This is a supplementary question to the question Which electronics components should I always have on hand?
- Digital multimeter
- Soldering iron
- Power supply
If you've got those 4, you're in decent shape.
After that, I'd add a frequency generator, then a spectrum analyser.
If I were starting an EE lab at a company, and I was going to buy those tools, here's what I'd start with:
- Fluke 117 multimeter ($160)
- Weller WES51 soldering iron ($88)
- Tektronix 1001B scope ($880)
- Agilent E3631A power supply ($1383)
If I were a hobbyist just getting into the field, I'd limit myself to the Tools section of Sparkfun, plus the Tektronix scope.
Depending on what kind of components you're using, you'll probably want some kind of magnification. Chip makers just don't make 'em like they used to (DIP, that is). Everything is trending towards smaller.
Also, as part of that, you want a really really really good light source. In fact, you probably want a great light source just for your bench area and then a smaller LED flashlight or something to shine into all the crevices to see part labels, solder bridges, etc. Sometimes you just don't want to pick your board up and move it around to get light into all the places you'll need it.
I have on my workbench and around my room:
- Digitising oscilloscope. Essential for debugging circuits, especially as I work on video a lot. I picked up mine for £150 a few years back.
- Personal laptop (my main computer.)
- Desktop computer+LCD (also a stable 12V, 5V & 3.3V power supply and a video monitor.)
- Cheap multimeter (about £20.)
- Temperature controlled soldering iron.
- Cheap soldering iron (backup.)
- Solder, solder sucker and wick.
- Breadboards x 10.
- Various stripboards and completed projects.
- PICkit 2 + demo board, AVR programmer and Launchpad (MSP 430) board.
- Components (all E12 resistors up to 1M ohm, various electrolytics and various ceramics.)
At a minimum I would recommend a multimeter, scope and power supply.
One thing I've found very useful is a large magnifying lens/light combo on a swing arm. Having one clamped to the bench allows me to have good lighting where I need it, and having a lens for checking for solder bridges/cold joints/part numbers... If you want to get pricey, go for a stereo scope which can go to about 40X. These are great for SMT rework. Also on the high end are the Pace soldering stations. I used to have a PRC-2000 (overkill, usually) and some of its features were very handy. Using solder/flux paste with a controlled dispenser, and a hot-air soldering tool (900deg F) will allow for better-than-factory SMT work with a bit of practice.
I've never bought a bench supply new; I have several second (and third, and worse!) hand bench supplies that have done a superb job. No need for fancy eight decimal point displays... a couple of panel meters and an adjustable current limit are all you really need.
I'd throw into the mix the following
- Aligator clips (both the normal kind and the really tiny "grabber" variety
- tweezers, and reverse tweezers (they open when you squeeze them)
- locking "scissors" (they don't cut) - great for clamping
- light. A couple of gooseneck lamps with "150W" compact fluorescent bulbs
- collection of banana jacks/sockets and pushbutton and slide/toggle switches
I also second the magnification. I splurged and found a nice binocular inspection microscope (0.8 - 3x magnification I think). It was about $700 but it's sure handy when trying to solder 0402 components or solder 30AWG on to 0.5mm pitch devices! I don't need a fancier soldering iron than my old Weller WES51 if I've got a decent scope. I get headaches from trying to use loupes or the (much) cheaper magnifier on a swingarm.
Some items I didn't see mentioned:
A nice vise. I used the cheap "helping hands" from Radio Shack for years and they are OK, but then I got a little 3" Palmer bench vise cheap at an auction of a bankrupt machine shop and it is perfect for holding anything from circuit boards to TO92 packages for soldering.
A magnifier of some sort to check for shorts, or even to read labels on SMT packages. I have a 4" magnifier I paid about $5 for at Northern Tool and a nice Bausch & Lomb loupe I won at the same auction.
Tweezers, X-Acto knife, Dremel tool with variety of bits and a nibbler for modifying cases. Cheap dial (or digital: they can be around $10 on sale these days) calipers; again for use in making/modifying enclosures.
I found this complete video (How To Set Up An Electronics Lab) that maybe can help somebody in the future.