. This is an undervalued bonus that many do not consider.
The other reason is that because I tend to be slower than I like with my projects, it would take quite some time for me to build a project, and get use of such a lease. Once I look at the money that would have spent for that lease, I could have then bought the tools for my own workshop. At that point in time, I would rather purchase the tools.
This is just what works for me. I think, though, for a group that has little experience working with certain types of tooling, and short timelines, that such a lease might be good for them as it would provide both mentorship and tooling access as well as potential quick time to market with their device.
What was the total price tag to outfit your lab? And please note that we are currently running Frankensteins Fix, a competition inviting engineers to write about things they have "brought back from the dead" either by repair or redesign and giving away a $3500 Tek scope! Consider entering, think what an awesome addition that would be to your lab!! (And Im betting your wife would really approve!)
So far, I have about $700 into what you see in that picture. I also have about $150 into a small portable lab that I have to do stuff at work. This does not include the cost of the computer. For my portable lab, I would love to add a new convertible laptop similar to the Intel Haswell Reference design, but up until now, it seems that the computer manufacturers are still coming out with their poor concepts instead of something with the advances that Intel showed off. I will wait.
As to the competition, I would love to enter, though it seems that it was indicated that Bloggers for EETimes would not be allowed to enter. I am not sure that I would have many good stories for electronics, but I do have some good mechanical ones. Like tearing into the stock carburetors that were at my grandpas auto repair shop when I was about 6, and then not knowing how to put them back together again. Modifying an airplane so that it replaced a piston engine with a turbine engine, and then clipping 12' off the 35' wingspan. Then rebuilding it after a bug clogged the fuel system and it made an off airport landing.
Would sticking tweezers in a light socket when I was about 3 or 4 count? I was curious and it ended in the teardown of the socket afterwards. I mean, why make tweezers look so much like a plug anyways?!?
re: "Modifying an airplane so that it replaced a piston engine with a turbine engine, and then clipping 12' off the 35' wingspan. Then rebuilding it after a bug clogged the fuel system and it made an off airport landing"
I'd like to hear more about this story. It may not be electronics, but it's got "engineer" all over it.
The short story is like this. I used to work for this restoration group when I was younger. I had the chance to start working there when I was 12 and worked with them even through college. I still do things with them from time to time.
During this time one of the members of the group decided that he wanted to make an aerobatic plane that was based off the dimensions of an earlier design by the same designer. Along the way, we were at Oshkosh airshow and there was a group that was exhibiting a very small turbine engine of the same horse power that was intended for the project. The advantage was that it was significantly lighter. The disadvantage was that it was much more fuel hungry.
At the time I was a senior in high school. My role in this project was in fabrication of the wings, help with fuselage assembly/fabrication, and to calculate the expected stall speed (I was within 2mph). The plane flew well. It went to a few airshows. On one flight during a refueling stop, some mud daubers made their nest in the fuel vents. This caused a fuel starvation problem shortly after takeoff, and caused an off airport landing on a highway. All was well except for the semi that decided to come around the corner. The pilot exited the road in an attempt to avoid the truck, but then hit a ditch that totaled the plane.
The wreckage was brought back to the shop, and in 60 days we had rebuilt it and got it ready for the next airshow.
That is the short story, there is much more. It was a very fun project. Here is a picture of the plane.
I got a student version of LabView and with it NI's MyDAQ - similar thing to the Analog Discovery but with far less bandwidth - I think the scope is 200 KSPS so it only goes up to about 40 KHz max - pretty hopeless for anything serious. however it is fairly versatile - DMM and 2-channel audio sig gen on board, and the instruments it comes with are not bad. I've asked about the Analog Discovery in Aussie but no one seems to have it, especially at the student price.
You might look into the Red Pitaya. It looks like it is going to be a very nice tool. It is more expensive than some of the Analog tools that you mention, but it should be just as capable and then some.
@Elizabeth thanks for that, I'll check it out later (jsut about to go to work). I dealt with a different company some time ago who said they'd come back to me with a price but never did...my NI Mydaq is OK for very basic stuff but really no good for anything more than basic AF stuff. Thanks again.
@Elizabeth - I just checked out that link - they have the AD unit for A$199 Academic price (which I should be able to get as I'm on a course). Have to do some overtime to pay for it..... Thanks very much again.
That is awful to see that it is almost double the price of the student version here in the US. It is also interesting to note that there are three price levels. There is the student, then academic, and then full price. I am guessing that the academic would be for teachers.
I am glad, though, that you were able to get the information you needed to be able to purchase one.
Hi Adam: That is awful to see that it is almost double the price of the student version here in the US.
Welcome to Australia!! It happens a lot here, and then the retailers cry foul because everyone buys stuff on the net! However I am happy with that price....for $7.50 extra I can get it with the TINA suite which does simulation and PCB design as well as having instrument software that works off the AD. On the Aussie site there are only 2 price levels, commercial and academic (students and teachers).
Also, it costs the same as my NI Mydaq, which is 200 KSPS vs the AD's 105 MSPS. Go figure....
I know that your government recently called some of the larger consumer electronics groups on the carpet to justify their pricing. It is always hard, though, to gauge the seriousness/truthfulness of these types of things as the news can get a little twisted over such large distances. It is always better to hear it directly from people that are there.
Well Australia is at the A** end of the world so there's some justification from transport costs. And wages are probably a bit higher here than some other places. But considering most stuff comes from China these days that does not explain doubling of prices like this. As you say consumer electronics is a big one - things like phones and computer stuff often seems outrageous compared to the US.
From what I was reading, though, it was at times cheaper to purchase something from England and then have is shipped to Australia. Shipping then should not be the cause, but perhaps higher cost of labor might play somewhat into that.
@Adam...that's often true, and that's the reason retailers here want GST levied on all imports. I can give you another example. Some time ago I wanted some small Ziplok plastic bags for storing bits in...my wife also wanted some for her beading supplies. It turned out cheaper to order them from HongKong than to get them anywhere else.....crazy really.... Labour costs are not that much more here than in the US I think, so how come something costs twice as much here? Software is another example.....and in many cases there is no physical product involved. Go figure...... Definitely profiteering plays some role in this in some cases....
I do a fair bit of repair work and fixing things for people. I would not be without various sets of screwdrivers, especially those with a driver and tons of bits - flat, philips, posidriv, hex (allen key) torx and security torx (with the hole in the middle). tri-wing, etc. And no matter how many you have, you'll always come across something for which you don't have a driver, to give you an excuse to add to your collection....
I have an ongoing argument with my wife as to whether a man can ever have too many screwddrivers. Fortunately she is the same with earrings, so I can always keep her quiet if she starts on at me about it :-)
My wife and I have a similar agreement. Her expensive habit is clothes, and mine is tools and stuff for my modeling projects. It tends to balance out well.
As to bits that I do not have, most of those come from trying to get into an Apple product. I hate it when groups use custom fasteners to try and prevent people from getting into the device for repairs, or to see what is going on.
All the pieces are good here but I would suggest investing in a top-notch oscilloscope. I have a four channel Tek 2014 ca 2003 that always works and doesn't mind getting exposed to line voltage (120/240VAC) when I'm not being as careful as I should be (no discussion about exposing my personal wetware to same). Similar scopes (non-Tek) go for under $1k these days and good 'scope skills will carry you far in tracking down things that go bang in the night....
The OV tolerance is one of the big difference between USB based devices and commercial 'scopes - commercial units are rated for CAT II (or CAT III if you have the bucks and need that rating) and give you an extra margin of safety as well as keeping that nasty utility voltage out of your precious computer case.
An alternative if you can't pop for the high priced 'scope is an isolation transformer - a few hundred kVA line voltage to line voltage. It keeps your USB scope and computer away from the fault currents of your local distribution system.
The other pieces are spot-on. My power supply is a Heathkit triple output unit ca 1978. Voltage mode only, so I'm often mooning over those current limited units but you use what you have.
Sixscrews, thanks for contributing your thoughts. I think that your advice is a really good recommendation for those that are looking to step up into the next level of devices. I admit that the current recommendation on the oscilloscope is geared towards an entry/mid level person that is trying to be able to do a wide range of designs.
As you indicated, I too am looking to upgrade my scope. I am looking at the $800-$1500 range devices. I think that it may yet be a few years before I make that jump.
@Adam, Sixscrews....I just got an email from RS yesterday with some Tektronix specials and the prices have come right down...cheapest <$1000 and some very tasty ones (MSOs) from < $2000 I think. I have bought a couple of Lotto tickets!
BTW my current scope is a 25MHz CRT clunker. The Analog Discovery discussed above would almost beat it...... I'd love just to have your current one!
I've heard only good things about Rigol scopes. A 4CH 1GHz is what I wanted at my day job, but the boss found something cheaper. Take a hint - avoid the ATTEN brand like the plague. I wrote a 4-part blog over on Scope Junction called "The Scope from Hell" about all its shortcomings, and am still finding glitches. Triggering becomes erratic in averaging mode, and just last week discovered that when I use inverted screen colors for pasting waveform captures into a schematic, the horizontal scale factor disappears!
Thanks for the information. That is very good to know. I will go and try and find your post. That is the bad thing about those tools is that they are so expensive that it is hard to really know what you are getting until you get a problem.
Unfortunately Scope Junction is no more. As for your putting tweezers into a lamp socket, when I was about 6 years old I stuck my finger into a lamp socket at 220 VAC. I learned a healthy respect for electricity.
That is unfortunate to hear that the site is no longer around.
As to the light socket incident, I can only imagine dealing with 220V over 110V. Thankfully mine was a direct short and I did not really get zapped. The sparks though were enough to convince me that I probably did not want to mess with wall sockets.
It is surprising how many electronics types had some contact with mains electricity as kids. Mine was with a meccano-type construction set and I discovered the axles fitted very nicely in those holes in the wall (then round-pin british sockets). I reckon it gives you an affinity with electricity for the rest of your life :-)
I built a record-player turntable with my meccano set. I had this idea that motors worked by the electricity in the wires brushing past a rotating shaft, something like a water wheel. Plugged the wires into a 220VAC outlet...
Afterthought: Fortunately I survived. Parents, teach your children well. If your child shows an interest in electricity, or any scientific study, teach them that playing with electricity can be worse than playing with matches.
This is too true. In one of my high school physics classes, our teacher had a very tiny, hand-crank, AC generator. The demonstration was to have you hold the ends of the output and then have him crank slowly. It showed the muscles in your arms contracting, and causing your hand to grab the electrode tighter. Hence the problem with grabbing onto an AC voltage source in that once you grab, it may be difficult to let go.
On a side note, I love the innocent curiosity of kids. How you describe the way you though an electric motor works is just very interesting. I love it.
Sometime the electric company helps: when I was living in Spain a long time ago, sometimes the electric company would let the grounds float up really hight and then zap!!!
Then there was the electrician who was doing a check on a live 450V system, and to save time had the meter hooked up to one set of probes, with another set of probes ready to go, also already connected to 450V when....OK, you can guess. Fortunately the tech was OK after his shocking experience.
As far as scopes go, I'd recommend considering reputable used sources. I've head that some Rigol scopes are "badge-engineered" for at least one major brand. Mine is a Fluke Scopemeter 190 100MHz dual channel model with a really nice set probe set. Somehow it feels more like a DMM than a scope, but its isolated channels are pretty handly since I often use it for troubleshooting differential encoder signals.
A couple years ago I got a chance at ESC West to play with the then-new R&S scopes, and all I can say is WOW! Of course, those are in a different price range...
@Zeeglen....very timely advice....a retailer I use has some ATTEN scopes at what seem like give-away prices and I had thought about splashing out on one (even give-away prices require some thought on my part....) but you've persuaded me to hang onto my money for now. I'll buy another Lotto ticket......
A year ago, I had to design a 900 MHz receiver, so I designed around the ADRF6601. When I made the PCB, I did not realize how small the part actually was. When I got the finished board and the IC, I asked myself, "How the heck do I mount this part?" I could barely see the part, let alone solder it to the board.
I found a company in Toronto called Proto-Advantage that made stencils and sold special solder for reflow parts. Once I followed all of the steps to mount the part with the solder on the board, I had to figure out how to heat the board enough to melt the solder. I ended up using my kitchen stove. I put a sheet of aluminum on the burner and heated until a piece of solder melted and then placed the PCB on the aluminum plate until I saw the solder flow under the IC.
I am always afraid that I will underheat the PCB causing bad solder joints, or overheat the board destroying the ICs.
Someday, everything will be solder reflow. A good set of tools will be a must!
Yes, I personally do almost all my stuff reflowed with my hot air rework station. I usually start working some of the smaller components such as the caps and such. This helps me to see if I need to turn up the temp or not. With the QFN parts, I ensure that I have designed the pads such that there is just a bit of the solder pad that is exposed past the part. This helps me to see if there are any solder bridges or if the part has not yet reflowed. As for stencils, I have not yet needed any stencils, but I am sure that I will get there. I generally just use a small sewing needle to help spread the past as needed.
ersonally I have to put the scope before the analyser, wayyyy before, but that is a personal choice. I have done enough digital boards and have rarely found a need for a logic analyser. The scope, it gets used every single day.
You can find great buys on EBAY for everything. I generally find you are better off with older and trusted versus newer and questionable. I had a quick deliverable that required a power supply outside the range of what I had and I needed something that day. I ended up with a low cost brand .... served its purpose, and other than charging batteries, I don't trust it for much. Digital meter accuracy was terrible after a year, banana jacks cheap, isolation questionable ...... Power supplies and multimeters are two places to never go cheap as you want to debug your creations, not the things powering and measuring them.
The scope I seem to use more than any is a 90's vintage Tek digital. It may be old, but when I need it, it's got more than enough bandwidth and sample speed. Great for catching the smallest glitches. Rated 50V input ... 500V with 10:1 probes, but will take 450V peaks without damage. I also have a 200Mhz analog, but it does not seem to get much use nor the easy to use, but not so fast digital scope. I could see a Picoscope in my future if I can find one at a reasonable price. There is value in the 12bit input and ease of post processing/signal processing.
My Ungar iron that I picked up at an auction along with about 100 tips is finally calling it quits so I am open to suggestions. Weller's are nice, but quickly add up. Maybe Hakko? Any suggestions?
I am in the market for a hot air or IR rework station. There are some interesting low cost ones out there. I don't have to take off enough parts to justify the thousands for a high end unit, but perhaps $250-500 if anyone wants to suggest anything.
Perhaps my favorite piece of equipment is one that people normally do not think of. It is a stereoscopic microscope that again picked up at a sale I think for $100. It gets used at least once every week. It makes it infinitely easier to work on really fine parts. You can't see under a BGA, but for fine pitch QFP, it works out well.
I have been a big fan of the combination hot air/solder rework station that I listed in the post. It has served me well. I know one other person that purchased it on my recommendation (he got the slightly upgraded model) and he has been very happy with it.
I completely agree that a 'scope is far more important than a logic analyzer. A logic analyzer only works with solid Logic 0 and Logic 1 values, so it's useless for signal integrity problems. I need to see what's really there, like unexpected cross-talk or ringing. Besides, with modern SMT, how in the world are you going to hook up more than a few probes?
Ooh, stereo microscopes rock. It's like looking into a whole new world.
Yeah, I have found that this is something that seems to be personal preference. I have not yet had any major issues dealing with ringing in my signal traces. This may be, though, because most of my boards are under 2" square, and usually are not sending serial coms over long wires.
As for debugging the signals, in the first boards I always include a via that I can solder wires into for each of the serial coms and hence have nice test points. Another things is that if the logic analyzer is not registering the signal well, then you can know that you need to get your scope out to debug it.
I have yet to need a stereo scope, but I might have to put that on my watch list for ebay and see if I can get a good one cheap.
A good Digital scope will allow you to "see" digital streams, A/D steps and resolution. Also there is really no differentiation between digital and anlog signals since ALL digital signals have finite rise and fall times, ringing, etc. so when you get down to it all signals are analog.
Now there are special multi channel logic analyzers with built in I2C, SPI, CAN, and other serial protocol analyzers, but these come at a high cost if you REALLY want to see the analog component of the signals.
Paul-I am glad that you found it useful. I do have a program as you indicated. I will be submitting a piece for the new PCB Design line here once I get back from my trip. In fact I am at the airport right now.
Thanks for the well wishes. The trip went very well. I just wanted to give you an update that the list of PCB tools that I mentioned has been posted here in this blog post. Come take a read and let me know if I missed something that you were looking for.
Over the years I always felt some frustration find the required parts from a bin. Well organized parts bin is essential. MCU kit will be required for most projects, so get hold of your favourite one. ARM cortex-3 would be useful and cheap, STM discovery @ 10 bucks was good one. It will require some external interfacing to really use it. I built a board to have PWm's, sensors, drivers, QVGA, 2line LCD, USARTS etc etc. It allows quick and ever ready development for most prototypes.
So very true. It is nice to have some order to the mess. Finding good bins that meet my needs has always been difficult. I have resorted to gettig fishing tackle boxes for some of my storage needs, but this is mostly for tools and such, not as much for components.
Like you said, having a good set of dev boards is a must. Now a days you can find them pretty cheap. I have boards from all the major ARM Cortex vendors and they all were pretty cheap. I have yet to make it through playing with all the different vendors, but I have played with a few of them. It is nice to be able to get something setup for under $15 and have things like gyros, accelerometers, and the ever necessary LED's.
Where did you obtain your test equipment and soldering iron? Did you buy new or used? You mentioned Harbor Freight Tools. They have stores in my area and I'll keep them in mind next time I need a tool.
I got my breadboard and analog scope from Ebay. Some of the other things from Aliexpress. The workbench Igot from Harbor Freight. The tools that I purchase there tend to be things that I know are going to be low usage as they are more likely to break. I have found, though, their tool benches as well as their tool boxes are pretty good, especialy considering the price.
On a side note, I sent you an email a few weeks back on some measurement equipment questions, I was wondering if you happend to get it?
One day I will get there. I find that the more a tool gets misplaced, the more you end up with duplicates till you have enought of that tool that you will always have one handy. Channel locks tend to be ones that I have multiple copies of. Those tend to be very useful.