The Shoestring Workshop

Jim William's Workbench
Jim Williams Workbench, courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

There has never been a better time to get into hobby electronics. Unfortunately, the tools required can be daunting for a newbie, and can quickly make the hobby look expensive and unappealing. I’m getting ready to move into a house where I’ll have my own electronics workbench, so I’ve been devoting a lot of attention to budget tools. I’ve got the basics, but since I joined the LVL1 Hackerspace, I’ve really let my tool collection atrophy. In the spirit of sharing, here’s a list of tools needed to get into electronics hobby. These tools are roughly listed in the order of priority, and all of them are list at new prices. You’ll definitely be able to get away with cheaper tools if you’re willing to do a little digging.

A disclaimer: You might not need all of these tools, and this list is not comprehensive! These tools are highly useful for analog and digital circuit design and construction, but if you’re into different areas of the hobby, you’ll need different tools. For example, radio geeks will find antenna analyzers and SWR meters extremely useful! For more inspiration, browse the Electronics Workbench Flickr Group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/elwb

If you know of a better/cheaper source for any of these tools, or you’d like to suggest an addition to the list, please leave a comment! This is as much a learning experience for me as anyone, and we all love learning about new sources for these toys.

Unless mentioned otherwise, I have experience with all the hardware mentioned below (although not necessarily with the suppliers). Super Budget items are things that I would tolerate using if I didn’t have a better alternative, Medium Budget items are probably items that I have bought or would buy, and Standard budget items are tools that I would prefer to use. You can definitely spend more than the standard budget on every item in this list, but this is supposed to be a post about the shoestring workshop, and if you’re spending more than the “Standard” budget, you’re no longer in shoestring territory!