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Magnifiers, Third Hands, and Vises for Your Electronics Lab

Some of the most helpful items you can have in your electronics tool arsenal magnifying glasses and things to hold your work for you. After all, electronic stuff is small. Resistors, diodes, and transistors are downright tiny. Magnifying glasses make them easier to see and third hands and vises can free your hands to do the delicate work of building electronic circuits.

Magnifying glasses for your electronics lab

Actually, you should have at least three types of magnifying glasses on hand:

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

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

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

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Third hands to hold your small electronics

A third hand is a common tool amongst hobbyists. It's a small stand that has a couple of clips that you use to hold your work, thus freeing up your hands to do delicate work. Most third-hand tools also include a magnifying glass.

The most common use for a third hand in electronics is soldering. You use the clips to hold the parts you want to solder, positioned behind the magnifying glass so you can get a good look.

Although the magnifying glass on the third hand is helpful, it does tend to get in the way of the work. It can be awkward to maneuver your soldering iron and solder behind the magnifying glass.

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Hobby vise to hold your larger electronics projects

The third hand is often helpful for assembling small projects, but it lacks the sturdiness required for larger projects. Eventually you'll want to invest in a small hobby vise. A good one is made by PanaVise.

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

  • Mount: Get a vise that has a base with the proper type of workbench mount. There are three common types of mounts:

    • Bolt mount: The base has holes through which you can pass bolts or screws to 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: The base has a clamp that you can tighten to fix the base to the top and bottom of 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 you pull 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 into a variety of different working positions. Make sure that when you lock the swivel mount into position, it stays put. You don't want your work sliding around while you are trying to solder on it.

  • Protection: Make sure the vise jaws have a rubber coating to protect your work.

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