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What's in an electronics hobbyist's toolbox?

  1. Nov 3, 2009 #1


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    I've occasionally been asked by some of the students I've mentored or TA'd over the years, "What's in your toolbox? What do you recommend for someone who's just starting off to put in their toolbox?" I thought it might be fun / helpful to list some of your contents / essentials!

    In my (electronics) toolbox (and piled on top/around it), I have:
    • multimeter (Meterman 37XR, purchased after a few lower-quality multimeters gave up)
    • bits of wire made into various probing bits for the above
    • nice multi-bit screwdriver (Megalok)
    • multi-bit mini-screwdriver set (think jeweller's tools)
    • allen key set on a handle (so you don't lose any)
    • several pairs of needle nose pliers (regular to really, really narrow)
    • several pairs of side cutters (in various stages of being chewed up)
    • Greenlee inductive probe
    • needle- and blunt-tipped tweezers
    • spring-loaded mini grabber thingamajig
    • fancy self-adjusting wire strippers (I had an employee discount)
    • breadboard + a small roll of 22 gauge solid-core wire
    • adjustable-temperature Weller soldering station, fine (lead) solder, and braid
    • hot glue gun
    • hot air gun
    • small box-cutter
    • pair of handy-hands

    Plus some assorted components / odds-and-ends I haven't file away into the appropriate storage case.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 3, 2009 #2


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    In addition to my toolbox, I also carry a Leatherman Wave on my belt all the time. So many times it's saved me a trip back to my toolbox when working on something in the lab or elsewhere.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2009
  4. Nov 3, 2009 #3
    Besides the excellent above list, I still (surprise!) have my 50-year-old Simpson (model 260) multimeter. I have an old 1 KVA Variac mounted in a box. I also have a good collection of npns, n-channel fets, Hall effect sensors, LM324's, 741's etc. No digital stuff though.
    Bob S
  5. Nov 3, 2009 #4
    A bundle of crocodile clips

    A variable voltage power supply is a big plus. I still use one I built in high school which has four independent outputs controlled by LM317, LM337 (negative voltage). I can't count how many times I had to use all outputs at once.

    DC load. It seems useless when you don't have it. I pulled a bunch of dale 1% tolerance power resistors from a junk 3 phase motor driver. I didn't know what to do with these, so just put them in a box, with switches, and with a current monitor. It turned out to be very handy, and many times, I use it in parallel with a multimeter.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
  6. Nov 3, 2009 #5


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    Crimpers for spade lugs etc.
    Crimpers for RJ connectors.
    Wire ties
    Shrink tubing
    30ga wire wrap wire for repairing some circuit traces
    soldering iron with solder (low and high temp)
    solder sucker
    wire nuts
    misc. machine screws
  7. Nov 5, 2009 #6
    I have some LEDs , Diodes , Transistors , capacitors and resistors . But don't have solar panel.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 5, 2009
  8. Dec 3, 2009 #7
    Pretty good stuff already listed. I would add

    Calipers and metal edged ruler
    Tweezers with magnifier attached on hinge
    "Dental" picks to use for scraping off epoxy, lifting leads
    Banana jack to BNC and BNC to clip lead adapters
  9. Dec 3, 2009 #8


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    I have almost the same "kit" as MATLAB. I would add a couple of pairs of ratcheting heomostats. They are excellent heat-sinks to protect delicate components during soldering/de-soldering. I restore old tube amps from time to time, and sometimes the solder joints in tag-board eyelets require a lot of heat, so heat-sinking is important. Also an ancient cardboard chart of component value color codes. Also, a representative set of tested-good vacuum tubes, and plug-in SS rectifiers that I made by gutting burnt tubes and soldering diodes to the appropriate pins inside the bases. And jumpers! After discharging the caps in the amps power-supply (before sticking any fingers in there), clip a really brightly colored jumper (so you'll remember to remove it before an on-bench power-up) to an appropriate place and the other end to the chassis, to keep the caps from re-growing some charge. Can of paste flux - maybe not necessary when building new circuits, but a real help when working on old circuitry. A small piece of soft leather to protect the fingers from heat. Tubes get pretty hot, and I'm sometimes impatient. Shorting plug or alligator clip. Got no pedal with an old Fender amp? Short the Vibrato jack to see if the vibrato works. Speaker motor with no cone or frame. Want to probe the amp with an O-scope to see what it's doing? Need a nice quiet load that's not purely resistive. There's more, but that's the stuff I need.
  10. Dec 10, 2009 #9
    Magnifying glasses - sigh...
  11. Dec 27, 2009 #10
    Cracked me up.

    I tried not to laugh... but I had to! *sympathy*

    To add, banana posts & plugs. Always handy. Soldering paste. Junk from the 70's that still apparently works. (I inherited my dad's Electronics box from his days at Algonquin) One of these (Just happens to be the same one!)
  12. Dec 27, 2009 #11


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    I'll add a few:
    • A 2nd multimeter, for simultaneous current and voltage measurements.
    • Mini clip-ons for multimeter probes.
    • Small resistors (eg. 0.01 or 0.001 Ω) for measuring currents outside the range of the meter.
    • Not a toolbox item per se, but some circuit design & analysis software for quickly testing ideas. (LTSpice in my case)
  13. Dec 29, 2009 #12


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    Okay, okay... Lenline calls it a pick-up tool:
    http://www.e-sonic.com/aboutus/cat/I/illuminated%201.pdf [Broken]

    Since you can find these in a magnetic form as well, I think you have to add in the word 'claw'. For instance, this mini claw pick-up tool (distinguishing it from the giant doggy-doo ones):
    http://www.chi-mark.com/detail/226049/226049.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Mar 8, 2010 #13
    Since there have been tons of questions on this, I'm adding in the hobbyist microcontroller:
  15. Mar 9, 2010 #14
    I don't keep a microprocessor, but I do keep some communications tools. The SPI/I2C box known as the Ardvaark has been great. Also, a couple of generic programmers and JTAG interfaces.
  16. Mar 12, 2010 #15


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    Looks like Lattice has an attractive special offer on a CPLD Evaluation Board through the end of March 2010 (probably still not too bad after that):

    http://www.latticesemi.com/corporate/newscenter/newsletters/newsmarch2010/ispmach4000zepicodevelopm.cfm?utm_source=EmailMarketing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=LatticeNews031210EN [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  17. Mar 14, 2010 #16
    This is a super deal as the mach is a good starting point for a VHDL beginner, and it appears that Lattice is licensing the compiler + tools for 1 year for free!
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2010
  18. Aug 6, 2010 #17
    Aside from those already listed:

    Electrical tape
    bread board
    Adjustable Wall-wart
    An Exacto (with extra blades) - this comes in handle for cutting and exposing traces
    A few small pieces of Vectorboard
  19. Aug 27, 2010 #18
    I would add to the list

    -a good set of tweezers (fine point especially)
    -architects lamp
    -a GOOD multimeter (cheap chinese DMMs don't count, I recently got an Agilent u1242B and it changed my life)
  20. Oct 20, 2010 #19

    Yes I am not the only one! The spimson meter is awsome and almost indestructable for most electronic readings. digital meters some time dont show the proper readings. thats why the simpson meter is the best choice
  21. Dec 12, 2010 #20
    Wow, I would consider a DSO an absolute MUST. Here is my partial list:

    Bench MM
    Hand-held MM's
    Soldering/De-Soldering Station
    STK-500 Avr Programmer
    A bunch of Breadboards & Pre-Cut Color Coded Wires
    Half a dozen 72 drawer "Organizers" for Parts
    Parts, Lots and Lots of Parts :-)
    Drill press & Carbide PCB drill bits
    Ferric Chloride & Sodium Persulfate for etching
    Photo resist coated PCB material
    A PC with a pair of RS232 inputs and a Parallel Printer Port
    A PC Power Supply (+3.3V, +/-5V, +/-12V)
    Dozens of various sized Wall-Worts
    Lighted Magnifying Glass

    While I wouldn't want to do w/o any of my tools, I would consider a DSO the single most helpful tool I own. I cannot imagine troubleshooting a new design w/o one. Sadly, in recent years the second most helpful tool I own is my lighted magnifying glass, LOL!

    Last edited: Dec 12, 2010
  22. Feb 9, 2011 #21
    I think that it is also important to have a lot of TTL chips, such as logic gates, FFs, etc ...
    Too many people want to use microprocessor but do not know what a logic gate is :cry:
  23. May 9, 2011 #22
    Multimeter: I got PeakTech 2010DMM which can measure capacitances and inductances, which is extremely handy. Plus a cheap Chinese multimeter which I converted to use old mobile phone wall wart for power. I use former for testing/checking stuff and latter for persistent measurements.
    Breadboards are good to have.

    Speaking of parts... i recently ordered this, 10$ for 2500 resistors, 50 values 50 each:
    and a bunch of other crap in bulk. Can't wait for it to ship (then I'll brag, err, give review). Anyone else got good component kits to recommend? I'd like to get a cheap capacitor kit up to few nF.
  24. Aug 8, 2011 #23
    Sort of a "depends" question. For starting out, you can do a lot just with a solderless breadboard, a multi-meter, and some through hole components. If you want to make something more complex you can actually use, then the list gets pretty big.

    Most everything you would want has already been mentioned, but for me doing my own projects at home, I'm pretty well covered in the instrumentation department with a good DC power supply, a relatively inexpensive 20MHz scope, and a professional DMM. The one thing I've needed on occasion that I don't have on my workbench is a frequency generator. For the few times I've needed one, it's hard to justify the expense. I've managed to get by without it.

    The #1 tool that I could absolutely not get by without is my magnifier. I use a 10x stereo microscope for PCB assembly because my sight is limited, but most people can get by well with a jeweler or watchmaker visor style magnifier. My soldering station would be next on the list. The one I use is purely a soldering station, Weller WESD51. I use de-soldering braid in lieu of a de-soldering station. The good soldering/de-soldering stations are pretty expensive.

    As far as parts, I do as much as I can with µcontrollers. I just don't see the sense in using discrete components for any kind of logic anymore. Basic 8 bit MCUs are no more expensive than a higher value tantalum capacitor. I have a stock of thru-hole stuff for breadboarding which I do only on limited ocassion anymore. Most of my stock is SMD, hence the dependance on the magnifier and DIY PCBs (for basic stuff) or manufactured PCBs (for more complex stuff).
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2011
  25. Oct 5, 2011 #24
    Hello all,
    I was wondering if any of you could suggest some beginner equipment for ee major that eventually wants to design circuit boards. For example, would it be wise for me to start practice soldering? Thanks in advance.
  26. Oct 5, 2011 #25


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    Yes, definitely. Visit a Radio Shack or Frys Electronics or similar store (or shop online), and find an electronics kit or two that looks interesting. You will probably need to buy a basic/cheap soldering iron to assembly your first kits.

    Building kits and then starting to put together your own projects is a very important step for practical EEs, IMO. :smile:
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