Bench Progress and Tour

My current setup is more than adequate, I have found. This quarter, once the materials arrived, I found that for the tasks I have set out for myself, as well as occasional repairs and other electronics work not connected to the ILC, I did not need anything else, and more and more I have used every single tool on this bench.

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I’ll be going over every piece on this bench in detail, what I have used each tool for, what problems I have had that these tools eliminate, and how I organize the space.

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The first, and arguably most important tool on the bench, is the soldering iron. I opted for a mid- to low-grade Weller, and it was a major improvement over the soldering iron I had. I immediately found that after I bought a good iron that my soldering skill improved immediately, showing that the tools really do make a difference. I ended up buying a special tip for it as well, as the one that came with the iron was too wide. The temperature control dial on the front of the base I usually keep between 4 or 5 unless I am desoldering.

The solder I chose was the thinnest available. The spool on top of the larger spool is slightly thinner (0.022″-Dia), and I’ve had it longer, so I have been using that. The larger spool is a half pound of solder and is slightly thicker (0.025″-Dia). Both have a roughly equivalent percentage of tin, lead, and rosin, so between the two, I shouldn’t have to use much else for a while.

The little blue plastic thing is 5ft of braided, rosined desolder wick. I really don’t like using this very much, I find it sloppy, and the rosin leaves huge marks on the PCBs. I, hopefully, will be able to replace a lot of the duties of this stuff with the desoldering pump I bought last month.

A friend gave me their whiteboard, so I have been taking notes about needed supplies on it, as well as experimenting with circuit diagrams on it.

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The PCB holder I’ve bought has become an indispensable tool for populating PCBs and soldering parts to them. I don’t think I would have a need to upgrade it, unless I had a larger PCB than this could accommodate. Behind it is a jar full of things, Sharpies, fine point pens, and zip ties. Also in the jar is the desoldering pump, which I have yet to use.

The plastic box to the right contains some vintage Russian NPN transistors for experimentation.

To the right of that box are the two bench power supplies that I have bought, one I have received in the mail today. One problem I’ve been having with these are that I don’t really have banana jacks or cables to reliably connect the power supply to the breadboard. I will have to purchase leads, or connect them to the board with single-core wire. Another thing is that these supplies aren’t digitally controlled, so to reliably get similar output from both I will have to use multimeters to test the output and adjust the two supplies.

The jar on top of the supplies contains alligator cables and breadboard jumper wires. The alligator cables allow me to connect larger components that cannot be affixed to the breadboard, and the jumper wires allow a quick connection between point on the breadboard. I had originally opted to get a different jumper wire setup, there are wires that are flush with the breadboard instead of looping around, but I felt that it would be harder to keep those wires in good shape than these. I find that it’s a double-edged sword, because it is far harder to reliably prototype circuits without a clear visual idea of what’s going on. Instead I have a lot of wires that end up nesting around ICs.

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Next up is a breadboard (and a TL072 Op Amp). This breadboard is huge, but I’m quickly realizing how small it actually is, especially with the jumper wires that I bought. I find myself trying to stretch the circuits out over the whole board instead of conserving space so that I can reliably see the pathways the jumper wires are making. Still, as I get better at prototyping circuits I’ll most likely get used to using less and less space, and this board will be all that I need.

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Here are the two batteries I have been using to power the prototypes. Two batteries are necessary to get +9V, GND, and -9V.

The box to the right of the batteries is something I made, it’s a passive mult that connects 3 1/8″ jacks and one 1/4″ jack to probe connectors that go to the oscilloscope. This way I can hear and see signals coming out of the prototypes at once. The 1/4″ jack is so I can analyze signals coming from my synthesizers, and any effects pedals I have. For the probe connectors, I have mounted a screw for the alligator clip, and a loop of stripped wire for the hook attachment. Thus far, I have used the box to analyze every signal, I haven’t yet had a reason to detach the probe from the box.

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This is the parts drawer I have labeled and organized. Each kind of part is arranged vertically in ascending value, starting with passive components and ending with transistors. There are a few other, smaller components that don’t really need labels, as the parts will probably be switched out at some point. I would like more space, as I’ve organized each drawer as shown below:

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All of the static sensitive components are in labeled static resistant poly zip bags (pink), or in their original packaging (as can be seen in the IC drawer). The resistors are in normal plastic bags, but I ran out of them before I could bag the capacitors, so they’re in the pink bags as well. Because of the bags and organization I have employed, I’m finding that I really would like more drawers (or bigger drawers). The organization system has deteriorated somewhat the more I use the parts, but I am really happy I decided to do it this way, as parts are easy to find and easy to return back to order.

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I’m extremely happy with this oscilloscope, it was the cheapest digital scope I could find, and still it is possibly the most useful tool on the bench. I can immediately see any DC bias, any noise, count the frequency of any waveform, and analyze two different signals on the same screen. Another useful feature is that at any given time I can capture anything that is on the screen and record any data that accompanies the capture onto a USB storage device. There are so many functions I haven’t used yet, I will try and work through all of them before the quarter is over.

Below the Oscilloscope is some ribbon cable and a few perf boards I bought in anticipation of needing them for next quarter’s work.

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A labeler. Pretty essential stuff for a workbench.

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Two digital multimeters is a good idea, but I initially wanted to buy just one. I had ordered the smaller one from Amazon last quarter, but it was coming from China and it took a long time to get to the states, so I bought the larger one at ERI. I end up using the smaller one out of convenience, and because it has a better display (it’s backlit), but the second one will come in handy when I need to keep an eye on a steady voltage while testing parts of the circuit. Both of the multimeters have transistor checking and diode checking, but both lack frequency counting (which is something the oscilloscope has).

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A messy box of tools. This has the Dremel and all of the dremel attachments, screwdrivers, pliers, wire, snips, cutters, strippers, tweezers, an x-acto knife, and, for some reason, a flashlight.

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Here’s a box of larger parts that wouldn’t fit into the mini drawers. Top left to bottom right:

  • Rack screws
  • Potentiometers
  • 1/8″ panel mount jacks
  • Davies 1900H clone knobs with set screw
  • Davies 1510 clone knobs with set screw
  • Heat shrink in a few different sizes (spent too much for these)
  • ON/ON SPDT switches
  • some 9V batteries
  • Some AAs
  • IC sockets
  • Header pins and sockets, standard, battery connectors and an LCD screen taken out of a toy
  • Pushbutton switches
  • 5-pin DIN jacks
  • Serial cable connector

All-in-all, I’m very satisfied with the tools I have, I’ve used every single one during this and last quarter, and I’m finding that I require less and less, and the needs become more and more specific. For example, I’m no longer thinking that I need something to hold another thing, or something to snip this or that, it’s more that I’m missing a specific part of a specific value.

Space is another issue, I’d like to progress vertically, find a way to store my reference books near the workbench, get a better or bigger toolbox, and more tiny drawers. I found a desk at Habitat for Humanity, but I didn’t have the cash for it. It was perfect, had three levels and the desk space was roughly equivalent of this one.