Equip Your Electronics Lab

Like any hobby, electronics has its own special tools and supplies. You don't need to run out and buy everything all at once, but here are some of the essentials you'll need at your disposal.

You'll need some basic hand tools:

  • Screwdrivers: Get yourself an assortment of small- and medium-sized screwdrivers, both flat-blade and Phillips-head.

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  • Pliers: Get a small set of needle-nose pliers with thin jaws for working with small parts, and a larger set for bigger jobs.

  • Wire cutters: Get something heavy-duty for cutting thick wire, and something smaller for cutting small wire or component leads.

  • Wire strippers: To avoid damaging wires when you strip them, purchase a wire stripping tool.

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You should have at least three types of magnifying glasses on hand:

  • A handheld magnifying glass to inspect solder joints and read the labels on small components.

  • A magnifying glass mounted on a base so that you can hold your work behind the glass. Get one with a light, so the object you're magnifying is bright.

  • Magnifying goggles, which provide completely hands-free magnifying. Ideally, the goggles should have lights mounted on them.

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A third hand is a small stand with a couple of clips used to hold work. Most third-hand tools also include a magnifying glass.

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The third hand is helpful for small projects, but lacks the sturdiness for larger projects. Eventually you'll want a small hobby vise.

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Here are a few things to look for in a hobby vise:

  • Mount: There are three common types of mounts:

    • Bolt mount: Bolts or screws attach the vise to your workbench. This is the most stable type of mount, but it requires that you put holes in your workbench.

    • Clamp mount: A clamp fixes the base to your workbench. Clamp mounts are pretty stable but can be placed only near the edge of your workbench.

    • Vacuum mount: The base has a rubber seal and lever to create a vacuum between the seal and the workbench top. Vacuum mounts are the most portable but work well only when the top of your workbench is smooth.

  • Movement: Get a vise that has plenty of movement so that you can swivel your work. Make sure that when you lock the swivel mount into position, it stays put.

  • Protection: The vise jaws should have a rubber coating to protect your work.

You'll need a soldering iron with a stand and solder. An inexpensive soldering iron will get you started, but make sure you get one with a stand.

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You'll need a multimeter to measure voltage, current and resistance.

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A solderless breadboard is a must for experimenting with circuit layouts. A breadboard has holes in which you can insert either wires or electronic components to create an electronic circuit without soldering. When you're finished with the circuit, all the pieces can be reused. You’ll want a breadboard that is at least 7x4.

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Wire comes in two types:

  • Solid wire: Made from a single piece of metal

  • Stranded wire: Made of a bunch of smaller wires woven together.

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To get started, purchase at least four rolls: 20-gauge solid, 20-gauge stranded, 22-gauge solid, and 22-gauge stranded.

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You’ll need AA or 9-volt batteries for most circuits. To connect batteries to circuits, you'll want to get several battery holders.

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Here are a few other items you may need:

  • Electrical tape: You'll use it mostly to wrap around temporary connections to hold them together.

  • Compressed air: Comes in handy to blow dust off an old circuit board or component.

  • Cable ties: Handy for temporarily holding wires and other things together.

  • Jumper clips: These are short (typically 12 or 18 inches) wires that have alligator clips attached on either end. You'll use them to make quick connections between components for testing purposes.

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