You’ve got your wire strippers and your soldering iron…now what? You probably know that there is a standard set of essential tools that you need on your electronics workbench. You can find helpful lists of these tools at Lady Ada’s site and Dan’s Data.
However, real tool junkies always want just the right tool for the job. Here are five electronics tools you may not know you were missing. These esoteric tools go a bit beyond the basics that everyone should have.
1) Resistor lead forming tool.
Okay, you can bend your resistor leads by hand. We know. We all do it. But, resistor benders are fabulous for getting the leads bent squarely enough to go easily through the holes in your PCB or perf board. Silly? No, because it helps keep your board looking neat, and keeps the resistors from sticking too far above the board. If you are populating a circuit board with a lot of resistors, this tool can actually save you a lot of time. How? By making sure that your resistors are bent to exactly the correct length, so that they go through the hole on the first try, without any fuss. This is one of those tools that we never thought we needed until we got one. (And we like them so much that we sell them at our web store now.)
The tool itself is just a piece of injection-molded plastic, with slots on both sides for different sizes (i.e., power rating), and for different total lead lengths. You hold the resistor in the appropriately sized slot and bend the leads down.
Above on the right are two resistors, one bent by hand, and one bent with the tool. The one bent with the tool looks much neater and only takes about half as much time to bend. Mind you we’re only talking about a few seconds in either case, but if you’re installing a lot of resistors….
2) Vacuum suction pen placement tool.
Little parts can be hard to pick up. That’s where this comes in handy! Push the button to expel the air, touch down on a flat surface and release the button to form suction. Works great for just long enough to get your part where it needs to be. Interchangable suction cups allow you to work with different sized parts. This particular one is part number AO939 at Stan Rubinstein ($6).
3) Chip inserter.
This tool is designed to insert a DIP chip into a circuit board even though the leads are bent outwards, as they come from the factory. You slide the chip into the end of the tool, put it where it goes, and press the button to push it into the baord. When aligned correctly, they do a good job of putting even pressure across the chip. However, Dan’s Data suggests avoiding these– and truth be told, we don’t use them much. However, they are totally cool looking. As we’ll see next there are better ways to solve this problem.
You need a different one for each package style. We have two – they’re cheap at our local surplus stores.
4) IC Lead Straightener Tool.
When you get chips, the leads aren’t quite parallel, so they don’t quite fit in a socket or PCB without some prebending. A quick squeeze of this crimper, and they fit perfectly. By performing the straightening role, it eliminates the primary need for the DIP insertion tool, which is to straighten the leads as they are inserted. Accommodates two different widths of DIP ICs in a variety of lengths. Jameco part number 99363: $7.69 and worth every penny!
5) IC Popper.
When you are scavenging parts off of boards, you need a way to get the chips off. Slide the very fine wire ends under surface mount components to lift them off when using hot air to melt the solder.