44.07685 North (44°  4' 36.66" North)
70.26235 West (70° 15' 44.46" West)
geomagnetic declination 15.66° West
elevation 237 feet (72 meters)
grid square FN44ub 88ME
KE6PIJ is a service mark for Paul N. Leonard Paul N. Leonard
WQML616
Auburn, ME 04210
Androscoggin County
Maine
United States

Getting Started

I've been doing this a while, and while the days of Heathkit seemed golden for the Do-It-Yourselfer this is actually a much better time to build your own stuff. Integrated circuits getting smaller in packaging and bigger in functionality were a problem at first, but products are available now that make it easier to use the packages and increase what you can do considerably. Even better are the computer boards available such as Beagleboard, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi.

To take advantage of all these developments a good workplace and the right tools are needed. What follows is what I have found to work well and keep it fun.

Anti-Static Workplace

Before you take out that IC or controller board and set it on your bench, you need to insure that a static discharge is not going to render your parts ineffective. One tiny zap may not destroy the part right away, it may just degrade it so it fails a bit down the road. So get rid of static before it starts.

Antistatic mats can be expensive and the first time you rip, tear, melt or cut through it you'll be wondering if it's worth it. I suggest you make your own inexpensive yet highly durable and repairable anti-static tabletop. This tabletop is in use on my workbench and it has been used where I have worked. There are two basic components, Masonite (also known as hardboard), and India ink.

Masonite

Masonite is used because it is durable, has a smooth side to use as a workspace, and although it is wood it is not overly absorbent.

India Ink

The key to this is India ink. Not just any India ink, it must be made with 100% Carbon black. Art stores carry the stuff, I prefer Speedball brand, but they also carry many non Carbon black based India inks. Carbon black is slightly conductive and so prevents static build up.

Construction

Using a foam paint brush, and having the Masonite smooth side up on a protected floor, pour some India ink on the board and smooth it over the board with the brush. After the first coat dries, apply a second coat.

When completely dried, the Masonite can be installed and secured over your workspace. A metal edge, using angled aluminum, can be used as a quick touch discharge area for when you first approach the bench. At some position on the workspace, preferably near the back, install a solder lug with bolt and washer so a wire can be used to connect the conductive workspace to a good ground.

Use

For most electronic projects, work can be directly on the workspace and your parts and boards will be safe. When working on projects with elevated voltages or sensitive inputs, you may want to provide an insulated board (unpainted) between the workspace and your project to prevent even this high impedance to allow a conduction path. I have only ever had one instance where this was noticable and it was while testing a small inverter for an LCD backlight. I could hear the slight arcing, so it was obvious what was happening.

This is the first of several tips for your DIY lab. I hope this helps.

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Copyright 2015 Paul N. Leonard
KE6PIJ is a service mark for Paul N. Leonard