Setting up an Electronics Workbench

So you’re just getting into electronics as a hobby, and you want to know what you need to start. Obviously, you’ll need tools and equipment; but which ones? And how much will it cost? It turns out that you can have a very nice set-up for about $250. Here is a list of what you’ll need to start a first-class electronics bench:

First, you need a well-lit area to set up your workbench. You need a flat surface to work on, one close to an electrical outlet. Ideally, you would have a dedicated area so you could leave a project as-is and then come back to it later and pick up where you left off. But if that’s not possible, something like a kitchen table will do. In that case, you’ll have to pack the project up and store it until you can get back to it. Also, to prevent damage, you’ll need to cover a kitchen table with something while you use it to work.

Second, you need a basic set of tools. Trying to work without the right tools is usually an exercise in frustration. What follows is a list of must-have tools. Here’s the list:

Multimeter

A good Multimeter is an absolute must-have. Prices range from under $10 to over $500, but the one here is a good choice:

Part No. Description Price
01DMMY64
RSR Digital Multimeter 32 Ranges - 3 1/2 Digit Model MY-64
$33.950

In addition to volts, amps, and ohms, it also measures temperature, capacitance, and frequency. And it will test diodes and transistors. It comes with test leads.

Hand Tools

From long experience, I’ve learned that it’s best to buy good-quality hand-tools: those made by companies like Xcelite and Crescent. They will serve you forever. But if cost is a major factor, you can find lower-cost alternatives in the Electronix Express catalog.

Here is a minimal set of tools. Over time, you will want to add additional tools.

Part No. Description Price
0602MS01
Xcelite Flush Cutter Model 170MN
$7.650

Part No. Description Price
0602L4
Xcelite Long Nose Pliers Model L4
$18.100

Part No. Description Price
0602HT1042
Economy 7 in 1 Hand Tool For 16-26 AWG Wire
$5.500

Part No. Description Price
0601CN8HS
Nut Drivers - Series 2000 One-Quarter In.
$4.250

Part No. Description Price
0601P12S
XCELITE and CRESCENT Philip #0 Screwdriver
$3.480

Part No. Description Price
0601R181
Slotted 1/8" Screwdriver With Clip
$2.460

Part No. Description Price
0601SDDP44
Screwdriver Phillips No 2 Shaft Length 4 in
$3.200

Part No. Description Price
060121424
XCELITE and CRESCENT 1/4" Slotted Screwdriver Cushion Grip
$4.750

Specialty Tools

While not absolutely necessary, they save a ton of time and aggravation:

Part No. Description Price
0664ST010
Lead Bending Gauges Model ST (0.25W, 0.5W)
$3.950

A lead bending gauge allows you to easily bend the leads of resistors and diodes to the correct length for insertion into a solderless bread-board or a pc board. It’s a lot easier and quicker than trying to ‘eye-ball’ it with a pair of pliers.

Part No. Description Price
03ICS-01
IC Pin Straightener
$8.250

It’s practically impossible to insert a DIP IC chip into a socket or pc board if the pins are not straight and aligned. Even on brand-new chips out of the bag the leads are splayed out slightly and won’t go in the holes. This tool saves you a lot of grief.

Part No. Description Price
060404
IC Extractor Insulated Handle
$1.450

Getting a DIP chip out of a socket can be harder than putting it in. Prying it out with a screwdriver usually ends up mangling the leads. This tool makes it easy.

Bread Boarding & Wire

A solderless breadboard allows you to quickly build, modify, and test circuits. Then all the parts can be removed and the same breadboard used for another circuit. The powered breadboard shown here includes built in power supplies: a fixed +5V supply, 1 amp supply and two adjustable supplies: 0 to +15V and 0 to -15V at 0.5 amp each. It’s less expensive than buying separate supplies.

Part No. Description Price
03PBB272
RSR Powered Breadboard
$79.500

Part No. Description Price
27WK24SLD25
Hook-Up Wire Kit 24G Solid Wire, 25 ft. Spools
$14.500

Six rolls, each 25 feet of wire, in a handy dispenser box. Make jumpers wires for use on your powered breadboard.

Soldering Equipment

As an electronics hobbyist (or professional) you’re going to spend a lot of time soldering. So you want the right set of tools and supplies, and the most important tool is the soldering iron. While you can get an economy iron for less than $5, a temperature-controlled iron is well worth the cost; especially when you start using surface-mount devices.


It is essential to keep the tip of your iron clean while soldering. While a damp sponge is the traditional way to clean the tip, it’s not the best way. It’s messy, and does bad things to the tip. Much better is to use a brass wool cleaner.

Part No. Description Price
0603DZ210W
Base and Cleaner (Small)
$2.750

To use your iron you will, of course, need solder. Safety Tip: standard solder is an alloy of lead and tin. Lead is toxic. When used properly solder is not dangerous, but remember to wash your hands well after handling solder. Also, never put solder in your mouth. You can get lead-free solder (Express Part #: 060710), but it costs more ($69).

Part No. Description Price
060704
SOLDER 1/2LB SPOOL 60/40 .031"
$8.950

Desoldering is as important as soldering. Two items that make desoldering much easier are a desolder pump (usually called a ‘solder-sucker’) and a roll of copper braid called ‘solder-wick’. Solder-wick acts as a sponge for liquid solder. A solder-sucker is essential for removing solder from holes in a printed circuit board.

Part No. Description Price
060820
Desolder Pump with Tip
$3.100

Part No. Description Price
060801
Desoldering Wick 3S Brand, 5' spool
$1.450

Tools for working on circuit boards

When working on circuit boards, a good vise is a necessity. Hint: mount it to a block of wood (say, 6 inches square by 3/4 inch thick). Note the three mounting tabs on the base of the vise with holes for screws.

Part No. Description Price
0604H910
Binocular Magnifier
$18.900

Fits on your head with an adjustable band. Flip them up when not in use and flip them down when you need them.

Part No. Description Price
06047SA
Curved Fine Quality Tweezers, 4 1/2" Inches.
$2.250

That’s it. The stuff listed above is pretty much all you need to design, build, and trouble-shoot all kinds of electronic circuits and equipment. If you’ve been keeping track, the total cost so far is $257. Not too bad; and remember it’s a one-time expense (except for wire and solder). But once you really get into it, you’ll feel the need for additional equipment.

Additional Test Equipment

Oscilloscope

Beyond a multimeter, the most useful piece of equipment you can have is a ‘scope’ or ‘o-scope’; that is, an oscilloscope. It allows you to look at the analog and digital signals that are running around inside a circuit. Once you’ve used one for a while, you can’t imagine working without one. At the high end, scopes can cost thousands of dollars. But for most work an inexpensive 2-channel scope is all you need.

Part No. Description Price
01SDS1052
Siglent SDS1052DL+ 50 MHz Digital Storage Oscilloscope
$259.000

To use the scope, you’ll need two probes.

Part No. Description Price
05SPAK220
Scope Probe Set 60 MHz
$13.950

Function Generator

As with scopes, function generators come with a wide range of features and prices. But the one here is a good basic unit that will do most of the jobs you would need a function generator to do; and at a low cost.

Part No. Description Price
01FG30
RSR 3Mhz Sweep Function Generator Model FG-30
$155.000

Features include:

  • Six waveform functions: sine, triangle, square, ramp, +pulse, - pulse.
  • 0.5Hz to 3MHz frequency range.
  • Linear or Log sweep. Sweep rate 10 msec to 5 sec.
  • Amplitude: 20Vpp open-circuit, 10Vpp into a 50 ohm load.
  • -20 dB attenuator

To use the function generator, you’ll need some leads.

Part No. Description Price
05SPAT2
BNC Test Leads BNC to Alligators - 36"
$3.950

Final Thought

An oscilloscope (with probes) is the first item you’ll want to add to your basic workbench when you can. You can wait to add a function generator and other equipment. Now, roll up your sleeves, get a cup of coffee, and start building projects!