Tools for Electronics

Also see: Soldering guide | Workbench

Soldering iron and stand

For general electronics work the best type of soldering iron is one powered by mains electricity (230V in the UK), it should have a heatproof silicone cable for safety. The iron's power rating should be 15 to 25W and it should be fitted with a small bit of 2 to 3mm diameter.

If you are buying your first soldering iron I recommend the Antex XSL25W from Rapid Electronics. It is designed for lead-free solder which melts at a slightly higher temperature than traditional solder, but the iron can be used with traditional solder as well. It has a safe heatproof silicone cable and is for a 230V mains supply, fitted with a UK plug. Rapid Electronics also sell soldering irons for a 110V mains supply.

Rapid Electronics: Antex XSL25W soldering iron

soldering iron

Remember to buy a stand too. You must have a safe place to put the soldering iron when you are not holding it. The stand should include a sponge which can be dampened for cleaning the tip of the iron.

Rapid Electronics: soldering stand

soldering iron stand

soldering iron stand
Photograph © Rapid Electronics

Other types of soldering iron

Low voltage soldering irons are available, but their extra safety is undermined if you have a mains lead to their power supply! Temperature controlled irons are excellent for frequent use, but not worth the extra expense if you are a beginner. Gas-powered irons are designed for use where no mains supply is available and are not suitable for everyday use. Pistol shaped solder guns are far too powerful and cumbersome for normal electronics use.


Solder

reels of solder, photgraph © Rapid Electronics

The best size of solder for electronics is 22 swg (swg = standard wire gauge). Thicker solder (such as 18swg) can be used for larger contacts on switches and other parts but it requires more care when used for finer work on stripboard and most PCB joints. I recommend using lead-free solder.

Rapid Electronics: lead-free solder

Solder for electronics use contains tiny cores of flux, like the wires inside a mains flex. The flux is corrosive, like an acid, and it cleans the metal surfaces as the solder melts. This is why you must melt the solder actually on the joint, not on the iron tip. Without flux most joints would fail because metals quickly oxidise and the solder itself will not flow properly onto a dirty, oxidised, metal surface.

Always wash your hands after using solder, this is especially important with traditional solder because it contains lead which is toxic.



Hand tools for Electronics

You may already have some of these tools such as the pliers and screwdriver.

Desoldering pump (solder sucker)

For desoldering a joint to correct a mistake or replace a component. An ESD nozzle prevents damage to ICs which can be damaged by static electricity.

Rapid Electronics: desolder pump

An alternative is solder remover braid which acts as a wick for the unwanted solder.

Rapid Electronics: desolder braid

For an explanation of how to use these tools please see the Soldering Guide.

desoldering pump

desoldering pump

Solder remover braid, photograph © Rapid Electronics

desolder braid

Photographs © Rapid Electronics


Crocodile clip (heat sink)

crocodile clip, photograph © Rapid Electronics

For use as a heat sink, protecting components such as transistors which can be damaged by heat. A standard crocodile clip (without a plastic cover) works as well as specialist tools.

Rapid Electronics: crocodile clip


Track cutter

track cutter, photograph © Rapid Electronics

For cutting stripboard tracks under ICs and elsewhere. A 3mm drill bit can be used but it is easier with a handle.

Rapid Electronics: track cutter

Photograph © Rapid Electronics


Side cutters

side cutter, photograph © Rapid Electronics

For trimming component leads close to the circuit board.

Rapid Electronics: side cutters

Photograph © Rapid Electronics

 


Small 'snipe nose' pliers

snipe nose pliers, photograph © Rapid Electronics

For bending component leads. If you put a strong rubber band across the handles the pliers also make a convenient holder for parts such as switches while you solder the contacts.

Rapid Electronics: snipe nose pliers

Photograph © Rapid Electronics


Wire stripper

You need them to cut and strip the insulation without damaging the wire inside. The automatic type adjust themselves, on others you must set the stop yourself or use them very carefully. Most designs include a cutter but this is not suitable for trimming component leads (use side cutters).

Rapid Electronics: wire stripper

wire stripper

wire stripper

Photograph © Rapid Electronics


Small flat-blade screwdriver

For scraping away excess flux and dirt between tracks (as well as driving screws).

Rapid Electronics: screwdriver

small flat-blade screwdriver

flat-blade screwdriver

Photograph © Rapid Electronics


Multimeter

Digital Multimeter, photograph © Rapid Electronics

A multimeter is very useful when testing projects and searching for faults. A digital multimeter is the best choice for your first meter, even the cheapest will be suitable.

For your first multimeter I recommend this one from Rapid Electronics: Digital Multimeter (basic)

This multimeter has all the ranges required for testing simple projects: DC voltage, DC current (including a useful 10A range), resistance, diode test and AC voltage. All these features are explained on the multimeters page.

For more advanced use, including AC current, capacitance and frequency measurement, I recommend this multimeter from Rapid Electronics: Digital Multimeter (advanced)


Rapid Electronics have kindly allowed me to use their images on this website and I am very grateful for their support. They stock a wide range of components, tools and materials for electronics and I am happy to recommend them as a supplier.