Dangerous Prototypes tool list

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Tools we use

Contents

Aoyue 968 3-in-1 rework station

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Our trusty Aoyue 968 was the first real electronics tool we bought. It's a three-in-one rework station with a soldering iron, hot air rework tool, and solder fume extractor, all for around $100. Ian looked at it inside and out in a Hack a Day article.

The adjustable temperature iron is a huge step up from the cheap fixed-temperature tools we used in the past. It takes standard Hakko tips, but we just replaced the first one recently after more than 5 years of heavy use. The first part to actually break was the handle of the soldering iron, probably from rough use while desoldering. A replacement iron assembly, with cable, tip, and everything, was only $14. The replacement iron came with a chisel bit we didn't like, so we swapped in the original and continued to use it instead.

Fume extraction won't appeal to everyone, but we sure like it. A tube near the tip of the iron sucks up rosin fumes and blows them out the rework tool. It makes soldering a lot more pleasant, though the pump can be a bit loud. Not everyone hates solder fumes, but they make Ian sick and this has been a huge help.

Hot air is a must for surface mount prototyping. The hot air tool worked great for about 5 years, but recently it appears to have developed a short in the temperature sensor wire. When the cable bends the wrong way, the temperature display jumps to maximum and it goes into an auto-shutdown mode. We bought the Aoyue 852 below to replace the hot air part, but we wouldn't hesitate to buy another 968 because it provided years of great service for a ridiculously low price.

We love this tool and highly recommend it to anyone.

The Aoyue 968 is pictured with the OptiVisor magnifier available at Adafruit. Buy it, it will make your life better.

Aoyue 852 hot air station

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The Aoyue 852 is a dedicated hot air rework station. Hot air is probably the easiest way to remove soldered parts from a PCB, especially large chips with 100+ pins.

We recycle parts between prototype versions. It's cheaper and produces less waste, but most of all it saves time because the correct parts are ready to go. Hot air is a must in our workshop.

We bought the 852 when the hot air part of our trusty 968 went on the fritz. We got a dedicated hot air station because it was cheaper than a new 968, and the 968 was on backorder.

This is the cheapest Aoyue with digital temperature control. Set the working temperature and it will stay there automatically. An 850C is a few bucks cheaper, but the temperature is set manually by referencing a series of graphs.

Temperature and air flow are adjusted with knobs. A display shows the set and current temperature, up to 550 degrees Celsius. Air flow is shown on a not quite helpful ball gauge.

The hot air tool is lighter and easier to use than the old one, and pump is significantly quieter. Our 968 is 5 years old though, new units may have the some upgrades. This has been a great addition to our workshop, but we do miss the extra table space.

Soldering supplies

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Prototypes don't solder themselves. This is the workstation where most of our experimental boards are stuffed. We regularly work with surface mount (SMD) parts down to 0603, but notice that none of these tools are expensive or fancy.

  • Solder. We use 60/40 tin/lead solder, it is the only way to go for hand prototyping. It makes recycling parts with hot-air much easier than lead-free solders, which is probably a net positive for the environment. Most solder has some flux, ours lists 2%, but it is never enough, use more! We had been using a 0.7mm wide solder, but recently found a 0.5mm reel. The 0.5mm solder is thin enough to solder SSOP and QFP pins individually, which means there's less excess solder that needs to be mopped up with wick.
  • Flux. Flux helps solder flow better, and keeps it out of places you don't want it. Don't even try to solder without copious amounts of this magic goo. Our syringe of flux came from a surplus store. According to the label it expired in 1991, but it still works great! UPDATE: Farnell gave us a freebie of EDSYN FL-22 that we really like and and we've switched to that. Availability is mostly limited to Europe.
  • Solder wick. There are almost always solder bridges between the tiny pins on hand-soldered SMD chips. Apply a little extra flux to the pins and mop up the excess solder with wick. Wick is the trick to soldering SMD without attending to each pin individually - glob down a bunch of solder and soak up the excess with wick, enough remains behind to connect the part to the PCB.
  • A sponge. An iron covered with soldering gunk doesn't conduct heat well. A clean iron is much easier and faster to work with. We use a giant natural fiber sponge moistened with a bit of water to clean the iron. We give it a quick swipe whenever the iron looks dirty. Go for a big one, the tiny sponge in the iron holder is totally insufficient.
  • A springy soldering iron dry cleaner thing. Cleans a soldering iron with metal springs instead of water. The iron doesn't have to re-heat up after cleaning, and you don't need to remember to wet a sponge.
  • Tweezers. We use '00' size surgical tweezers to hold SMD parts while soldering. The pointier the better.
  • Jewelers loupe. A loupe magnifier is a must for inspecting SMD connections. It doesn't need to be expensive. We won this loupe in Hacked Gadget's Halloween contest a few years ago.
  • Sticky tack/poster tack/Blu-Tack. This is a sticky putty often used to hang posters in student dorms. We use it like many people use a helping hand. It can hold a board steady and keep parts in place. We also put it on the end of a pencil for a simple vacuum-lifter alternative. Also used heavily in the photo studio.
  • A bright desk lamp. The importance of a bright light cannot be understated, especially for surface mount soldering. The smaller it is, the harder it is to see in the dark.
  • Soldering stations and Storage are within reach.

OptiVisor

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Magnification makes soldering faster, easier, and more comfortable. The classic helping hands have a detective-type magnifying glass. Pros often use a stereo microscope. We discussed some DIY USB options in the forum this week too.

Last year Adafruit started carrying the OptiVisor magnifier for around $25, so we tried it.

Though things are only 2.5x times larger than normal, the magnification immediately improved our soldering. Individual 0.5mm pitch TQFP pins are clearly visible, and we can solder them individually.

The head gear is light weight and easy to wear during hours of soldering. We occasionally use it while wearing glasses without issue.

Soldering is more comfortable because you don't need to be so close to the work. Focus is best at about 10" from the PCB, but we think one or two more would be even better.

We picked up a couple habits with the visor. One thing we do is keep parts closer to the PCB. Shifting focus from the visor to look for a part gets annoying.

This tool is highly recommended, we use it daily.

Proxxon TBM110/220 drill press

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  • Trusty drill press for breaking traces and modding circuit boards
  • Safety glasses, you'll need eyes to solder later

Scanner

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A cheap flatbed scanner is super useful in the shop. We use it to post design sketches, scan PCBs, and archive receipts.

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You might remember that Free PCB Sunday used to look like the image on the left. This photo was taken in a light tent, but we could never get PCB shots without reflections of lights or the camera lens. This is probably the best of a dozen shots.

On the right is a scan of the same board. Clean, square, done in one take. This image is ready for a post, or open it in your favorite graphics program and sketch notes for the next revision. The only problem we've run into is that the level of detail is high and the resulting JPGs can be huge, a despeckle filter helps a little.

This particular scanner is a Cannon LiDE-100 that cost about $50. We chose it because it was the cheapest scanner within biking distance. It's powered over USB, so no adapter to worry about. It works fine, but any cheap scanner would do.

Brother QL-550 label maker

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Sometimes it's the small things that bring you joy. That's definitely the case of this spiffy little label maker. It does one thing, and it does it well: it prints labels.

We don't sell anything, so we don't print shipping labels all day, but we do mail lots of PCBs and business stuff.

For a while we used inkjet labels, but we were lucky if half of them turned out. Out of total frustration we started trolling classifieds and auctions for a label maker. Brother was our preferred brand because it has some degree of Linux support. We went with the QL-550 because it was $35 at a business bankruptcy auction, but any model would have been fine.

Labels are quite expensive, probably 10 cents each, but the convenience is worth it for a business. You can save money buying loose rolls on eBay, but we haven't run out yet. So far the included roll has lasted through a year of Free PCB Sundays and light business administration.

The included software is poor and you're forced to enter the serial number to download updates, but we do use it regularly. You can also use it as a normal printer from any app, which is interesting when you forget to swap printers in Eagle (anyone get that label on a Free PCB Sunday envelope?).

We consider this one of our best investments ever, but that probably says more about how much we hated inkjet label sheets.

Photo studio

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Our photo studio is setup for quick and easy photographs. It's on a table right next to a computer in the development area so we can do demos without dragging out a laptop. USB, serial, network, and power cables are tied to the table legs and ready to go.

For reflection-free photos we use a cheap light tent with a nice piece of watercolor paper as the background. Two halogen lights came with the light tent, but the bulbs leave photos with a yellow or pink hue. You might notice that in our pictures, especially older photos. Better lighting is a high priority.

Several small tools always come in handy. A toothbrush and canned air are great for blasting away a spec of dust from an otherwise perfect shot. Sticky tack is great for posing a scene, we use it to hold boards and cables in place. One thing we're sorely missing is a tripod to hold PCBs upright and square for photos.

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We use close-up pictures all the time to show a schematic next to actual parts. For a long time we used a simple point-and-shoot digital camera in macro (flower) mode. Few of the shots turned out, so we took a bunch every time and hoped for the best. Usually it took two or more reshoots to get an in-focus picture without dust or reflections, and each time we had to move the SD card and reset the camera. It was super annoying, so we started looking for something better.

In 2011 we moved to a Cannon EOS 500D. Our only criteria, besides price, was some kind of live preview over USB. This was the only camera in our price range that clearly listed that feature. The picture quality is more than adequate for 500pixel web shots.

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The PC interface is bubbly, annoying, and hard to configure, but it is functional. Live preview is good for coarse adjustments. Is has a helpful alignment grid, the focal point can be set with a mouse clock, and an eye-dropper sets a custom white level. Test shots show what to expect in the final picture, this is where we catch any dust, color, or reflection problems. Final shots are copied to the PC and display immediately. Gripes about the software aside, this setup is exactly what we wanted. It saves a bunch of time, and we never have to swap SD cards.

There are a couple upgrades we plan to make. Better lighting is the first priority, something with a good white color. Aligning the boards with the camera is a pain. A stand to hold boards upright, or a camera tripod that faces down, is also high on the to-do list. The camera lens has a minimum 10 inch focus distance, an expensive macro lens would let us get in closer but probably isn't worth the extra cost.

Adafruit has a great project photography tutorial, don't forget to check it out.

Digital Storage Oscilloscope

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Having a good oscilloscope is necessary if you are doing any kind of debugging especially analog designs.

The ATTEN ADS1062CA is a two channel 60Mhz digital storage oscilloscope with a sampling rate of 500M/1G samples/second, with 1M point memory depth and USB flash drive support.

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The full feature list is too long to list, however here are some of the more impressive points.

  • FFT
  • Averaging from 4 to 256 samples
  • Multiple trigger modes including rising/falling edge, pulse, slope, video
  • Math + - * / invert
  • 5.7" color LCD

The ADS1000 series of portable oscilloscope is a good choice for a serious electronics hobbyist.

Storage

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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 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 hardware, 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 should the need arise.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

QS-5100 Infrared Reflow Oven

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Our review and video

Qinsi QS-5100 IR Reflow Oven Manual

Parameters of the fixed curves
SEGMENTPREHEATHEATSOLDERKEEP COOL
Temp /°CTime /sTemp /°CTime /sTemp /°CTimeTemp /°CTemp

/°C

Our custom Sn/Pb 150 6018058 210 30180150
1 120 6016058 190 30170150
2 130 6018058 200 30185150
3 140 6020058 220 30210150
4 150 6022058 250 30240150
5 1506022058 280 30265150

963A/968A solder paste dispenser

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Our review and video.

Switch Setup
S1S2S3S4 Translation of the Chinese instruction
F1OFFOFFOFFOFFEngage foot switch, spits out continuously. Release switch to stop.
F2 ONOFFONONStep on foot switch once, spits out according to the preset duration. step on foot switch again to stop.
F3OFFONONONEngage foot switch, spits out continuously according to the preset duration. step on foot switch again to stop.
F4ONONONONAutomatically spit out according to timer settings.
F5ONOFFOFFOFFStep on foot switch once, spit out one time according to the preset time.
F6OFFONOFFOFFStep on foot switch once, spit out twice according to the preset time.
F7-F16ONONOFFOFF(same as F6, but 3 - 12 times)

Source: [ EEVblog forum]