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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The tools of the trade

This post is especially dedicated to those fans who pretty much visit my blog daily!

In order to do a good prototyping job, you need good tools. So this is what this post is all about. For some tools, you can get away with the cheap stuff, for others, you can't cut any corners and just need to spend the money.

The photo shows pretty much all the tools that I am using for the prototyping:

  • A good quality solder iron that has temperature control and tips that can be changed. Mine is in the top right of the picture and it is a Weller WES51. I got it from my local Frys store for $100. You can get it online from their website as well. You can go the extra mile and find a station with a temperature sensor inside of the tip and tips that don't oxidize, but it's not really a necessity. Just make sure to keep that sponge wet and the tip wiped and clean.
  • As mentioned earlier, I had to order an SMT rework station to handle the new board and the more advanced parts. It is on the left in the photo and is a Madell Quick857D. It runs about $200 including tax and you can order it directly from the Madell website. Combine this tool with your board, solder paste and your parts, and you have a superfast assembly of your prototypes.
  • Then you will need the regular soldering supplies: lead-free solder (everything needs to be RoHS compliant these days, and make sure to pick the no-clean type), solder paste (if you have a SMT rework station), solder flux (no-clean), and solder wick. Check the Kester website for info on lead-free soldering supplies.
  • You can't get by without a digital multi-meter. You can go cheap here. I have a cheap $5 CEN-TECH P30756 which I bought ages ago and it still works. Just make sure to turn it off after use to save the battery. You can get yours at Harbor Freight Tools for a buck less.
  • While at Harbor Freight, also grab a pack of cheap pliers for $6, a pack of cheap tweezers for $6.50 and a precision knife set for $10. Also pick up a 6inch digital calipers for $20. For calipers you usually want to go the better more expensive brand, but mine was on sale for $16 so I decided to try it and it seems to work very well.

Now, sometimes I ask myself, how come some of this stuff can be so cheap? Apparently most of the tools are made in China nowadays and who knows who produced them: a legitimate company with reasonably well paid employees, or innocently imprisoned slave laborers/kids working 16-20hrs shifts. When it comes to these things, I at least let my consciousness think about those things for a bit to remind myself... I do want to support the people of China, I just don't want to be funding any labor camps (see my human rights related posts on the top right of my blog). How much can an individual contribute... even if it is only a thought, at least you thought about it.

In a lot of cases, even if you go for the more expensive stuff, it still turns out it comes out of China or another Asian country. I guess the only way you can be sure is if it says made in the good old USA.

Well, I hope this is an interesting post for the hobbyists and food for though for everyone else. Take it easy :)


Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't pretend that I would have any idea of how to use any of the equipment in that photo (well, maybe the soldering iron; but only then to make snowmen out of solder).

Good work ol' chap. I see that this is a hobby of yours more than anything else.

Thanks for the site, the work and hopefully (soon) the GPS.


Unknown said...

Nice, weller soldering station. Mine is 20 years old and still works. I didn't even use thr replacement heaters yet, just been through plenty of tips. Happy working, waiting to be able to buy a gps module from you.

Anonymous said...

Nice tools

i also use weller soldering station and the other stuff ;)

i hope you get this done in about 3 months ;P

greetings from germany

Anonymous said...

Keep it up. I would want 1

GPS said...


I did get your email, however, my response to you at your aol address bounced.


Anonymous said...

In the end we will have all the information we want wherever we want it !!! when we want it