Welcome to the Thursday Toolkit series, about tools for building Physical Computing projects.
Today just some more general notes about stuff which you probably already have: screwdrivers, pliers, tweezers, that sort of stuff. None of this is electronic – but some details do tend to matter in this context.
Don’t expect top-of-the-line professional tools – just stuff which ought to work nicely. The idea is that if any of those tools break, then apparently you’re using it a lot, so maybe now’s a good time to get a better-quality version of that particular tool! – and the rest still comes in handy. By then, you’ll already have some experience, and you’ll be better equipped to pick a good brand which meets your need. It may sound crazy, but by the time you’ve managed to break all of these tools, you’ll have gained plenty of experience with each of them (or you’re handling them too roughly). Either way, it’s still worth the initial expense!
One of the tools you’ll use a lot are side-cutters, to snip off the wires of resistors, caps, etc. after having soldered these components into your circuit or onto your board. The one in this set works, but also illustrates the kind-of-average build quality of these items:
The jaws will cut just fine, but they are not 100% parallel – it’ll cut better near the end (which is what matters most anyway), than inside where these cutters don’t fully close. But hey – they do work.
Other items in this toolbox are: various types of screwdrivers (flat, philips, and torque), hex spanners, and such. Nothing spectacular, but they come in small sizes – very convenient for electronics use.
There’s a little magnetic LED light (yawn), a loupe (oh so handy, at times, with SMD), and some less common utilities like a magnet on a telescopic pointer and a long “gripper” – useful to get screws accidentally dropped in some hard-to-reach spots, I suppose.
Furthermore there are two types of tweezers in this collection, a straight “reverse-action” type which opens when squeezed, and one bent to the side. Both can be extremely useful, for very different purposes: the straight one acts like a weak clip, since it springs back closed when released. It can be used to gently hold something in place while you’re soldering or measuring it (it does conduct heat, so don’t put it too close to the spot you want to solder).
The standard tweezer is an excellent example of a prolongement du corps – an extension of your body, letting you do more than you’d think possible. I prefer this “angled” type with a bend in it over straight models. It takes very little time to learn to pick up and manipulate tiny SMD components with it. I remember quite well how amazed I was when trying this for the first time with sub-millimeter SMDs – felt a bit like being a neuro-surgeon :)
None of these items are very special. You probably have most of them already. Otherwise, just be sure to get at least the side-cutters, the standard tweezers, and a loupe (or small magnifying glass) … even if you don’t do SMD.