The Lair is my
lab in the basement. This page has photos and descriptions
of what I consider to be essential equipment. It also has
links to suppliers and places you can get similar items.
Out with the old, in with the new. Shown at left is the old
version of my lab. It served me very well, but I was starting
to outgrow it.
I have redesigned and built the lab in the
basement. My wife and I finally bit the bullit and finished
the rough space of our basement. I walled off a room of it
for the lab, measuring about 12 x 10 feet. It is now the lab
space I have dreamed of for years; a very professional looking
space, with lots of room for expansion.
to see a page showing recommended tools for starting up
your own lab, essential, nice to have, and way cool items.
Here is a quick floorplan of the new lab room.
Many of the photos below have larger views. Just click on
the photo to enlarge.
A view of the main electronics
bench. This view from the back wall and high up shows the
main bench. It is an 8' long counter (Home Depot, $50) with
rubbermaid wire 12" deep shelving over pegboard. The
bench holds all of my electronic tools, computer, proto board,
wire and the shelves hold all of my components, books and
soldering tools/accessories. All in one easy to reach space.
The bench is 30" off the concete, non
static producing floor with no support extending further from
the wall more than 8 inches. This allows me to slide in my
wheeled chair down the complete length of the bench, which
I do when I'm bored, or really stuck on a problem. The latter
more often than the former.
I carefully designed the entire
space before I built anything, using all the lessons that
I have learned in the past two years. Everytime I have gritted
my teeth in frustration at something about my lab before,
I filed it away thinking "someday...".
The computer I slid down to the end of the
bench farthest away from the cold water pipe, just in case
of a big leak. I put in a speaker phone. Before I had to go
upstairs to get a cordless and then get a neck ache holding
in my shoulder. Also, I made it a corded phone so that the
handset couldn't "walk off" on me, making me grit
my teeth again. I put in plenty of power outlets, easy to
get to and a flourescent light over the bench, controlled
by a switch within easy reach. There are outlets under the
bench with a power strip mounted firmly to the pegboard above
Test Equipment: My two main items of
test equipment are a PC based oscilloscope and a combo proto
board/power supply/function generator.
The oscilloscope is a Link Instruments
DSO-2100. It is a really nice two channel, USB based scope
module in a compact and thus mobile package. It plugs in by
USB to my laptop or desktop easily. I have an AC adapter for
it, but you can make a battery pack for it very easily as
well. The software allows you to set very complex triggering
(trigger on the 3rd pulse of duration 200 ms, etc). It also
is a spectrum analyzer to 50 MHz using an FFT (Fast Fourier
Transform) algorithm. I can easily capture waveforms and then
save the plots as bitmaps or jpegs and email them or include
in reports. Fantastic piece of gear. This one is middle ended
for price at about $780, but you can get other PC based scopes
for as little as $200. I highly recommend it.
The oscope is mounted in a wire basket to
the left of the phone. The probes hang in pegboard screwdriver
holders. I try to store things off the bench surface as much
as possible to make cleaning up easier.
Shown at left is a screen capture I did on
my bench. I probed the output of the function generator on
my proto station (next) and then hit alt-printscreen. Simple
as can be. Click here
to see an enlarged photo of the scope screen shot.
Prototyping station: Global Specialties
PB-503. It has a huge bread board prototyping area that is
removable (velcro attached), fixed +5V power supply, variable
1-20VDC (both positive and negative) power supply, function
generator with TTL pulse or variable amplitude sine, triangle,
and square waves with frequency adjustable from 1-100 KHz.
2 debounced push button switches, 2 BNC connectors for input
or outputs with breadboard connectors nearby, 8 logic switches
that can be switched to have output of either 5V or the variable
positive supply voltage, 2 pots (1K and 10K), 2 SPDT switches,
8 ohm speaker and 8 input slots with logic indicators (green
for logic low, red for hi). These logic inputs can also be
switched to sense either TTL or CMOS 5V levels, or can be
switched to use the variable supply as the high voltage. I
use this more than any piece of gear. I love it so much I
went and bought another one mounted in a portable case. Check
ebay for these. I got both there at less than half the full
Tools: I keep most of my tools in a
simple plastic toolbox, so that I can pick up and have a portable
lab easily. When I'm in the permanent lab, I just set the
toolbox on the floor.
The most often used tools are the wire snippers,
needle nose pliars, tweezers, a Philips head screwdriver and
wire strippers. I have two sets of these items, one in the
toolbox and another that is always on the wall, in easy reach.
I took some magnets out of bad hard drives to hold my most
commonly used tools for easy grabbing, and letting go. These
magnets are very powerful. I can throw my snippers in the
general area near its magnet and it'll stick there.
Light: I have a flourescent
light over the bench with switch. I also have a set of track
lights on the ceiling so I can redirect lighting as necessary
depending on what part of the lab I'm working in at the moment.
I stopped using junk boxes some time ago as they were threatening
to overrun me and it was getting impossible to find anything
quickly. I switched over to keeping everything in organizer
drawer cases like those shown on my storage shelf. Everything
from resistors, to IC's, to connectors, switches taken out
of old copiers and printers to those I buy new. Servo parts
like control horns, batteries, IC sockets, etc. I have a thoroughly
stocked electronics lab and it's organized to the point that
I can find what I need. I'm pretty much a neat freak. I hate
wasting precious tinkering time looking for something.
Shown here is one of 5 60 drawer organizer
cabinets, each with the contents of its drawer marked clearly.
I have 2 cabinets for the 7400 logic series IC's, Another
for resistor and capacitors, another for connectors, LEDs,
sockets, etc, and the other one for anything else. I have
about 20 drawers total that are unused right now for later
expansion. Any component I want is right there within easy
reach. No more hunting around.
I have 2 other shelves in the room to hold junk boxes, cannibalized
toys, and in progress projects. There's always several of
those. I can set them up out of the way and keep working that
I have a soldering station further down the bench. Tools shown
Soldering Iron: If you don't have a good
quality soldering iron, do yourself a big favor and get one.
Lose that Radio Shack ratty thing. Look on ebay and get a Weller
station like this one. I got this WES50 station on ebay for
$40. Pegboard holders keep it off the counter.
Anti-static mat: And quit blowing off
anti static warnings. Modern IC's are pretty tough, but anything
with a FET or even some CMOS devices are prone to getting
zapped. I've done it and got tired of spending money to replace
it or worse wondering should I? And then spending hours assuring
myself that I didn't need to. So I buckled down and put in
anti-static equipment. All bench areas have anti static mats
(guess where I found them, you got it,ebay). I'm in the basement
a few feet away from the main cold water pipe, so grounding
is very easy for me. I don't have any carpet in my lab area
either. I just have to wear socks (or slippers) in the winter.
Light/Magnifier: As you get old like
me, you'll want a decent magnifier with a good light so you
can see what you're up against.
Electronics project vise: This unit
by Panvise is very handy. Shown is the circuit board attachment
for holding board which you slide into the jaws then tighten.
I also have the more standard looking vise for holding things
other than boards while I work. This unit also has little
dishes at the bottom to hold components as you work. Again,
ebay. $20 for this one there.
Wire: I keep mine hanging above the
bench on a 1/2" wood dowel rod. A roll of solder also
has its place. The solder I got surplus pretty cheap. $10
for a 1 pound roll, I couldn't tell you long that is in feet.
I've had it for 2 years now with no worries of using it up.
More ebay items for you.
Power Supply: Not really a soldering
item, but I don't use this much since the proto station has
a power supply. This Elenco model can supply up to 3 amps
though and has a nice built in analog meter to show me just
how much current is being pulled. Again, off the counter surface
thanks to the pegboard.
I mentioned teeth gritting
earlier. In the old set up, cables were EVERYWHERE. Any time
I moved my feet around I hit cables and it drove me nuts.
So I built a wooden cable trough and shoved them all into
that. This keeps the cable clutter off the floor, again making
it easier to clean up. I kept the computer off the floor too
both for clean up and in case there is a water leak (my cold
water pipe enters the house inside my lab room. You can see
the pipe behind the magnifier lamp in the photo above.
In a basket suspended under the counter is
the cable modem and router for the home network.
Finally, since the floor is concrete, some
slippers for winter time.
A modern robotics lab without a computer is difficult for
me to imagine. All of my robotic projects are programmable,
and to program I need a computer with a parallel and serial
port. That's a pretty easy bill to fill these days. You can
pick up an old 333 MHz machine with those ports on it for
$200. I have a 400 MHz machine I'll sell you for that. USB
hasn't made it into my programmers just yet, but it's coming.
I also do video editing in the basement so I have my sweet
machine down there (2.6 GHz Pentium 4 based machine). The
speaker phone is just above the computer. You can't see it
but I have a 2nd machine running Linux and
KVM switch for changing between the two environments.
Not necessary but very handy is a home
network. I have a jack on the bench to plug my laptop
into for quick swapping of data between portable and desktop
machines. It is also great for multi-player gaming in the
house with my family. My wife and sons all gang up on me for
a game of Age of Empires. (I still trounce their combined
efforts). I have a wireless access point so I can take the
laptop anywhere in the house. I have and recommend the 802.11G
equipment for better speed. Range is about the same as B equipment
I think, but you get much faster transfer rates with G.
Books: I've collected many
books on the topic of robotics and various computer applications.
I had to add the shelf on the wall as I ran out of space with
the shelves. I have to watch my head as I get up on that new
shelf. I also pin charts, specs, commonly used schematics
and a calendar on the wall to the right of the computer for
Across the lab in the other corner is the
mechanical area. This is a separate table
that is just for mechanical assembly (dremel tool action,
nuts and bolts, etc). It also acts as an area for a guest
to work during club hack sessions. I have another soldering
station on this bench, along with charging stations for my
My Dremel tool and socket set are on the mech
bench. The Dremel tool is an all in one machine shop. I can
cut plastics, wood, metals, whatever. It acts as a drill,
mill, lathe, whatever. For those of you that have not discovered
what a fantastic tool the Dremel is, go get one. I recommend
the case for easy storage of the tool and attachments.
A 4 drawer filing cabinet
is to the right of the mechanical table and holds specs, notes
on designs, etc. This thing is just as handy, if not more
so, than the Dremel tool. I have parts catalogs, receipts
for all the parts I buy for tax writeoff, specifications for
commonly used parts.
To the left of the mechanical table is a metal
shelf which holds some of my in progress robots. On the wall
is my whiteboard. Did I say the proto board was the most used
tool in the lab? I lied. It's the whiteboard. From quick drawings
and calculations to phone numbers to doodling, this thing
is in constant use. I also grille my sons on their math homework
Another larger shelf holds plastic bins which
are my junk boxes. I switched to clear plastic bins to help
me find things easier. I have them broken into electrical
parts, plastics, metals, and everything else.
Here I am in my new happy home within a home.
I spend a lot of time down here.
I didn't just include this photo to show a picture of myself
grinning. I so far have neglected to mention THE most important
design feature of the entire lab. This last feature saves
me from the number one teeth gritting problem that I faced.
That feature is visible right behind me. It is called soundproofing
board, and is a cheap soft fiber board that deadens sound
beautifully. The kids are in the main area of the basement
just a few feet away in their play area. I just close the
door and "aaaaahhhhhh", blissful peace and quiet.
I even have a lock on the door, though I don't need it. Both
boys are very respectful of my lab and I don't have to worry
about them coming in and messing with stuff.
All of the lab walls that don't back onto solid earth are
clad in this soundproofing board. Home Depot. $8 a 4x8' sheet.
Worth every penny.
My machine shop is still
in the garage. I thought about moving it down the basement,
but I use the equipment for wood working as well as metal
and I didn't want the mess.
I have a drill press, band saw, bench vise and a bench grinder.
I work a lot with aluminum bar stock on my bots. It's very
light and easy to bend and cut. You really need a drill press
to do precise drilling. I made do with a cordless drill for
a while and really butchered a lot of stuff. The drill press
should be your first major item for machining.
Shown here also is a good set of drill bits, safety glasses,
and the bench vise. Not shown is another set of carbide tipped
bits for drilling printed circuit boards. When you start etching
your own boards you will HAVE to get a drill press.
A vise is very important. Moreso even than the drill press
for that matter. Hard to use that hacksaw on something that
can get away from you.
Moving up into 2nd place for me now is the bandsaw. Man,
what a FANTASTIC piece of equipment. I spent 2 years finagling
with a hack saw. No more. I can barely begin to sing its praises.
I cut aluminum bar stock, copper clad board, plastic, plexiglas.
Absolutely unbeatable. I got lucky and found this Craftsman
model at Sears on clearance (they don't make it any more)It's
an 11 inch bandsaw (clearance from blade to back of the saw,
thus the largest thing you can get in there). For me a big
plus was its relatively low stature. As you can see I have
it on my bench in the garage which has a shelf suspended over
it. The bandsaw goes right in under there.
3rd would be bench grinder. Why? Because you can throw sparks
like this! Isn't that great? When you work with metal it never
comes out like you want unless you mill it with a precise
CNC like machine. I can't afford that yet, so I use the grinder
to shape metal where a hack saw or a dremel tool doesn't quite