electronics

Photography by Hep Svadja

If you take your electronics projects out into the wild, you’ll pretty quickly want to have a repair kit for the inevitable breakdowns. My personal kit covers almost any kind of electrical or microcontroller project, and while it won’t win any prizes for neatness, it packs a lot of useful stuff into a travel-friendly toolbox.

The layout isn’t critical, but internal separation is useful, if only to speed retrieval of smaller items. Water resistance is also a big win — many times weather conspires with breakdowns and I find myself having to pull my box out of the rain or mud.

Here’s an overview of what I carry and why, to give you a better idea of how to prepare your own repair kit. Happy fixing!

A. WIRE in various gauges is a necessity. I carry 16 and 24 gauge in both stranded and solid core, and some heavier gauge in case I’m wiring a heavy load.

B. HEAT-SHRINK in every size up to ½”.

C. ELECTRICAL TAPE is great for marking. A few colors do wonders when labeling or distinguishing wires.

D. DUAL-STRAND RED/BLACK WIRE I go through a lot for running power.

E. SOLDER is a must, somewhere in the .032″ (20 gauge) range.

F. WIRE WRAP comes in handy when jumpering or soldering to surface-mount components.

G. AUTOMATIC WIRE STRIPPER I carry one in my kit at all times.

H. BUTANE-POWERED SOLDERING IRONS are something I now cannot live without. They generally come with a torch tip that’s great for heat shrink. Extra fuel is a must — a small butane bottle will keep you soldering for days.

I. DESOLDERING BRAID I’ll always carry it, but many folks prefer a J. SOLDER-SUCKER, which can be easier to use.

K. HELPING HAND SPRING CLAMPS can make an impossible job possible. They’ll usually fold up tight to take up less room.

L. BUS PIRATE This universal interface talks through a serial connection to 1-wire, I2C, JTAG, MIDI, SPI, PC Keyboard, LCDs, and more. It’s an incredible protocol Swiss army knife.

M. DSO NANO V3 OSCILLOSCOPE is a 32-bit digital scope and signal generator running at 1 MS/s with a 200kHz analog input.

N. BATTERY-POWERED USB OUTLET, which is fairly self-explanatory.

O. OPEN BENCH LOGIC SNIFFER is a tiny 32-channel logic analyzer that lets you trigger on and watch up to 32 digital channels.

P. LOGIC PROBES are useful portable tools for troubleshooting micro-controller circuits. They detect a high, low, or pulsing value on a pin or contact. Knowing the state of your pins is key to understanding what your Arduino or GPIO is doing. A multimeter works, but it’s a clumsy cousin to the elegance of a logic probe.

Q. CIRCUIT WRITER allows me to draw a conductive trace for a simple fix.

R. PERMANENT MARKERS are useful for labeling.

S. FLUSH CUTTERS A good pair is critical. They’re great for cutting wire, but essential for cutting the tails of leads sticking through the bottom of a PCB.

T. CRIMP TERMINALS AND A DECENT CRIMPING TOOL I carry a range for when I want a more permanent connection.

U. MULTIMETER AND TEST LEADS

V. TWEEZERS capable of gripping surface-mount tinies are also a must-have.

W. ALLIGATOR AND/OR PIN CLIPS to attach the probes, so you can still use both hands. Don’t rely on probes alone.

X. TRIANGULAR FILE can shape metal and clean contacts in a way that nothing else will.

Y. BOX CUTTER for heavier cutting, carving, and stripping.

Z. SMALL VISE-GRIP PLIERS and a surgeon’s AA. HEMOSTAT to grab, hold, and squeeze things.

BB. X-ACTO KNIFE for fine work.

Connect it Quick

quickspliceconnector

QUICK SPLICE CONNECTORS Made by Scotchlok, these let you tap into a line you can’t cut.

ideal_luminaire_disconnect_powerplugs-1

IDEAL LUMINAIRE DISCONNECT POWERPLUGS I really like these push-in plugs for 12–18 gauge wires. They’re designed for residential fluorescent lighting ballasts, but work great when you need an easy way to plug and unplug something inside a case. Like all push-in connectors, they prefer solid core wire, but you can tin the tips of stranded wire and make them work.

andersonpowerpoles

ANDERSON POWER POLES I love these for creating strong, durable power connections. They come in all sizes (up to versions that can handle 350A!) but the smallest size shell will take the contacts for 15, 30, or 45 amps, so I carry those and a range of contacts.

wirenut

TRADITIONAL WIRE NUTS come in handy in a lot of situations, so I carry a bunch of different sizes.

wagolevernuts

WAGO LEVER NUTS I’ve fallen hard for these. They let you easily connect and disconnect multiple wires.