When setting up your own hardware lab, it’s important to think carefully about what is a necessity and what can be avoided. Although every project is different and may require a specific set of specialized tools, there are certain basics which every hardware lab needs. A few great tools will go a long way and here we list the essentials that every hardware lab needs. Read on to find out.
1. Wire Cutters/Wire Strippers: This hand-held tool is an essential that helps you strip away any plastic coating from around copper wires. When you press the stripper into the closed position, teeth on this tool cut through the plastic coating while simultaneously not touching the copper wire that sits in the core of the wire. When this motion is repeated several times it eventually removes and gets rid of the coating. Unlike a wire cutter, a wire stripper cannot cut the wire completely. Although these are usually simple devices and resemble a pair of pliers, some more complex versions are also available for advanced users which allow you to cut and remove the wire coating in one motion. If you haven’t used wire cutters a lot in the past, practice by cutting female headers. You can even buy these in bulk from a female header manufacturer.
2. ESD-Safe Tweezers: The ESD-epoxy coating made of polyester and epoxy resins makes these tweezers better equipped to handle higher temperatures and provide a better grip for the operator. This tool makes it easy to pick up objects that are too small (or too hot) to hold with your hands.
3. Set of Screwdrivers: A varied set of screwdrivers will allow you to work with all types of electronics and appliances. The end of each screwdriver will be different, allowing each one to work with a different screw type.
4. Universal Crimp Tool: This is a useful tool that is a must-have in your hardware lab. It works by joining two pieces of metal by deforming one or both and joining them in a way that makes them hold each other. When a phone cable is created, for example, it is done by using a crimping tool to join connectors to both sides of the phone. To use the crimping tool, first place each of the wires into the connector and then place the connector with the wires into the crimping tool. Squeeze the handles together, which will cause punctures to be made in the connector and by holding each wire, it allows data to be transmitted through the connector. If your aim is to create a crimp connection which connects to a pin header manufacturer, you will need to purchase female crimp pins.
5. Soldering Iron: This is an essential tool for any electronics or hardware lab. It is a hand-held tool that helps melt solder, thereby creating a joint between two surfaces. You can either plug in your soldering iron directly into an outlet or use a temperature controlled soldering station. A resistive heater keeps the tip of a soldering iron hot and a temperature sensor monitors the tool to make sure the tip remains at a steady heat level. You can also buy various sizes and shapes for the soldering iron’s tip. Each one will be suitable for a different type of soldering project.
6. Solder Sucker: If you make a mistake while soldering, use this important tool to manually remove solder from a printed circuit board. This tool is also known as a Desoldering pump and is available in either a plunger style or a bulb style. Both types work by creating suction to remove the solder.
7. Stereomicroscope: Because electronic components can potentially be extremely small, it can be difficult to see them properly with the naked eye. A magnifying lens can provide a 5-10x magnification and if you will be completing a lot of work involving surface-mount assembly and inspection work, then investing in a stereomicroscope is highly recommended. This tool provides a 25-90x magnification which is great for board inspection and precision soldering. You can get a stereomicroscope with either a fixed or variable zoom with different lighting options and with different optical paths which can be used to mount cameras and can be used by multiple users.
8. LCR Meter: This tool measures Inductance, Capacitance and Resistance. It comes in two main variants: a cheaper version which only measures the total impedance of any component and a more expensive version which measure all the different parts of the component including Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) and Quality (Q). It’s better to invest in a higher quality LCR meter because the cheaper one is not very accurate.
9. Oscilloscope: Being able to study signals and their shapes is an essential part of measuring your work in electronics. An oscilloscope will display signals in a graphical format, on two axes, where Y represents voltage and X represents time. Using this method, you can instantly see the results of any work done on an electronic circuit. Along with monitoring performance, an Oscilloscope also lets you pinpoint problems with your work. Available in both digital and analog versions, this tool can be costly if you want the higher end model.
The digital version lets you measure peak-to-peak voltage, pulse width, signal comparisons and rise time.
When you are ready to create your hardware lab, make sure to take into consideration these 9 tools. While every project will have a different set of specific tools, these basic tools form the foundation of a resourceful hardware lab.
Guest article written by: Rachel Oliver is a freelancer write and currently associated with ismolex – Pin header Female header connectors manufacturer. She likes to write about anything and everything under the sun, but themes like technology, electronics & gadgets, sports, construction and maintenance interests her more. You can get in touch with her on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.