Tech Explorations™ The Electronics Workbench: a Setup Guide
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- Learn the basics components of a well-equiped electronics lab for the non-professional
- Learn about power tools, like the electric drill, the hot glue gun and rotary tools.
- Learn about soldering and soldering (as well as de-soldering) tools.
- Learn about simulation, computer-aided design and electronic circuit calculators
- Understand the use of sophisticated test instruments like the oscilloscope, and the function generator.
- Experience with technologies like the Arduino will help to understand the use of the tools covered in this course.
- Basic understanding electronics.
This course is designed to help you setup your own electronics lab.
If you are starting your adventures in electronics, and you are not looking to setup a professional electronics lab, then this course is perfect for you.
A lab is a place at your home that you have specifically organised in a way that promotes your enjoyment of working with electronics.
It is where your tools, components and instruments are.
It is where you do your circuit experiments and the bulk of your learning.
There are significant differences between professional and hobbyist electronics labs. That's because the amateur electronics lab is far more restricted in every respect to the lab of a professional.
If you are a hobbyist, using a spare room or your bedroom as your electronics lab, then this course will help you make the most of it.
In this course, I will discuss the basic features of an amateur electronics lab by showing you how I have organised mine.
I have most of the restrictions of an amateur, and with the exception of a few of the items in my kit, my lab is purely an amateur lab.
In each lecture, I present a specific topic and in most cases I demonstrate the use of a tool or instrument.
Through these demos, I wish to help you gain a working understanding of what these items are designed for.
You will not become an expert, but you will know enough to know when you need one.
I am always available to discuss any of the topics I present in this course, so please feel free to ask using the course's discussion tool.
- Anyone with an interest in electronics, who is purchasing tool for their work bench.
- Take this course before you buy anything!
This lecture introduces the course and explains it objective. Specifically, I answer these questions:
- Why did I create this course?
- What are the topics main topics of this course?
- What will you get out of it?
This is my workbench! Have a look around. I am not showing all of the tools I typically use, only those I use more often. I also am not showing my storage.
This page contains most of the parts I discuss and demonstrate in this course. I have not included some of the more expensive bench test instruments since these are entirely optional, and something that I recommend you research carefully in order to find the items that best fit your budget and requirements.
In this section, I discuss essential tools, and components, and the basic setup for a functional electronics lab.
A basic amateur electronics lab can be set up with little cost. In the lectures that make up this section, I will show you the tools, storage, and basic electronic components that I think should be part of you lab from day one.
In other sections, I discuss a few more tools that you will need right away.
It is a lot less than what you may be thinking.
In this lecture, I will discuss some of the essential items on your workbench.
Things like jumper wires, alligator clips, wire cutters, breadboards, containers, tweezers and screwdrivers.
These are some of the things that make up the backbone of your lab.
I will conclude the list of essential items in the next lecture.
In this lecture, I will continue what I started in the last lecture and discuss several more items that are necessary for your workbench kit.
These items are wire strippers and cutters, helping hands, magnifying glasses, cable ties, and Dupont 4-wire cables.
All of these are essential parts of a functioning lab, and you will need them on-hand as soon as you get your first LED to blink.
In addition to your tools, which will multiply quickly over time, you will also have a lot of components that will find their way in your projects.
You will need a practical storage system that will allow you to easily and quickly find what you need.
When it comes to making, there are only a few things worse that knowing that you have a part you need, but can't remember when you put it!
In this lecture, I will show you a collection of electronic components that I consider "essential". These are components that I find necessary for most (and in some cases all) typical circuits.
I keep a stock of these components so that I always have them on hand for when I need them.
Things like resistors, capacitors, switches, LEDs, headers and transistors are some of the components I will discuss in this lecture.
The tools and components I discussed in this section make up the core of your electronics lab kit.
Storage is also important. Please think carefully about how to organise your lab so that your work is efficient. Reduce the time wasted in searching for parts that you know you already have.
Overall, you don't need too many things. All of this kit can easily fit in part of a small bookcase.
As far as the tools are concerned, try to buy premium whenever possible. They will last longer (practically, forever), and work better.
For the basic electronic parts, show around the Internet for the lowest prices. These basic electronic components are commodity items with barely noticeable differences between manufacturers, at least for our hobbyist purposes.
In the next section, I will discuss ways to power your project.
In this section, I discuss practical ways to power your projects.
I will start with the simplest options, which involve regular alkaline of Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries and battery packs and their chargers.
Then I look at Lithium-Ion batteries and their specialised chargers for more power-hungry mobile circuits.
I also look at repurposing old unused walled power supplies and finish with showing you what you can do with a digitally controlled bench power supply.
In this lecture, I will discuss various ways to power your projects with batteries.
In particular, I will look at using battery packs for normal alkaline batteries, or rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride batteries with their charger. These options offer simple ways to power your electronics projects.
I will also discuss Lithium Ion batteries, which offer higher energy density than Alkaline or Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, but require more expensive specialised chargers and need more handling care.
In this lecture, I will discuss walled power supplies as a way to power your electronics projects.
With the abundance of home electronic appliances and their eventual discarding, most households tend to have several perfectly good power supplies gathering dust.
You can repurpose for your electronics projects.
A bench power supply is an instrument that allows the user to control the precise voltage and current that feeds into a circuit.
I don't think that a bench power supply is a necessary equipment for beginner makers, especially when you work with a prototyping platform like the Arduino. It is good to know, though. Next to a multimeter, a bench power supply is probably the next lowest-cost instrument that you can have on your bench, and compared to walled power supplies, it offer more flexibility since it's always on your bench,
I discuss bench power supplies in this lecture.
In this section, I discussed several options for providing power to your electronic creations.
Old and unused power supplies, and battery packs represent the simplest power options.
The you have the option of more expensive but more powerful Lithium Ion with their specialised charger.
If you need a power supply that gives you a lot more control on the current and voltage parameters, with useful safety features included, then you can look at benchtop digitally controlled power supplies.
In the next section, I will discuss the rotary tool and the hot glue gun.
In this section, I discuss two commonly used power tools in electronics labs, the rotary tool and the glue gun.
I do not consider either one as necessary for people setting out to create their amateur electronics lab.
Both, however, are tools that you will want to own so that you can help you make better gadgets and are low cost. They are good to keep in mind.
In this lecture, I will discuss the rotary tool.
I use the rotary tool predominately to drill openings or cut parts out of project boxes.
In this lecture, I will show you how to drill a hole in the side of a plastic project box to attach a switch.
It is not an essential item in your workbench tool box, but one that you will need eventually as you start to graduate your project from the breadboard.
In this lecture, I will show you how to use a hot glue gun. This power tool melts a thermoplastic adhesive that then you apply on a surface.
Hot glue guns are used in various applications, like in book-binding, in woodwork and the packaging industry, to name some examples.
In electronics, we use the hot glue gun to do things like secure wires or components in place or to provide insulation.
In this lecture, I will give you a demonstration on how you can use a hot glue gun to secure wires on a small printed circuit board.
In this section, I showed you how to use two common power tools, the rotary tool and the hot glue gun.
Although common and relatively low cost, these two tools are not essential. From my own experience, their use cases in an electronics lab are limited. I use the rotary tool to open holes in project boxes and the hot glue gun to secure cables or components in place.
Once you need to do one of these, you know it is time to get your first power tool!
In this section, I discuss several examples of test equipment.
Apart from entry-level multimeters, test equipment can be fairly expensive, and are sophisticated.
Again, apart from an entry level multimeter, I don't recommend that you equip your amateur lab with one of these right away. It is best to wait until you have an actual need for them. Remember that you can explore many of the concepts of circuit design and theory using software simulators. I believe that simulators are a better option for beginners
I in this section I will first discuss multimeters, which is fact is an essential item on your workbench. I will show you two multimeters so you can get an appreciation of the differences between an entry-level model and a more advanced one.
In other lectures I will also discuss oscilloscopes and function generators.
This is the first of 4 lectures on multimeters.
The multimeter is an important test instrument and one that you should have in your lab toolkit. We use multimeters to measure at least voltage, current, resistance and continuity in a circuit.
More advanced multimeters offer additional types of measurements.
In this first one of the multimeter lectures, I will introduce this essential test instrument and demonstrate the use of a low-cost example that should be in your lab toolkit.
In following lectures, I will show you how to use a more high-end multimeter.
Autoranging multimeters are instruments that can display a measurement without the user having to select the scale or range of the parameter that they are measuring.
The instrument will automatically detect the scale and perform the measurement. Even though auto ranging multimeters operate in a semi-automated way, they offer a lot more functionality than manual multimeters and hence have a higher learning curve because they are more complicated than simple.
In this lecture, I discuss auto ranging multimeters and give a demonstration of one of them.
In this lecture, I will show you how to use a multimeter to do a typical measurement in a live circuit.
I will measure direct current.
Since I am using a digitally controlled bench-top power supply that can also display the current drawn by the circuit, I can compare the reading by the multimeter with the reading by the power supply.
This is an example of how different instruments can give you slightly different readings for the same thing.
This is the concluding lecture in the multimeter series.
In this lecture, I will show you how to use a multimeter to measure AC voltage.
To do this, I will use another of my benchtop test instruments, the function generator. I will focus on the function generator in another lecture in this section.
In the next lecture, I will show you how to do alternating current measurements.
The oscilloscope is a sophisticated instrument. At its very core, it measures the voltage over time and displays this as a waveform on a screen.
With an oscilloscope, you can see how the voltage in your circuit changes over time. You can contrast this to a multimeter that only gives you a value for a single moment in time.
From this core feature, modern digital oscilloscopes add an impressive array of measuring functionality. By analysing the voltage signal waveform, an oscilloscope can extract the signal's amplitude, rise time, frequency, and time interval, to name just a few. They can even be used to decode digital communications based on protocols like I2C, USB and SPI.
In this first lecture on oscilloscopes, I will make an introduction and give a demonstration involving a simple resistor-capacitor circuit.
In the next lecture, I will give you a demo on decoding communication between two Arduino.
In this lecture, I will show you a more advanced feature of the oscilloscope, decoding.
Modern digital oscilloscopes can analyse voltage waveforms that encode communications traffic, and decode it. This way you can probe this communication at the wire level.
Although this is not something that a beginner will be worried about, the modern proliferation of microcontrollers and peripherals that implement industry standard communications protocols like I2C, USB and SPI, means that people working with Arduinos, Raspberry Pi's and similar platform will be interested in this type of decoding function, sooner or later.
Let's have a look at what this kind of decoding looks like.
In this lecture, I will introduce the function generator.
With the function generator, you can create signals with various waveforms with full control over their characteristics. For example, you can create standard sine, square, triangular and sawtooth signals, and control their frequency, amplitude, and phase.
You can use these signals to trigger your circuit. For example, if you are building an amplifier, you can use your function generator to create a signal of a particular frequency, shape and amplitude and test whether the amplifier is behaving as you expect under those parameters.
A function generator is not a required piece of equipment for the workbench of people that are starting playing with electronics now. However, it is useful to know what these devices are and what they can do, until, at some point, you decide that you need one.
In this section, I discussed multimeters, oscilloscopes and function generators. All these are examples of test instruments.
A simple multimeter is necessary for your workbench. The rest are not, as their cost is considerable and.
For people, that start their electronics adventures on mostly digital platforms like the Arduino, a basic multimeter is all that you need.
If you still wish to play around with an oscilloscope, you can also consider USB-based versions that use your computer's screen as a display. USB oscilloscopes are cheaper than dedicated ones, at the expense of tying down your computer.
In this section, I discuss soldering and wiring. It is something you will be doing a lot.
I start by looking at the necessary soldering tools, like the soldering iron, solder, cleaning wire and flux.
Then I will show you how to solder through-hole and surface mount components.
I will conclude with two lectures on heat shrink tubes and crimping tools.
Soldering is one of the skills that you will work on early in your adventures with electronics.
Without the right tools or practical principles, soldering can be tricky and even dangerous.
In this lecture, I will walk you through some of the important tools that you will need to have in your soldering kit.
I also have prepared two more lectures in which I share basic techniques for soldering common through-hole and surface mounted components.
In this lecture, I will demonstrate how to solder and de-solder a typical through-hole component, a capacitor, onto a printed circuit board.
I will discuss some practical considerations in soldering that I hope will help you achieve reliable solder joints every time.
In the previous lecture I showed you how to remove through-hole components from a PCB, using your soldering iron.
As you can appreciate, it wasn't a fun experience, and you may be wondering if there is a better way.
Yes, there is! In this lecture, I'll show you how to desolder though-hole components within seconds and without risk of injury. I will demonstrate how to use a through-hole component desoldering gun.
This type of tool can be relatively expensive, and although I do not consider it a requirement for your workbench when you are starting up, it is something I would like you to know about.
In this demonstration, I will show you how to solder and de-solder a tiny surface-mounted capacitor on a printed circuit board.
You will see that although SMD components are hard to handle because of their small size, soldering can be easier than for through-hole components.
Just like using a soldering iron to desolder through-hole components is not an ideal option, desoldering surface mount components is done much better with an appropriate tool for the job.
In this lecture, I will show you how to use a hot air SMD reworking tool to desolder a tiny capacitor in just a few seconds.
You will often need to join cables together using solder, be it to extend them or repair them. The job will not be done until you insulate the joint.
Electrical tape is a "quick and dirty" way to provide insulation. If you are looking for something more "professional", consider heat shrink tubing.
Heat shrink tubes are plastic tubes that you can insert at the point of the joint, and then heat with a heat source to make the tube shrink. Once it shrinks and you remove the heat source, the tube will snug around the joint permanently, and keep it protected just like the original, regular insulating jacket.
In this lecture, I will show you how to use heat shrink tubes.
Occasionally you will need to make your own cables. For example, you may need a cable with specific connectors and length, or you may need one that you can't find on eBay.
To make custom cables, you will need a roll of cable, the connectors, and a crimping tool The crimping tool is used to attach properly a connector to the cable.
In this lecture, I will show you a couple of crimping tools, and demonstrated their use.
In this section, I discussed soldering and wiring. These are probably the two activities you will be doing the most when you are not designing or troubleshooting.
A good iron, preferably with selectable temperature, a lead-free solder, cleaning items for the iron tip, and a few good habits, will ensure many years of trouble-free operation for your soldering iron.
Heat shrink tubes and good crimping tools are also very helpful, and can really help you reach professional results.
In this section, I will talk about software applications that are designed to help you learn and make electronics.
We will look at circuit simulators, calculators, and design automation software that works on the web, on your computer or your phone.
I will also demonstrate some of the basic functionality that these applications offer.
Using electronic circuit simulator software is a great way to learn electronics. It is also a great way to test a design in software before trying it out on a breadboard.
Circuit simulators allow you to create a circuit in software and set the parameters of each component to any value you like. This kind of flexibility is something that often we don't have in real life.
A simulator is also great to have in the absence of real test instruments, like an oscilloscope or a function generator. A good circuit simulator will include both, also simulated.
In this lecture, I will discuss web-based circuit simulators.
In the next one, I will do a demonstration of my favourite desktop software simulator, iCircuit.
In this lecture, I will give you a demonstration of iCircuit, my favourite desktop electronic circuit simulator.
With iCircuit, you can visually create a circuit, set the parameters for each component, and use simulated probes to get oscilloscope waveforms and multimeter values for any part of the circuit. It is a great tool to have on your computer.
Unlike a simulator, an electronic circuit calculator solves specific equations that describe electronic circuits.
Calculators like that allow you to solve equations like the ones for Ohms Law, parallel and series resistors, capacitors and inductors, voltage ladders, filters, and many others for any unknown.
In this lecture, I will show you some of my favourite calculators.
In the next lecture, I will show you calculators that work on smartphones, which I find very handy.
As your skills in circuit design increase and your circuits become too useful to get rid of, you will start wanting to move them from a breadboard to a properly designed printed circuit board.
Electronic design automation software tools help you do this. These tools can be difficult to learn, but what you can do with them in return is worth the effort.
In this lecture, I will give you a quick tour of KiCad, which I also have a separate course on. Kicad is a free and open source EDA tool.
In this section, I discussed and demonstrated some useful software applications that can help you in learning and designing electronics.
As you can see, there is an abundance of useful software, as well as resources that can significantly boost to our learning capacity and making tenacity.
I encourage you to spend a bit of time online and explore these applications!
In the next, concluding section of this course, I will discuss two topics: safety in the lab, and how to read a datasheet.
This is the concluding section for this course.
I will cover two topics.
The first one is safety. I will describe a few easy to follow techniques and tools that will keep you, your equipment, and you components safe.
The second topic is on datasheets. I will describe the structure of a datasheet and explain the purpose of each section. This will give you a grounding that will help you read the datasheets for the components in your project.
Electricity is both useful and harmful if you are not careful with it. In my work, I tinker with low voltages, so the risk to myself is limited. Well, limited as long as I take some basic precautions.
There is also the risk of damage to the components that I work with. Especially integrated circuits like microcontrollers and memories can be easily damaged simply by touch.
In this lecture, I discuss tools and techniques that you can use to reduce these risks.
Datasheets contain important information on electronic components. How to connect them to a circuit, the various limits of their operation, their physical characteristics, and more.
Datasheets can seem intimidating to new makers. Their tables, charts, diagrams and technical jargon can look incomprehensive.
There is some truth to all that, however in this lecture I will show you that datasheets are predictable and very informative. They are worth the effort it takes to read them.
Even if you are not fully familiar with the context and technology of the part they describe, you will still be able to extract useful practical information from them.
This was the concluding section of the course.
I covered issues around safety and described the structure of datasheets.
Basic safety precautions will protect your components from damage. Based on my experience, simply using an antistatic mat and a grounding bracelet will do such damage extremely rare. I don't remember ever having damaged any static-sensitive components.
Reading datasheets becomes easier with time both because you start recognising the common organisation that most datasheets share and because your expertise around the technologies that they cover increases.
Do not despair if the first few datasheets that you picked up make no sense: you have just entered a world with its own jargon.
Congratulations on completing The Electronics Workbench: a Lab Setup Guide!
I hope that this course has given you some ideas on how to setup your own electronics lab at home, and that it has helped you to distinguish between what is important to have in it and what is nice to have.
An electronics lab is always changing to match your interests, but it's core components stay the same. Getting the basics right will ensure that your investment in money and effort will pay off for the long term.
I tried to cover all the topics that I believe are important to most people. If there is something that you wished I had covered, please feel free to ask me by posting a question in the course forum. Similarly, if you think I could have done things differently, post a message and explain!
If you already have a home electronics lab, I would be very interested to know the details, and I'm sure that other students in this course would be too!
Post a picture with a short description, and tell us about your favourite equipment!
Until next time, happy making!