Building Up An Inventory Of SMD Parts

Once you’ve been tinkering around with electronics for a while, you’ll realize the through-hole components that make breadboarding a circuit so easy won’t cut it anymore. Surface mount parts are the future, and make it incredibly easy to build a semi-professional mockup at home. The question arises, though: how do you store thousands of surface mount parts smaller than a grain of rice?

As [George] was building up his SMD inventory, he came across a few clever solutions. The first was a binder sold by Adafruit (and others) that holds strips of cut tape SMD components. [George] wanted something a little more modular, and when he came across an eBay auction for 5000 0805 resistors and 3000 0805 caps, he needed to find a storage solution.

[George] ran across these tiny modular boxes while shopping at Adafruit. These boxes are completely modular, interlock with each other, and have a hinged lid that will hopefully prevent the eventual, ‘SMD parts everywhere’ spill everyone his likely to have.

After printing out some labels for his boxes, [George] had a very tidy solution to his SMD organization problems. We’re wondering what other Hackaday readers use to organize their parts, so if you have a better solution send it in.

57 thoughts on “Building Up An Inventory Of SMD Parts

    1. While I don’t use them every day, I have loaded pill boxes in my go kit. They where the first thing that come to mind but quickly rejected because of what the link to boxes feature “…contoured design..”. That means that the front bottom corner is rounded so it’s easier to scoop out the pills. Probably easier to spill out the SMD parts as well.

      1. True that’s how coin drawers are shaped, but we aren’t working with coins. One is like to drag out more than one component, then scraping them off tnen using tweezers to orientate on correctly and placing it on the board, and returning others pack to the bin. Reads as Georges plan is to first to orientate a component while in the with tweezers prior to picking and placing. Probably as many favorite way to store SMD as ar those storing. I only mentioned so others are aware of it before they go to Walmart, and buy a bunch of them, only to find they may not be as expected. Personally when I use the med boxes I pour them into a cup before throwing them down the hatch

      1. It’s not exactly news-worthy though; Guy needs thing, guy buys thing from shop well known for selling that thing.

        Nothing was made, hacked, modified… no money was saved, nothing was learned, nothing new came out of it.

        The other day I needed a part for my car, so I bought one from the car parts place. Perhaps HaD could feature that?

  1. I use an elastic band around bunches of cut strips from larger reels (usually 20 of a single value) and the strips have the values written them… so when I want a resistor I whip out the bundle, jumble it around a bit until the value I want comes up and cut off the number of parts I need. Having everything in a folder might be a little faster (it’s actually easy to find common values as they have sorter strips) but all the space it takes up would do my head in,.. these little boxes would do my head in with the space and the having loads of loose components in them.. it would only take one bang on your work desk or something and the boxes you have open would be all over the floor.

  2. I use a little box with cheap normal envelopes in it with the values written on each envelope, so you just flick through to the value you need, very fast and very cheap, works with through the whole as well!

  3. I quite dislike those boxes. For most SMD parts, they’re just way too big (they will hold thousands of 0603 resistors). The ones I got (from eBay) where super flimsy and broke after opening them a dozen times.

    I much prefer these boxes:

    Very small (23 x 15 cm), 144 compartments (!), nicely sized compartments (still, you can store at least 1000 0603s per box if you really want to) and once the box is closed, the compartments are impossible to open.

    I’ve got one of each (ESD & non-ESD) and am very happy with them. In the same area as 1 A4 paper, I can store 288 different types of components. The size of my SMD storage shrunk 20-30x once I got these.

  4. I tried those boxes for about a year and found that the hinges broke altogether too often for me.

    When I went to SMD big time about two years ago, I started buying these

    to house the SMT collection. I found the binders to be ok, but only if you are going to only be stocking <40 pcs of a given value. With the boxes, 100+ will fit in a single 'bin'. If the price break at 100 isn't substantial, it's because the parts are so freaking cheap that buying 100 or 1000 is less than the shipping.

    They also stack much much better.

    1. I do this too! But it comes with a caveat. Some components would have either become obsolete or difficult/expensive to get. This happened to me when I tried to re-purpose a Maxim SEPIC controller chip. Might be OK if it works straight off, but probably not worth it considering the downstream costs (your time, PCB costs etc). I try to design with components that I can buy off Digikey/Element14 etc.

      1. I build most of my electronics projects based solely on what parts I have. Sometimes I need a particular part and I buy it. But generally I don’t need any of the circuits I build so if I don’t have some parts to make one circuit I just make another.

    2. I have come to ‘store’ a lot of my parts on the pcb’s they came on, there is too much labour to strip them all down to have a stock of parts you may never use.
      works for resistors and caps, I dont do production runs so using a few obsolete transistors is just fine with me.

  5. Surface mount parts may be the future, if you’re a pick and place machine. Personally I’ve no use the stuff because I’m not a P&P machine.

    So when the industry tells you to SMD (does that stand for Suck My Dick?) just say no! heh now that you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it can you?

    The industry has their reasons for using SMT, but their rationalizations and mine are two different things.

      1. I suppose it would come as a surprise to you then if I told you I’ve production hand soldered SMT at a board house. So guess again. It is likely this experience that has negatively colored my opinions on the matter. Come back to me when you’ve sat there day in and day out 8 hours a day soldering the crap though.

        BTW I’m real good at it too.

      1. I do electronics for fun and I just don’t find SMT very much fun to fool around with. So I can indeed avoid the stuff and still have plenty of fun with my chosen pastime. Anymore what interests me is power electronics anyways. SMT is hardly a prime choice there. I did the whole blinking LED digital thing before the advent of the PC so I don’t find a lot of the new stuff very interesting at all.

    1. keep an open mind, drilling two holes .1″ apart to install a 1/4W resistor that could just as well be a 1206 SMT resistor on the trace side…. same pads, less work, likewise for diodes/caps thruhole is easier to jump traces with.

    2. I have been hand mounting both SMD and PMD parts as a job, and i much prefer SMD. they are faster to mount, you don’t have to push them through the board, hold them in place and then solder. You just put some solder on a pad, heat it and push the component into place.

      For my hobby stuff i prefer SMD because the projects get much smaller, if i order boards i can fit 4-6 projects on the board area that a single board would take up in PMD. When i etch my own boards there are less holes to drill.

      1. “i much prefer SMD. they are faster to mount, you don’t have to push them through the board, hold them in place and then solder.” I see so you prefer to SMD but if I say I prefer not to then my opinion is invalid? Interesting.

        “You just put some solder on a pad, heat it and push the component into place.”

        You realize you contradicted what you just said in your previous sentence with this one don’t you? “and push the component into place.” Some might construe the act of pushing as holding. I know I do. At some point that push must stop, and turn into a hold, no matter how brief, it is still holding. Just because you are positioning, then holding does not change the act of holding enough to make it a new activity. At least not to a rational mind.

        “if i order boards i can fit 4-6 projects on the board area that a single board would take up in PMD.” I never ordered a board before so I don’t know how it works. I guess with SMT you really don’t have a choice if you want to use the stuff you’re pretty much committed to using a PCB if you want to use SMT. You need the Surface to Mount to don’t you? How does that work out for your budget?

        I find the necessity of a PCB a severe limitation to SMT. Especially when almost all of my electronics construction is of a prototype variety. PCBs were really developed for mass production, that is where they really pay off, not for one offs. Making a PCB for a single project is kind of like offset printing one book. You’re going through a lot of trouble and expense that cannot be recouped over multiple copies.

        Now granted us amateur hobbyists do it for fun so we don’t look at it as trouble per se, but then again you cannot really bring up the expense aspect of it legitimately either. It would be a lot cheaper to stare at a spot on the wall than to practice electronics, to take your argument to the nth degree. Although I do manage to build a lot of my projects for “free” out of through hole parts I’ve salvaged.

        I have salvaged SMT parts too after a fashion, if you want to call skimming them off my solder pot salvaging parts. I just dump them in my dross pile and there they sit. So to me salvaged SMT just adds up to an environmental hazard I don’t know what to do with.

        “When i etch my own boards there are less holes to drill.”

        You know if I didn’t like drilling holes I probably wouldn’t build stuff. I find the task relaxing though.

        When every aspect is examined critically SMT offers more disadvantages to a hobbyist than advantages. You’ve actually taken some restrictive liabilities and turned them into beneficial assets. You’ve further played word games to convince yourself that working with SMT is easier than through hole devices. If you’re pushing then I’m holding you to account!

  6. I have been using Flexatop FT-4 boxes for about 12 years now. I’ve gotten mine from US Plastics. Small enough that I can store a lot of different boxes in one place, big enough to hold *A LOT* of SMT parts. Not ESD safe, and too small to put your fingers in (if you’re using SMT, you’ll save yourself a huge amount of frustration by using tweezers). Less than $0.25 USD each from US Plastics. The Container store used to have them, but stopped carrying them. I’ll put a label on the top and then wrap the digi-key label around the box (so I know what to re-order).

  7. I used to use plastic boxes. Over 1,000 of them, in a variety of sizes and styles. Have dealt with all of the above complaints – price, spills, broken hinges. Boxes so small they’re hard to label, open, or remove parts from without tweezers. The collection grew hard to use due to sheer size. And 90% of it was only storing air.

    I’ve been progressively moving over to zipseal plastic bags, and am much happier with them. $20 here set me up for a long time:

    With the 2″ x 3″ and 3″ x 4″ being most useful. Anything smaller is harder to work the zipper on and retrieve parts from, and are generally less versatile. The bags are really only as large as what they contain anyway, so there’s no problem using a little larger bag. Sometimes I poke a hole in them with a pushpin so any trapped air can escape on its own.

    Then add in more common sizes of zipseal bags from the grocery to store smaller bags grouped by type, and larger parts. Zipseal ESD bags in a few sizes from Ebay. Anti-static foam for DIP ICs, so that the pins don’t get bent or pierce bags. And you’re set to efficiently store darn near anything.

  8. In looking for his solution I believe George was wanting to avoid the dumping of components into tray, and putting them back into an envelope or pill bottle.
    Predictably breadbording as we have known it since the breadboard was, well a breadboard(or some other piece of wood) can no longer exist. I went looking for alternatives that could use SMD. Many of the solutions require soldering skills. Skills that most don’t try to attain until build working circuits on a breadboard has hooked them. Can’t be anything good for the future of hobby electronics. Unless “Elmers” get busy and repackage SMD into breadboard friendly packages.

    1. As a beginner I started having a lot more fun once I ditched solderless breadboards and went to soldered perfboard and DIY PCBs. Breadboarded projects were awkward to layout and construct, and either didn’t work or were very unreliable. The breadboards wear out and many components don’t fit properly (TO-220 packages for example). If you want a permanent version you have to do all the layout and construction again from scratch.

      There are many, many options for SMT prototyping. Here are a couple of examples:

      They do require soldering, but I claim that’s a good thing since it’s a critical skill that you’ll need to practice before too long anyway.

      1. Breadboarding is an art

        Many of your complaints can be leveled against perfboard too. Perfboarding can be an art too though:

        I don’t think this is art but I figure I’ll toss it in for laughs

        One thing it ain’t is easy! Looks OK on the top side:


  9. I just use small envelopes and save them in a plastic box made for index cards. Kind of like you store recipes. One value per envelope; each envelope holds MANY SMDs. You can house quite a large collection in one of those boxes. Write the value on the top edge of the envelope. Organize them the way you want. Use tweezers to extract what you need from the envelope, or jab your fingertip in there and extract a bunch.

  10. I use the modular boxes, but my labels are a bit more verbose. :D

    I have a dymo LabelManager PC II USB label printer I got used off eBay, and I primarily use 1/2″ white-on-clear tape. PERFECT for the SMD storage boxes, and I can make very descriptive labels.

    New-style black SMD boxes, for my ICs.

    Here’s some of the old-style boxes, I’ve since replaced them with the newer ones.

  11. Most of my parts are in little ziplock bags, I label them with good stickers, slide them into baseball card pages, and put the pages into binders. When I started doing this I had four of those 64-drawer cabinets, with most of the drawers divided up into 8 spaces each. I was able to transfer all the parts from three of these cabinets into a single 2″ binder with space left over (the remaining parts being things like potentiometers and large caps that were too big). These little boxes look nice and all, but seem to be too small for someone with a lot of space and too big for someone who wants to be able to bring their entire collection of parts (plus tools) in a backpack. Plus, I can’t help wondering how well they would stay closed if you were to drop the backpack.

  12. I actually already thought of that, that was one of the objects I drew up for 3d printing, when I get a 3d printer.

    The snap together functionality was part of the object.

    I do like his use of a flap opening and that is a little different, the objects I was going to print each held a little tray more like traditional storage containers, and could mount on a wall.

    And each could snap together. Trays built from cut plastic glued together each inside a snapping interface lattice that holds the trays. The part that holds the trays would be 3d printed structure to hold the multitude of trays, and would be the part that snaps together.

  13. I use a binder with insets for business cards, and in the folders I have the components in a small zip loc (if they are loose). For SMd I got the small boxes and strips in ziplock bags, not really organized yet, but I will not spend an eon labeling and take stript parts apart :-)

  14. The problem with SMD work is that it requires soldering. Breadboarding isn’t meant to be permanent, its just used to try a circuit out in real life before really building it. So now its etch a board, then solder everything on, and realize it doesn’t work, then break out the soldering iron, rework, retrace with wirewrap wire, rise, repeat. I use simulators on simple circuits, but don’t trust them for anything complex. What used to take 5 minutes to breadboard now takes 5 days… And if you are buying parts from Ada and Sparkfun, Please send me some of that extra cash you have laying around as you obviously have too much.

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