Friday 13 December 2013

Portable Electronics Workbench

For years I've tried to do my electronics projects in the garage. It never works. Not enough light. Not enough power. Too cold. No access to my desktop PC for interfacing work. Just bad.

In fact, it was so bad the hobby suffered for it. I didn't want to get into my projects because it was so much work to break out the storage containers, dig around for what I needed and get started. I couldn't use the kitchen counter for any longer than a few hours without my wife wanting to strangle me. There had to be a different solution.

I wanted something I could wheel into my office, use and then wheel back into the laundry room when I was done. Completely self-contained and with a small overall footprint. But it needed to have ample power, light and storage.

I doodled out many different designs in OpenSCAD, but the idea of making a large wooden box just seemed too unwieldy. Then I noticed the wire-frame kitchen shelving we had in the pantry ... it might be perfect.
So, I measured out where the work height needed to be and added a shelf above for frequently accessed tools and I was ready to start filling it out. 

The first thing I added was a fold down shelf. This is a sturdy piece of plywood wrapped in some heavy vinyl and attached to the columns with screws. 

Here's the shelf folded down for storage ...
A side view of the desk folded up ... note the heat gun conveniently mounted on the side.
And the desk folded down for storage. 
Then I wrapped the whole middle section with painted peg board. Zip ties are perfect for this. It's a great storage area for the most frequently used tools like wire, screwdrivers, etc. Also the most frequently used test equipment: scope, multimeter, adjustable power supply. I also bring out +5 volts in a variety of forms: micro-USB, Arduino plug, etc. 

A really great prototyping board for doing analog and digital breadboard work. The killer Hakko soldering iron is there too. That thing can ramp up to 450F in about 10 seconds. So handy. 
On the back of the unit, I have a full size power bar mounted with zip ties. Plenty of power for everything ... although a second one would be nice. 
I have a permanently attached extension cord which stores on the back of the unit as well. 
Finally, some LED undercounter lighting and I have a great workspace. 
In the main storage area there are two sets of drawers with the common components.  
 Like Arduino's, shields, RaspberryPi's, etc.
Breadboarding wires and more breadboards ...
Larger, bulkier tools go in the toolbox. The magnifying visor (which these failing eyes need badly) is always handy.
Underneath storage is for less frequently used stuff and for all the electronic components. Power supplies. Specialty cables, etc. And then a large, 8-unit component cabinet.
 This is where the electronic components: resistors, transistors, chips, etc all go.

 I also store stuff on top, but may do something better with this (at least get it in a nice box)
On the left hand side I have an ethernet router so I can connect to the home network easily. 

And here's the final result ... now, bring on the projects!