Essential Tools

When i started out building circuits i didn’t have many tools and didn’t know much about the options out there, so thought it would be nice to give a quick guide to the basics.

Here I’m compiling a list of useful tools to the electronic engineer. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’ll keep adding things over time. For now I’ve just added the essentials and will add additional tools later on:

I’ve included links to some tools that you can buy in the UK, these are by no means recommendations but should give you an idea of what to look for. If any readers in the US feel like compiling a similar list, I’ll happily add them here.

Multimeter

wikipedia

A multimeter is an essential tool and will allow you to diagnose all sorts of problems. It will allow you to test components, check fuses, check for dry joints and could even save you from serious injury by detecting high voltage before you hurt yourself.

Which one to buy

Any basic digital multimeter will be extremely useful, prices range from £5 to £600 plus for logging and graphing meters. Extra cash improves accuracy, makes the meter tougher and adds features such as auto ranging, frequency measurement and capacitor measurement. Try to avoid cheap, no name meters if you plan to use with high voltage though.

Basic (Rapid, UK)

Mid-Range (Rapid, UK)

High-End (Rapid, UK)

Professional (Rapid, UK)

Soldering iron

wikipedia

If you want to build circuits then you are going to need one of these. Different people prefer different tips so try a few out. There are many different types of iron available such as plug in, battery powered and gas powered. I’m going to stick with plug in ones here as these offer the best value.

Which one to buy

Try and buy one with a decent amount of power and a power adjuster. A basic plug in model will be ok for basic work but you may find yourself wanting more or less heat. The handle of the iron shouldn’t heat up much during use and you should get an iron stand or solder station as this gives you somewhere to put the iron when you’re not holding it.

Basic (Rapid, UK)

Mid-Range (Rapid, UK)

High-End (Rapid, UK)

Solder sucker

wikipedia

You will make a soldering mistake at some point and when you do this is probably the best tool for removing solder. You can get ones with heated tips but this isn’t necessary as the soldering iron can be used to melt the solder anyway. Some people prefer a solder wick but I’ve never used one and never felt the need for one.

Which one to buy

Just a basic solder sucker is fine. An electric one might be useful if you make a lot of mistakes.

basic (Rapid, UK)

mid-range (Rapid, UK)

Track cutting tool

This can be a drill bit, a tool designed for the job, a bradawl or any other tool that can be used for scraping and cutting copper tracks. One of these is vital if using strip board for circuits and still very useful for printed circuit boards

Which one to buy

As I said, there are lots of tools you can use for this but a tool made for the job will make life easier, especially if you plan on making lots of circuits on strip board.

basic (Rapid, UK)

Screwdriver set

wikipedia

Needed for fixing heat sinks on, fastening boards to brackets, opening cases and general DIY. Don’t forget to get yourself a good quality screwdriver set. I prefer the ones where you have a handle and just change the tips as they are more compact, but try and get one with a large range of tips and not just phillips, posidrive and flat heads. Allen key heads, socket heads and torx heads are also useful for those hack jobs.

Which one to buy

Most screwdriver sets will do. High precision is always nicer to use though so best to avoid value deals and cheap no name tools. You will probably need two separate sets, one for small screws and torx and another for larger screws.

basic set (Rapid, UK)

Precision set (Rapid, UK)

Needle nosed pliers / Snipe nosed pliers

wikipedia

For gripping, squeezing, twisting and handling small electronics, you will struggle without these. Get ones with insulated handles, just because they are more comfortable.

Which one to buy

Cheap pliers will do the job but quality is always nicer to use. They should be light weight and spring open nicely. If you’re planning to do other DIY work then you may with to buy a whole set of different pliers.

basic (Rapid, UK)

basic set (Rapid, UK)

Wire cutters / Side cutters

wikipedia

Not just useful for cutting wires, but also for stripping them and cutting the excess leads from soldered components. Quality is important here, a nice sharp pair will be much easier to use. Get ones with insulated handles, just because they are more comfortable.

Which one to buy

The sharper the better. These dont need to be big as they’ll mostly be used for single wires. The ones in the set above will probably be good enough, but you might consider upgrading later

basic (Rapid, UK)

mid-range (Rapid, UK)

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