Gear

This is some of the tools, equipment, and test gear that I use personally. Some of these are affiliate links, so I’ll get a small percentage of any sales made from them. However, I never link to something I don’t use myself. These items are all in regular use in my own lab.

The gear I buy tends to be “high-end hobbyist / low-end professional”. I aim to spend just enough money for good quality tools that will handle regular long-term use, but without paying a premium price for high-end professional gear.

If you buy really cheap, crappy gear then you’ll regret it later. Buy once, cry once! But we all have to be careful with our budgets, so there’s no point buying top-of-the-range if you don’t need it.

Soldering

  • Microscope: I use a Fyscope simul-focal trinocular head with cantilever arm, and camera. You can also get it without the camera. A microscope is one of the best tools you can ever get! Once you’ve used one, you’ll wonder how you survived without it. The cantilever arm is the most expensive option but it’s worth it, because you can push the microscope to wherever you want to use it. When you’re finished, you can swing it out of the way.
  • Bench soldering iron: Hakko FX-888D (I have 2 of the older FX-888, the “D” variant is the newer digital version). I almost always use the T18-K (“shape K”) tip, which is like an angled wedge. It’s much more versatile than a thin pointed tip, and keeps more thermal mass close to the contact point.
  • Portable soldering iron: TS-100. I personally prefer the “KU” tip on this iron, which is like a smaller version of the “K” tip I use on my Hakkos. I’ve also replaced the firmware with Ben Brown’s far superior (and Open Source) firmware. Grab it here.
  • Solder wick: NTE Electronics SW02-25 no-clean wick.
  • Flux: Chipquik SMD29130CC no-clean tack flux.
  • Hot air: 858D hot-air rework station.
  • Solder reel stand.
  • Solder: Ikevida 0.4mm lead-free solder. I bought this while I was in China and it doesn’t seem to be easily available elsewhere.
  • SMT reflow oven: Puhui T-962C. The “T-962C” model is the big brother of the popular T-962 oven, which is a more practical size for hobby use. Get the smaller T-962 unless you need to process a lot of boards!
  • PCB pre-heater: Aoyue 853 PCB pre-heater.
  • Tweezers: Fine tip non-magnetic tweezers.

Test Gear

  • Multimeter: I have several UNI-T UT61E multimeters, and there’s always one with me in my back-pack. It’s not a Fluke, but it’s a huge step up from the typical hobbyist multimeters. UNI-T is an established Chinese brand that is well trusted, and makes good quality gear. They have a wide range of test equipment but the model to get is the UT61E. Be careful when buying, because they have other meters with almost identical model numbers but very different features. I’ve hacked mine to add backlighting to the LCD.
  • Oscilloscope: I have the Rigol DS2072 2-channel DSO with the 200MHz upgrade and all software options enabled, but this seems hard to find these days. A newer alternative is the super-popular Rigol DS1054Z, which has 4 channels but less bandwidth and shallower memory depth. If I was buying a scope today I’d probably get the DS1054Z.
  • Lab power supply: RD Tech RD6006.
  • USB power meter: UNI-T UT658B. Handy to see how much power is being used by microcontroller boards like Arduino, Wemos D1 Mini, NodeMCU, and other USB devices.

Hand Tools

  • Lindstrom Rx8150 micro-bevel sidecutters. This is probably the most I’ve ever spent on a basic hand-tool, but the quality is amazing.
  • HS-D1 automatic wire strippers.

Miscellaneous Equipment

  • USB hubs: I have 2 of the Simplecom CH371 ultra-slim aluminium 7-port USB 3.0 hub flush-mounted under the shelf directly above my electronics bench, so that I can conveniently plug in devices while they are sitting on the bench. However, this seems to have been replaced by a newer model called the CH372. Another similar form factor is the Belkin F4U041TT 7-port ultra-slim desktop hub, but it’s only USB 2.0. I also have a mBeat 4-port USB3.0 + 3-port USB2.0 switchable powered hub, which has the advantage that individual ports can be turned on and off without unplugging.
  • Thermal camera: PureThermal 2 with Lepton sensor. I have the older 2.5 sensor which are now obsolete, and have been replaced by the 3.5 sensor. They come up on GroupGets and other places from time to time.