Tools and Stuff We Like

To the man who only has a hammer in the toolkit, every problem looks like a nail.--Abraham Maslow

Here are some random and incomplete ramblings about tools and services we use and like.  As is often the case with free advice, these opinions are pretty much worth what they cost.  We have more opinions than we know what to do with...so if you need an opinion on a tool not covered below, just ask and we might even add it to this page.

See Also:  A Word About Tape  A Word About RTV Silicones  A Word About Solder  Cleaning Secrets Revealed

Hand Tools

Screw Drivers
The Sears Craftsman line is our choice for screw drivers.  They are merely adequate tools, but the lifetime warranty is superb.  We have exchanged hundreds and hundreds of Craftsman screwdrivers over the years and never once has Sears said a word.  Look for the orange handle ones when they are on sale for a buck or two; they qualify for the lifetime warranty also (Sears sells the cheaper Champion line, not marked Craftsman, that does not carry the lifetime warranty).  We do not like the feel of their ergonomic (black handle) line.

Large Pliers
Nobody makes better full sized pliers than Klein.  We like the D203-6 long nose (needle nose) pliers for tough jobs.  The D201-7NE lineman's pliers is a smaller version of the most famous of Klein's tools and is handy on the electronics repair bench.  The best diagonal cutting pliers in the world are the Klein 2000 series (blue plastic grips) with special cutting edges that handle steel screws and nails with ease; we like the D2000-28.  Klein has a "life of product" warranty, but our experience with their distributors has always involved an argument over what constitutes normal wear.

Small Pliers
In a small needle nose pliers, we like the Xcelite NN55.  Our Nashville, Tennessee distributor has always honored the Xcelite warranty with only minor protest, but there have been reports of serious problems with the Xcelite warranty by some users.  The Plato model 170 flush-cutting shear is our favorite and lists for less than five bucks; surplus "regrinds" are often available for a dollar or two.

Erem tweezers, part of Cooper Hand Tools, come in three grades, Swiss, Italian, and Economy (Pakistani).  The Erem Pakistani tweezers are a real bargain at around three bucks each, and they are of decent quality.  CHP tweezers by HAKKO are Italian made tweezers of very nice quality, cheaper than the middle grade Italian made Erem product.  Anti-acid and anti-magnetic stainless steel tweezers are our preference for electronics work.  For the one tweezers shop, the 00 style is a good choice; it has sharp tips, but is of relatively massive strong construction.  The well equipped shop should have several pairs of tweezers in addition to the 00 style, including the flat rounded tip 2A style, the very fine sharp tip 5A style, the curved sharp tip 7A style, and probably a few more.

Fiskars scissors with their lightweight Scandinavian design and Swedish stainless steel blades cannot be beat.  The five inch version is excellent for cutting teflon or mylar tape for tedious jobs like making up radiation detector assemblies.  Fiskars also makes seven, eight (available left-handed), and nine inch versions, and even a cute little set of heavy shears, all of which we have in our shop.  The Klein 2100-5 and 2100-7 electricians scissors are also handy and practically indestructible with the ability to cut small diameter copper wire with ease.

Wire Strippers
Teflon wire, used extensively in logging tools and panels, is a real challenge to strip.  We have a large variety of strippers, including some complex "automatic" strippers costing hundreds of dollars, but one relatively inexpensive simple stripper is as good as or better than any of the high priced models.  The Milbar Model 7E hand stripper is great with Teflon wire; it works with AWG sizes 22 down to 30.  (Milbar was absorbed by Stride Tool which also owns the Imperial line of tools, so the Milbar 7E is now branded as the Imperial IE180.)  The geometry of the die notches may be the reason this stripper works so well with Teflon, and the Ideal, Klein, etc. non-automatics work so poorly.  A well broken-in pair works even better than a brand new pair.  Some vendors claim the Milbar 7E / Imperial IE180 is for solid wire, but we use the stripping notches as size-labeled for stranded E or EE Teflon insulated wire.  Several vendors sell the Milbar 7E / Imperial IE180 with their own house branding imprinted on the handles; Snap-On sold this wire stripper for years marked Model PWC7 as part of their Blue Point line, but recently dropped it from their catalog.  McMaster-Carr currently has the 7E for around ten bucks as their part number 7294K59.

We also use several types of thermal strippers, but we like HOTweezers by Meisei Corporation best (Contact Meisei at (805) 497-2626).  Thermal strippers are helpful for very small gauge Teflon insulated transformer, trimpot, etc. leads.

Misc. Hand Tools
We like Xcelite for nut drivers and the more exotic type drivers.  Their Series 99 interchangeable system has been the standard for decades.  Many of the ten-turn dials on logging surface equipment require a .048 inch Bristol six flute driver; try the Xcelite 99-61.

Power Tools

We like the Black & Decker VersaPak line of power tools; we have several of their power screw drivers, drills, a saw, a floor sweeper, and even the VersaPak version of the DustBuster.  VersaPak is not an industrial line, but is more than adequate for an electronics shop.  The interchangeable batteries put an end to trashing low end power tools when the nicads bite the dust.  Unfortunately, VersaPak is being phased out.

We have an import Asian 7x12 Mini Lathe, which little machine tool has proven to be incredibly useful around the shop.  It is a real tool capable of producing quality parts, and it is great fun.

Cleaning Supplies

If you have not already seen it, check out Cleaning Secrets Revealed.  We no longer use or recommend Completely Denatured Alcohol (CDA) for electronics applications; Pure Grain Alcohol (PGA) is the better choice.

We absolutely adore our MENDA dispensers for solvents and other fluids.  We just do not know how we lived without them in the old days.

We buy Q-tips by the case.  The wooden shaft ones are best, but they are now nearly an extinct species.  The rolled paper shaft version is adequate and cheap.  Avoid the hollow plastic shaft type; they are too flimsy.  Do not buy the ones with the anti-bacterial chemicals for electronics cleaning applications.

The best electronics shop paper towel we have found is plain white Bounty.  It is soft enough to use even for polishing plastic surfaces without scratching.  We also keep Kimwipes around for really critical optical cleaning or polishing.

Soldering Equipment

The HAKKO 936 / 937 is our favorite industrial grade soldering station.  A wet sponge is indispensable for cleaning a soldering iron tip, but also check out the HAKKO 599, or better yet the 599B, no-wet tip cleaner (it looks like a ball of brass metal turnings).  The Hakko 808 desoldering gun is an excellent value, but we modified ours by adding a switch to turn the heating element on and off and a pilot light (plugging and unplugging the unit is a pain).

Test Equipment

At one time or another, we have had a digital multimeter (DMM) from just about every manufacturer, many of which are no longer in business (not to give away ages, but we still have Triplett and Simpson analog meters, too).  Fluke is presently our favorite manufacturer, with some reservations.  See our Meters (DMMs) page for more detailed information.

Device Testers
The Vu-Data Model 5110 Semiconductor Test Set is very handy for testing transistors and diodes both in-circuit and out-of-circuit.  It has a novel division of duties, with a "Go / No-Go" section and a separate "Parametric" test section.  The Vu-Data 5110 is no longer manufactured, but there are many available on the used test equipment market (the military bought bunches of them).  If you need a tube tester, consider an old Hickok unit.  We have a Model 6000 that serves us well.

Power Supplies
If you could have only one power supply in a shop working on well logging tools, it would have to be the Agilent (formerly Hewlett Packard) E3612A.  It will deliver over 120 volts at 250 milliamps for powering just about any downhole tool, and in the low range does 0-60 volts at half an amp.

As others have observed, there are only three names in oscilloscopes:  Tektronix, Tektronix, Tektronix.  The T922R is the classic logging truck scope; the plastic case version is the T922 (the R suffix indicates rack mount).  We still use the old classic 465B scopes in our shop, but recently began using a Tektronix 2465B, a truly incredible scope.  We also have a Tektronix TDS2012, but the fossils around here still use analog scopes much of the time.  Sadly, Tektronix no longer manufactures analog oscilloscopes.

Pulse Generators
We really like our Hewlett Packard 8111A Pulse Generator.  It is ideal for logging tool research and development.

Used Instruments
Talk to our friend Bruce Divine at Test Equipment Plus (TEP) in Vancouver, Washington, for an honest and knowledgeable source of used test equipment.  Contact him at (360) 263-5006, fax (360) 263-5007.

Avoid dealing with AST Global Electronics and with TechRecovery; they are not nice people.

Printed Circuit Boards

We like IVEX WinDraft schematic software and WinBoard PCB design software.  Unfortunately, Ivex has gone out of business.  There was a final CD offered with the last updates and a collection of technical resources which CD is nice to have if you still use WinDraft or WinBoard.  The schematics on this website are produced with WinBoard.  We recently migrated to Cadsoft Eagle for PCB design.

We previously recommended ExpressPCB for small quantities of printed circuit boards, but have reconsidered our position.  Their little PCB design program has a proprietary file output designed to lock customers into using only their service.  This is an unacceptable arrangement for a commercial customer.  For a $60.00 fee they will supply the Gerber files, but enabling Gerber file output would generate good will far exceeding any business they might lose (Advanced Circuits will supply free Gerbers after a second order when using their little PCB program, an offer ExpressPCB refuses to match, but it is better to use a PCB design program that does not generate proprietary files).  It should be noted that ExpressPCB's quality control is somewhat uneven.  There are many better options than ExpressPCB.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Label Makers
Most loggers still using analog recorders are by now familiar with the new generation of label makers.  They make nice log labels and can replace the rolls of preprinted labels no longer available.  These devices use a thermal imaging process; the clear tape with black lettering is used for log labels, but many other color schemes are available for other applications.  These machines also make very nice labels for use on modified or custom built surface panels.  We like the Casio units; we even have one that connects to the computer for fancy work.  Casio appears to be losing the label making war to Brother (it seems we all too often side with the underdog).

If you are over 40 or so, and you wear glasses, here is a great trick.  Get lineless bifocals and ask your optometrist or ophthalmologist to write the reading "add" part of the prescription for a half diopter or so more than you really need.  The effect is to make working on little stuff, close up, easier than it was when you were young and did not need bifocals; it is wonderful!  This trick works because the "add" in lineless bifocals starts at nothing at mid-lens, and gradually increases toward the lower edge.  This is why lineless bifocals are advertised as good at any distance, as opposed to one or two close-up distances for bifocals and trifocals respectively.  Making them a little stronger than is necessary only means that you can focus closer than reading distance at the very bottom of the lens, with the added benefit that the glasses will last longer as your eyes worsen with respect to close focusing.  If your eye doctor advises you not to tell him or her how to write your prescription, it is time to find a different doctor.  In general, lineless bifocals work best in relatively large frames, and this is especially true if there is extra "add".  If you have difficulty getting used to lineless bifocals, the odds are they were made incorrectly (if the beginning of the reading "add" correction is placed too high, it may make you seasick, whether or not you opted for the trick described above).

Also see Test, Repair, and Research Equipment for a partial listing of our "toys".

FTC Disclosure: Neither AnaLog Services, Inc. nor the author has an economic interest in any of the companies or products discussed above, and no monetary compensation was received.  Free samples were received from various manufacturers.  None of the manufacturers / distributors was aware this page would be written.

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Last 10-20-10