Beginner building work bench from scratch [help]

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by Armagguedes, Feb 17, 2007.

  1. Armagguedes

    Thread Starter Member

    Feb 17, 2007
    Hello there.

    I am a beginner in electronics, though i spent a considerable amount of my childhood looking into this, along with all things DIY (namely feeding the VCR Legos). Recently i came across Makezine, which woke the bug up again. Now i have the time, motivation and ability to actually learn about these subjects, and make stuff.

    I already have books ("Electronics, a first course", by Owen Bishop) and a few online resources, like or the Electronics Club,

    I am currently stocking my to-be electronics work bench with all the necessary tools. However, i have some serious questions on what type of gear to get. Please note that, while i am a noob (although an highly motivated/excited one), i prefer to buy quality off the bat, as this will save me money in the long run.

    So, here's to the list:

    BENCH: i was thinking of having someone at an hardware store build me a wood tabletop to cover my desk (for protection), though i am not sure about its thickness (1cm or 0.5cm?). However i have no idea what type of wood it should be made of (are there any proper types of wood), or if it should be covered with something, like formica.
    I am thinking of getting either an antistatic mat or a bracelet too. A "large" bench vise and "smaller" pivoting vise (or something in between ?) is going to be very helpful (besides the "helping hand"/"third hand tool").

    SANDPAPER: i was told that the best i could get to polish component leads was black sandpaper, with a 200-300 grit. Is this right?

    PLIERS: long nose plier, curved long nose plier, side cutters plier, wire stripper plier (those that look like "vampire pliers"). Do the pliers need to be ESD? or are regular pliers enough (while using a conductive/ESD bench mat or a conductive wristwrap)?
    Also, do i get them the long type (200 milimeters / ~8 inches), or shorter (140-160 mm / ~6 inches); which is more practical? The long ones have a more reach, but i imagine they can also become cumbersome in tight spaces?

    SCREWDRIVERS: 1 set of slotted screwdrivers and one set of philips screwdrivers (4-6 sizes). Again, do these need to be ESD tools?

    MULTIMETER: Velleman DVM890 (with capacitance but no inductance measuring capability):
    There is no way i'm buying a professional, +200 EUR one (this one cost me 35), at least not at this stage. Oscilloscopes are for much later.

    VARIABLE PSU: i have absolutely no idea what to get, or what it might cost me.I could use batteries, but they are not particularly practical, and neither are their cases (i know i have some).
    I *think* i need a 1-output (2?) psu, with an output ground plug (besides live and neutral), but on Voltage and Amps i'm at a loss. 0V-30V and 0A-3/5A? I'm considering all voltages, but i don't have a clue on what we actually use, but i will be using this for all those normal DIY projects.
    I *could* build one (and probably will sometime in the somewhat distant future), but still i'd like to have a reliable, variable power source on which to fall back on.

    SOLDERING STATION: after much debating and googling and all that i decided that when the times comes, i will get a Weller W1000 soldering station. It has temperature control, the brand's quality is assured and is compatible with lead-free solder.

    HAND MINIDRILL: the most famous of them all is the Dremel, but i've been reading all sorts of negative critics about them on the net, especially the latest models. In the Makezine fora they advise we get either the Dremel 3956-02 or a Proxxon or a Foredom (steer clear of knock-offs and B&Decker). There is also another brand, Einhell (german); opinions on it?
    I will be using mostly to cut and shape holes in project boxes, to work stripboards, mold and drill Polymorph and all sorts of essentially light work. What is your take on this?


    Other tools (to be acquired as need arises) will include an hot air/heat gun (pref. with temp control) for heatshrink (there is someone selling tons of it on ebay), a glue gun, a brass shavings replacement for the soldering iron sponge cleaner (look for Xytronic 460 or 460A). Other resources i already got include 22 SWG wire reels, a vast amount of Lego parts and some Polymorph.

    I have posted in other fora a post that is somewhat like this one, but while they are fairly active (though as i found out, not as much as AAC), in over a week nobody as answered. Since my components are almost to be delivered (i got some LEDs from abcTronics, and grab bags along with some other assorted stuff from Futurlec), i need to know which tools to get.

    Many thanks for your help.
  2. beenthere

    Retired Moderator

    Apr 20, 2004

    A wood bench is good. I use a length of kitchen counter - it is a moulding of particle board (compressed wood chips and glue) covered with formica, which is a hard decorative layer. I worked in a shop that used plywood with hardboard covering for 35 years. Anything durable will work.

    If a lead is dirty, I just scrape it with an Xacto knife blade (your third most useful tool).

    You can never have enough tools. ESD worries come from personal need. I have never in 40 years popped any sensitive device, and I never use any precautions. Could be luck.

    Meter - get a good one.

    Power supply - see what you're going to need before you get a big one. Batteries can supply lots of current, and be recharged off a small bench supply.

    I've been using a Weller WTCP for 32 years. I'm on my third tip. I am not especially careful with it.

    Don't forget a solder sucker and desoldering wick.

    I know solder is supposed to be lead-free, but I cannot use the tin-silver crap. If you don't snitch on yourself, nobody will know. Ersin 63-37 eutectic is a joy beyond words. Get fine stuff - .025", wahtever that might be in mm.
  3. wireaddict

    Senior Member

    Nov 1, 2006
    If you make a workshop in your basement I can virtually guarantee that ESD won't be a problem because of the humidity; that's where mine is and I've never had a problem either.

    I have a wooden workbench with a 1/2 in [12 mm] particle board top. While it's a little rough, it's certainly adequate for electronic construction and repair work. I also built a shelf on the back to put equipment on and under such as variable PSUs, 'scope, RF and AF signal generators, signal tracer, etc.

    I've found that both a large and small vise are handy for different jobs; a small vise is handy for soldering cable connectors for example and a large vise is good for holding chassis or a coil winder.

    In addition to the equipment beenthere mentioned, I also use a drill press for all sorts of construction projects. A bench grinder is handy at times, too. A variable autotransformer [2 amp or larger] is good for testing old tube [valve] type equipment that's been out of use for years [bring the voltage up slowly the first time to protect against shorted caps]. Finally, you'll want lots of light.
  4. hgmjr

    Retired Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    You will find a magnifing lens with a built-in lamp a very useful addition to your tools. An articulated model that clamps to the edge of your work bench is what I have in mind. Your eyes may be good but the additional magnification will come in handy when trying to determine the part number written in type that approaches the font-size used on micro-film:).

  5. cmartinez

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 17, 2007
    For the drilling, a Black & Decker RTX tool ( is an excellent alternative to Dremel. It's also more affordable.
    I find it far more comfortable to hang the tool from a wall and then use the flex shaft for drilling than to use the rotary tool itself. It gets heavy after a while, and some PCB's have several hundred holes in them.
    Also, it's also a good idea to have a magnifier lamp ( installed in your workbench. Get a good quality one though, the cheap ones tend to sag with time and won't stay in place for long.
  6. BeeBop


    Apr 25, 2006
    You could get both by covering your bench with galvanized tin, or aluminum sheet, and grounding that.

    The magnifier lamp is also a useful item - perhaps most used on my bench!

    As for the power supply, this would make a very good first project. I would build an analog supply with variable + and - outputs. Should be easy to make one which delivers an amp or an amp and a half.

    ( I'm sure I've posted here before? but this looks like my first?)
  7. Armagguedes

    Thread Starter Member

    Feb 17, 2007
    I'm just starting on electronics, i would be crazy to do something like that now. Maybe sometime in the future (that will require soldering, which requires an iron/station, which in turn requires money, which is being spent on a workbench and some basic tools), after i know how to solder properly.

    I am asking all those questions about static because i'm one of those people that everytime gets out of the car, sparks fly out. I will get rid of my mat once i assemble the lab though (it is in my bedroom).

    Is the magnifier lense that comes with an helping hand any good? I know it does not have a lamp, but i could always make something with LEDs.
  8. hgmjr

    Retired Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    An inspection lamp similar to the one that was linked to by cmartinez is more likely to do the trick. You will find that you can never have enough light and magnification when it comes to looking at today's incredibly small devices and components.

  9. wireaddict

    Senior Member

    Nov 1, 2006
    I forgot to mention that; I don't have an inspection lamp although they're handy, instead, I use a binocular headset magnifier for close-up work, the kind that jewlers use.
  10. Paul Perry

    New Member

    Feb 21, 2007
    I consider that a shocking idea - in every sense of the word!
    If you are working on mains equipment, sooner or later, you might accidentally connect the mains to the metal benchtop. Not good.

    In any case, if you place a board on a metal sheet, you will short out half the circuit.
    I just put a thin sheet of particleboard on the benchtop. And replace it when it gets too scungy.
  11. Gompers


    Feb 21, 2007
    A great tool for any workshop is a nibbling tool to nibble out thin sheetmetal and some plastic sheet goods .Another handy tool is a hole punching plier set called a Whitney punch. Don't forget a pop rivet tool and a few #30 drill bits (used for 1/8" diameter rivets.) Not sure if still available, but a block of Sal Amoniac to brighten up and re-tin solderng iron tips.
    There's a tool used by sheet metal workers (Tin Knockers)to easialy bend thin sheetmetal to create right angle(L shaped) bends and/or U shaped channel for brackets and clips. Non magnetic tweezers and heat sinks also come to mind'
  12. Distort10n

    Active Member

    Dec 25, 2006
    Does anyone have any experience with PC based oscilloscopes? I am looking around for an oscilloscope to use at home for projects and the biggest catch is, of course, money as well as space.

    I am sure you can catch a good deal on eBay if you sit and watch it like a hawk; however, what about Picoscope? I am leaning toward the 2104/2105 model.
  13. GreenPenInc


    May 13, 2007
    One thing I've found very helpful is the TAB guide to understanding electricity and electronics.
    Their first project, which is described in chapters 3-6, is building your own power supply. It's what I'm working on right now. I highly recommend it, as it gives fantastic experience, and it seems to be a lot cheaper too. See if you can get the book from the library, and if not, then you can always use the "Search Inside" feature judiciously to find the project description.