Aachen Maker Meetup #104 (Wed, Mar 21, 2018): Tools—Makers' Favorite Helpers
This month's meetup was all about tools. We shared our favorite helpers that get us through our Maker day, tools that have become surprisingly indispensable for our work, but that other makers may not even know about. Tools can be anything from a fantastic Knipex wirestripper, to a cool logic analyzer, to an amazing smartphone app for electronics or a website recommending perfect color schemes for your DIY kites — anything that's not a "project" but that keeps helping you get your projects done.
As usual, we started with drinks and networking at 6.30 pm. At 7 pm, we kicked off the highlight of the evening, Roger Leifert's hands-on presentation Every Maker Should Have One. He had brought a whole suitcase full of tools that he has found to be indispensable in his daily electronics lab work.
Click on any picture for a full-size version.
Roger is the CEO of electronics store AK Modul-Bus Computer GmbH, and is building KainkaLabs together with electronics legend Burkhard Kainka, who has been a guest at our meetup before. Roger has even produced a great series of YouTube videos that explain the reasons behind each of his must-have tool picks in detail. It's worth watching!
Roger provided so much really useful information that after the 7.30 pizza break (with lots more chatting and networking), everyone wanted to hear more from him. So we continued for about another hour and managed to touch on all major areas of his essential tool collection to disassemble stuff, hold it in place, examine and measure it, cut it, solder and desolder it. It's amazing how much pain you can save yourself by checking out his recommendations—everybody in the room wished they'd had this list when they first started out in electronics. Roger's no-nonsense approach to tools focuses on usability for the maker, which was a perfect fit for the research focus of the lab hosting the event.
If you want to check out his recommendations, watch the video of the event on YouTube, or check out Roger's YouTube playlist, or download his spreadsheet that has the names and descriptions of all tools and even where to get them from online.
If you want some of that stuff (and you invariably will!), you can make your life much easier, and thank Roger for his great work, by ordering these products through his web store. You may pay a bit more than on eBay/AliExpress/Banggood, but you'll know that you get the right variant of each part, some parts Roger configures or modifies to be most useful, you can order from one source instead of ten, and they have most of that stuff in stock, so it's quick!
Prof. Jan Borchers helped Roger during his presentation, and also shared some of his favorite unusual tools to help with soldering:
- UHU patafix (also known as Blu Tack) is a mildly sticky, rubbery substance to put up posters that can be taken down later without leaving any traces on the wall or poster. However, it's a great helper when soldering through-hole components on a PCB: Put the component in place and stick some patafix onto it to fixate it—now you can turn around the board to solder it without the component falling out or moving around. It gets a little stickier when heated up but is still easy to remove. It's also great to hold wires in place that you need to solder together. Jan has used this stuff for his soldering classes with great success.
- He also brought his QuadHands that he bought in the U.S., which are a much better version of the crappy, but ubiquitous "Helping Hand" used for soldering. Long, flexible cables mounted on a heavy metal base hold alligator springs at their ends, and can be bent and rotated into any position without adjustment screws. In Germany, Mouser carries Adafruit's Super Fancy Third Hand (#2474) that works similarly.
- He uses TIPPY tip tinner, a paste containing solder powder, flux, and other cleaning agents in a tiny can, to quickly clean and re-tin his iron between jobs. Also, to tin a wire ending, just stick it into the small can, hold the iron next to it, and the tip is tinned, without needing an extra hand to hold your solder.
- And of course, he added a new champion to Roger's selection of wire strippers, the Knipex 12 42 195 wire stripper that requires even less force than others while handling an even wider range of wire diameters, and that makes stripping the insulation off wires a joy, hard to believe as that may seem.
Finally, FPGA expert Cord Elias reminded us of MakerCon Heidelberg on Apr 12–14 where he and other Aachen Makers will be presenting. He'll be running workshops on FPGAs and Rapid Prototyping using Model-Based Design.
The last folks left around midnight — another very successful event that definitely added to everybody's tools expertise (and their Christmas wishlist).