Beginning Electronics Tools

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by Kalagaraz, Sep 18, 2010.

  1. Kalagaraz

    Thread Starter New Member

    Sep 18, 2010
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    So I'm looking for some tools and stuff for a good start on an electronics lab setup. I kicked my family out of my dining room ready to set it up as a place for me to learn electronics. I do want an oscilloscope, but I want the kind that hooks into PC as they are a bit cheaper. Does anyone know a good one that has a decent number of channels? I'd like one that hooks in via a serial port or something for my laptop, not a sound card version.

    My budget is about $300 for now. This includes equipment, tools, and sets of some common components. I'd like a breadboard too with jumper wires so I can build circuits without soldering.

    What I'm asking if there are any specific brands anyone suggests, or a cheap place where I can order this all in 1 place (to save on shipping)...trying to stretch my $300 as far as it can go. Also what tools do people suggest? If you had a friend with $300 and he wanted to learn electronics, what would you have him buy?
     
  2. wannaBinventor

    Member

    Apr 8, 2010
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    You may be able to find a super-cheapo oscilliscope on EBAY.

    As far as multimeters go, I'm still using one that I got from walmart for 20 bucks.
     
  3. sceadwian

    New Member

    Jun 1, 2009
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    You won't find many that use a serial port, aside from used DSO's on ebay. There are no sound card based oscilloscopes that I know of that you would pay for, a sound card alone can be use for one, if it's AC coupled and bellow 22khz signal. I've heard people use sound cards for DC based oscilloscope using an external chopper circuit but messy doesn't even begin to describe it, also the functionality and accuracy is... poor.

    Look up USB osciliscopes, there are plenty out there, at least 2-3 in the range of 300 dollars brand new, personally you don't have to have a scope it's not required, I get along fine without one.

    If I had 300 dollars to spend and I had no equipment, knowing what I know now I'd make sure I had a spare ATX power supply from an older computer to use a 3.3 5 and 12 volt supply. (free) Your first 'serious' tool should be a temperature controlled (not wattage controlled) soldering iron. I bought mine from www.mpja.com for about 80 dollars US, I just bought an extra handle for it so I can use one for soldering and one for desoldering so I have a nice tip and one that I'll abuse, extra handle was 12 dollars. I also got a heat gun from there which is useful as a dirt cheap (20 bucks) mass desoldering and hot air rework tool. I get huge amounts of useful free components by taking apart old devices that people throw out that don't work but still have tons of functional components in them.

    A cheap multimeter should get you buy for the most part, learning electronics isn't necessarily about the tools, but about the foot work (mentally) and understanding of what you're seeing. No tool will hold your hand and explain things =) And hyper precision meters and scopes won't give you that much more information than the cheapies do in the long run.

    MPJA sells breadboard kits as well pretty cheap, but a micro controller development kit which can be had for 100-150 dollars might be a good idea as well. You can MAKE a low frequency scope using micro controllers.

    There's a lot to take in, I would STRONGLY suggest you take your time figuring out what you should buy (several weeks to a month at least) before you make any purchases.

    For free components and a fun hobby in and of itself, disassembling used electronics devices for bits is time well spent.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2010
  4. Jaguarjoe

    Active Member

    Apr 7, 2010
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    Here's the best deal around for a PC scope:

    http://www.pdamusician.com/dpscope/index.html

    Harbor freight has basic DMM's on sale for $2. They have a nicer one for $17.

    Electronix express has a bunch of tool kits starting at $13.

    eBay has scads of stuff including breadboards.
     
  5. loosewire

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 25, 2008
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    Cheap vs accurate any comments,how about a good analog
    meter with pointer that measures resistance accurate.Not
    cheap,not expenstive.
     
  6. sceadwian

    New Member

    Jun 1, 2009
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    A decent analog meter can actually be superior to a digital one in many respects, mainly because they're constantly updated by the signal, most cheap digital meters have a horrendously low refresh rate. You can see signals on an analog meter that would look like random numbers on a digital one.
     
  7. Jaguarjoe

    Active Member

    Apr 7, 2010
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    If I only had $300 to play with, a VOM would be on the very bottom of my wish list. I haven't used, or needed to use, a VOM since the mid 80's. A nice used one acquired very cheaply, like off eBay, might change my mind but it is still of limited use.
     
  8. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
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    You should get a meter. I use one everyday, multiple times a day. I would be crippled without one. If you get a soldering iron and a breadboard kit, you WILL need a meter. It's like an auto mechanic who says he doesn't need a tool box.

    :)
     
  9. Nik

    Well-Known Member

    May 20, 2006
    55
    3
    Playing around with transistors and solderless breadboards, perhaps working through on-line tutorials, you may find you need two (2) DVM / VOM, typically to measure and compare base and emitter / collector currents. So, budget for *at least* two 'cheap and cheerful' meters instead of one.

    You may have to make up extra leads to allow you to go straight from DVM or scope into breadboard's ~0.8mm holes. Some pins, heat-shrink, silicone sheathed super-flexible wire and 4mm plugs should do the trick.

    I do recommend you get a loupe or stamp-inspector magnifier to see component markings. Also, get a soldering 'helping hand', preferably with twin clips and a 85~90mm diam lens.

    Uh, a USB 'scope may eat most of your budget in one bite.
     
  10. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
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    Scopes are a bonus, but a meter is a must.
     
  11. Markd77

    Senior Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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  12. sceadwian

    New Member

    Jun 1, 2009
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    Jaguar, what do you do that doesn't require the use of a basic meter? I don't care if it's a 5 dollar meter or a 500 dollar one everyone needs a basic meter. Breadboard are good and will let you play but you'll find their limitations soon enough, a soldering iron would be next. Other than that a basic set of plyers and wire cutters help. One decent wire stripper is good too, but when I say decent I don't mean expensive, the on I have cost about 5 bucks.

    I have three meters, one was a gift, the other was 60 bucks, and the third was 5 bucks. I've found one commonality between them, they are very useful. If I knew now what I'd known then I'd rather have 2-3 5 dollar meters than the 60 dollar meter. I've had to use the extra features it has so few times (and I could have done what I needed at the time without those features) that the basic VOM is an essential tool.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2010
  13. marshallf3

    Well-Known Member

    Jul 26, 2010
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    They aren't showing them on the website but they may still have some to get rid of. I bought a Tektronix 2245 scope in great shape & calibration for $167.50 from http://www.techrecovery.com

    Look up the specs and specifics, these were considered to be one of the best they ever made before they went digital. It's ony rated for 100 MHz but so long as accuracy isn't a necessity it will easily display 400 MHz waveforms. I have better things to do with my PCs than use them for scopes.

    No probes but they can be bought cheap on eBay or about anywhere. I just bought a Hitachi probe from them when I bought the scope.

    I'm sure you've covered the basic hand tools and we all agree that the $2 HF meter is a bargain and surprisingly accurate as a starter, for the next step up I'd look around that multimeter website someone posted a while back. In mid-price I'm somewhat partial to B&K. You'll find that PATIENCE and eBay can be your friend on a lot of things. Just missed out on a nice 400 MHz frequency counter the other day that went for something like $14, keep your eyes out for a cheap signal generator too. DO NOT fall into a bidding war on eBay, unless it's a rarity the same or similar will show back up within a week or two.

    You'll also want a power supply, two or a dual output model can be handy.

    Craigslist occasionally has stuff people find in their dad's garage they haven't a clue as to the value and you can score there at times too. You might also look up when the next "Hamfest" is coming up near you, and don't rule out any surplus stores, especially if your state has one or an occasional auction as ours does and if you call around to auction companies some may know when an old TV shop is closing. If you ever get lucky enough to fall into one of those you'll find few bidders and a veritable bonanza of test equipment and especially parts - sometimes entire bin boxes already sorted out into values.

    Finding someone else that has the same hobby will often lead you to bargain places as well.
     
  14. prb22786

    Member

    Sep 19, 2010
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    As far as components goes, I'm a big fan of DigiKey (www.digikey.com). They also carry tools. If you're just starting out in electronics, I wouldn't get an O-scope. I've had one for 3-4 years now, and I've used it maybe three times, and that was as a logic probe.

    I'm surprised no one mentioned wiring. For breadboarding, you want to get some 22 AWG PVC solid core. My favorite tool is my soldering iron, but my second favorite is a good pair of wire strippers. I tend to spend my money on strippers and cutters, they'll last forever if you get good ones.

    If you start getting into hobby projects, I highly recommend you learn how to assemble connectors and do your own wiring. It gets really tiresome having to solder and desolder everything. If you pick up a Molex generic crimping tool (~$50), you can assemble hundreds of different kinds of mating connectors. I can't tell you how nice it is to have a project look professional with properly routed wires and connectors.
     
  15. Jaguarjoe

    Active Member

    Apr 7, 2010
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    90
    I'm sorry, in the old days a VOM was a Simpson 260 or similar, a portable analog meter. A VTVM was a vacuum tube voltmeter, like an RCA Voltohmyst, another analog meter but requiring 120VAC to operate. I mistakenly assumed everyone knew that. A digital multimeter is a DMM, of course. What I was trying to say is that an analog meter is of limited usefulness nowadays, not a priority item for me.
    I have three DMM's a nice Fluke and two cheaper non Fluke ones. Couldn't live without 'em.
     
  16. Kalagaraz

    Thread Starter New Member

    Sep 18, 2010
    6
    0
    I appreciate all the advice guys. $300 is todays budget, I get paid every week and generally have about $200 to spare a week after bills.

    Anyones wondering if anyone knows a specific site to order most the stuff for a beginneer. I don't really want to order 300 things from 300 different sites, shipping cost nightmare. Also a beginneers kit on a website would be worth the convience charge. Something that contains a breadboard, jumper wires, and a decent set of components or something.
     
  17. Jaguarjoe

    Active Member

    Apr 7, 2010
    770
    90
    Electronix Express has resistor kits, capacitor kits, breadboards, jumpers, tools, soldering irons, DMM's and just about anything else you'd need.
    Order their print catalog, IMHO its much easier to use than their website.
    Maximum Robotics has some nice component assortments. Their website is messed up right now, but it has their phone number on it.
    Most of my solid state stuff and special parts come from Newark, Mouser or Digi-Key. None of them have a minimum order policy.
     
  18. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
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    I'm partial to Jameco. www.jameco.com

    They have it all, and I once got a power supply from them that was supposed to be a 3.3 volt with adjustment. The output was 2.5 volts and wouldn't adjust. They sent me another one no questions asked. I use them regularly now.
     
  19. Kalagaraz

    Thread Starter New Member

    Sep 18, 2010
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  20. marshallf3

    Well-Known Member

    Jul 26, 2010
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    That's incredibly high priced for what it is, and why pay for small integral power supplies?

    http://www.jameco.com
    http://www.mcmelectronics.com

    I was perfectly happy running off batteries or anything else I could scrape up for years. If you hit up thrift shops you can usually find perfectly good "orphaned" wall-warts for 0.50 - $1 each in all sorts of voltages and current capabilities.
     
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