Equipment Needed To Get “Started” In Electronics

[Kenneth] is a Mechanical Engineer who likes to dabble in electronics. Besides providing us with an excellent picture of his workbench, he has put together a list of things that you’ll need as you learn to work with electronics. A beginner electronics kit from one of a number of different sources may work for some, but others may not be interested in a kit.

[Kenneth] gives links and recommendations for categories of: books, electrical equipment, development tools, components, digital electronics, and analog chips. As he puts it, this post is a “gigantic list of everything I would buy right now to replace my entire workshop if mine were to disappear.”  This is a great list of things you may need if you’re starting out.  If you have some experience, this list may introduce you something new. Check out some of [Kenneth’s] other projects like his cloud chamber or the Chumby webserver that he made.

31 thoughts on “Equipment Needed To Get “Started” In Electronics

  1. I’ll bet he drinks a lot of coffee … ;-)

    Good video for anyone getting started, especially the recommendation of not buying low-priced junk. Buy good, well made tools (preferably made in the USA) … they’ll last forever.

    1. That really rather depends on why you want them.

      Lets say I want to drill a hole in a wall to put up a shelf, (or drill some holes in a board to make a vacuum table. – really light work)
      I could hire a tool from a tool hire place £30 for the day
      I could buy a cheap drill that’s going to last for about a year, maybe two with occasional light work for £20
      or I could buy something buy a “trusted” brand, such as Makita or DeWalt for £120 (6x the cheap one) sure it’s going to last me, but telling someone to go buy “the best” or “pro” tools is NOT always the best advice.

      buying something cheap and replaceable is clearly the “best” option here, especially when you consider that as a “hacker” you’re likely to be abusing the tools anyway (e.g using a drill as a small lathe and putting side loads on the bearings that they aren’t designed for. etc)

      in a different scenario, lets say I want to replace the exhaust system on my car, should I, hire a lift facility at £10 an hour (total cost about £30), or should I go buy a lift for £3000? for the one time I want to use this it doesn’t even make sense to buy a tool for that job. let alone the cost of the extra garage to put it in and installing 3ph power etc. so again, buy the best is terrible advice, hire what you can get is what most sensible people would do!

      On the other hand, if I am a contractor, and depend on working almost all the hours I can, I don’t want to buy a cheap drill that may give out, meaning I waste an afternoon when I’ve got customers waiting going out to buy another one. that couple of hours lost when you buy your first replacement drill will make up the difference in cost between the cheap and expensive tools. e.g. you’re off site for a couple of hours, you lose £100, so that £20 actually costs £120 anyway.

      but I don’t think that anyone starting in this hobby needs to think about how much they will lose if their tools go down, (based on the fact that they are just starting, (so not pro) and hobby (so not pro) so spend loads and buy “insert favourite brand or country here” is frankly terrible advice!

      I guess the crux of what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t just go buy some brand, you shouldn’t just look at the top of the range for tools, you should think about what you’re doing, what you need from it, where you’re buying from, and the cost, and reliability, the cost of failure etc… just like you should when buying components!

      1. Agreed. Whenever I’m picking up new hobbies, I start small and scale up as I get more experienced. I used to buy cheap headphones until I realized that I’d used my $30 pair almost daily for 3 years. So I upgraded to a very high quality pair that was 6x the price. I’ve used them regularly for almost 2 years now. Conversely, I bought a cheap camera and while I get great photos, I don’t use it more than a few times each year. I’m glad I spent $30 to get a reversal ring and some extension tubes instead of $600+ for a macro lens. I get great magnified photos of my projects without a significant cost.

        If I had to list the necessities for an absolute beginner:
        -resistors (assorted 1/4W)
        -assorted capacitors (lots of 10uF, the rest are used infrequently)
        -Arduino for easy debugging/prototyping with complex components (and lots of blinkenlights)
        -A handful of leds (3mm are best for breadboarding)
        -A handful of buttons
        -Jumper wire (or spool of wire)
        -Storage(bins, envelopes, ziplocks, whatever you have)

        After that a beginner starts to branch out:

        -Perfboard, a soldering iron, soldering wick, flux, solder, sponge/tip cleaner, helping hands

        -Prefered microcontroller (CHIP is easiest in my experience), an ISP, display modules, wireless communication, sensors, transistors

        Discrete logic & analog circuits
        -Gates, Timers, op-amps, etc.

        Well-made tools have huge value, but they frankly aren’t worth it until you are either skilled enough to appreciate them or rely on them often.

  2. Agreed that cheap iron is the worst thing a noob can buy. A used Weller tempco station runs ~$60 on eBay and spare parts are readily available.

    I’d also recommend heat shrink. Cheap, and it can make the difference between an unreliable blob of hot glue or electrical tape and a solid interconnect.

    Kapton tape is underrated around here, especially since Dealextreme sells it for cheap.

    1. Weller parts are usually more difficult to find. A good company i’ve been going to is Circuit Specialists they have good quality irons for real cheap and always have replacement parts available! I’ve had my 60w station from them going on 3 years now!!

  3. That is a top notch list.

    When you’re ordering a lot of various parts to build your collection, I strongly recommend Newark. The prices are good and they have almost everything.

    But what sets them apart for me is that everything is well-packed and clearly labelled with manufacturer part numbers, descriptions, and basic specs. Too many times I’ve ordered parts from other sources, set them aside for a few months, then find I’ve forgotten what they are. And then I have to look up the part number to find out what it is and/or the basic specs. Or worse, sometimes I can’t identify the part at all.

    Plus the Newark shipping list includes a smaller peel-and-stick label for every item with the same information. So if you prefer to repack the parts in your own bags/boxes/bins/whatever, you already have a label. This is a huge time saver and convenience when you order an assortment of 50 different parts. :)

  4. Yeah, I been bit by the crap tool gremlin.

    Which makes me ask, is there a decent gas soldering iron to be had in the US? I’d seen one used in Africa to great effect, but the one I got from Home Depot is a bust (great torch though)

  5. On soldering countless noobs began their career learning how to soldering using a relatively inexpensive Weller soldering iron from the hardware store, and a Weller soldering gun. The most important thing about learning to solder is finding a good instructor, followed by lots of practice to learn heat control. Practice that will serve one well, even when/if they move up to a soldering station.

    I think it would be hard to do better than the Navy Electricity and Electronics Training Series for a book, and free.

    I was a bit confused when Ken mentioned “real wire strippers”. I would bet my 36 Y/O Proto wire strippers/crimper.screw cutter would still strip wire as well a new out of the package Irwin tool recommended.

    I would purchase the recommende meter if I needed one at the moment, but Ken should have went into what to consider when shopping for a meter. I won’t buy a meter that doesn’t spec. it’s input impedance, or if it doesn’t have a 10-100 megohm impedance. A DMM or VOM. Personally I’d trade off a meter that has frequency counter, capacitive meter, temp probe for true RMS. An ohm meter can tell you if a transistor or capacitor in functional.

    On Ken’s blog someone mention using a small computer to keep notes. I can’t see using a computer to keep notes, but a digital camera has to be big step over hand drawings when doing repairs. To keep track of what went where.

    Yea I noticed the Digi-Key box, but not being a Radio Shack hater it didn’t occur to me to think anything of it.

  6. This stuff about buying a decent $100 soldering iron is just stupid, and it puts people off ever moving away from the oh so sacred prototyping “lets just push this in a pin head” ardiuino platform.

    that’s his first mistake, instead of saying all that about a soldering station, what’s wrong with saying 30w iron with a fine tip?

    and the don’t buy a $10 multimeter? what’s wrong with $10 multimeter, I’ve had my cheap meter for years now, I’ve never needed anything else, a better tip is buy a meter where you can change the probes, fixed probes are not good.

    also, “PICs were the behemoth of the 8 bit world”?.
    microchip make more than 8 bit PIC chips. there are 16 and 32 bit as well, all of which are available as free samples, and all are programmable using free IDEs and an ICSP programmer that costs less than the far more limited Arduino boards. and what’s this about 3.3v being a limit? PICs are available in both flavours, so that you can use in either regular or low power applications.
    I mean he mentions ICSP programmers right before he mentions PICs, does he know about PICs? not knowing about them is fine, effectively saying that you may as well ignore them because Arduinos pretty much replaced them is just stupid.
    do the ICSP programmers for AVRs work the same as the ICSP programmers for PICs?

    and the advice of a 1000v diode?
    I suppose if you’re testing something then yeah fine do that. But on the other hand, doesn’t the guy ever keep anything he builds?

  7. @dan: I’ve been burned a few times with cheap multimeters being very poorly calibrated. Hook up your $10 volt meter in parallel with a Fluke and see how much it’s different. I wasted a lot of time trying to tune amplifiers with a 10% off volt meter.

    Like I said, I work in the AVR and MSP430 camps, so no, I haven’t had much experience with PICs. I said you may as well ignore PICs as a beginner’s platform. Before the Arduino, it seemed the vast majority of hobbyist projects were on PIC, then the Arduino appeared and 8-bit PIC became a less appealing beginners platform. Sure, they have 16 and 32 bit PICs. They have 32 bit AVRs too, I just didn’t bother trying to mention EVERY category of uC.

    What’s wrong with suggesting you only bother stocking 1kV power diodes? It means the one type of diode you have will always work, and they’re even CHEAPER than many of the lower grade diodes on Digikey.

  8. >I’ve been burned a few times with cheap multimeters being very poorly calibrated. Hook up your $10 volt meter in parallel with a Fluke and see how much it’s different. I wasted a lot of time trying to tune amplifiers with a 10% off volt meter.

    True, but how many beginners to electronics are tuning amplifiers? (by which I assume you mean biasing) is your article for beginners doing beginner projects? or is your article for more experienced engineers?

    And if you are advanced, why don’t you crack open the case and calibrate it yourself?
    I’ve never had a meter out by 10% as measured with meter/scope. but if it was out by that much I’d certainly be recalibrating it! (I think you exaggerate.)

    It’s one of those things where people take their chances I guess, do you pay lots and get something that lasts when you’re just starting out in a hobby, or just starting to replace a workbench, or do you spend enough to get the tools to get a flavour? I thought that your article was getting started? (certainly that’s what it’s titled), do you really think that Fluke’s gear is starter stuff? -I don’t.

    as for 1 Kv power diodes.
    aside from the fact that the way that I interpreted your article I believed that you were saying only get 1 diode, use and re-use it forever (hence why I ask if you ever keep anything that you make.) 1kv diodes are good for making power supplies, but to my mind a little too meaty, to be used in signal circuitry.

    as an example if you’re using 1KV power diodes as devices to remove crossover distortion in a class B amplifier it’s not going to work as well as using the right component for the job. (a lower voltage signal diode).
    (but lets assume that’s an advanced project).

    If you’re using 1KV power diodes as diodes for a simple distortion pedal for guitar (definitely a beginner project), then again it’s going to sound horrible -if it works at all. because you really want small low power silicon diodes, possibly even a mix of silicon and germanium for that project…

    I’ll stop digressing.
    the point is one huge diode is never going to be enough, or the right component for all jobs.

    And if you’re using 1000V power diodes in your amplifier, trying to bias it with a poorly calibrated multimeter is really going to be the least of your problems.

    For uC’s perhaps my response was a little extreme or uncalled for, but I do think that reading what you’ve written. it does sound like you’ve just written off these chips as only 8 bit, and completely old hat now that the arduino platform has come along. this is one of those each to his own things I guess.

    I still have a couple of unanswered questions though. (I may or may not find out myself).

    is AVR ICSP compatible with PIC ICSP? if so then cool. That’s a much nicer place to be, 1 tool multiple uses, or 1 tool multiple programming possibilities.

    does the AVR ICSP device that you have also have the capability to act as a few channel logic analyser in the same way that the pickit 2 did?
    if so, then cool, (saves buying or making another tool).

    I do really agree with the rest of what you’ve written though.

  9. hi!
    i have bought a gy 26 magnetometer and i was trying to calculate readings using arduino board using i2c bus . however i haven’t been able to find anything useful if anyone has any knowledge regarding this . please do reply soon .it will help me a lot

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