Author Options:

Knick-Knacks For Setting up an Electronics Bench Answered

I've decided to start doing some fiddling around with circuit board electronics such as arduino and LEDs. I've got the basic tools e.g. soldering iron, helping hands, solder, etc. I'm planning on getting a temp control. 

However, I know from long experience in tech matters that there are always some little "knick-knacks" that you always end up needing. For example, in most basic machine repair, you always find you need an assortment of screws, bolts, nuts and washers around if you don't want to have to go to the hardware store twice a day. 

So what kind of little fiddling things should I look at getting that the more experienced might have on hand without thinking about. Are there tapes, wires, odd little tools, collections of components etc that are useful but no obvious to novices? Is there something you'd wish you had when you first started? 

Heh, I am afraid I don't know exactly what to ask for because I'm asking about things I don't know to ask for.  


Get an oscilloscope. THE most useful tool you can have for electronics.

What kind of task would you use an oscilloscope for in this kind of hobby work? Most of this modern stuff seems all digital and I always associate them with more sophisticated analog work.

What kind of tasks ?
  • Is your digital signal happening when it should ?
  • When it happens, is it the right level, or is something loading it ?
  • Is it noisy ?
  • When your arduino project doesn't work, is the supply dipping very quickly, and tripping the reset ?
'scopes are used in ALL electronics work - analogue or digital - digital signal analysis is as fine an art as analogue. I think you'll be surprised just how often you'd deploy one, if you had one.

This is a particularly neat little scope you can pick up


I see. I will take your advice to heart and put that on my list.

IF you learn how to use it....otherwise it becomes the biggest paperweight in the room LOL

I actually know how to use one. I was educated as a biologist and back in college I worked as an undergraduate in a lab where we used oscilloscopes to measure nerve conduction in the claw nerves of blue crabs.

Well there you go :-)  Go for as many functions as you can afford. It is a pain now a days to use the analogue / crude ones I have (unless I am making a simple measurement of waveform etc. )

yeah, well the same applies to a multimeter, just smaller - any tool is a paperweight if you don't use it.

Yes, that is true, but I bet more people know how to use a multimeter then an O-scope, analog or digital :-)

I think you have to not be afraid of 'em. I've used one since I was about 10 years old.

There are so many classes of problem - questions asked here - where even a scope will find the fault in seconds


I don't think people are afraid to use them. It is no one really has access to one because they are expensive. True, costs have come down and there are digital versions, when I was growing up, the only people with oscilloscopes were busy trying to get people to the moon and wouldn't lend them out.

Yes, and there are several ways to "make" one's computer into an O-scope too.

It is steep enough if a person "thinks" they may only use it once or twice...

I have 2 analogue ones I picked up at Hamfests years ago....they are useful to me as I don't do a lot of "digital stuff" :-)

. If you can figure out how to use a multimeter, you can figure out how to use a 'scope.

Hmm, my 2 analogue scopes have like 8 knobs on the one and at least 5 on the other...."using it" wasn't hard, reading it was a bit of a stretch without the manuals.

.  solid conductor jumper wires, if you plan on using a breadboard.
.  jumpers with alligator clips.
.  desoldering wick, solder sucker, &c.
.  heat-shrink tubing in various sizes and colors.
.  hemostats.
.  wire nuts.
.  terminal strips for i/f'ing with the outside world.
.  Stake-onstm (crimp connectors). Fork lugs, ring, butt splice, and M/F connectors.

* A good DMM, if you don't already have one
*a means of organizing and storing small parts. I use the transparent plastic boxes sold for storing fishing tackle. The organizers with many small draws can be useful too.
*a collection of resistors in common values like 10k, 1k, etc
*as you begin tinkering, build up a set of wires with connectors that can be plugged into a solderless breadboad (if you use one). For example, common audio jacks with wires attached, or whatever connectors may frequently use.

Does DMM stand for Digital MultiMeter?

What are the most common resistor values? Does anyone provide assortments of resistors? Can they be harvested from scrapped components?

Yes, DMM stands for digital multimeter.
These should be relatively affordable nowadays. I would avoid the super cheap (~$5) ones sold at some places like Harbor Freight.
If you are just getting into electronics there are many meters in the $30 to $50 range that would likely fit your needs.

I would avoid harvesting resistors from scrapped products, unless you are super desperate or there is something very special about the parts. I find that spending the time and effort of desoldering them sucessfully is more trouble than purchasing new ones.

Resistors come in what are called "preferred series", There are several series of increasingly large numbers of resistors.
This is a typical decade

10 12 15 18 22 27 33 39 47 56 68 82

100 120 150 180 220 270 etc

1000 1200 1500 1800

10000 12000 15000 18000

Quite a lot of distributors will supply a "starter kit" of resistors - get 1/8W


A coffee maker or electric tea kettle. Cappuccino machine if you can afford one. Maybe a Jet-spray fountain drink dispenser...

All you need is a well-lighted sturdy work surface, preferably fireproof with a clear enough area to work on and a nice soldering iron stand/holder. Of course a big power outlet strip and the class BC fire extinguisher nearby. Tweezers and picks, a big magnifying glass, a magnetic or spring claw pickup tool, vacuum, shop vac, bench brush, compressed air blowers/dusters, sandpaper/emery cloth, electronics contacts spray cleaner fluid/lube, micro screwdrivers, various screwdriver bits assortment, scrap cables/wires/jack/plugs/old earbuds speakers, bits of perfboard, etc...

I think I already have everything except the "electronics contacts spray cleaner fluid/lube." What kind/brand/quality would you recommend?

My level of ignorance of the subject is so profound I don't know if I need something that cost $50 a bottle or something that cost $1.99,

Actually, it may be tough to find nowadays since it is or was TV tuner knob cleaner, if you had old TVs with a rotary tuner dial switch. I've got a really old can of it on the shelf. Comes in handy when you think a switch is so old and has dust or oxidized or dirty sliding potentiometers that might benefit from having cleaner contacts to help troubleshoot something. Jet it in the switch like we use WD-40 for everything else. Old tube testers were fun to use.