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.
- 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.
- Primary bench soldering iron: Aixun T3A. Make sure you get the “T245” version, which uses JBC style tips. This soldering iron is amazing value for money. You can use the supplied third-party tips, or use genuine JBC tips if you prefer. There’s also an optional fancy stand which includes a tip-changing bracket and tip cleaner, so get that too.
- Secondary bench soldering iron: Hakko FX-888D (I have 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: Mechanic HX-T100 63/37 Sn/Pb rosin-core leaded solder 0.6mm. This is surprisingly good solder with an effective flux, and it doesn’t smell bad!
- 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.
- Multimeter: I have several UNI-T UT61E multimeters, and there’s always one with me in my backpack. 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.
- Multimeter probes: The probes included with the UT61E are acceptable, but for only a few dollars you can get some that are much nicer. Select the “20A Silicone” version which have very sharp points and soft cables.
- 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: I have a few different power supplies from RD-Tech. I have a couple of RD Tech RD6006 supplies (60V 6A) for general use, and an RD Tech RD6018 supply (60V 18A) which is useful for high current projects like robotics jobs.
- Function / signal generator: A signal generator is used to produce things like clock signals for microcontrollers, or specific PWM signals, or whatever else you need. My needs are fairly simple, so a UNI-T UTG962E 60MHz function generator does the job very well.
- 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.
- 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.
- MaAnt D1 “B1 Set” speed adjustable grinding pen. Yes, really! This is one of those tools that looks like a gimmick, but after you start using it you’ll love it. It’s like a teeny tiny battery-powered Dremel, and the small grinding tips are fantastic for PCB rework including neatly stripping off solder paste and cutting tracks.
- 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.
- Chair: Stateline “Nicholas”, which is a fantastic chair with a heavy steel frame. I have 2, and after 10 years they’re as good as the day I bought them. I recently upgraded the wheels to ATOMDOC 3″ soft rubber casters, which are amazing! Really smooth and quiet.