TOOLS: Storage, binders, boxes, drawers

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Hardware hackers build up a sizable collection of parts over time. Keeping them well organized makes it faster and easier to stuff prototype boards. We started out with a heap of silver anti-static bags, but it’s really hard to find the parts you need in a pile. This tool post looks at our storage strategy for a growing collection of parts.

This chest of small drawers holds the most common 0805, 0603, and other surface mount parts we use. These parts make up about 90% of most designs, having them directly in front of the soldering station saves a lot of time and digging. Currently, we have these parts in the drawers:

  • 0805: 100R, 390R, 1K, 2K, 10K, 100K, 27pF, 0.1uF, 1uF, ferrite bead, red & yellow LEDs
  • 0603: 100R, 390R, 1K, 2K, 10K, 100K, 27pF, 0.1uF, 1uF, ferrite bead
  • Case ‘A’ surface mount capacitors in 10uF
  • 3.3volt and 5.0volt regulators in various package (SOT-23, SOT-223)
  • Crystals in 10, 16, 20, 25MHz
  • Oscillators in 20MHz and 50MHz
  • NPN and PNP transistor in SOT-23
  • Diodes (DO123, DO323)
  • Buttons
  • Straight and right angle header
  • USB MINI-B connectors
  • Big drawer of microcontrollers

We buy most of these parts in reels because it’s cheaper, and so we’re pick and place ready.

More storage below the fold.

Less common SMD parts are stored in three ring binders. Parts are divided into categories and filed in inexpensive plastic sheet protectors. These binders hold resistor and capacitor kits in 0805 and 0603, other SMD capacitors, crystals in various frequencies, and a ton of odd and wonderful chips.

Through hole parts still come in handy for occasional bread boarding, PCB repairs, and circuit hacking. This tool box has the remainder of our through hole stuff, including resistor kits, capacitors, LED displays, stepper motors, etc.

We go through a lot of prototype PCBs, and end up with lots of extras that we’ll never use. Every Sunday we give away a few PCBs from one of our past or future projects, this the free PCB Sunday drawer. If you got a free PCB it probably came from here. Our PCBs are made through Seeed Studio’s Fusion board service.

The prototype drawer is a library of every board revision Dangerous Prototypes has ever sold, as well as abandoned or unreleased prototypes. When bugs are reported, we pull out the same hardware revision as the user and start debugging.

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4 Comments

  1. Sometimes it’s not easy to find the best tools to organize.
    For example, i’m looking for individual drawer inserts for small, assorted components. They are damn difficult to find! (cheap) :(

  2. Storage and organization is HUGE in the R&D process! For me personally, if I’m spending time finding parts, i’m losing time making cool things!

    Huge drawer shelves are great:
    http://blog.nilok.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Storage-e1271610002698-337×450.jpg

    I also like to keep a plastic tray (seen on top of the drawers, but hardly) filled with components for each individual board. That way, if I want to assemble a board, I don’t have to go through all the different drawers and pull out single components. The trays are meant for jewelery or whatever, and I found it at the dollar store so they’re quite cheap. The components inside are usually 0805 resistors in different values or maybe a few free sample PIC chips, LEDs, USB connectors, etc.

  3. For resistors and anything not static-sensitive that lay flat, I’ve been using a binder full of clear business-card holders. I can drop a small piece of paper into the sleeve describing what it is (or write it on the outside with marker), and can see clearly what it is I’m grabbing.

    I also use the many-bins-o-stuff organizer that Colin mentioned, along with any clear craft organizers that I can get my hands on. A local store called “Michaels” (craft supplies) is great for stuff like that.

    I also tend to grab cheap thin plastic bins from the local hardware store when they go on sale for $1 or less. They’re not incredibly sturdy, but they don’t have to be. ;)

  4. Storing the stuff is one thing, but remembering what you already have can be difficult. To keep track of every part I own (to avoid buying stuff twice) I’ve come to use a webbased inventory database. It’s an open source project called “part-db”, to be found at http://www.cl-projects.de. Sorry guys, the UI is in german.

    Jan

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