Recommended minimal kit for electronics work

Quite a few people have asked me about what tools I recommend for maintaining retro systems so i’ve decided to make a blog post about it. If anyone wants me to do it in video form then let me know.

This is just a list of recommendations and it’s based on my personal experience. I’ll also do a preferred build at some point, with some more expensive components.

I’ve included some direct links to products but these links may well fail, especially the eBay ones. Searching for the key terms should find you like products.

Soldering Iron

The soldering iron is probably the most important part of your toolkit and choosing a good one can be daunting. But the fact is that there are a bunch of clone digital irons now based around the TS-1xx range and they’re all pretty good.

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eBayTS100, Digital, Soldering£53

Multimeter

A multimeter is an absolute necessity for anyone doing any form of electronics. This box of tricks will help you test continuity, voltages, component stability and much more. Spend as much as you can and get a brand name if possible, but there are plenty of decent clones too.

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RSDigital,Multimeter£20

Solder

It doesn’t matter how good your soldering iron is if you don’t have any solder. Solder is a conductive alloy with a low melt point (compared to other alloys or metals). There’s been a move away from lead in recent years because of ecological and health reasons. But the fact is that leaded solder just performs and lasts far better than non-leaded solder.

We recommend a 60/40 solder alloy. The other option is around the diameter of the solder, we recommend 25swg (0.5mm). The smaller size means it will be suitable for all jobs, although it might mean you’re there for a while on large solder pads.

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Soldering-Solder-Wire-Fluxed-Core-60-40-Tin-Lead-Flux-Electronics-Hobby-QualityeBay60/40,Solder,Tin,Lead£20 for 500g

Flux

Flux is a material that helps solder to flow, it’s non-conductive and (in general) non-corrosive but should still be cleaned off when you’ve finished the job.

There are 4 kinds of flux, Liquid (more a kind of goo) in a Syringe, Liquid in a Pen, Resin and Paste. We recommend the Liquid type in a Syringe, it’s easier to get a nice glob of it in place that way.

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eBayFlux,Soldering£4.33

Desoldering Braid

If you make a mistake or you’re trying to remove solder for another reason then you can’t beat some good solder braid. You need to use it in conjunction with flux so the solder can transfer properly, but when used correctly it’s incredibly effective.

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3m-Solder-Remover-Wick-Mop-Desoldering-Sucker-BraideBaySolder,Braid,Wick£4.99

Isopropyl Alcohol

When you need to clean stuff off a board you can’t beat Iso. It’s a liquid that evaporates really quickly which means it’s safe to pour all over your board (you know, within reason). It will destroy labels and many forms of case printing though. You want as near to pure as possible, 99% being good.

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eBayIsopropyl, 99, medical, industrial£7.49 per 100ml

White Vinegar

Corrosion, especially that caused by batteries needs to be chemically neutralised by adding an acid. White vinegar is your best bet. Apply it using cotton swabs or a toothbrush and it’ll start bubbling away in the presence of an alkaline. You absolutely have to clean the board though, an acid is as bad as an alkaline in the long term so as well as making your board smell like a chip shop it’ll start eating away at it too. Once the reaction has stopped you can clean with some iso.

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eBayWhite,Vinegar,Cleaning,Food£8.49 per 1L

Tweezers

A good pair of tweezers is often overlooked, but they can be incredibly useful. We’d recommend getting some ceramic tipped ones to stop them being conductive but also to stop you burning your fingers if you have to hold them to the soldering iron.

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eBayTweezers,Ceramic£3

Brush

Good for applying iso and cleaning loose solder from a board. You can go the route of buying a decent one or just get a toothbrush. Don’t go too cheap though because it’ll be a pain if you end up loosing bristles all over the board.

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eBayESD,Brush£5

Desoldering Pump

A desoldering pump is a good way to remove solder from through-hole components, you can pick them up relatively cheap but we do recommend getting one with a flexible silicone tip because it makes it much easier to get a good seal

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eBaydesoldering,pump,silicone£18.00

Cotton Swabs

I’m not going to give a link to this, just buy some ear cleaner cotton swabs. Really useful for cleaning in small areas.

A Fan

There’s s reason they tried to get rid of leaded solder even though there’s no better alternative, get yourself a fan to blow away some of the emissions.