The soldering Iron will be the most basic and most used tool in your electronics arsenal. When powered on it will heat up and can be used to melt conductive solder which will be used to make electronic connection on your circuits. This is how you will make the majority of electronic connections on the devices you build.
There are a wide range of soldering irons available with prices ranging from as little as ten or fifteen dollars to upwards of several hundred. If you are just getting started in electronics you needn’t break the bank though. I would recommend spending somewhere in the range of thirty to forty dollars for your first soldering iron, Look for one that is 35-50 watts, with adjustable temperatures and removable tips. This will aid in cleaning and to allow you to use tips and temperature specialized to the job and type of solder you are working with.
A word on safety: Soldering Irons get hot, really hot. Be aware of this. It is important to always use a soldering stand to hold your iron when you are not using it. Also be aware of where your cord is, if possible avoid letting the cord hang from your workspace. Believe me there is nothing worse than catching your cord with your foot or chair and having the iron pulled from your workbench towards you.
Next to your iron your solderless breadboard will be the most important tool on your bench, possible even more-so. A solderless breadboard is a plastic board with a series of holes across it. Each hole has a small metal clip which will connect to a piece of wire or component lead which you insert into them. The clips are connected together in groups of 5 beneath the board allowing you to create complex circuits without ever picking up your soldering iron. Most breadboards will also have 2 power rows which run along the edges of the board, these are mean t to be connected to the positive and negative terminals of a battery so that you can access the power and ground points with minimal effort from anywhere on your circuit.
Helping Hand Tool
I was initially skeptical about helping hand tools when I started into electronics but I quickly learned just how invaluable they are. As an example let’s say you are trying to solder two pieces of wire together, undoubtedly one of the easiest soldering jobs you can do. So you have your solder roll in your left hand, and your soldering iron in your right, and then you pick up and hold the wires together with your … foot?
By nature soldering work can often feel like juggling, having to hold more things than you have hands while trying to do precision work with a searing hot tool. This is why a helping hand is indispensable, it can hold wires or boards in place while you work with them and free up your hands to work with the iron and solder directly. Some also come with a magnifying glass to help you with more detailed work.
You’re doing great, you’ve downloaded your schematics and soldered together your first circuit. You’re nearly shaking with anticipation as you connect the battery, throw the switch and… nothing happens. Now is the multimeters turn to shine.
Your multimeter will be your foremost troubleshooting tool, it can be used to confirm battery charge, check the conductivity of your solder points and other connections, verify resistor values and functionality and a host of other invaluable tests.
An entry level multimeter needn’t cost more than twenty or thirty dollars and will save you infinite headaches as you search your circuits for the source of problems or test salvaged parts for functionality.
It’s inevitable that when soldering (especially as a beginner) from time to time you will end up with more liquid solder than you know what to do with. Accidentally bridging connections or soldering the wrong parts together can cause real problems. Luckily though de-soldering tools are cheap and widely available. There are a number of different types of de-soldering tools available, personally I prefer piston style tools like the one above because it can be easily operated with one hand. You compress the plunger, hold it above the solder you want to suck up, press the button and it sucks away any excess solder. This can also be extremely useful for salvaging parts from old electronics.
There are number of small hand tools you may require but most can be purchased for next to nothing online or at your local hardware store. If you are starting out with no tools it may be advantageous to purchase a small toolkit that covers most of the basics and fill any holes from there as there is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a job only to realize you don’t have the right screwdriver to complete it. What I would recommend you absolutely must have to get started are the following:
- Precision and normal sized screw drivers (Phillips and Slot-head at the least)
- Angle cutters / wire cutters
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Wire Strippers
- Hot Glue Gun