The Obscure Electronics Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed

The right tool for the job can turn a total headache into a 30-second operation. This is all the more important when you’re trying to streamline an assembly process, and the reason why you’ll find so many strange and wonderful purpose-built tools on any production line. With a nod to that old adage, [EvilMadScientist] have collected the tools you didn’t know you needed – until now.

If you’re wiring big through-hole boards all day, you’ve probably bemoaned the uneven bends on all your resistors. How did the big companies get it right way back when? They used a tool to set the distance of the resistor legs just right. What about DIP ICs? It’s a total pain trying to take them fresh out of the tube and get them to seat in a socket, but there’s a tool to do that too. It’s actually a two-part series, and while we’re sure you’ve all seen a solder sucker before, the fresh take on helping hands is pretty ingenious.

Overall, it’s a combination of little things that, with a bit of cash or a day’s work, you can have in your own lab and once you’ve got them, you won’t ever want to go back. Be sure to tell us about your favourite obscure tools in the comments.

Now that you’ve got your tools to hand, why not wrap them all up in a handy workstation?

76 thoughts on “The Obscure Electronics Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed

        1. Wasn’t WordPress originally designed to be a tool for non-technical individuals to post their personal blogs back before they all stopped doing that and switched to MySpace (briefly then later to Facebook)? I don’t really get why so many big websites choose to use a personal blog tool all jacked up with 1,000 extensions.

          I’m much more a fan of custom building a web backend myself, designed from the database up to support the exact feature set that is required. Maybe HaD doesn’t have the staff to do that. Even then, wouldn’t Slashcode be far more appropriate than WordPress? It’s pretty much designed for exactly the same kind of site!

  1. “Be sure to tell us about your favourite obscure tools in the comments.”

    Don’t hear much about the nibbler. And then there’s a hand tool I use to use a lot working with small springs.

      1. …and you found (as I did) that the new nibblers are a poorly produced Chinese copy of the genuine Adel.

        I have one of those Tie-wrap tools.
        No chip inserters or lead straighteners, but I do have a U-shaped chip extractor. And wire-wrap tools aplenty.

        Also several spring hooks and a C-clip insert/removal tool from my Teletype repair days.

  2. Those manual vacuum pickup tools are about 5% as useful as a proper vacuum tool as without continuous suction you need a perfect seal, so they are useless for chip parts and anything too small for the rubber tips,
    However they are a cheap source of a body and tips to make a proper one (even if it’s just a tube you suck on!).

  3. Forgot some of the most important ones that are the easiest to get.
    Like 12″ long small tube to blow dust out.
    Paper clip.
    Another Paper clip. Strate this time. (Yea should I keep going on this one NA.)
    And what the haey is a cable tie gun. Never used one on a job never saw one on a job.
    Small clear plastic not to thick. So you can use the scissors to cut into more tools. Were scissors on the list?
    OK I cant type any more have to stop here. Sorry I was just starting to have fun. But my hands say no more.
    Not kidding…

  4. Most obscure tool.. I own a complete set of circlip pliers, (both compression and expansion tools) with different angled pins, and different diameters of pin ends. No circlip is safe from them.

    They allow you to fire circlips(*) confidently about the workshop, secure in the knowledge that you are using the correct tool for loosing them. You could of course simply use a screwdriver to fire them into the dark recesses of the next universe, but you are a *real* engineer and *always* use the correct tool for the job.

    Naturally I can never find the circlip plier set when I need them, and therefore have to resort to using a screwdriver, with the inevitable result. (Note: As previously stated, the result is inevitable regardless of the tool used).

    (*) Officially known as Jesus clips -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circlip

  5. About 10mm of silicone tube with an ID around 3-5mm, push it on the end of your bog-standard el-cheapo solder sucker to get extra sucking power, just like the expensive “Engineer” suckers that adafruit sells, except not expensive. The silicone conforms around the tip and seals against what you are sucking. Without silicone it’s also good to cut a small notch in the end of your cheap sucker so it fits better over the soldering iron’s tip.

    1. It is especially great for blowing a puff up coworkers’ noses or a light puff, from a distance, into someone’s ear. This is what happens with boredom and a department of 400 photographers…

  6. IC Popper….huh, so that’s what that weird plastic rod and springy thing are that came with my Chinese hot air gun. I thought it was some kind of solder spool holder or something, but I could never figure out how it would mount! I may have thrown that pile of parts out in my last fit of rage.

  7. I think the MK7P from HellermannTyton might be a bit overkill for most people, but it sure makes properly tightening zip ties into a dream.

    Other then that, an IC pin straightener for the DIPs is almost essential.

    Other then that, the pile of snips,pliers, tweezers and soldering iron are likely the go to tool for most things…
    And a good selection of tweezers is a nicer tool in my experience then a vacuum pickup…

  8. Dental/Dissection picks are still my number one go to for tools you didn’t know you needed.
    Good for:
    Scraping back solder mask
    Holding SMT parts in place while you tack legs down
    Clearing solder bridges (they’re stainless, so the solder doesn’t wet to them)
    Clearing solder from stubborn plated thru vias (heat the pad and push the stainless pick through it)
    Also useful as a makeshift pointy probe for your multimeter, just gator clip your probe to it.

  9. I have most of these – and don’t use most of them. The zip tie tool is nice though and a good-enough version from Amazon is less than $20 – the pistol end allows me to get in where my fat fingers couldn’t. Since bicycle cables are now affixed to frames with a lot of these things it makes bike fussing easier as well. The difference between the .LT.$20 and the pictured one at .GT.$200 is tension repeatability and perfect flush cutting. For those of us not building satellites it’s good enough but be sure to get rid of any razor-sharp stub left behind at the ratchet.

    The tool I don’t see here is a good visual aid, whether a magnifying visor, digital/industrial microscope or my current favorites, the pseudo-surgical binocular magnifiers you can get on EBay for ~$30 and are quite good once you get used to them since they allow you to work without leaning too far into the workpiece.

    1. How much wire do you need to strip? The gap made when my 4 front teeth meet happens to be perfect for stripping the sort of wire used in electronics. I like to think of this as an evolutionary feature.

      1. Well it isn’t the quantity it is the lack of nicking the wire especially with small wire or tough jackets. But yeah I have a set of two buck (teeth) strippers with me too lol

    2. seems interesting to avoid risks of damaging the metal strands…
      on my side I use some Weidmuller mini stripax and I find them great and I don’t have noticed strands being removed, haven’t look to closely at wire damage but they definitely seems to do well enough. if I can avoid burning plastic and to have another corded tools I’m all for it…

  10. I don’t have the tie wrap gun but I have used them. IMHO they are superfluous. I can tell when I am where I shroud be with a tie wrap. I don’t have that IC pin fixer, but I do have one. Handier than the tie wrap gun is the IC removal tool that I also have. Not much to it, but generality nicer than trying to pry a big chip out with a screwdriver, and in some cases it is very hard to pry a chip out when the sides are blocked.

    1. And once you push it too hard and the tiny hook head breaks off, you have yourself a nice, stainless, non-conducting-handle, straight pick, to be used for various purposes as described above for dental picks.

  11. I can only concure on the erem flush cutter… I have other, cheaper sets, for rough use, but to clear your whole forest of through hole leads it is totally unbeatable, cut perfectly and effortlessly..
    A tools that misses from both article is, sorry i have no idea how to name it, this:
    https://www.google.ch/search?q=cadre%20de%20montage%20electronique&client=ms-android-oneplus&prmd=isnv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&biw=360&bih=560&imgrc=n8anX7iiT2nOUM&ved=2ahUKEwiIkcuEx4vaAhVHahQKHby8DkwQMyg7egUIABDaAQ&uact=26

    It’s obviously for through hole components but it’s unbeatable, just put the pcb, install all the components with similar height, close, turn over, cut leads solder and restart with the next set if higher components… Beats all the lead bending or strange dubious method you find in most soldering tutorials…

    1. I have exactly one Lindstrom small head ultra flush cutter and a variety of Excelta cutters at varying angles. The Lindstrom costs $40, and dang it, I guarantee you, it’s worth every penny. It cuts such a flush cut, that if you’re not paying attention, you’ll flush cut the trace and a layer or two of fiberglass right off your PC board! Don’t do that! XD

  12. I have all of those except the IC lead straightener which I’m familiar with but I find it just as easy to press the component into the top of my workbench.

    The others I never use. The component lead bender is way more clunky than pliers; it’s important to have good pliers for the job like the xcelite blue-sized ones. Several pair of high-quality pliers in different shapes and sizes is essential to the electronics workbench. The suction device never seems to work right, curved tweezers do the job so much better; I guess it just takes too much coordination to hold a pair of tweezers? IC insertion tool = pin mangler; just position the part and press smoothly with your thumbs — more precise control of the pressure means you don’t destroy the chip pins. And IC Popper = even worse pin mangler, it’s only suitable for destroy chips. A pair of xcelite red-handled screwdrivers and a small amount of patience gets the job done perfectly every time.

    Who thought to call these “obscure tools” or things you never new you needed. I really wonder who you think your audience is sometimes.

    1. Good and experienced opinion, I agree with most, through the component lead bender has some use, I fully agree that pliers will get you a better result but lead bender can be quite quicker depending on the number of resistor you need to bend… it leads to more round bend through and not those clean 90° bend you get with a good pliers.

        1. Yep, sorry poor wording. using some Erem pliers to with a small radius to avoid that, what I meant by 90° is that the lead going out of the component stay completely flat on the component axis, with bending aids the leads tend to be not as flat and parallel to the PCB

  13. A selection of syringe needles make perfect tools for straightening CPU pins. To find the rows with pins tweaked just enough to stop them dropping into a ZIF socket, slip the needle horizontally between the pins then lift it out. With the right size OD, the bent pin will cause a slight drag. Some of the time that straightens enough to get it in the socket.

    For more seriously bent pins, select a needle with an ID that just slips over the pin. *Very gently* nudge the pin towards straight. Using the needle enables putting the bending force right at the bend instead of where it’s attached.

  14. That ic desoldering popper is now on my list.
    Imagine the fun on surface mount components and a really good spring?
    It will out perform circlip plyers and have the benefit of burning what the component hits.

      1. Well, one important but often forgotten but important feature that the roller style one on photo add is the antistatic attachment… not sure sliding potentially sensitive devices on plastic is the best idea you can have…

    1. Meh! A year or so ago sure. Now they are common as dirt, at least in the US anyway. Sears absolutely flooded the market with those things during it’s death gasp. Most of us probably have a whole set of varied sizes now as their isles were full of them and they were almost giving them away in the final days of the clearance sales. I wouldn’t be surprised if some stores even started sneaking them into people’s bags at the checkout counter just to get them out the door. https://c.shld.net/rpx/i/s/i/spin/10000595/prod_1349947612??hei=64&wid=64&qlt=50

  15. when you work in electronics for a living in a lab that spares no expense on tools you’ve seen all of them and thrown away most of the ones that never worked as advertised ( I have in my possession, not one – but two different brands of zip-tie tools ). One that is around but is fairly odd, especially in the dawn of LEDs is a “lamp extractor” for pulling tiny light bulbs out of lighted buttons and indicators.

  16. Fine-diameter pin(s), with a round head, as used by a seamstress (or, nowadays, seamster?) or cork-board denizens. For piercing insulation in order to make measurements.

    A simple rag with a high nap, for cleaning soldering iron prior to re-wetting iron. The cleaning is done “dry”.

    VERY high on my list: the hemostat.
    Since the mainstream–and not-so-mainstream–electronics and ‘scientific” gadget suppliers found that these items were prized–by a lot of different professions–or their universality, the prices have gone way up (one smaller device is highly useful; an assortment is ideal. Flea markets have been a good source for me).

    The hemostat is useful anywhere you can think of needing a pair of pliers which (a) requires no continuous hand-pressure; (b) retains its set position; and (c) can be set to a wide range of clamping forces.

    Uses include holding components for whatever reason(s) you can think of, an unattended heat sink when soldering in a heat-sensitive situation; any time a ‘third-hand’ is needed; clamping (and keeping clamped) gas and liquid lines (the larger hemostats are good for clamping off the fuel line on your small gasoline engine)…(a good source of hemostat-usage inspiration are T-V episodes of M*A*S*H showing hemostats being used as a crucial part of the control system of BJ’s and Trapper John”s bourbon/gin/sour-mash still).

    1. Hemostats are number 1 on my list. 99% of the time they are far preferable to needle nose pliers and they are more versatile. It helps if you know how to use them though. Your thumb and ring-finger, not forefinger, go through the loops. Forefinger braces the hinge.

  17. I forgot one–
    Right up there with all the other obscure electronics tools you didn’t know you needed is precisely this device…

    Harbor Freight’s ‘free-with-coupon’ multimeter.

    Its characteristics are outstanding, all things considered, and the ‘free-with-coupon’ aspect is making it more and more obscure (but if they were still available in yellow–thanks, Fluke–I would even buy one; easy to find amongst all the other tools, and all that…).

  18. Love Harbor cheapo DMM (free with coupon and purchase.). Not super accurate but extremely abusable. No RMS and doesn’t auto zero on X1 but I can subtract 3 to 8 most of the time. Leads are crappy and will fall apart on ends due to lack of strain relief. Fixable usually with heat shrink and solder. Sadly 9V replacement battery fairly close to non coupon price of 6$USD. Go cheap 9V battery.
    Re creating some of those tools in Printable plastic is probably not a great idea. ESD and its not so readily apparent effects. Most of them sucked in practical use. The vacuum picker sucked in all.
    Better class of DIP insertion/extract didn’t bend chip leads and held DIP in place until released.

      1. When I was a kid (and you too, probably based on your memory of having bought 15¢ batteries), 9-volt batteries were free, once per month, using Radio Shack’s battery card.
        And I walked to and from school (uphill both ways), in the snow. And gasoline cost 24¢ per gallon.

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