Basic electronics lab kit

I get asked from time to time about basic kit for lab work which includes:

  • prototyping
  • debugging
  • soldering

Basic list:

  • soldering
    • soldering iron - if you plan on working with small smt components you will need a second soldering iron. There are some units that have two pencils as part of one power supply. This is because you need to heat each end simultaneously when removing smt resistors and capacitors.
    • solder – you probably want a no-clean flux (Kester 23-6337-8807)
      • use leaded solder – lead-free is much harder to work with and you can re-work prototype lead-free boards with leaded solder
    • solder wick (NTE SW03-10). The last solder wick I used was Chemtronics Rosin SD 80-4-10. Not sure how well the no clean variant will work.
      • used to remove solder bridges and generally solder where you don’t want it.
    • tack flux – not sure if there is a no clean variant of this – last I used was Chip Quick SMD4300TF10
    • isopropyl alcohol and q-tips (used to clean up soldering residue and make things look nice) NOTE: rubbing alcohol has 30% water, does not work as well as isopropol alcohol and may contaminate the board.
  • misc tools
    • precision snips
    • dental pick
    • wire stripper
    • tweezers – don’t skimp here as this is one of your most important tools.
    • exacto knife – handy for cutting traces
    • 10x loupe – handy for quickly checking something
    • eyeglass loupe – bausch and lomb metal clip on eyeglass loupe 3x 5x (not sure if you can still buy these), but with these I can solder/re-work about anything)
  • Wire
    • 30 awg wirewrap wire for rework
    • 22 and 26 AWG stranded hookup wire for making various connections
    • 38 awg magnet wire for really fine rework (optional)
  • digital multi meter
  • oscilloscope
  • bench power supply
  • screw drivers
    • Wiha brand was recommended
    • I really like this set of micro screwdrivers – excellent for terminal blocks.
    • T1 to T10 torx drivers – lots of stuff uses them now
  • allen wrenches - both metric and English
  • wire strippers

Advanced list

Stuff you don’t need to get started, but may come in handy.

(still working on adding links/PNs)

Some other lists:

I don’t recommend attempting to use lead free solder if you are just learning how to solder. Lead free is for advanced users only due to the difficulty of working with the stuff, especially on small components. Higher iron temperatures are required, the solder oxidizes very rapidly, and larger tips are needed due to the additional thermal mass needed for working with lead free. A good tack flux that won’t burn at 700F is required as most work needs to be done fully submerged in flux to get a decent hand soldered joint. Since tin dissolves iron, soldering iron tips have a very short life working with lead free, depending on the solder alloy. The most common alloy is SAC3 but it is horribly expensive since it is 2.6% silver. I have a selection of experimental alloys from the early days of RoHS but these are no longer commercially available. A 1/2 pound spool of 24ga SAC305 at DigiKey is $56. Also beware of the flux used. Some compositions form a hard crust on the soldering iron tips at these higher temperatures which is almost impossible to remove.

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