Home electronic workbench notes

I've been building an SSL stereo compressor clone for Soapbox. Rather than source all the parts myself I went with the SB4000 kit, which has its pros and cons. I'll save all that for another post, but in the meantime I figured I'd make some notes about working on electronics projects at home.

Home electronic workbench strategies so you don't lose your damn mind

1. RESET AND CLEANUP. Reset your workbench to a default setting *every time* you leave. Cleanup and put tools back. Just do it! Make it a habit. Your future self will thank you.

2. TAPE IS YOUR FRIEND. Tape is better than any "third hand" type tool. Tape down small fidgety parts so you can measure them with a multimeter. Use tape to hold down slippery components while you solder them into place. Use tape/sticky notes and a marker to label component values and unfinished projects. I have dozens of breadboards and PCBs with half finished circuits that I didn't label, and now I've totally forgotten what they were. Now I make notes about everything. Use painter's tape which doesn't leave any residue.

3. KEEP NOTES. Print out all instructions and parts list for a project before you start working. Make notes on it and cross out resistors and other components once they've been soldered down. This way when you come back to the project later you can pick up right where you left off. Do things in a specific order and break down a large project into manageable steps.

4. MAKE SPACE. Oftentimes home table top workbenches are small. When working on multiple projects at once that span several weeks or months, use small cardboard boxes as containers for each project. Store circuits, parts, and notes and label the box with the project name.

5. ORGANIZATION. I *hate* organizing components. I once tried using one of those shelving units with little drawers and it sucked. Bulky, clumsy, and never enough drawers. Recently I ran across this idea of using baseball card holders with a 3 ring binder, which sounds like an excellent idea. This way I can tag and bag components as needed, and it is cheap and portable. I'm looking forward to trying it out. It might even make sense to have mini-binders for each project.

6. TOOLS. Good tools make life easier and projects more enjoyable to work on. No extra skill points are awarded for building your circuit with a snub nosed 10 watt Radioshack iron! Research and take advantage of other people's experience, knowledge, and tools available online. For instance, this online resistor calculator is outstanding, and this soldering iron is a good value. There are also many software tools for circuit simulations and sketches, like LTSpice, NGSpice and CircuitLab - though unfortunately I have not found many for the Mac platform. Figure out the tools you need and get the best ones you can afford.

Electronics is all about manipulating things you can't see. It takes a lot of mental energy and persistence to work through it all. The challenge is to stay motivated and avoid getting frustrated by the little things that can suck focus and attention away from the bigger picture. At least that has been my experience. My hope is to develop work habits that will help push me along and minimize "headache factor", and so far this is what I've found works for me. Your mileage may vary, so try different things until you find something that works best for you. Keep experimenting!