Tools

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Weller WE1010 soldering station
A spool of 63/37 leaded solder wire
Brass wool
Generic solder wick
Flush cutters
Needle nose pliers
Diagonal wire cutters
20-30 AWG wire strippers
Artech A5030 digital multimeter
BSIDE ESR02 transistor tester
Digital calipers

This page lists tools that are useful in electronics. Better quality tools and materials will make the process easier and more enjoyable. Buy these as you find a need and shop around, don't attempt to buy everything at once. Read around the web to try and find which will be the most suitable for your needs and budget. These lists exclude software for electronic circuit simulation and electronic design automation, and the equipment for PCB etching.

Essential tools and materials

The basics you should have for a well equipped workspace.

  • Solder bench – A well lit and well ventilated workspace, where your work in progress can be left undisturbed. To avoid ingesting particles of solder, don't eat or drink here.
  • Power strips – Don't overload these
  • Shelves, tool racks or pegboard – To have the items and tools you need readily to hand.
  • LED gooseneck light
  • Fume extractor and/or desktop fan – To keep flux fumes away from your face.
  • Soldering station – This is a temperature controlled soldering iron, set to suit the particular solder you're using.
  • Soldering iron holder
  • Soldering iron tips – Tin before use and keep them clean and use only with solder.
  • Soldering iron tip cleaner – Brass wool is better than a damp cellulose sponge. Don't use a plastic sponge.
  • Solder – 63/37 eutectic Sn/Pb (tin/lead) solder with a rosin flux core, or 60/40 tin/lead with a rosin flux core, 0.5 mmm diameter or less.
Leaded solder melts at lower temperatures than unleaded, is easier to work with and will form better solder joints. It is a blend of tin (Sn) and lead (Pb), with a melting point around 180-190°C. Tin is selected for its lower melting point while lead is used to inhibit the growth of tin whiskers. The surface tension of molten leaded solder is generally better at causing SMDs to self align on the PCB. Soldering with leaded solder is not dangerous. Lead is absorbed by ingestion and not through the skin. Wash your hands after handling leaded solder. Lead-free solder is not used in industries where robustness is critically important (aerospace, avionics, medical, military, etc.) Only use lead-free solder when you have a product to sell where leaded is forbidden. Those regions that forbid leaded solder do so primarily because of environmental reasons and not for health and safety. Flux is released during soldering. It deoxidize the metal surfaces, prevents further oxidation and improves the wetting properties of the solder. In electronics the flux is usually rosin, acid fluxes are for plumbing and not for electronics. Sn60Pb40 has a plastic range, puts down a slightly thicker coating of solder and is often preferred for lead tinning. Sn63Pb37 is eutectic, it flows better than Sn60 and is the preferred alloy for surface mount applications. Without doubt if you want good solder joints, you need good solder.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]
  • Flux – For SMT hand soldering
  • 99% Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) – For cleaning flux residue, check that you're using the correct flux solvent for the particular solder you're using.
  • Acid brush – Trim the bristles to make them stiffer, for cleaning PCBs with IPA post-soldering.
  • Kitchen roll or Kimwipes – Use these to clean off the flux and IPA residue.
  • Eye protection – Spectacles with large enough lenses to protect your eyes from hot solder.
  • Wire strippers – Ensure these only remove the insulation and don't nick the wire.
  • Good quality flush cutters – For cutting component leads and thin wires, don't use these for anything except your finest work.
  • Diagonal cutters – For larger wires, use larger tougher ones for household, gardening, and automotive purposes.
  • Small long nose pliers – For bending and straightening leads.
  • Fine tipped antimagnetic tweezers for SMT hand soldering
  • Desoldering pump – Can lift solder tracks and pads if heated too often.
  • Desoldering braid – Gentler for desoldering, get good quality fluxed braid.
  • PCB holder/vice
  • Magnifier – Handheld and a jewellers 10x loupe for examining your work, or an Optivisor.
  • Multimeter – With input impedance greater than 1 MO, able to read low resistance values and with an audible continuity tester. With an analogue multimeter the motion of the needle makes it easy to understand the circuit behaviour.
  • Reverse action tweezers – To hold small parts and components in position, to heatsink leads on delicate components.
  • Hot air gun – For SMT and for heatshrink sleeving
  • Tinned copper wire – For links or use trimmed component leads.
  • Lead bending tool
  • Components – To suit your project.

Useful additional tools and equipment

You can get by without these but they're useful to have.

  • LED torch
  • Transistor tester – Useful instrument for identifying and evaluating various semiconductor and passive component values.
  • Component storage
  • QuadHands – Four gooseneck arms terminating with clips/clamps, probably better than a Third hand tool which is difficult to find one of good enough quality.
  • Nut drivers
  • Deep sockets – Use a plain socket without a handle and the pot shaft will protrude through the 3/8" coupling hole. Your fingers will get it done up tight enough.[13]
To avoid scratching the front panel while fastening switch and potentiometer nuts, either protrude the nut through thin card, use 3D printed plastic fastening tools, use masking tape or saran wrap aka cling film over the spanner.[14][15][16]
  • Bench vise
  • Spring clamps
  • Small screwdrivers
  • Small spanners
  • Small snub nose pliers
  • Allen keys
  • Miniature hacksaw
  • Hot glue gun
  • Trimmer tool – For trimpots, is less likely to cause shorts than a screw driver.
  • Small drill and drill press – Proxxon Micromot or Dremel – More useful for working on panels and enclosures than the circuit boards.
  • Ordinary drill and drill press – More useful for working with wood and metal than electronics.
  • Drill bits
  • Step drill bit
  • Milling bit – For making oval holes and slots
  • Countersink
  • Deburring tool
  • Hemostats – To grip parts or wires.
  • PCB holder
  • Bench power supply – With current limiting to prevent build errors destroying circuitry.
  • Chip puller
  • Crimping tool – A ratcheting crimper is better and crimps.
  • ESD protection – Antistatic mat, wrist strap, ground connection through a 1MO resistance. Risk of damage from static is not really an issue in synth DIY and the MOS-based digital stuff is no longer so delicate these days.
  • USB microscope
  • Digital calipers
  • IC hook set
  • Alligator clip set
  • Oscilloscope – Ideally dual channel, 10 MHz, analog and matching probes, (50 MHz for working with digital circuits).
  • Function generator
  • Frequency counter – Some multimeters include this function.
  • Heatshrink
  • Hookup wire
  • Fine wire – Kynar wire or enameled magnet wire, as you prefer, for prototyping and repairs.
  • Solderless breadboard – Get something decent or you might be troubleshooting where the problem is caused by the breadboard.
  • Stripboard or perfboard, as you prefer. Stripboard is usually untinned and brittle SRBP, make sure to deoxidise before attempting to solder. Perfboard is tinned and tough FR4.
  • Spot cutter – For cutting stripboard tracks.
  • Kapton tape – For holding small parts in place while soldering.
  • Low tack masking tape
  • Capacitor discharger – Some capacitors can hold enough of a charge to injure or kill you.[17]
  • Microcontroller programmer – Depends on the particular project.
  • Tungsten carbide tipped blade – For scoring and breaking FR4, then clean the edge against wet wet and dry paper on a flat surface. Be aware that FR4 dust can cause respiratory problems.[18][19][20][21]

Other useful but less essential tools

The sort of things you'll know at the time whether or not you need these.

  • Needle file set
  • Reflow oven or hot plate
  • Solder paste
  • CNC milling machine
  • Sheet metal brake
  • Tin snips
  • Pop riveter
  • Thread taps
  • Nibbler – For cutting holes in metal sheet materials.
  • Center punch
  • Solder reel holder
  • Jig saw
  • Spudger – Wooden toothpick.
  • Orange stick - Non-resin wood for bending component leads, etc.
  • Stereo optical microscope
  • IC pin straightener
  • Logic analyser
  • Spectrum analyser
  • Steel ruler
  • Utility knife
  • Vacuum SMD pickup tool
  • Solder pin insertion tool
  • MTA insertion tool – To press wires into MTA connectors.
  • IDC crimp tool – For Eurorack for cables, buying ready-made ribbon cables might be easier.
  • Laminator – One way to make neat front panel graphics
  • Stainless steel dental pick
  • Laboratory logbook

References

  1. ^ 1910.1025 App A – Substance data sheet for occupational exposure to lead, OSHA
  2. ^ Which are the safety recommendations for soldering?, Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange
  3. ^ Mods: does the sub need a sticky regarding soldering safety?, /r/soldering, Reddit,
  4. ^ Should I use lead free solder?, Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange
  5. ^ What are the different types of solder?, Cadence PCB Solutions
  6. ^ How to Use Flux When Soldering Electronics For Beginners, Soldering Iron Guide
  7. ^ Solder paste recommendations., EEVBlog forum, December 2017
  8. ^ Solder paste for First time smd reflow soldering, EEVBlog forum, September 2014
  9. ^ Study of the components self-alignment in surface mount technology (paywalled) by K. Dušek, M. Novák and A. Rudajevová, 35th International Spring Seminar on Electronics Technology, 2012, pp. 197-200
  10. ^ Sn60 vs. Sn63: When is the use of one of these two alloys more appropriate than the other?, Kester FAQ
  11. ^ The Importance Of Good Solder, EEVBlog forum, April 2016
  12. ^ Solder quality, EEVBlog forum, February 2015
  13. ^ Where to buy building tools (not parts)?, Mod Wiggler Forum, Sep 2017
  14. ^ how do i avoid scratching faceplates with tools ?, Mod Wiggler forum, Jan 2012
  15. ^ Set of panel nut keys. 5/16", 3/8", 7/16", and knurled. by Lynes, Thingiverse
  16. ^ how do i avoid scratching faceplates with tools ?, Mod Wiggler Forum, Jan 2012
  17. ^ How to Safely Discharge Capacitors, Clever Creations
  18. ^ Clean Way to Cut FR4 PCB, EEVblog Forum, Jan 2016
  19. ^ How do you cut PCB?, Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange
  20. ^ Will I have health problems from inhaling PCB dust for a while, /r/PrintedCircuitBoard
  21. ^ Fibrous glass dust, CDC - NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards

Further reading

  • Make: Analog Synthesizers, Maker Media, 2013, ISBN 1449345220
  • Starting Electronics Construction: Techniques, Equipment and Projects by Keith Brindley, Newnes, 2005, ISBN 9780750667364
  • Practical Electronics: Components and Techniques by John M. Hughes, 2015, O'Reilly Media, ISBN 1449373070, pp. 31-55

External links

YouTube

Projects