IEEE Spectrum: basics for a maker workbench

IEEE Spectrum put together a solid "DIY Essentials" list for a hardware/electronics workbench. From IEEE Spectrum:
Most of us start out using batteries or cannibalizing power adapters, but a good bench Power Supply lets you control voltages precisely as well as measure and limit the amperage flowing through the circuit. You can get a reasonable single-voltage supply for $120 or so, such as the 18-volt, 3-ampere supply made by Extech Instruments. More advanced ones will offer multiple controllable voltages, useful when projects have more than one input voltage.

A bench supply goes well with a large Protoboard, one that supports multiple supply voltages and has lots of real estate to lay out chips. If you do a quick proof of concept on a protoboard first, you can save yourself a lot of grief when you try to set out a permanent version (or send it out to a printed-circuit-board fab).

"DIY Essentials"


  1. May I comment that being a Maker may include or not include the items mentioned.  My favorite pieces are:7/8″ step drill bit, propane torch, MAPPS (or whatever the equivalent nowadays is) torch, Good small file, Jewelers saw, and RTV silicone. It all depends on what you want to make. p.s. i was at a steam engine festival last weekend, and i absolutely caught the hit-and-miss engine bug.  damnit.

  2. You have to be joking about that power supply. If anyone can find one cheaper than, I want to know. I buy them all the time for my lab.

  3. I’m not sure bout everyone else but 2 part epoxy and zip ties are essential in my shop.

    As for the PSU annomination’s link is the same one I use (a cheaper method for <=12v might be to mod a computer PSU). 

    For the price on oscilloscope you can't beat the Rigol's…some can be hacked to higher level scopes, no sense in buying an older scope DSO's can come in handy.

    If you are doing any SMT reworking make sure you get good flushcuts/nippers. 

    A magnifier, xacto knife, needle files, small saws (and/or Dremel) and electrical tape/heatshrink are also handy… as is as much scrap wire as you can reasonably store (buying wire new can get spendy when old phone line might have worked better).

    If you are going to be soldering a lot get a set of helping hands or board holders.

    It's not about having expensive tools but the right tool can save a lot of time.

    Also, RepRap's are cheaper than the Makerbot's if you need a 3d printer.

  4. Where are the three big boxs of old cables, bits of wire, semi-functional motors, magnets, outdated computer peripherals, switches, kitchen sink parts, and other less-identifiable but still potentially useful bits?  You know, the boxes that you set out to organize once or twice a while ago, so half the stuff is wrapped in rubber bands or stuffed in smaller containers and zip locked bags?

    1. Yeah…the one labeled “Scrap electronics” where all semi useful stuff sleeps.  The half bundled wires that get tangled on all the stuff that isn’t.  I am such a packrat.  I keep broken car parts I will never use also…I have to fight to convince myself that it is safe to throw them out when you no longer own the car.

      Also, there is no blood anywhere on that workbench from what I can see.

  5. I’m not a maker in the “Boing Boing” sense, but I do electrical/mechanical/optical prototyping professionally. If you can pool the resources to get one, I second that suggestion to get an oscilloscope. These are ridiculously useful tools, good for everything from debugging noise and ground problems on serial connections to verifying motor and actuator timings to monitoring thermal probes.

    I also recommend some sort of scheme for tracking hardware (screws, bolts, etc.) especially if you are taking apart or modifying purchased items. At home, I like those magnetized small parts dishes. At work, we also use copious zip-lock bags and a label printer.

    On a related notes, maintaining some kind of tool discipline is a good idea if you are sharing a space (have fixed locations for every tool, make everyone put things away before they leave). Arguably. it’s almost as important as having the right tools in the first place. In some aviation shops, tool boxes are signed in and out of inventory and are inspected daily. Allowing discrepancies  is a fireable offense. Though they are more worried about wrenches getting sucked into turboshaft engines than inconvenience, working with an organized tool inventory is a much happier and more productive experience than rummaging through a toolbox for five minutes looking for the right size screwdriver or the right wire strippers.

    This is one area where I don’t practice what I preach, since I work until the last minute before I have to run someplace else and leave everything out.

  6. SMT? Diagonal cutters? I don’t get it. I’ve been doing SMT work for 20 years and never once used diagonal cutters for that. But a good $50 pair of flush cutters is essential for building regular through-hole boards well.

    If you do SMT, the tool you really need is a microscope. Good zoom binocular 7-30x, with ring light of some sort.  And Kester 331 liquid flux and solder, and hot water and compressed air to remove the flux.

    1. I used to breadboard music-related circuits at home (see Delton Horn and
      Craig Anderton’s books), with varying success.  But I enjoyed it so
      much I got a job at IBM, making circuit board repairs (mainly swapping out bad semiconductors, or placing missing parts, but also fixing circuit traces).  Some boards were still thru-hole when I got there (1993) but mostly it was SMT so we used the microscopes all the time.  It got to the point where I (mostly) stopped working on my own projects at home because I liked having the microscope so much. (When I did build something I took the shortcut and bought a PAiA kit.)

      That may have been my favorite job ever, but I was living hand-to-mouth on what they were paying me.

    2. Maybe I should clarify…notice I said reworking.  For me it is easier to cut cheap IC’s from a heavily populated board (i.e. Creative X-fi sound card modding) as opposed to trying to remove it whole.  I had one case where cheaper cutters (through hole cutters) caused the IC to spin on the last leg and tear the pad from the board.  So I guess it was only one case which caused me to buy the specific SMT flush cuts/nippers.  Since then I have one set of SMT tools and one set for larger through hole.  I use them frequently, although, in regular SMT production I doubt you would ever need them unless you were trimming some leads to fit a pad.

  7. I would put my Dremel tool on the essentials list, I constantly find myself reaching for it. With the insane amount of different bits you can get these days, it’s a supremely useful and flexible tool.

  8. Typical bench supply is +/- 12V and +5 with adjustable current limiting. Another item that was once pretty common is an autotransformer used to adjust the AC going into a piece of equipment under test. That way you can turn up the juice and locate the source of the smoke before the fuses go.

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