Grinders, Drills, Lathes, Milling Machines, Welders and any other tools used to modify hardware. If you used it while reverse engineering, list it here!
- 1 Tool Index
- 2 Essential tools and consumables for manipulating PCBAs (Printed Circuit Board Assemblies)
- 2.1 Soldering Irons
- 2.2 Tweezers
- 2.3 Side Cutters
- 2.4 Scalpels
- 2.5 Steel Probes
- 2.6 Solder
- 2.7 Soldering Flux
- 2.8 Solder Mask Products
- 2.9 Soldering Fixtures / work piece holders
- 2.10 Magnification devices
- 2.11 Wire Strippers
- 2.12 Miscellaneous Items
- 3 Advanced tools for manipulating PCBAs
Essential tools and consumables for manipulating PCBAs (Printed Circuit Board Assemblies)
AiXun Soldering Station with JBC Soldering Tips
This Chinese soldering station is compatible with JBC soldering tips (C245) and is a great station for its lowish price of around 150 bucks. The station comes with three soldering tips that should be replaced with original JBC wave-soldering tips like the C245965 (small spoon) or the C245938 (big spoon) for general purpose soldering tasks. The very low cost for this station comes with some quirks that users should be aware of:
- The most recent firmware version 1.34 displays incorrect temperature data in certain states to hide the temperature overshoot on a cold-start. Firmware downgrade is recommended to avoid being lied to.
- Soldering on grounded (PE) circuit boards can cause issues with the temperature sensing and should be avoided.
This review informs about these quirks in detail. 
The "small spoon" is by far the most used soldering tip on my bench as it turns almost every soldering task into a "low/no-skill" job provided copious amounts of flux is used and the board was manufactured with solder mask. The shape of this tip prevents the active region to oxidize by always keeping some solder on it and thus keeping oxygen away from the metal surface of the tip.
The "big spoon" is for all other tasks which need a little bit more contact area than the small spoon can provide.
Weller Soldering Station PU81
A basic soldering station for general purpose soldering tasks. Unfortunately there are no wave-soldering tips available for this type of iron.
Manipulating PCBAs often involves handling small and/or hot components while soldering. Most types of tweezers are made of some kind of steel, which can make them susceptible to get magnetized, which is not ideal if that is not done intentionally by using a magnetize tool. This accidental magnetization can be avoided by using tweezers made of titanium. The minimal set of tweezers should consist of following types:
Straight, fine tweezers
Titanium tweezers are great for delicate work that requires minimal grabbing force, such as holding passive components in place for soldering. Titanium is diamagnetic, which prevents (slightly) magnetized passives from clinging to it at inopportune moments.
Angled, fine tweezers
Titanium tweezers are great for delicate work that requires minimal grabbing force, such as holding passive components in place for soldering. Titanium is diamagnetic, preventing (slightly) magnetized passives from clinging to it at inopportune moments. This particular type has a curved tip, which helps to hold them more ergonomically.
Straight, coarse tweezers with riffles
This type of tweezers come in handy when something has to be gripped securely in order to be able to bend / shape them in a controlled manner. These tweezers have a thick metal parts that are not easily bend out of shape like the fine tweezers.
Straight, self-holding tweezers
Knipex 78 03 125
This electronic side cutter is a great first electronic side cutter to get when starting out in tinkering with electronics. This side cutter comes without chamfers on the cutting side and is meant to cut thin/soft wire. This tool can handle cutting wires with a diameter of up to 1.6mm for Cu and 1.0mm for Fe.
Knipex 70 01 110
The side cutter that saves my electronic side cutters from becoming toothless and sad. Can handle up to 1.2mm Dia Hard Wire, 2mm Dia Medium Wire and 3.2mm Dia Soft Wire and costs about 25 bucks.
There are many types of straight edged and round edged scalpels beside the ones listed below. The one mentioned here are the essential types needed to attach botch wires and sniffing wires to signal tracks covered by solder mask. The fixed connection between the handle and the blade of the disposable version makes this type of scalpel a little bit more precise than the scalpel handle with exchangeable blades. Naughty people even cut through pins of ICs with scalpels to remove ICs without the use of a heat-gun, but you didn't read that here, as that dulls a blade pretty quickly and should only be used in a pinch.
Straight edged scalpels
The sharp tip of this type of scalpel makes it ideal to cut the conductor track without nicking nearby tracks. The blade #11 has a short, straight edge that gives good control over the cut.
Round edged scalpels
The copper tracks on the top layer of a PCB are usually covered with a layer of (green) solder mask, which can be carefully scraped away from the portions of the track that are about to be soldered to say attach a wire. The round shape of the blade #23 (there are other blades with a rounded edge) allows the user to only remove the solder mask from the track of interest, which will make the soldering process later on very easy, since the remaining solder mask will prevent the solder to stick to the covered tracks. Exposing the other tracks by scraping too much solder mask away may result in a much more difficult soldering job.
Steel probes are handy to check soldered IC pins for bad solder joints or mixing / applying small quantities of liquid material (adhesives, uncured solder mask, etc.) in a controlled manner.
Angled / curved Probes
Products without Pb
KEK Solder Paste 4258-138
This exotic type of solder is for applications where the upside of its low melting point is worth its downsides in form of more brittle solder joints and potential self-desoldering of components, which make this type of solder a bad fit to use on connectors and other components that are exposed to mechanical stress in the operation. The use in power applications, where the package of components can reach the melting point of this solder, is another application where this kind of solder should not be used.
Products containing Pb
Mechanic TY-V866, d=0.2mm, 1%..3% flux
Soldering flux is the magic ingredient for a soldering job with many functions that makes it a breeze. It cleans and de-greases the components, promotes wetting (makes solder stick to the components instead of balling up) and reduces oxidation. The "tacky" variety also helps to keep the component in place so the usual step of "tacking down" a component can be skipped with enough soldering skill.
Solder Mask Products
UV curing solder mask ink
Soldering Fixtures / work piece holders
Soldering Fixtures for flat, smartphone sized PCBAs
The Stickvise is a low profile vise for PCB holding and soldering. The vise can be customized with parametric jaw plates. The maximal distance between the jaws (with the supplied 6mm rod) is about 155.9mm and the jaws are about 76mm wide. The maximal distance between the jaws can be extended by using a longer 6mm rod, which is also used in optical cage systems and is therefore widely available.
This fixture is a reliable tool to keep PCBAs in place that have a low profile like the PCBAs of smartphones. It has a solid build quality and can be adapted to PCBAs with a higher profile by replacing the blue contact points with 3d-printed ones. The metal base plate is heavy with screwed in rubber feet to keep the fixed PCBA planted on the workbench. All parts are connected with screws, so maintenance or adaption to another application should be pretty easy.
Work piece holders for PCBAs with large TH (through hole) components
A simple 7x eye loupe is a small, useful tool for examining small parts. There are single monocular loupes, or for a bit higher cost, head-mounted eyeglass style stereoscopic loupes which may or may not feature replaceable optics.
There are many kinds of head-mounted stereoscopic or single-element magnifying devices available. Some are equipped with LED lights, which is handy but not strictly necessary. The picture below shows one that was purchased from a discount tool store for less than US$10.
A microscope is handy for examining small parts or PCB traces. There are many inexpensive ones available. A stand is very useful as well for both precise positioning and to keep the camera steady.
Knipex 12 40 200
Probably the last general purpose wire stripper you'll buy, costing about 50 bucks.
This manual wire wrap tool has a wire stripper for AWG 30 wires integrated in its handle.
UV lamp G-10W
This USB-powered UV lamp emits about 0.7W of optical power @405nm and is a handy lamp to have around to cure UV glue and other UV cured substances.
I've removed the bottom part to get the UV LED closer to the sensor of the optical power meter further down.
A quick measurement of the optical power of this lamp reveals that the 10W in the name has nothing to do with its power. This lamp is, with its price of about 12 USD, still a good tool to have around for all UV curing tasks.
Tamper Evident Seal RS:196-5245
It's always handy to have some tamper evident seal on hand to make tampering less evident.
Scotch Vinyl Electrical Tape Super 88
This tape is the recommended tape to use together with thermal cameras to get more accurate temperature readings, especially on reflective (for IR) surfaces.
Advanced tools for manipulating PCBAs
Stereoscopic microscope (analog)
This stereo microscope has a lockable double arm boom stand and a magnification range of 7X to 45X (zoom) and is great for component level repairs / modifications. The boom stand allows to quickly change between the normal view onto the work piece in the soldering fixture and a side-view while holding the work piece in the hand without the need to touch the focus and magnifications settings. You just pull out the head over the edge of the table to have room to turn the work piece in the hand to be able to get a side-view of pin-less IC-packages or other things that are difficult to see in the normal view.
This Barlow lens reduces the magnification from 90X to a more usable 45X magnification and also increases the working distance, which helps to hold soldering tools at an optimal angle.
This 0.5X C-mount adapter with adjustable focus is put between the camera port and the camera and enables the adjustment of the focus of the camera.
This particular setup required to put a 5mm c-mount spacer between the camera and the component below it.
Cheap 38MP HDMI camera found on AliExpress.
Stereoscopic microscope (digital)
Fix me: add links and photos
The Stereo Ninja Project
Fix me: add links and photos