Friday, March 7, 2014

Mobile Electronics Workbench

Back in the old days I used to drag all of my electronics project parts out of the garage in boxes, set them up on the dining room table, and get to work.  This worked out great until dinner time, at which point I would shove everything back into boxes and scatter it around the room until after dinner was over.  There were extension cords, power strips, soldering irons, power supplies, and components.  Components everywhere.  It got to the point that it was more of a hassle to clean up than the projects were worth, and I sort of went on a hiatus from electronics projects.  I looked around the web at solutions other people had come up with, and I decided I needed a mobile electronics workbench.  A portable lab.

I wanted something with a built-in power supply, a spot for a breadboard, some soldering space that nobody would get bothered about if it got burnt spots on it, component and tool storage, a built-in extension cord, and good lighting.  Here is my solution:

The final product

Light and tool hanger folded in
The back side, with power cord cleats
 I built it out of 3/8" plywood mostly, with 1/4" plywood on the back for light weight.  The wood is glued together and reinforced with small nails.  The tool door holds various strippers and tweezers, and folds in neatly.  My eyes are not what they once were, and so I bought a magnified light on Craigslist for $30, cut it down to fit, and mounted it so that it can move up and down and still fold into the box.  The dimensions of this light dictated the overall dimensions of my box, and it just barely fits, which means it fits perfectly.  The front opening folds down to make a nice soldering and prototyping area.  There is a little shelf for holding craft boxes of components.  My light and soldering station plug into a 4-plug outlet on the inside, so I've got 2 spare plugs for other things that need AC at the table.  All told it weighs about 35 pounds with everything in it.  Not too bad.  It has helped me complete many more projects, both big and small, than I would have without it.  I can just bust out a project, fold it up for dinner, and pull it back out after the kids have gone to bed.  Easy.

Awesome as it is, I have some future upgrades planned for it.  I would love a little vise to hold my circuit boards while I work on them.  Currently I am using an old Dell ATX power supply, and it makes a high pitch hum that bothers everybody in my house.  A good cheap lab supply would be ideal, especially if it was smaller too.  I have had this in service for a year now, and space on the inside is valuable.  I use the Sparkfun soldering station, which I absolutely love, but the iron holder is horrible.  I would like to build my own iron holder into my mobile bench, especially since I have to take the iron out of the stock holder to get everything to fit inside after the doors are folded up.

Overall it has been great.  Now I just need to find a way to store my etching supplies, my laminator, my electric skillet, and my oscilloscope in there.  I guess they'll stay in the garage on an as-needed basis for now.