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This is a supplementary question to the question Which electronics components should I always have on hand?

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  1. Digital multimeter
  2. Soldering iron
  3. Oscilloscope
  4. 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:

  1. Fluke 117 multimeter ($160)
  2. Weller WES51 soldering iron ($88)
  3. Tektronix 1001B scope ($880)
  4. 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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget spare tips for the iron! \$\endgroup\$ – user1307 Jul 9 '10 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to point out that for a beginner, most of this stuff iw waaaaaaaay out of budget. Aside from the Fluke and Weller, go surplus or secondhand. CRT oscilloscopes are still completely usable, and they're much less expensive. Chinese-made PSes are the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Jul 11 '10 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Learning is not a bad thing and understanding an analog scope helps a lot. The major problem with one is that you can't catch anything fast and transient, only things that are slow enough to see in one sweep or repeat enough to form a trace. An alternative to a big digiscope today might be one of those computer-attached scopes. That'll also do some spectrum analysis. \$\endgroup\$ – XTL Jul 12 '10 at 7:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was able to buy a 60MHz dual-trace Tektronix scope, in good condition on eBay for $100 with shipping. If budget is a concern, an analog scope will cover probably 95% of your o-scope needs. What it lacks in data recording and transient analysis is made up in availability. The quality analog scope you can afford is always better than the full-featured digital scope you can't afford (if price is a factor.) \$\endgroup\$ – Jesse Jul 14 '10 at 9:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jesse: I think you've got it about right. An analog scope is far better than no scope and will work in a lot of cases. For me, "most" is around 70%, not 95%, but maybe I do more digital comm stuff than you. \$\endgroup\$ – pingswept Jul 14 '10 at 12:50
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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.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Any suggestions for ‘great’ light-sources? I mean, what should I look for, beyond just getting A) some generic overhead light-fixture for the room, and B) a lighting/magnifier arm? Where can I get ‘great’ room-light sources for a home-lab? \$\endgroup\$ – ELLIOTTCABLE Feb 6 '14 at 3:34
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Hope nobody takes this the wrong way, but .. how about a fire extinguisher? =P

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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.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the PC. There are so many good software tools for electronics hobbyists and pros alike. It's a valuable piece of equipment I always want to have on hand. \$\endgroup\$ – TMarshall Feb 24 '11 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why so many breadboards? :S I have 2. Are your circuits that big, or do you have many different prototypes at one time? \$\endgroup\$ – Dean Mar 26 '11 at 12:55
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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.

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A logic analyzer if you or doing digital or certain microcontroller work. Many more channels than a scope, better triggering, e.g. on patterns. But you still need the scope to check signal levels, signal integrity.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, once you've seen the logic analyser show you the values in a serial (RS232), SPI or I2C signal, you'll never want to try to read it off a scope again. Especially a two channel scope. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Feb 24 '11 at 13:18
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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.

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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.

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I found this complete video (How To Set Up An Electronics Lab) that maybe can help somebody in the future.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Quite a good video, but too long, too much talking. A few questionable items. I haven't used tape or blunt pliers or a glue gun in years. I would add a component analyzer like the Peak DCA, and their LCR as well, and a Panavise with the circuit board attachment. \$\endgroup\$ – user207421 Mar 28 '13 at 0:27

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