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no image Saturday, November 18, 2017 by Joe Farr

What's the most useful tool in your box?

I'm curios what people consider as their most useful or favourite tools. Obviously there will be soldering irons and wire cutters, screwdrivers etc but I was wondering if people have less obvious things they use.

For me, the one thing that's made a HUGE difference in my projects is heat-shrink sleeving. It just makes everything look so neat and professional. When I first started as a youngster it wasn't unheard of for me to scotch tape for insulating mains wires. I thought I'd made it to the big time when I could afford to buy proper electricians tape.

The three tools I seem to always be using are a long pair of tweezers; these are great for pulling at wires, popping IC's from sockets, holding small components for soldering etc, a scalpel knife which is great for fixing shorts after PCBs are etched or cutting into large cables, shaving bits of plastic and even aluminium to get things to fit and my "helping hands" consisting of two articulated arms with a croc clip on each end.

In the good old days I used to drill holes of different sizes into the front edge of my bench. You could then easily hold banana plugs or audio connectors nice and securely for soldering without having to burn your fingers or chase them around the bench with the tip of a soldering iron.

Regards,

Joe

Comments

  • by  David Ashton

    I'm 3 steps ahead of you, Joe.  Some time ago I wrote an article on Favorite & Unusual Tools for EE Times.

    There's also another one on How to Make Holes in Things which may give you some inspiration.

    Re your connector holders.  I made a similar thing using a metal plate on which I mounted (using short stand-offs)  male and female versions of D-9, D-15 and D-25 connectors.  So if you need to solder any of those connectors you just plug it into the corresponding connector on the plate which holds it steady for you.  Unfortunately I did not make the plate big enough to add connectors for the high density 15-way VGA connectors in the same case as the standard 9-pin ones, and I've needed to do a few of those.

    I'm with you though, having the right tool for the right job makes a real difference.  Here's a story where I didn't and used that as an excuse to buy a set of them (Security Torx bits).

    Sounds like you'd have a few tool stories up your sleeve too - if you'd like to write about them let us know here and I'll get Max (the ed) to contact you.

    • by  Aubrey Kagan

      Aside from David's excellent blogs, there are several others but I tried searching the web with the names that I associate with those blogs (Bill Schweber, Martin Rowe, Jon Titus, Max Maxfield) but I couldn't find the ones I was looking for. Perhaps others may be able to pint us at them.

       I did a blog that included a few tools, but is closely related in that it's what you do with your tools that counts"Top 17 Helpful Hints for Constructing Electronic Systems"

  • by  Aubrey Kagan

    Aside from David's excellent blogs, there are several others but I tried searching the web with the names that I associate with those blogs (Bill Schweber, Martin Rowe, Jon Titus, Max Maxfield) but I couldn't find the ones I was looking for. Perhaps others may be able to pint us at them.

     I did a blog that included a few tools, but is closely related in that it's what you do with your tools that counts"Top 17 Helpful Hints for Constructing Electronic Systems"

  • by  Chip Fryer
    Hi Joe

    I think you might have opened a can of worms, this thread could go on forever :)

    I know you are referring to proper tools that we can bash and poke things with but I also include my laptop . Tools such as TINA and Flowcode are used far more frequently than my collection of hammers, although I'm not convinced taking a hammer to my laptop wouldn't solve a lot of issues....

    I also include a "PC" logic analyser I bought for peanuts as a tool as well as my scopes and generators. My variable PSU (although very modest from Maplin) is equally important . A decent search engine can be included too.

    However I do have a pair of tiny long nose pliers I bought as a kid from Marshall's in Glasgow in the 70's that are still going strong. I remember using a leg as a reamer on a plastic case when I didn't have the correct drill size. Make do or do without was certainly my motto at the time :)

    Taking "test and design" out of it and back to the handiest proper tool, thinking long and hard I have to say my Leatherman tool with screwdrivers, knife, pliers and file is probably used more than anything else as I seems to find myself in situations where that's all I have, both in and out of my work environment.

    Next, probably my Dremel (and clones). Incidentally the old Dremel drill stand didn't get the best of reviews but the one I bought about a year ago is certainly suitable for drilling PCBs.

    Good idea about drilling holes in your bench as extra hands. I thought I'd really made the big time when I managed to obtain a multimeter (again from Marshall's). There was nothing I couldn't do with one of these.... or so I thought.

    Regards
  • by  David Ashton (edited)

    Chip, you're right, this is a huge subject.  Some of the best responses to my blogs have been the ones above.

    Dremel tools - i mentioned mine in my "making holes" blog.  Since then I have bought a new one with some loyalty points, and got a stand for it at half price from a hardware chain that went bust.  They are indeed fine things to have in a workshop.

    And multimeters... I have covered those too...  that article had a link to one of Max's blogs entitled What's the Best Travelling Toolkit?  That also attracted lots of comment.

    I have a "Travelling Toolkit" with things like leatherman type tools, compact screwdriver sets, mini meters, etc, which gets the largest amount of possibly-needed tools into the smallest space.  Still a work in progress.

    I used to have a very small, fine soldering iron that I loved for fine work.  Alas, I lent it to someone and never got it back.  Such is life... neither a borrower or a lender be...

    The only thing that comes close to these, comments-wise, have been blogs about food.  But we'd best not go into that here :-)

  • by  Alan Winstanley

    I tend to find that, like clothes, the tools you use the most are the ones that wear out first! My Xcelite electronics pliers, my Xcelite 99-series drivers and wire cutters are still giving sterling service after 3 decades.  20 years ago I was gifted with a Dremel 7.2V drill set as a works leaving present, and its NiCads are still in decent order. I use it regularly, especially for small sanding or grinding tasks. I burned out a mains-powered Dremel when using a ceramic tile cutter tip though. :(

    I still nurture my set of Q-Max chassis cutters even though they are non-metric. They can also be used on some plastics (ABS mainly), but it's best to warm it with a hair dryer first.

    Trouble is, I keep out-growing my toolbox and can never find what I want when I need it...

  • by  Dave Squibb
    Must agree with Q Max cutters Alan although a few more sizes would be good. Useful tip about the hair drier.
  • by  Max Maxfield

    Hi Joe -- it's great to see you here. It's almost impossible to pick a favorite tool (although a hammer rarely fails to come in handy -- especially for re-programming recalcitrant systems LOL).

    A good temperature-controlled soldering iron is a must, as are good needle-nosed pliers and side-cutters.

    I totally agree with you about heat-shrink -- what a wonderful invention -- but one of my very favorite tools at the moment is my Pololu Crimper -- see my column: Must-Have Tools: Pololu Crimper

    • by  Conrad Mannering
      Some  of the tools I like most are the ones that I used in my other disciplines.


      Surgical tools like scalpels cutting pub tracks,  small and large artery clamps make great emergency and temporary heat sinks for tabbed power transistors or voltage regulators.

      Jewellers self closing tweezers for holding and soldering small parts.  I am also using these in the longest type to hold 100 pin chips to the board while the first legs are soldered by hand.

      Binocular stereoscopic microscope for inspecting and of course the jewellers eye glass (loupe).

      And last but not least my beloved hand nibbler for metal, that I have only just located a source for after 30 years of not having one.

      The list could go on.

      • by  Ian Stedman
        Some of my more useful tools are slightly different.


        I use the Electrodroid Android app quite a bit. Apart from the basics (Ohms law, resistor colour codes, 555 timer calculators etc) it also has basic filters, LED resistor calc, power dissipation, PCB trace width tools and many more. The pin-out references are handy when testing a standard lead and the resources list many handy tables.

        A Jokari wire stripper for small 24-30 AWG wire, including PTFE coated is very handy, you'll appreciate this if you've tried to strip PTFE/ETFE wire with normal strippers. A pair of hot strippers (for wire) are expensive :)

        I have five different crimp tools, including a decent ratchet one for car type crimps. Max has covered the joy of crimp tools.


        A USB microscope and a 12x magnifier are handy for inspecting assembled PCBs and after rework to find faults. Cheap but worth their weight in gold.

        Helping hands, with magnifier,for when soldering, enough said.


  • by  Conrad Mannering
    Some  of the tools I like most are the ones that I used in my other disciplines.


    Surgical tools like scalpels cutting pub tracks,  small and large artery clamps make great emergency and temporary heat sinks for tabbed power transistors or voltage regulators.

    Jewellers self closing tweezers for holding and soldering small parts.  I am also using these in the longest type to hold 100 pin chips to the board while the first legs are soldered by hand.

    Binocular stereoscopic microscope for inspecting and of course the jewellers eye glass (loupe).

    And last but not least my beloved hand nibbler for metal, that I have only just located a source for after 30 years of not having one.

    The list could go on.

    • by  Ian Stedman
      Some of my more useful tools are slightly different.


      I use the Electrodroid Android app quite a bit. Apart from the basics (Ohms law, resistor colour codes, 555 timer calculators etc) it also has basic filters, LED resistor calc, power dissipation, PCB trace width tools and many more. The pin-out references are handy when testing a standard lead and the resources list many handy tables.

      A Jokari wire stripper for small 24-30 AWG wire, including PTFE coated is very handy, you'll appreciate this if you've tried to strip PTFE/ETFE wire with normal strippers. A pair of hot strippers (for wire) are expensive :)

      I have five different crimp tools, including a decent ratchet one for car type crimps. Max has covered the joy of crimp tools.


      A USB microscope and a 12x magnifier are handy for inspecting assembled PCBs and after rework to find faults. Cheap but worth their weight in gold.

      Helping hands, with magnifier,for when soldering, enough said.


  • by  Ian Stedman
    Some of my more useful tools are slightly different.


    I use the Electrodroid Android app quite a bit. Apart from the basics (Ohms law, resistor colour codes, 555 timer calculators etc) it also has basic filters, LED resistor calc, power dissipation, PCB trace width tools and many more. The pin-out references are handy when testing a standard lead and the resources list many handy tables.

    A Jokari wire stripper for small 24-30 AWG wire, including PTFE coated is very handy, you'll appreciate this if you've tried to strip PTFE/ETFE wire with normal strippers. A pair of hot strippers (for wire) are expensive :)

    I have five different crimp tools, including a decent ratchet one for car type crimps. Max has covered the joy of crimp tools.


    A USB microscope and a 12x magnifier are handy for inspecting assembled PCBs and after rework to find faults. Cheap but worth their weight in gold.

    Helping hands, with magnifier,for when soldering, enough said.


  • by  Mike P. O'Keeffe
    My office is awash with all sorts of tools with both analog and digital oscilloscopes, soldering irons, DIY reflow oven, 3D printer and enough screwdrivers to set up a shop. It really is hard to choose a favourite. The question itself could either focus on favourite tools to use or most used tools. They're similar, but not always the same.


    Here's my top five favourite to use, in no particular order:

    1) ESD tweezers, use them for everything, placing wires, resistors, capacitors and ICs

    2) USB Microscope for inspecting components and PCBs up close

    3) Light box for taking decent photos of gadgets I've made. This is useful when writing up monthly articles.

    4) Temperature controlled soldering station with LCD

    5) Reflow Oven, I always enjoy watching that point when the solder just begins to reflow and everything sits nicely into place.


    Most used tools are:

    1) Tweezers

    2) Soldering Station

    3) Wire cutters

    4) Scalpel

    5) Flux pen

  • by  Chip Fryer

    Hi

    Further to my earlier mail, those Leatherman's again got me out of bother.

    1) Driving along in the freezing rain I heard a terrible scraping sound from the hire car. Turns out the number plate had came undone on one side. Leatherman soon had the self tapper in a new hole in the plastic bumper.

    2) Received a replacement OSA that was so securely packed with metal banding I had to cut open with the Leatherman's cutter

    3) RJ45 securing pin on a patch cord I needed to remove was broken. Couldn't remove the patch. Yep, Leatherman's "jabby thingy" attachment to the rescue.

    Love that tool.




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