This is my new project board / soldering station. It is beyond awesome! Until very recently, I lived in a house with no workshop. All my large projects had to be done in the carport, which sucks when you live in a place that's as windy and rainy as western Oregon. All of my small projects had to be done on the dinner table, which I learned quickly isn't the best place to be soldering or using an exacto knife.
So I built a little soldering station. It was basically just a board with some containers, a spool of solder, some alligator clips on semi-rigid copper wire, and a plug-in for my soldering iron and hot glue gun. It was too small for all the tools and such that I accumulated, but it worked out all right for a couple of years.
One day, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I figured I would document the process, as it seems to me anyone who was in a similar situation (i.e.: no shop) will find it useful. Furthermore, now that I do have a shop, I've discovered that having all of my soldering and electrical testing equipment in one place and mobile is still incredibly helpful, since it's easy to move everything at once or relocate to somewhere else in the house if I need to.
***UPDATE 5/4/10: I'm now offering a patch to anyone who builds their own project board or mobile soldering station based on my instructable. All you have to do is post some pictures in the comments section!***
Step 1: Planning
This is the old board. As you can see, it's a tad cluttered. It lived on top of a bookshelf, and I'd usually drop a tool or two every time I took it down. This was definitely not the ideal board, but I was sad to see it go, since it had been with me through so many projects.
The first step was to decide what I wanted to have on the new board. I definitely wanted to keep everything I already had, and there were a few new things I wanted to add to the mix:
- Soldering iron with stand
- Craft boxes
- LED tester
- Replace the old 3 plug-in with a power strip
- Use a Helping Hand instead of the alligator clips
- Modify the Helping Hand to make it a bit more useful
- Add a variable power supply
- Replace the alligator clips with LEDs to provide flexible lights
- Add a magnifying glass with lights
- Cups to hold tools and parts or garbage
- Magnetic parts tray
- Small breadboard
I set all the old stuff out on the table along with the new components I wanted to add, and measured what size board I would need.
I took the measurements to my scrap wood pile (in the carport!) and found a hunk of 3/4" plywood left over from when I built a bed for my daughter that was just about the right size.
Next, I'll describe the parts I made/modified to add to the board.
Step 2: More Helpful Helping Hands
I'm sure most of you own one of these, or have considered getting one. While I thought a magnifying glass would be useful, I never liked how it was rigidly mounted to the top of the helping hands. It was always in the way and I never used it since it was too much of a pain in the butt to move to a useful position. If I turned it backwards to get it out of the area I was trying to work in, it made the back side too heavy and the whole thing had a tendency to fall over.
I originally though I might replace it with a third alligator clip, but I decided two was probably enough. Instead, I replaced it with a powerful magnet I got from dealextreme.com. If whatever I'm working with has anything ferrous, this magnet will latch on and help stabilize it, no problem.
Parts used for this are:
Neodymium magnet(s) -- I used two stacked wafers
The first step was to remove the magnifying glass. I was a bit rough with it and bent up the metal frame, but not too much to be useless. Set the magnifying glass and frame aside, you'll need them later!
Next, I temporarily hot glued the magnets in place at the end of the arm, and then used some E6000 epoxy to finish the job. I've spent some time and money monkeying around with Loctite and other brands of epoxy, and there is in my opinion, no more useful and versatile epoxy to be found. Seriously, they ought to put me on salary, I'll sing their praises 'til the cows come home.
After the epoxy dried, I just clamped the arm back in place, and it was done! My Helping Hands are now at the very least 50% more helpful.
Step 3: Benchtop Variable Power Supply
Thanks to abizar for this instructable and Sitnalta for this instructable for the inspiration and fine documentation for this step. I'm not going to repeat their excellent instructables here, but I did make one small modification to their designs.
abizar mentions that the purple wire is always on, as long as the power supply is plugged in to the wall. He says that, "It might be useful to drive an LED from this as an indication that the mains are on." I took it a step further than just that (though I did add an indicator light). I used this as a driver for the various lights I built into the board that work as long as the power is turned on at the power strip. More on this in a future step.
I made sure that after I had all the other wires bundled and the whole thing screwed back together I still had the purple and one black wire exposed for later use.
At this point, I epoxied this to the back side of my new project board.
Step 4: Lighted Magnifying Glass
I repurposed the magnifying glass from the Helping Hands for this step. If you're following along, here are the parts you'll need:
A magnifying glass
5 white superbright LED's
Wire -- I like to use speaker wire since it's flexible and already has a well marked positive and negative stuck together
The resistance calculator I used said I wouldn't need a resistor for 5 white LED's wired in parallel with 5V@1000ma, so I left that part out. The LEDs are very bright, and I've noticed that they have a tendency to overheat a bit if left on for too long (like more than 20 minutes). They've never burned out, but if I were doing this over I'd probably use a 10 or 20 ohm resistor in series with this circuit.
First off, I covered all the exposed metal of the magnifying glass with electrical tape so the LED's wouldn't be shorted out.
Next, I bent the leads of the LEDs so they were on the outside of the frame and the LEDs all pointed down through the glass. I hot glued them all in place, and then used bits of wire to solder them negative to negative and positive to positive, then attached about 18 inches of wire to the end. I covered it all up with more electrical tape, and then set it aside for a future step (see step 6, Wiring the Board).
As you can see, the glass works like a dream! That picture was taken left handed while holding the glass in my right, and the writing on that little circuit board is still pretty clear!
Step 5: Flexible Board Lights
As having good lighting while working on small parts is very important, and since I'd replaced my original flexible wire alligator clips with the much more stable (and now more useful!) Helping Hands, I came up with these to put in their place.
The components needed are:
White superbright LEDs (I used 4)
470 ohm resistors
Copper craft wire
The doorbell wire can be found in any store that sells hardware, and the craft wire can be found in pretty much any craft store. The craft wire is tough and flexible, and despite being bent this way and that for the last couple of years, has yet to break from too much bending. You will need to scrape the enamel coating off each end of this wire before you start. Doorbell wire is just like the craft wire, but thinner and with a plastic coating. These will be your positive and negative wires.
First, you'll need make a loop at one end of the craft wire. Next, after stripping the ends off of the doorbell wire and scraping the enamel off the craft wire, wrap the doorbell wire all the way down the length of the craft wire. Next, you'll solder one lead of the resistor to the anode of the LED and the other lead to the doorbell wire. Solder the cathode of the LED to the end of the craft wire that you didn't make a loop in, and wrap the whole assembly in electrical tape. Leave the looped end of the craft wire and the corresponding end of the doorbell wire exposed. Now just remember, craft wire is positive and doorbell wire is negative.
Set this aside with the magnifying glass from step 4, repeat as needed, and move on to step 6, Wiring the Board.
As you can see from the picture below, even in a completely dark room, these little lights can illuminate your project nicely, and can be bent to point at whatever you need to see.
Step 6: Wiring the Board
At this point it's time to add power to your creation!
For this step you'll need:
Benchtop variable power supply (Step 3)
Flexible board lights (Step 5)
Lighted magnifying glass (Step 4)
2 Switches (see the picture below)
1 LED of whatever color you like
First, secure the power strip to the board. The best way to do this is to use hot glue to tack it in place, then epoxy it for permanence. I have found this this is one of the best solutions for permanently attaching something without screws, nails, staples, etc. For my setup, I shortened the cord for the power supply, so that is was just long enough to go from the nearest plug, run along the back edge of the board, and up to the power supply, without any loose cord hanging off.
Secondly, take your perfboard and build the circuit shown below, placing it on top of your power supply. Use some more speaker wire to run from the circuit board to where you're going to place the flexible lights, running your wire along the edge of the board wherever possible to keep it out of the way.
When you've found the places on your board where you'd like to attach the flexible lights, insert the wood screws through the loops you made at the base of the lights. Just before you finish screwing them in, put the positive speaker wire in with the loop, and screw down tight. Then solder the negative end to the doorbell wire.
I ended up using a piece of plastic casing from some other project as a cover for the circuit board, as well as a place to attach the switches.
By the way, this is the first time I've ever made a circuit diagram. Comments? Questions? Did I mess something up or leave something out? I made it in Paint, is there a good piece of free software out there that could do this for me?
Step 7: Magnetic Parts Tray
This is the last part I made for my project board. It is simple a 99 cent paint pallet with 6 thin neodymium magnets epoxied to the bottom. First, you can trim off the border of the tray, it's not required. Second, epoxy one of the magnets to the bottom of each depression. When it dries, you're done!
This works quite well as a place to put loose screws and anything else ferrous (LEDs, resistors, button cells, etc.). No more lost screws when I'm taking something apart!
Step 8: Everything Else and Final Assembly
Here's the part where it all comes together. For this final, you'll need all your little tools and such, as well as epoxy, wood screws, and small magnets.
Craft boxes - these are available pretty much anywhere. I drilled two holes in the bottom and screwed it on to the board. These are used to hold alligator clips, desoldering braid, extra soldering iron tips, etc.
Tool tub - simply a sour cream container screwed to the board.
Helping hands - not actually attached, it just lives on the board.
Analog multimeter - cheap, small and functional. I have a nice digital multimeter around here somewhere, but I almost never use it. This is not actually attached, I just positioned the tool tub and the power supply so the the multimeter would slide in between. As an interesting side note, I discovered the the wires fit exactly in the banana plug holes used in the variable power supply.
Variable power supply - as discussed before, this is epoxied to the board and permanently plugged into the power strip.
Magnifying glass - the frame is made of metal, so I epoxied some magnets in a circle on one side of the variable power supply to keep it out of the way but easily accessible.
LED tester - I picked this up from dealextreme, it's very good for doing quick tests on LED's to see their color and brightness at different power levels. I epoxied a couple of magnets to the back of it so it would stick to the power supply.
Magnetic parts tray - epoxied to the board.
Breadboard - purchased from Radio Shack. I epoxied one set of magnets to the board and one set to the breadboard. That way it can be moved if need be.
Garbage can - originally screwed to the board, but I decided it would be much nicer if I could take it off to dump it out, so I did the same thing I did with the breadboard, one set of magnets epoxied to the bottom and one set epoxied to the board.
Spool of solder - I drilled a hole lengthwise in a 1/2" square by 2" long dowel and screwed it to the board with a 2 1/2" long wood screw, and simply set the spool over it.
Tip tinner - also from Radio Shack, this came with a piece of double sided tape on the bottom.
Power strip - as previously discussed, this is epoxied to the board.
Soldering iron - I drilled a hole in the stand and screwed it to the board.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
I hope you find this instructable helpful. Having one spot to put all of your most often used tools and such is very useful, whether you do it because you don't have a workshop, or because you want to keep your workshop organized.
Please take a moment to leave a rating or a comment! I want to know what you thought, if you have any questions, etc. Did I leave something out? Do I need to clarify something?
Thank you for your time and happy tinkering!
Also, post some pictures of your own soldering board and I'll send you a DIY patch!