Tools of the trade

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Soldering

Soldering station

There are soldering irons and soldering stations. Soldering irons normally has one fixed temperature or crude way of setting a temperature with no feedback which make them fine for soldering contacts and such. For any more advanced work a soldering station with feedback temperature control is necessary and a good quality soldering station makes for even easier soldering. A soldering station consist of a soldering pen and a controller unit with electronics for controlling the temperature of the soldering pen. Good quality brands are ERSA, Weller and Hakko but some of the new Chinese brands do have some good stations as well, often with Hakko soldering pens. A low wattage, like 20W, soldering station will server you well most times but some soldering points that is connected to big ground planes for example are easier to solder with higher wattage soldering stations as they have more power to keep the desired temperature.

Solder

It used to be all 60/40 tin lead solder but with the European RoHS legislation lead free soldering has been increasing even for DIY work that is not covered by the legislation. Most people find lead solder easier to use and to get nice joint with and lead free solder often contains more harmful chemicals to ease the soldering. That said lead is a harmful, even if stable, heavy metal and you should always wash your hands after a session of soldering and make sure that leftover and wasted lead is disposed of in a correct way. And once and for all; the smoke from lead soldering does not contain lead because lead is to stable for that.

Solder Fume Extractor

There is still harmful substances in the fumes from soldering so some way of preventing these fumes from entering your lungs is a good thing. This can be everything from a simple 12V electronics fan via purposed fans with filters to industrial ventilation. A less powerful fan will have to be closer to the place of soldering and may be obtrusive to your work but on the other hand will be quieter and cheaper.

De-soldering

De-soldering wick/braid

De-soldering pump

Heat gun/rework station

Measuring

Digital multimeter

Digital multimeters are good for measuring a variety of things from voltages and electrical currents to temperatures and radiation. Simple multimeters may have just volt and ampere readings and simple displays, while the simplest to recommend is one with volts, ampere, ohm, farad and continuity modes. Displays are said to have different number of digits. A display that can display from 0 to 1999 is said to have a 3 1/2 digit display while one that can display from 0 to 19999 is said to have a 4 1/2 display. A digital multimeter is often a essential tool even for the most elementary steps of troubleshooting.

Audio Probe

This is very simple yet very useful tool for debugging Mutable Instruments devices

Here is a simple schematics [1] to put it together.

When you try to probe the signal at suggested points in test procedure: You should probe with positive leads and negative lead must be touching ground ( shown as GND on PCB )

Analog multimeter

Oscilloscope

Inspecting

Magnifying lamp

Loupe

Microscope

Cutting & holding

Flush cutters

A pair of cutters has a lot of uses but while building electronics a pair of flush, as in not bevelled, cutters are essential to trim component leads close to the printed circuit board (PCB). Good quality ones, like Knipex, will last longer than cheaper ones and often cut thicker leads whithout getting damaged, all because of the better material used. All flush cutters made for electronics use will be damaged if used on harder leads or wire and should there for only be used on copper, tinned copper and other softer materials.

Stripping tool

When stripping a lot of leads a stripping tool can be very useful as the art of stripping with a knife or a pair of cutters is hard to learn and far from consistent. Stripping tools comes in all prices and a lot of shapes from the simplest ones with adjustable screw to self adapting ones like the Weidmüller Stripax, and even electrified ones that cut the isolation with heat.

Vise & Helpful-hand

It can be useful to have the PCB or other object that is about to be soldered or in another way worked on fixed in one way or another. Panavise has some popular and good quality vises tailored for electronics work but it can be rewarding to shop around for lesser known brands. Another popular way of fixating is with the "Helpful-hand" that is essentially two crocodile clips and a magnifying glass put together on a stand and that can be very handy when working on smaller cricuits and contacts.

Assembly frame

A frame that takes one or more pcb and that has a removable cover with heat resistant foam rubber that hold components in place while soldering. You still have to put components on by height but all bending legs or taping card board are gone. These are usually rather expensive but very handy.

Tweezers

Especially when working with surface mounted components (SMD/SMT) a pair of tweezers can be essential when placing and moving components around. A set with one narrow, one broader and one angled can be a good starting point.