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Top tools for building a personal prototyping lab

Posted: 01 Oct 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:prototyping  workbench  breadboard  soldering iron  Logic analyser 

When I first started to get into electronics, I figured 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.

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 organised 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 a workbench from Harbor Freight. 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, 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.

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