Electronics Workspace Essentials

Whether you are pro engineer or maker, you must have an adequately equipped electronics workspace for designing and testing your projects. Understandably, you will have to work within the constraints of your budget while still creating a space that is desirable and practical. If you're looking for tips, tricks and suggestions, we're here to give you a basic summary of where to start. We will give you simple advice and recommendations on affordable tools, test gear, lighting, energy sources, prototyping, and workbench organization.
 
Electronics Workspace

Electronics Workspace Furniture & Lighting

Firstly, a quality electronics workspace requires a sturdy, flat surface which is preferably white. This will enable better lighting through increased reflection and will also assist you in quickly locating and recognizing parts and tools.

Nobody wants an achy back. Make sure you get yourself a high-quality, height adjustable swivel chair to make your long soldering and design sessions all the more comfortable.

Furthermore, make sure you have plenty of light. A good LED lamp should be positioned in an upper-left side position on your workbench for those right-handed and visa-versa for those who are left-handed. This way, a shadow will not be cast from your working hand over the work.

You'll likely want to get up close and personal with your project and, in any case, components are getting smaller and smaller. A solution like the Toolcraft Helping Hand LED Magnifier will help you by combining excellent LED lighting with magnification to provide an excellent third/helping hand.
 
Toolcraft Magnifier for Electronics Workspace
Toolcraft Helping Hand LED Magnifier

Electronics Workspace Organisation

The organisation of your electronics workspace should be both personal and organic. That said, having your equipment readily available at arm's length can make a task less stressful, quicker, more meaningful and will generally give you a more satisfying time.

The bane of any electronics enthusiast is tangled wires. This problem can be solved by constructing a simple wire spool. Ridiculously easy to build, these can consist simply of an old piece of scrap dowel secured between two pieces of square shaped wood.

Here are some more simple tips to improve your efficiency and arrangement:
 
  • Use labeled jam jars for spare parts, fasteners, screws etc.
  • Use colour coding for different components
  • Consider purchasing pre-assembled tool-kits. iFixit specialize in high-quality, easy access kits in handy pouches to provide all the tools you need (and none that you don't!) 
 
iFixit Took Kit
iFixit Tool Kit

Test and Measurement Equipment

When it comes to testing equipment, there is no substitute for quality. Quality in electronics testing is synonymous with accuracy. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started:
 
  • Multimeter: A good multimeter is the staple of any workbench. You'll need this to measure continuity, resistance, capacitance, and current. Furthermore, it should be able to measure in the micro-amps range. To be confident your multimeter is within specification, it's worthwhile sticking to named brands including PeakTech, Siglent, Fluke, Voltcraft etc. Elektor sells a diverse range of high-quality multimeters.
  • Power Supply: You'll need at least one power supply, preferably one with a variable output. You can never have enough power, so you might want three or four of these.
  • Signal Generator: You'll likely need a way of generating a signal. Therefore a signal generator capable of generating basic signals including triangular, sine, and square is a must.
  • Oscilloscope: Another necessity for your workbench is an oscilloscope, which is essentially a voltmeter that provides extra visual information. Standalone units can be bulky and cumbersome, so, therefore, consider a modern USB alternative like the SmartScope.
 
SmartScope USB Oscilloscope
SmartScope USB Oscilloscope

Tools of the Trade

"A workman is only as good as his tools." That old adage is never truer here. Quality tools produce quality work. Want to know which tools are crucial for an effective workspace? Here are some recommendations:
 
  • Soldering Equipment: The most fundamental tool to the electronics enthusiast's workbench is surely the soldering station. Whether you're performing repairs or constructing circuits, a quality piece of equipment is vital for the optimum outcome. There's no need to spend hundreds here, just make sure you get a decent branded variable temperature device with a footprint not too large for your bench. Whilst not inexpensive, the Weller WT 1014 offers an excellent all-round quality solution. Also, don't forget to purchase a good solder sucker and solder proof mat. It will save your bench and your components in the long run!
  • Fan: Instead of spending hundreds on an extractor, a simple desktop fan will help get rid of those nasty solder fumes. It will also help keep you cool during the hot summer months
  • Side Cutters and Pliers: A good quality pair of precision, flush-cutting side cutters are a necessity, as are snipe-nosed and flat-nosed pliers. The Lindstrom brand provides an excellent range of these tools.
  • Glue: The hot glue from a glue gun has a wide variety of uses: among the most important are providing mechanical support to electronic components and wires, electrical insulation, and helping in general electronics assembly
  • Wire Strippers: When your side cutters aren't up to the job, wire strippers will always be a useful addition to your tool collection
  • Digital Calipers: Digital calipers are a requisite on any home workbench and have largely superseded traditional rulers for measuring. That said, you will likely still need a basic metal ruler.
  • Knife: A good knife or scalpel is essential for re-working and etching tracks into your PCBs
  • Screwdriver Set: You'll likely need tools for taking things apart and putting them back together. Consider screwdriver sets containing precision, slotted, Phillips, Torx types and Allen keys. Having these items will make your tasks and operations flow as smoothly and stress-free as possible

Stock up on basic components. If you are on a tight budget and can’t stock your workspace in a single shopping spree, make a list of your most frequently used components and start with those.

Key Components and Supplies

We recommend the following key components and supplies.
 
  • Solderless Breadboards: The most established technique for prototyping is by using solderless breadboards. These will enable you to easily design, prototype and test your circuits
  • Stripboard: A different but popular method for prototyping your circuits is by using stripboard, a popular variation of which is Veroboard.
  • Common Components: It's always a good idea to have an assortment of resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, transistors, and LEDs on hand.
  • Solder: Try to avoid anything too thick. A good thin (<0.5mm) 60/40 tin/lead solder should cater for most of your soldering requirements
  • Freeze Spray: Imperative for finding dry joints in your circuits. Also particularly useful in helping to loosen stiff fasteners and screws
  • Compressed Non-Ionised Air: Great for cleaning, this will prevent the electro-static build-up associated with other methods of cleaning
  • Cleaning Solvents: You will find isopropyl and methylated spirits handy for a variety of purposes. 
  • Glue: Extra glue for your glue gun, Epoxy Resin (Araldite, JB Weld) and Loctite to help keep your screws and fasteners in place
  • Leads: Alligator clip type and banana plug type are particularly useful.
  • Safety Equipment: For the more safety conscious among us, safety specs and a first aid kit are a requisite.

Design, Build, & Sell Electronics

It shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to add an electronics workspace to your home, apartment, or office. However, quality is key if you wish to get the best results. Spending time researching and considering the suggestions put forward here will save you time and money in the long run as well as providing you with the workbench you crave. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some basic ideas of what you need to equip yourself with the fundamental resources to start out.

Here at Elektor, we are focused on helping engineers, makers, and students to design, build, and sell electronics. Sign-up for a free Elektor Labs account so you can share your projects built in your newly overhauled workspaces and collaborate with designers from around the globe.