Tools: Proxxon drill press TBM115/TBM220


A decent drill press is a crucial tool for an electronics lab. We use our drill press to make holes in our own circuit boards, and tap or break traces on existing circuit boards. We’ve used a lot of tools to drill circuit boards — power drills, power drills in “drill press stands”, and high-speed rotary tools — but when we started doing projects on a schedule, it was time for something more reliable.

We first spotted the Proxxon TBM115/TBM220 drill press in the window of a local shop.  Its tiny size and adjustable speed seemed ideal for drilling circuit boards. At $200, this is one of the pricier tools in our lab, but quality bearings and smooth drilling action aren’t cheap.  Read about our experience with this tool below the break.

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Parts: Analog distance sensors (Sharp GP2D12/2Y0A02)

Sharp GP2D12 and 2Y0A02 infrared rangers output a voltage proportionate to the distance of an object from the sensor.  The GPD12 senses objects at a distance of 10-80cm, while the 2Y0A02 has twice the range.

We’ve previously looked at the Sharp GP2Y0D02 digital proximity sensor. It only signals the presence of objects, while the GP2D12 and 2Y0A02 measure distance to them. If you’ve got a GP2YoD02, it might still be possible to tap the analog output. We’ll show you how use these sensors below.

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Tools: Aoyue 968 3-in-1 soldering and rework station


The $10 “fire-starter” is the most common beginner soldering iron. These are simple irons with a hot end, a handle, and little else. There’s no temperature control or indication. Despite their simplicity, they’ll do just about anything. You can solder any legged chip type with this type of iron. We used fire-starters in the lab for years.

Eventually, we wanted a hot air rework tool to salvage SMD parts and solder QFN chips. Aoyue is a relatively unknown Chinese brand that makes soldering stations very similar in appearance and function to Hakko. Aoyue stations are recommended and used by Sparkfun Electronics, something that factored heavily in our decision to buy an Aoyue. Read more about our experiences with this tool after the break.

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Parts: I2C audio volume potentiometer (DS1807)


The DS1807 contains two logarithmic digital potentiometers (pots) for audio volume adjustment. Each pot has 64 volume levels plus a mute setting. The volume level of each pot is set over a two-wire I2C serial interface. We’ll show you how to connect and interface the DS1807 below.

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Tools: Smart Tweezers


We’re big fans of surface mount parts. SMD components are cheaper, take less board space, and don’t require drilling; all the coolest new parts are only available in SMD packages.

Smart Tweezers are an advanced multimeter tool specifically designed to test and troubleshoot SMD circuits. It automatically identifies resistors, capacitors, and inductors, and displays the relevant measurements. Advanced Devices sent us a pair of Smart Tweezers to review. We used them while building our last few SMD projects, read about our experience with this tool after the break.

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Parts: LTC2631A I2C digital to analog converter


Linear Technology’s LTC2631A-LZ8 is an 8bit digital to analog converter (DAC) with an I2C interface. This DAC can output 255 different voltages, spaced evenly between 0 and 2.5volts. We previously demonstrated the LTC2640 with a three-wire SPI interface, but this version is controlled with only two signal wires.

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Parts: AT keyboard


Last week we introduced a new version of the Bus Pirate universal serial interface tool. The last firmware update included an AT keyboard decoder library for both hardware versions.

There’s a ton of old AT keyboards making their way to the landfill. We’ll show you how to recycle one as an input device for your next project.

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