The best tools to make your project dreams come true

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By Ashley Awalt

Starter Lab Setup

Are you interested in electronics? Looking to get started, but don’t know where to begin? This article will go over some basic tools and necessities to have on hand that will prepare you for most projects.

First thing’s first, any electronic project needs power to get up and running. A variable benchtop power supply with a maximum voltage output anywhere from 10-30VDC and up to 5A would be more than sufficient for most projects. To utilize this power supply, you’ll need some banana interface cables. Banana to hook or banana to alligator are the most common.

Now that the power is set-up, some basics are needed to connect the project and test it. Solderless breadboards, jumpers, and test leads make the process of hooking up and testing a circuit extremely easy.

Some hand tools that are particularly convenient to have on hand are: wire strippers/cutters, long or needle nose pliers, tweezers, side cutter, and caliper. A crimp tool is another item to have on hand, but please note that most manufacturers won’t guarantee the crimp unless the recommended crimp tool for the specific contact is utilized.

When the circuit is ready to be made permanent, a solder station will be needed. These come in a wide variety of options. Ensure the iron’s input voltage is correct for the regional area it’s being used in. A 45W or higher should be perfect for most projects. A higher wattage iron will allow you to solder larger components, wires, and heavier circuit boards.  An iron that has interchangeable tips is a nice feature to look for.

What good is a solder station without solder? There are leaded and lead-free options, multiple flux types, and many different gauges. This is pretty dependent on the type of project. However, a good starting point would be a .031” diameter (22AWG), rosin activated (RA) or rosin mildly activated (RMA) flux type, and either leaded or lead-free. Lead-free is more expensive. For ease of use, many people recommend using leaded solder as it melts at a lower temperature. Lead-free solder is a good option for people concerned about the hazards of working with leaded solder. If a mistake is made while soldering, it’s nice to have solder braid on hand to remove any residual solder from a specific location.

Now is a good time to talk about safety. Anytime a circuit is being worked on, safety glasses should always be worn. There are safety glasses made specifically to go over prescription glasses, so there’s no excuse not to be wearing them. When soldering or working with any chemicals, a fume extractor should be running in the background. There are plenty of other safety precautions that could be taken, but these are just two examples of them that should be taken 100% of the time.

Miscellaneous items that deem themselves useful from time to time are cable ties, heatshrink, SD card readers, and a magnifying lamp. Of course there are thousands of items that could be in this category, but those are just a few from the top of the list.

Depending on what type of product is being used, it’s a good idea to think of Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) safety. Place a grounding mat on the surface where the parts will be handled, use a grounding clip to connect it to Earth ground within the building, and a wrist strap to ground the individual physically handling the parts. There are more extreme precautions to take place if high reliability parts are being used, however this is just a basic setup to ensure the parts do not become damaged.

Once the lab is setup, you’ll need something to tinker with. Take a look at some microcontroller development boards to get started. A few suggestions would be: Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi 3, Micro:Bit, Circuit Playground, or Beaglebone Black.

This lab set-up guide will hopefully help you to become the magnificent creator that you’ve always dreamt of, or if you prefer, mad scientist. Happy creating and have fun!

 

Low cost examples of some items from the article:

Multimeter 614-1276-ND

Multimeter 290-1153-ND

Power Supply BK1670A-ND

Power Supply GS1325-ND

Banana to Hook 1568-1786-ND

Alligator Test Leads 1528-1789-ND

Mini Hook Test Leads 461-1032-ND

Jumpers 377-2093-ND

Jumpers - Pre-Formed 1286-1126-ND

Solderless Breadboard BKGS-830-ND

Wire Stripper/Cutter PA70058-ND

Safety Glasses 3M155887-ND

Long Nose Pliers LN54VN-ND

Tweezers 243-1095-ND

Solder Station 1691-1083-ND

Solder Station 1568-1752-ND

Cable Tie Q732-ND

Solder Braid 473-1061-ND

Solder KE1106-ND

Solder Lead Free KE1123-ND

Side Cutter 1691-1037-ND

Caliper 290-1957-ND

Misc. parts kit 1528-2346-ND

Heatshrink Kit Q2Z1-KIT-ND

Card Reader AE10713-ND

CBL USB A MALE TO MICRO B/MINI B 1568-1216-ND

USB cable, power jumper 1568-1152-ND

Crimp tool 1528-2304-ND

O-scope/logic analyzer 1286-1117-ND

Grounding Mat 16-1122-ND

Wrist Strap SCP301-ND

Grounding Clip SCP321-ND

Fume Extractor WSA350-ND

Magnifying Lamp 243-1292-ND

Raspberry Pi 3 1690-1000-ND

Micro:Bit 1778-1040-ND

Arduino Uno 1050-1024-ND

Beaglebone Black BBB01-SC-505-ND

Circuit Playground Express 1528-2280-ND

Power Strip TL765-ND

Key Parts and Components

Add all Digi-Key Parts to Cart
  • 614-1276-ND
  • 290-1153-ND
  • BK1670A-ND
  • GS1325-ND
  • 1568-1786-ND
  • 1528-1789-ND
  • 461-1032-ND
  • 377-2093-ND
  • 1286-1126-ND
  • BKGS-830-ND
  • PA70058-ND
  • 3M155887-ND
  • LN54VN-ND
  • 243-1095-ND
  • 1691-1083-ND
  • 1568-1752-ND
  • Q732-ND
  • 473-1061-ND
  • KE1106-ND
  • KE1123-ND
  • 1691-1037-ND
  • 290-1957-ND
  • 1528-2346-ND
  • Q2Z1-KIT-ND
  • AE10713-ND
  • 1568-1216-ND
  • 1568-1152-ND
  • 1528-2304-ND
  • 1286-1117-ND
  • 16-1122-ND
  • SCP301-ND
  • SCP321-ND
  • WSA350-ND
  • 243-1292-ND
  • 1690-1000-ND
  • 1778-1040-ND
  • 1050-1024-ND
  • BBB01-SC-505-ND
  • 1528-2280-ND
  • TL765-ND