As with most things, having the proper tools for the job will help things go more smoothly. Electronics is no different. The projects you will attempt if you follow along with SpazzTech tutorials may require that you have a few basic tools. Let's go over what these might be and what they are used for:
When it comes time to test a circuit for the first time, you usually start out with a prototype board. In the picture to the right you can see a small prototype board filled with rows of holes, also known as tie-points or positions, for placing electronic components. The hole spacing on these boards is usually 0.100" or 2.5 mm. This matches most through hole type integrated circuit (IC) chips that we use in other SapzzTech tutorials. The holes in these solderless breadboard type of prototype boards are connected together electrically as indicated by all the red boxes on the picture. The strips shown at the top and bottom of this picture are typically used as power and ground rails. Notice the valley in the center. This valley is usually straddled by DIP type IC chips as we will see later.
It is a good idea to keep several of these around so that prototypes of your circuits can remain assembled while you work on other prototypes. They come in many different sizes. Below are some links to a few options that are currently in use at SpazzTech:
The next thing you will need to make prototype circuits a little easier is an assortment of jumper wires. An alternative to these is to cut and strip lengths of standard hook-up wire from a roll, but having some preformed or terminated wires makes things a little easier and quicker.
There are kits available with preformed and color coded lengths that are made to fit neatly into the solderless breadboard type prototype boards described above. These sit flat onto the board to make a nice and neat prototype circuit.
Another inexpensive time saver are just some various lengths of hook-up wire terminated with pins. Some advantages to these are their flexibility and ability to more readily connect to other boards or devices. They also make a nice test point to connect our oscilloscope to which we will see later.
Finally, it can be extremely useful to have some jumper wires terminated with alligator clips. We use these for hands free measurements with our DMM or for making other off board connects such as to terminals of SMT components that won't plug into our solderless breadboard.
Here are some links to where you can stock up on jumper wires:
Before you even build your prototype circuit you can often avoid a lot of frustration and maybe some smoke by simulating the circuit or at least parts of the circuit. Multisim, by National Instruments, is a popular and powerful simulation tool we use. It used to cost hundreds of dollars unless you were a student. However, now National Instrument and Mouser have come together to offer a free version called Multisim Blue. You can download your copy here.
The digital multi-meter is a tool you will use often. Like the name suggests the DMM is a digital meter that can take multiple types of measurements. They may vary from model to model, but most can be used to measure AC voltage, DC voltage, current, and resistance. Some will be able to also measure capacitance, test diodes, and even test transistors. To the right you can see 4 different multi-meters. From left to right we have an analog multimeter by Craftsman, sort of a generic DMM from Knight, a Fluke 77 IV, and an Ideal DMM model 61-360. The model we use the most at SpezzTech and recommend is the Fluke 77. The Fluke 77 can measure AC voltage, DC voltage, resistance, DC current, AC current, frequency, capacitance, and diodes. Get your own here.
We also recommend keeping a pack of spare fuses around for the DMM. When switching back and forth between current and voltage measurements, its very easy to make a mistake that causes these fuse to blow. We have learned from first hand experience they are not always available at local stores like Radio Shack. Having a few in your toolbox can save you a couple of days of down time from waiting for a replacement fuse. Here is a link to a 5 pack of 440 mA / 1000 V fuses for the Fluke 77.
The oscilloscope is another fundamental tool you will use often. The oscilloscope is used to measure voltage over time. By measuring voltage in the time domain, you can also determine the waveform period, frequency, amplitude and shape. Most oscilloscopes will have multiple channels so that multiple signals such as a circuit input and output can be captured next to each other to view their cause and effect relationship.
Oscilloscopes can range in cost from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. For most of the work we will be doing in the tutorials on this site, an entry level oscilloscope is sufficient. We tend to be partial toward Tektronix oscilloscopes like the one to the right.
You will of course need to have a power source to test the circuits you build. For most of the projects you will see in SpazzTech tutorials, 3.3V, 5V, 12V, and 18V supplies will cover most needs. An adjustable supply would be ideal. While its not absolutely necessary having a power supply that displays the voltage and current being supplied can be handy. You can do without that by connecting a DMM to the output of the supply as you make adjustments, but it is simpler to just read the value from the display of the supply. The power supply listed below should be sufficient for the majority of small projects.
If you plan to build multiple electronics projects, chances are you will need an assortment of basic components common to all, or at least most circuits. These basic components are so inexpensive, it would be a shame to have to wait for shipping or make a run to Radio Shack every time you find yourself needing one. Below is a list of components you might want to consider having on hand in bulk just in case you need them. If you do enough electronics projects, you eventually will.