Setting up an electronics work area is a highly personal and situational affair, with many interesting problems to be solved, and for many of us, significant budget constraints. The requirements for electronics development vary wildly depending upon the sort of work to be undertaken, but there is core equipment that many of us would consider a bare minimum for usability. [Badar Jahangir Kayani] is at the start of his career as an electrical engineer, and has documented the kitting out of his personal work areas for others to learn from.
As we already touched upon, the cost is often the main driving factor determining what we end up with, and this cost-vs-performance/quality tradeoff is what makes some of us fret over a buying decision. Buying secondhand off eBay is an option, but a lack of warranty and the unknowable condition are not great selling points.
[Badar] has a good grasp of the basic concepts of usability, such as keeping the most frequently used tools, instruments, and components out in the open. Less frequently used stuff is stored in drawers, bins, and compartment boxes. Buying the same storage systems keeps things as consistent as much as possible since it makes storing them easier. We were particularly interested in the use of the cloud-based database solution, Airtable used to create a parts database for minimal outlay.
There is also a lot of detail about how to walk that cost/quality/performance tightrope and get the best-valued gear currently on the market. Some notable examples are the UNI-T UT61E Digital Multimeter for general test use, the Controleo3 reflow controller for SMT assembly, and the Omnifixo OF-M4 magnetic fixament kit for that fiddly wiring part. [Badar] also recommends the FumeClear Solder Fume Extractor, although they lament that particular bit of kit is still under evaluation.
What’s common between one of the most legendary video game characters of all time and a fume extractor ? They both suck. [Chris Borge] is not an electronics hobbyist and only does some occasional soldering. This made his regular fume extractor bulky and inconvenient to position where needed. What could serve him better would be a small extractor that could be attached to a clip or an arm on his helping hand accessory. Being unable to find an off-the-shelf product or a suitable 3d printed design that he liked, he built the Kirby 40mm Fume Extractor.
His initial idea was for a practical design more suited to his specific needs. But somewhere along the way, the thought of a Kirby fan popped up in his head, and it was too good an idea to pass up. Several Kirby fan designs already existed, but none that satisfied [Chris]. Getting from paper sketch to CAD model required quite an effort but the result was worth the trouble, and the design was quite faithful to the original character features. The main body consists of two halves that screw together, and an outlet grill at the back. The body has space for a 40 mm fan and a 10 mm charcoal filter in the front. The wires come out the back, and connect directly to a power supply barrel jack. Arms and eyes are separate pieces that get glued to the body. The feet glue to an intermediate piece, which slides in a dove tail grove in the body. This allows Kirby to be tilted at the right position for optimum smoke extraction.
While Kirby served the purpose, it still didn’t meet the original requirement of attaching to a clip or arm on the helping hand. So [Chris] quickly designed a revised, no-frills model which is essentially a square housing to hold the fan and the filter. It has a flexible stand so it can be placed on a bench. And it can also be attached to the helping hand, making it a more utilitarian design. This design has the charcoal filter behind the fan, but he also has a third design for folks who prefer to have the filter at the front.
He now had a more useful, practical fume extractor, but he couldn’t bring himself to discard his original Kirby. So he printed a couple more 3D parts so that Kirby could fit the end of his vacuum cleaner hose. Now, Kirby sits on his bench, and helps suck up all the bits and bobs of trash on his workbench. We’re sure Kirby is quite pleased with his new role.
Prolific maker [sjm4306] tells us the first iteration of his soldering fan was little more than some cardboard, electrical tape, and a hacked up USB cable. But as we all know, these little projects have a way of evolving over time. Fast forward to today, and his custom fan is a well-polished piece of kit that anyone with a soldering iron would be proud to have on their workbench.
Cardboard has given way to a 3D printed enclosure that holds the fan, electronics, a pair of 18650 cells, and a easily replaceable filter. Between the marbled filament, debossed logo, properly countersunk screw holes, and rounded corners, it’s really hard to overstate how good this case looks. We’ve shamefully produced enough boxy 3D printed enclosures to know that adding all those little details takes time, but the end result really speaks for itself.
The user interface running on the OLED is also an exceptionally nice touch. Sure the fan doesn’t need a graphical display, and [sjm4306] could have saved a lot of time and effort by using a turn-key speed controller, but the push-button configuration complete with graphical indications of fan speed and battery life really give the final product a highly professional feel.
In the video below, [sjm4306] reveals that while the finished product might look great, there were a few bumps in the road. Issues with clearance inside the case made him rethink how things would be wired and mounted, leading to a far more cramped arrangement than he’d anticipated. Part of the problem was that he designed the case first and tried to integrate the electronics later, rather than the other way around; a common pitfall you’d be wise to watch out for.
Even the most safety-conscious hackers among us might overlook protective gear when we’re just doing a quick bit of soldering. Honestly, though, eye protection is always a necessity. And those wisps of smoke, which drift so elegantly off the hot part of the iron, really shouldn’t drift directly into our nostrils. This is especially true if soldering you make a daily habit, or if you use lead-based solder.
And so, in defense of his lungs, [Jeremy S Cook] added a battery-powered fume extraction fan to his custom, concrete-based solder squid. Without proper power controls, though, the fan could easily drain its battery while no actual solder activity was occurring. To tackle that problem, he recently upgraded his system with a passive infrared (PIR) sensor to control when the fan turns on and off. The PIR sensor detects motion, enabling the fan only when it sees busy hands in its view, so he no longer needs to muck around with manual controls.
Despite a large increase in functionality, the design is relatively straightforward and uses off-the-shelf components, making it an accessible project for anyone who knows their way around an iron. [Jeremy] also upgraded his power source to a LiPo battery with onboard charger, which keeps the build light, maneuverable, and easy to get close to whatever he’s working on.
Shop safety is important regardless of what kind of work you do. For those of us soldering, that means extracting the noxious fumes released by heating up the solder flux used in our projects. [yesnoio] brings to us his own spin on the idea of a fume extractor, and it pulls out all stops with bells and whistles to spare.
The Workbench Assistant bot, as [yesnoio] describes it, is an integrated unit mounted atop a small tripod which extends over the working area where you’re soldering. Inside the enclosure are RGBW lights, an IR camera, and an Adafruit ItsyBitsy M4 Express driving the whole show. Aside from just shining a light onto your soldering iron though, the camera senses thermal activity from it to decide when to ramp up the server-grade fan inside which powers the whole fume extraction part of the project.
But the fun doesn’t stop there, as [yesnoio] decided to go for extra style points. The bot also comes with an amplified speaker, playing soundbites whenever actions such as starting or stopping the fan are performed. These soundbites are variations on a theme, like classic Futurama quotes or R2-D2’s chattering from Star Wars. The selectable themes are dubbed “performers”, and they can be reprogrammed easily using CircuitPython. This is a neat way to give your little desktop assistant some personality, and a fun way to break up the monotony of soldering up all those tiny SMD components on your next prototype.
If you are a maker, chances are that you will be exposed to unhealthy fumes at some point during your ventures. Whether they involve soldering, treating wood, laser cutting, or 3D printing, it is in your best interest to do so in a well ventilated environment. What seems like sound advice in theory though is unfortunately not always a given in practice — in many cases, the workspace simply lacks the possibility, especially for hobbyists tinkering in their homes. In other cases, the air circulation is adequate, but the extraction itself could be more efficient by drawing out the fumes right where they occur. The latter was the case for [Zander] when he decided to build his own flexible hose fume extractor that he intends to use for anything from soldering to chemistry experiments.
Built around not much more than an AC fan, flex duct, and activated carbon, [Zander] designed and 3D printed all other required parts that turns it into an extractor. Equipped with a pre-filter to hold back all bigger particles before they hit the fan, the air flow is guided either through the active carbon filter, or attached to another flex duct for further venting. You can see more details of his build and how it works in the video after the break.
Those of us who have spent a lifetime building electronic projects have probably breathed more solder smoke than we should. This is not an ideal situation as we’ve probably increased our risk of asthma and other medical conditions as a result.
It has become more common over the years to see fume extraction systems and filters as part of the professional soldering environment, and this trend has also started to appear in the world of the home solderer. As always, where commercial products go the hardware hacker will never be far behind. We’ve seen people producing their own soldering fume filters using computer fans.
A particularly neat example comes via [Engineer of None], who has posted an Instructable and the YouTube video shown below the break for a filter mounted on a desk lamp. A toaster is used to heat a piece of acrylic. The softened plastic is then shaped to fit the contours of the lamp. The lamp’s articulated arm is perfect for placing light and fume extraction exactly where it is needed. It’s not the most complex of hacks, but we’d have one like it on our bench without a second thought. We would probably add an activated carbon filter to ours though.