Portable SMT Lab For Hacker On The Go


We admit it, we’re suckers for workbenches and toolboxes. [Jon] must feel the same way, because he built this portable surface mount electronics lab. It’s a beast of a project, which might be why it’s project #666 on Hackaday.io. [Jon] spends a lot of time working off site, and keeps finding himself without proper surface mount soldering tools. Ever tried to stack an 0603 resistor with a 40 watt pistol grip iron? Take our word for it, the results are not pretty.

[Jon] started with two cheap aluminum cases from Harbor Freight. He loaded them up with the typical lab supplies: soldering iron, oscilloscope, multimeter, dual lab supplies, and a good assortment of hand tools. He then added a few choice SMT tools: A hot air tool, a good LED light, and a stereo magnifier. Many of the tools are mounted on DIN rail along the rear of the cases.  All the low voltage equipment runs on  a common 12V bus.

We really like what [Jon] did with the tops of the cases. Each lid contains a plywood sheet. When the cases are opened, the plywood becomes a work surface. As an added bonus, the wood really strengthens the originally flimsy tool cases. The only thing we would add is a good portable anti-static mat.

The final build is really slick. Once the cases are open, four bolts act as feet. The microscope swings out, and the hot air gun hangs on the right side. Plug in power and you’ve gone from zero to SMT hero in under 1 minute.

31 thoughts on “Portable SMT Lab For Hacker On The Go

    1. @Ren – Move your laptop screen down a little. The contrast and brightness changes a little and you can see the contents better.

      I’m just amazed that his oscope is so thin. I used to have a Radio Shack data probe that had oscope software for your PC. I still have the probe but I lost the 3.5″ diskette the software was on. I’m still working on my HaD wooden toolbox. Got most of the parts from Goodwill and Savers thrift stores. Needs some repairs but they are minor. It will have wooden shelves, drawers, and plywood work surface (painted dining place mat). Got to get a decent soldering iron. Bought a $9 soldering stand from Radio Shack recently. I also need to mount the small power strip neatly. I may Velcro everything to make it internally reconfigurable.

      It’s light blue which I think I like. Was thinking of painting it all black. Too goth? :-)

        1. You are correct. The space is for the microscope and LED lamp to swivel into. On the far right, there is a power strip and a bunch of coiled power cords. The original plan was to rewire everything with short AC cables, but this approach is more flexible.

          Next to that (still on the right) are the base-stations for the Hot Air and the Metal soldering iron.

          [Apologies on the pictures. Probably should have turned off the LED lamp]

      1. @SOTB, I was viewing the photo from my desktop PC at work, and changing the viewing angle to the 19 inch flat screen didn’t help. But here at home on my laptop, I do see the photo better!

    1. Ehm, ever tried to measure current with a scope? Or resistance/capacitance?
      Sure, you can do it using some adaptors/jigs (or current probes) and math, but why?

      Also, most scopes cannot handle higher voltages than about 50-100V without very expensive high voltage probes. What if you need to check some mains wiring in a PSU?

      Not to mention that a good multimeter is way more accurate (~order of magnitude) for measuring DC voltage than an average scope.

      Different tools for different purposes.

    2. I never use ,much less own a modern digital O’scope before I die so I don’t know much about there capabilities often it’s disirable to measure voltage and current concurrently, unless this scope do that with a digital display for those measurements, I can see why the DMM was included.

    1. The microscope truss? [had to google that term] The microscope support is made from 1/2″ metal conduit with 5/8″ nuts pressed into each end for mounting into the HF case. A second piece of conduit forms the horizontal arm. More details on my website blog. The microscope base and pole/truss that it came with were too large and heavy to use. The only issue with my approach is that it’s not as rigid as the standard configuration.

      I’ve decided that at less than $2 for 10-ft I need to find more uses for conduit!

      1. Just curious – how much does each case weigh? I always put together a kit, give it a heft or two in my shop and say that’s not bad, and then the first trip out decide I need to trim the weight by at least half if I’m going to lug it around any distance.

  1. Put a bunch of a equipment in a case is now a hack? Really? Cases are meant to contain equipment, it is their sole design function. Whats next, a post about someone keeping a bunch of wrenches in a toolbox?

      1. Those actually look nice. The only problem is that it doesn’t work with audio frequencies or lower. Then again, I guess you could always up-convert the signal to higher frequencies for analysis.

  2. Take those two boxes and add this box and you’ve got a full prototyping workspace that you can throw in the trunk of the car and take anywhere. Just need a 3D printer in a case to complete the set.

    I had been inspired by a couple of other recent lab-in-a-box posts on Hackaday and started putting my own together. I picked up the exact same case that Jon used here about a week ago at Walmart for about 20 bucks. Most of the other stuff going in it is things I have scattered around or stuff I pick up at the dollar store.

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