Electronics and Hack Workbench

I've had a number of requests from readers to see my workbench in its entirety, as most photos of it are just backgrounds to projects. So, I thought I'd post some photos and explanations in an article. Maybe someone will get some helpful hints or perhaps someone will lend me some helpful advice. First off, here are some wide shots of the mess:

Wide shot of Andy's Electronics Workbench

I made the table. The top is made out of three 10"-ish wide pine boards glued together side to side using biscuits. I had a custom piece of 3/16" glass to fit the top. Half of the top of the table is covered with conductive foam to keep static at bay. I ordered a couple big pieces of that from somewhere on-line, can't remember where. It's super convenient for stabbing parts into to hold them neatly. It's also great for discharging static. The legs I've had a while. They were part of a giant desk I built years ago. I got them on-line many moons ago. They have bases that are screwed to the bottom of the tabletop. They then screw into the bases. They're made of steel or aluminum or something strong like that. Under the tabletop, I put a big "X" of 3" wide interlocked pine planks for rigidity. I can stand right on the center of that table and it barely flexes.

Thrown together cubby shelf thing

Down below the desktop is a six-cubbyhole shelf on little rubber footies leftover from my table saw stand (that is now attached to a rolling platform I made). In each of those cubbies, I put plastic lock-top containers full of various larger items, like wall warts, scavenged PCBs from VCS and such, and cords. This is a great use of space that would otherwise be cluttered up with piles of things.

The blue cabinets came with the house. As with most of the light fixtures and some other miscellaneous pieces left behind by the previous owners, I'm guessing they're from Ikea. They're really handy. I added the little white shelves between the two cabinets. I have a benchtop digital power supply on the lowest shelf for easy access, but that's not my main power source. I'll get to that shortly.

Shelves between Ikea cabinets

I taped up a bunch of my most-referenced cheatsheets for things like pinouts on ATmega328's, ATtiny13's, common capacitor markings, resistor bands, ISP cables, etc. I also keep my DMM hanging right there and made a little wire hook for the leads.

Parts drawers are SUPER handy!

The parts drawer cabinets on the right of the bench are typical types from Home Depot or Lowes. The more the merrier, as you can see. I keep groups of similar things close together. Eventually, there will be more of these. However, I have to get more creative with my space. To the right of the cabinets is a big painting that I commissioned for my Man Cave™ that I'd prefer not to move.

In some of the larger drawers, I use the conductive foam to hold my many ICs in layers to save space and for organization. I label each group with my handy Brother P-Touch labeler, like so:

Stacking ICs in drawer with conductive foam and labels

Here's another angle on how I stack the ICs in the larger drawers:

Logic ICs stacked on ESD foam, labeled for a quick find

I then put an index label on the front of the drawers so I can easily find families of ICs. I haven't yet found a really cool method for storing the 8 zillion resistors I have, but I do sort them by sub-1,000Ω, 1KΩm and 1MΩ drawers. Miscellaneous electrolytic caps are in one big drawer, common caps that are still in their tape from the manufacturer are generally sorted into smaller drawers.

I label the fronts of the drawers sometimes, especially when the drawer is clearly something that will always contain what it currently contains. In the case of my stacks of DIPs and whatnot, they very well organized.

Parts drawers with Sharpie-scribed labels

I have so many parts, now, that I have built a spreadsheet to track them. A majority of the parts I have I've thrown on the end of orders because the parts looked cool or handy. When a grab bag of common transistors will only add a couple of dollars to an order, why not? AVRs are my favorite microcontroller, so I have a drawer dedicated to various renditions of that family of chip, as you can see on the middle left drawer above.

MacBook Pro sans battery as benchtop computer

I don't know if people notice this in the background or in screenshots, but I use a 15" MacBook Pro for my benchtop computer. The battery failed, so it's always plugged into AC, now. It's now a flip-open desktop workstation, pretty much. I use this MacBook Pro to program microcontrollers and to have convenient access to the web and what not.

Our house is all Mac all the time. I have a Dell box used as a network storage server, but that's it. My regular desktop is a big-arse 27" 3.4 GHz iMac with a second 27" Cinema Display. Both are on wall-mount arms which are supposed to make my desk cleaner. However, as you can see in the photo below, all that's done is make more room for me to pile parts.

3.4 GHz iMac 27" with matching 27" Cinema Display over desk

Of course, what desk area would be complete with a jackalope and an oil painting of a monkey in a fez?

Repurposed Dell PC power supply as benchtop power supply

About my primary power supply... I took apart a my wife's old computer that she had when we met. It was a sad, sad old computer I'd given her to get her by that I think I salvaged from my uncle's office. The power supply makes for a fantastic DC power supply. It provides very clean and reliable 3.3VDC/14A, 5VDC/22A, and 12VDC/10A power. This was crucial when I was working with peltier devices, which drew more amperage at their ideal voltages than the digital power supply could give them. This Dell power supply doesn't even break a sweat when a peltier device asks for 3.5A. The max on my digital PS is only a little shy of 3A.

Temporary switch for Dell power supply

I turn the supply on or off using this little toggle switch I rigged into the main jumper for the power supply.When I become ambitious about really finishing organizing my bench, I will snip all the extra wires and connectors and clean up the power supply. I'm also going to extend the voltage and ground leads and put nice ends on them to make it easier to connect and disconnect them from my many breadboards. Speaking of...

Custom breadboard power supply adapter

I whipped together this little adapter so that I could quickly connect and disconnect the various voltage leads from the power supply to my breadboards. I quickly got tired of screwing and unscrewing the thumbscrews on the breadboards when I wanted to switch them out. Eventually, these connectors will be on-the-ready toward the back of the benchtop and the switch for the power supply will be mounted more conveniently. The power supply will be relocated up and out of the way. Right now, sadly, it sits on two pieces of wood on the ESD foam.

When I work with my favorite microcontrollers, the AVR series from Atmel, I don't usually use a proper Arduino board, even though I tend to use the Arduino IDE. Instead, I whip together a quick circuit with either a 16 MHz or 20 MHz quartz crystal on a breadboard. I usually have three or so of these setup and ready to tinker with. I do actually have a few different types of Arduinos I've purchased with gift cards, recently. Here's an example of a typical setup for me:

Quick AVR setup with supporting circuit on breadboard

I followed the recommendations from the ATmega328 datasheet for what components to put around it. There's a 10µH inductor on the analog voltage reference pin (in the photo above, it's on the Vcc pin, so ignore that). There's a 20 MHz quartz crystal on the XTAL1 and XTAL2 pins. Each of those pins is also connected to ground with 20 pF capacitors. Often times, I put a 7805 5V linear regulator on the + rails of ones side of the board and the other has either a 7812 12V regulator or LM10863V3 3.3V regulator on it. Of course, the proper capacitors near the regulators to clean up power are usually on there, as well. Don't forget the polarity diode so that you don't accidentally hook up the power supply leads backwards and cook something or popcorn an electrolytic capacitor.

As you can see from some of the above pictures and the one below, the edge closer to where I work on the glass surface gets cluttered with the parts I reuse the most.

Parts clutter on my ESD foam

About once every few months, I will clean up the area and put things back where they belong.

Field Notes® brand notebooks for diagrams and doodles

I keep my notes and diagrams and doodles in these awesome little Field Notes® brand notebooks with graph paper inside. They're about $10 for a 3-pack and each notebook has 48 pages in it. They're the perfect size to sit on the bench next to a project. Not so big that they require a lot of open space. Not so small that they're just not useful.

Last, but not least, I present my bourbon cabinet, complete with my hand-dipped (by me at the distillery) Maker's Mark® bottles. I have in my collection about 20 different bourbons. My goto at when we're out and about, of course, is Maker's Mark®. :)

That's it for the tour. If any of you have suggestions or comments, please, please leave them below in the comments section. I'd especially love to hear how you guys are storing your resistors. The ultimate trick still eludes me. I don't want to waste a little drawer for a single value, of course. Dividing up the drawers makes it too time-consuming to get one. I'm thinking along the lines of a Rol-O-Dex of resistors or something. I dunno. Comment away.