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What are the items you have in your personal electronics tool kit?

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Most important tool:

  • A quality soldering iron. Mine's a Weller. Those Radio Shack pencil irons are useless, and will only make life more difficult.
  • A wet sponge for cleaning the iron tip, several tips for the iron.
  • Both desoldering braid and a solder sucker.
  • Plenty of 60/40 solder, the silver bearing stuff doesn't flow nearly as well. A well stocked junkbox is extremely important. The more components you have to hand, the faster you can work.

  • A good digital multimeter, I love my Fluke. Add to that a good analog multimeter, digital meters offer no sense of change over time.

  • A dual channel 100MHz oscilloscope (mine's a tektronix mainframe that I scavenged).
  • Good lighting! A third-hand rig or similar to hold parts and boards that are being soldered.
  • A spectrum analyzer is very useful for radio work.
  • A function generator.
  • A sharp pair of flush cutting nippers.
  • Several spools of different coloured 20 gauge hookup wire.
  • Some people keep flux to hand, but I've never found I needed it.
  • Assorted scraps of printed circuit board, or strip board - breadboards are very finicky and can add circuit-killing parasitic capacitance.
  • The absolute best tool I've found for cutting PCB is a jeweler's saw. You can buy them from Contenti, and aren't very expensive. I've never seen anything use produce a better or faster cut.

I think that covers the bulk of it, it may seem like a lot of stuff but it's mostly small stuff. An LCR meter is handy, too. I have a foredom flexshaft, it's kind of like a Dremel but more powerful and higher quality. They're not cheap machines, but are a real life saver for modifying circuit boards.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've got one of the digitally controlled soldering irons like they sell at Sparkfun (Aoyue, I think). Best tool purchase I've made. \$\endgroup\$ – edebill Dec 8 '09 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've just bought a ZD-916 temperature controlled soldering iron from Maplin and the difference between that and my cheapo pencil iron is amazing. Suddenly I can almost solder properly :) \$\endgroup\$ – Len Holgate Dec 8 '09 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Add a power supply to that list and you're golden. \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn J. Goff Dec 9 '09 at 2:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a good answer but especially for the analog multimeter. I have none currently, only a couple digital ones. Oh sure, my brain is fast at interpreting numbers, but you just can't beat a swinging needle when monitoring certain things. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Oct 17 '10 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I went through your answer and added bullet-points, as it was really hard to follow without them. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Jan 16 '13 at 5:50
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  • Harbor Freight multimeter. They actually work quite well. RS has some slip-over test lead IC-hooks that work with the bundled test leads, totally worth the extra cost. More expensive meters are better, but these are accurate enough (esp. for digital work: is it high? is it low? it's cheaper than a logic probe!) and small enough to go in a small tackle/toolbox, and if something goes wrong it's easy to replace. The transistor tester saved me when I picked up some 2N2222's at RS and discovered that the package had the pinout backwards. Seriously, even if you have a nicer meter, you will find uses for one of these.
  • Lots of IC-hook wires. Those things are fantastic, and are great for probing and prototyping. You can never have too many of those. I prefer these over alligator clips.
  • Small/jewelers screwdrivers.
  • Wire stripper.
  • Small needle-nose pliers.
  • Analog o-scope that was a cast-off from school.
  • RS soldering irons. Honestly though, it's not worth getting the RS. Get a good iron. And solder wick, not that silly solder sucker bulb thing. I think this is the area I regret the most in my toolkit. I've used the small pencil iron three times and I botched a board with it because it didn't get hot enough.
  • Arudino + Protoshield. Nice, small little prototyping platform.
  • 6500K desk lamp lighting. Really, the daylight color helps. Very bright.
  • Plastic compartment boxes for holding parts.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your link goes to the wrong product \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Phillips Aug 28 '11 at 0:21
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  1. 1k, 10k resistors, i rarely need other values, maybe 100s if I have LEDs.
  2. caps, 4.7uF, 1000pF, .1uF
  3. PICs, just some PICs, i think I have some pic16F876As, but I have access to three others also.
  4. LEDS, a few cheap ~10mA LEDs
  5. FLash memory, I never know when my project will need memory, I keep simple ATMEL memory, I can give a part number if wanted.
  6. ft232R, never know when I want some USB connectivity.
  7. I have other random parts, but they probably cycle pretty constantly.

I try to get a professor or my boss at work to buy my components, I do not tinker a large amount at home, but build little projects for my professor, or students in the class I help teach, to use, or I will build little projects to speed up a task at my job.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I will admit, at work I have one cheap o-scope, at school I can get a hold of some nice equipment, but rarely need it. The most important thing for me at school is use of a current-limited power supply. At work we use batteries in our devices, so stuff blows up when we mess up. Nothing like shorting a car battery. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Dec 6 '09 at 1:02
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A couple of people have asked me about tools so I put together this list (below). I will put it on my site soon. If you think you may want to do SMD I would invest in a better iron than listed below (also a good light and a magnifier). My SMD tool recommendations are at http://tinyurl.com/5foeou

Tools

  • (1) Weller WESD51 Soldering Station
    or Hakko 936ESD (diy list)

  • (1) Well WSA350 Weller Smoke Absorber

  • (5) WSA350F filter 3-pack
  • (1) Panavise 308 Base Mount
  • (1) Panavise 305 Base
  • (1) Panavise 366 Jaws
  • (1) Cooper Tools "Xcelite" 170M cutter
  • (1) Ideal T-6 16-26AWG wire stripper
  • (1) Ideal T-8 8-16AWG wire stripper
  • (1) X-Acto x3201 No. 1 Knife
  • (1) X-Acto x411 No. 11 Fine Point Blade
  • Needle Nose Pliers, narrow tip

Supplies

  • Kester 24-6337-6422 Solder
  • Kester 2331-ZX Flux
  • Chemtronics 5-25L Solder Wick
    Could add Chemtronics 10-25L Solder Wick
  • 3M 2214 Wrist Strap
  • 3M 8214 Anti-static Matt
  • 5854/7 BL005 100ft 24AWG Blue Wire, Teflon
  • 299 SV005 24AWG Bus Wire
  • Extech EX330 Multimeter
    or Extech XTC-MM560 (sdiy list)

Custom circuits (not kits)

  • 169P84WE (unclad) Vector board
  • Vector T42-1 Clips
  • Vector K24A Push pins
  • 299/3 SV005 30AWG Bus Wire
  • Extech Power Supply 382213
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  • \$\begingroup\$ You're welcome. \$\endgroup\$ – jluciani Jan 20 '10 at 0:06
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Tool wise I have: Multimeter, probe, pocket oscilloscope from seed studio, solder iron, screw drivers, and other various hand tools.

Bench wise I have: tektronix oscilloscope (from school), programmable power supply(from school), function generator

Component wise: Too many to list here. I am one of those people that stores love to see coming. I see something and think to myself "I might be able to use that later" and so I stock up in bulk. Or my neighbors throw out stuff and I take it and rip parts off it (my wife hates that). She thinks I could be on that show called "Hoarders" but for electronic components. Then I lucked out because my school upgraded their labs, and my professor gave me everything they had because the school was just going to throw them out!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a big advocate of buying components in bulk. They have near infinite shelf life(except for electrolytics), and in bulk the price can halve. When I buy transistors I tend to buy 75 or 100 at a time. When I do that, I pay less than half per transistor, and I spread the shipping across more components. \$\endgroup\$ – wackyvorlon Dec 5 '09 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always buy in bulk from mouser/digikey(normally mouser) for parts, our school also does a weekly order that I can place parts on and have them free of shipping. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Dec 6 '09 at 1:00
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I make sure I have a 1/8" stereo jack on a length of wire so I can plug my breadboard projects straight into my computers audio input. I also have some paperclips, that I normally use for bending into little brackets, that can hold various strange shaped components onto the breadboard, i.e little piezo buzzers or speakers. And last but not least, Blue Tac, I can't stress enough how many times it's helped me out in a tight spot, it's useful for all sorts, not to mention holding wires in place whilst soldering. I also have a lamp, it's an eco-friendly 2.5w super massive LED thingy. It's got a swan neck, it's really bright and at £20 from Ikea it's a darn site cheaper than a proper technicians desk lamp.

Jim.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ stereo input into your speaker? Now that's making due with the bare essentials! lol \$\endgroup\$ – Earlz Apr 18 '10 at 7:29
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Here are some of the tools I find myself using most often:

  • Weller WES51 soldering iron
  • Panavise Jr.
  • Fluke 87V multimeter
  • PHT-PYT-4 wire strippers (don't buy the cheap chinese knockoffs. Mine were unusable.)
  • Rigol DS1052E oscilloscope (somewhat expensive, but even as a relative beginner it's been an invaluable learning tool for showing what's actually going on with the voltage levels inside a circuit.)
  • Cooper Tools "Xcelite" 170M cutter
  • Elexp 060210 long nose pliers (I find myself using these constantly. Best $2 I ever spent.)
  • Soldapullt deluxe
  • Scotch tape for holding components in whilst I'm soldering them on the underside of the board.

I use a 12V computer fan hooked up to my three output variable power supply to dissipate solder fumes. Seems to work fine for now.

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  • A pencil (and sharpener). Molten tin won't stick to the carbon of the pencil, so you can use it to open a solder pad or solder bridge. It is in the same category as desoldering braid and a solder sucker.
  • I like to use one small and cheap breadboard for soldering. It holds pins nicely in place while I solder them. I use it only for soldering to prevent flux and resin from ending up on other components. Same category as a third-hand rig.
  • Antistatic foam to keep IC's safe.
  • A drawer full of old power supplies (SMPS, that came with telephones, monitors, network equipment, ... at various voltages and currents) saved from the junk yard.
  • Order components in bulk: 10, 50, 100, 500+ pcs. prices can drop incredibly if you find the right shops.
  • Couple universal heat sinks and mounting material.
  • Pin headers, lots of them. I often push the pins out to reuse them by pushing them eg. into a breadboard (or female header on a breakout) so I can easily connect a multimeter to it.
  • Lots of single pin 2.54mm Dupont male and female connector wires to make interconnections between male headers.
  • Battery holders for 1 and 4 penlights.
  • IC sockets.
  • Account credentials to https://electronics.stackexchange.com/
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