Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If you can't find it, you don't own it (part 2)

In part 1, I covered my mobile electronics kit.  This time around, I'll look at my mobile electronics toolkit.

While the mobile kit contains (almost) everything I need to do some breadboarding of circuits, more permanent hacks, installations, disassembly of finds and really fun stuff is all bound to require more advanced tooling than the cheesy $5 multimeter (that link shows it for $13, but it's available locally in the Twin Cities at AEI for less than $5, and with a bulk discount option)(yes, I have purchased multimeters in bulk) and adjustable wirestripper in the kit.  After a few scrambling debacles where I realized I didn't have what I needed to finish the job, I decided that I'd best come up with a toolkit that I could use at home and on the road.

After some hemming and hawing at the local Home Depot, I bought a Stanley XL Tool Organizer, which is a nice fold-up unit- essentially, two of the more conventional see-through plastic lid boxes that fold up around a central spine that has a handle and six drawers.  It was only $25 at the Home Depot; I bought the last one that was there and it's not on the website, so I'm wondering if it's been discontinued.  Amazon has another one that's twice as expensive but has more drawers and clear sides rather than black- that's the one complaint I have about it is not being sure where things are all the time.

Here you can see how the drawers slide out; the "back" (relative to us; it's perfectly symmetrical) is folded down and the front is folded up.  When the two halves are folded up the drawers are captive, but can be opened and closed with a bit of effort.  I've not yet had one slide out on me while moving the toolkit around, so I consider it a pretty successful design.

The drawers have two different lengths- one short one at the top, to accommodate the handle in the center of the spine, and two longer ones on the bottom.  The depth of the drawers makes it possible to store larger objects in the drawers than can be stored in the clamshell sides- at least, if you don't want to take a cutting tool to the dividers in the sides.

The image above has tooltips- hover over the image to see the active areas (may not work in feed viewers like Google Reader).  Most of the stuff in the drawers was selected either because it wouldn't fit (comfortably) in the clamshells or because it fits so nicely here.  It's also stuff that I find having access to without having to lay out the side is nice- the precision driver kit, wire strippers, and multimeter are among the most frequently used items in the tool kit.  The butane heat gun is great for heat shrink; some day, when I have some extra cash, I may buy a combo butane heat gun/soldering iron.  That's a long way off, though.

There are a couple of items of note in here- the digital caliper is a ridiculously useful piece of tooling and once you have one you'll wonder how you lived without it.  There's a long-handled flat-blade screwdriver which is for prying apart seams in plastic cases more than anything else.  The USB-serial adapter will probably eventually move to the computer kit.  The solder sucker is a cheapo unit that I got from Marlin P Jones; I've seen it elsewhere as well and, surprisingly, it works substantially better than some that I've seen for five or ten times as much.  Lastly, if you haven't seen the brush/can variety of cyanoacrylate adhesive, let me just take a moment to extol its virtues.  The cap doesn't seem to glue itself on as easily, there's no tip to clog, and the brush is delicate enough to put glue right where you want it.

Nothing terribly unexpected on this side.  I'll mention that, in addition to an Arduino, I usually have a "Thumbino" in here, which is an Arduino clone of my own design that is the size of a USB flash drive and plugs directly into a USB port for programming- no cable needed.  Someday I'll sell them...if you're interested in buying one, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

There are a couple of things I'd like to add- I'd like to replace the sponge for the iron cleaner with a copper poof type tip cleaner.  A small DC power supply would not be out of line, either here or in the electronics kit.  A crimper and header connector kit wouldn't go amiss, either.  So far, I haven't felt a lack of any tool as I've worked away from my home base- of course, I don't expect to be able to do fine-pitch SMT soldering on the road.

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