Debugging Electronics: To Know Why It Didn’t Work, First Find What It Is Actually Doing

Congratulations, you have just finished assembling your electronics project. After checking for obvious problems you apply power and… it didn’t do what you wanted. They almost never work on the first try, and thus we step into the world of electronics debugging with Daniel Samarin as our guide at Hackaday Superconference 2019. The newly published talk video embedded below.

Beginners venturing just beyond blinking LEDs and premade kits would benefit the most from information here, but there are tidbits useful for more experienced veterans as well. The emphasis is on understanding what is actually happening inside the circuit, which explains the title of the talk: Debugging Electronics: You Can’t Handle the Ground Truth! So we can compare observed behavior against designed intent. Without an accurate understanding, any attempted fix is doomed to failure.

To be come really good at this, you need to embrace the tools that are often found on a well stocked electronics bench. Daniel dives into the tricks of the trade that transcend printf and blinking LED to form a plan to approach any debugging task.

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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?

Tools: Proxxon Drill Press TBM115/TBM220

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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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