Even if your favorite solder jockey favors a more reserved title like “hobbyist” or “enthusiast” (they do often tend towards a literal, not to say “dry” view of things), I’ll bet diodes to Darlingtons that there’s something hereinbelow that will bring, if not an actual smile to her face, then at least the warm fuzzy feelings that would normally produce one in a slightly less, um, cerebral type.
So you can feel good about spending money on this stuff, right?
Sure you can. We’ll start off cheap and easy.
It’s not called buyzine.com, is it?
Now, in case your sense of the season involves more than just buying stuff, I’d like to put in a personal plug for making your gifts, yourself. And even in the anti-Martha milieu of hobby electronics, there are some great handmade projects out there, both tools and toys, waiting for your creative talents to turn them into absolutely perfect presents for you-know-who. Here are a couple classics to get your gears turning:
Integrated circuits come from the factory with a slightly “bow-legged” stance that is wider than the standard 0.1″ grid on most perfboards and breadboards allows. To install them, you first have to squish (technical term, sorry) the legs in a bit, on each side, to make them truly perpendicular to the body.
If you don’t have to install many ICs, or you don’t have to do it very often, it’s not unreasonable to do this by hand with your fingers or a pair of pliers. But any regular IC-squisher will very much appreciate having this quick, easy, accurate tool to simplify the job. Even if she doesn’t use it very often, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from using just the right tool for the job. Best of all, this thing is easy to make yourself from a few pieces of plastic, some nuts and bolts, and some skate bearings. More details over at oomlout.
Portable Mini Fume Extractor
Solder joins metals best when both parts are clean and clear of metal oxides, which form naturally on the surface of most metals in the atmosphere. Most commercial solders contain special chemicals, called “fluxes,” which react with these oxides at molten-metal temperatures to dissolve them and wash them away from the joint, so that it is strong. Fluxes tend to be organic carbon-based compounds that become acidic at high temperature, and their decomposition products are not great for your health.
It’s only a really serious risk if you’re soldering every day, like on an assembly line, but hobbyists should nonetheless take proper care to always work in a well-ventilated area and, ideally, with a dedicated fume extractor. This thing is a bit more than an exhaust fan—it’s got an activated charcoal filter element that most organic compounds want to stick to, which keeps them out of the air and out of your lungs. You can buy pro-line versions of this same setup for stationary benchtop use, but if you’re soldering on the go, nothing beats a portable pocket-sized version like this. Marc de Vinck shows you how to make one in a classic mint-tin case.
Electro Wire Stripper
Another OMG-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that idea, this battery-powered wire stripper turns two razor blades into a combination cutter and detector switch. To use it, you run the wire down the blades until they’ve just cut through the insulation on each side, at which point they will make contact with the metal wire, closing the circuit between them, illuminating the LED. In other words, this stripper tells you when you’ve cut just far enough to reach the wire and no further. Brian Beebe’s original 3D-printed housing has sadly been removed from Thingiverse, but the principle of the thing is simple enough to figure out. Improvise on the theme, and add your own personal touch.