How to set up an electronics lab for the beginner

Setting up an electronics lab for beginners

Why did I make this list?

When I first started really getting into electronics experimentation back in December (about 10 months ago), I found it very confusing and difficult to know exactly what I needed to buy.  What tools would I absolutely have to have?  What components would I need to get started?  What microcontrollers are best when you are starting out?

I ended up buying a lot of stuff I didn't really need.  I also ended up buying things I needed, but I bought the wrong model or type.  I also ended up not buying a lot of things that I did need.  The net result was that everytime I started to try and build any kind of simple project, I found myself lacking a key ingredient.  It was a very frustrating, and sometimes expensive, learning experience.

In this post, I will try to make a list of tools and components you will need if you are just getting started in electronics.  This is a general-purpose list, meant to give you a good supply of commonly used items.  You will be able to build a wide assortment of projects using the tools and components in this list.

This list is not all-encompassing.  I'm assuming you have ordinary tools like screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers on hand already.  You will also need to provide your own means to organize and store all of this gear.

Total cost of the starter electronics kit

The total cost of all the tools and components listed below is $343.69.  It might sound a little pricey, but if you look at the list you can see that you will be getting a TON for your money.  Compare it to electronics kits like the Mindstorm NXT 2.0 that costs $280.  I really wish I would have come across a list like this when I first became interested in electronics.  For me it hasn't been the cost of the hobby, it's been the frustration of not having what I needed on hand.

Shopping for hobby electronics

There are several places I usually buy hobby electronics.  The cheapest for components is almost always eBay, as long as you can wait a couple of weeks for them to ship it to you from China.  I have provided links below to all of the recommended components.

A disclosure - I do have an affiliate account at Amazon.  If you buy through one of the Amazon links below, I will earn a small commission.  I make no money on the eBay links.  If you buy on Amazon - be careful with the shipping.  If you try to buy items that say 'Free super saving shipping on orders over $25' you will save a ton on the shipping costs.  Be careful not to buy a $5 item from one seller only to pay $5 in shipping.  Most of the Chinese sellers on eBay have free shipping to the US.


Multimeter - Extech EX-330 Autoranging Multimeter - $59 at Amazon
I put this multimeter on the list because it was the best meter in Dave Jone's $50 multimeter shoot-out at the EEVblog.  The meter I actually own is the Equus Innova 3320, and it's served me fairly well.  I do wish I had bought at more expensive one now, though.  One of the bigger down-sides to the really cheap meters is the speed at which they are able to switch ranges.

Soldering iron - Hakko FX-888 65W Soldering Station - $80.72 shipped at Amazon
This is one of the more important tools in your arsenal.  I had a constant temperature iron that came from radio shack for about $9 when I first started.   I wasn't able to control the temperature and it took too long to warm up.  I later bought a $25 dollar cheap-o soldering station on eBay.  This was ok, but it also took forever to heat up, and it eventually broke.  Take my word on this one item - buy a decent soldering iron!  It is hard enough for a beginner to solder correctly, and damn near impossible if you are using a shitty iron.  My recommendation - Hakko FX-888 Soldering Station.  It heats up quick, is ergonomic, does a great job, and has a really sexy design.

Needle nose pliersKlein standard long nose pliers - 6 inch - $21.71 at Amazon
Your needle-nose pliers are going to spend a lot of time in your hands and you will depend on them to work smoothly and accurately.  I love these Klein needle-nose pliers.  I like the simple handles that give you really good feedback with whatever you are gripping, bending, etc.  The cheap pliers have bulky handles that feel disconnected from the working end of the pliers.  Get yourself a good pair of needle-nose.  We'll save money on other items later, I promise.

Side cutting pliers - Channellock 6-inch diagonal pliers - $16.39 at Amazon
You'll be spending a lot of time snipping leads and cutting wire.  I like this pair, but you should be able to get away with a little cheaper pair if necessary.

Solder sucker - Vacuum desoldering pump - $6.07 at Amazon
You'll need this kind of tool for pulling solder off of pads when removing components from a board.


Arduino - Meduino Nano - $11.66 on eBay
Arduino is the most popular hobby electronics microcontroller platform out there.  The Meduino Nano is compatible with the Arduino Nano, easy to use on a breadboard, and it is CHEAP.  Buy a couple of these.

MSP-430 - TI Launchpad MSP-430 - $4.30 at Texas Instruments
The MSP-430 is a low-power, super low-cost microcontroller offering from TI.  The TI Launchpad MSP-430 is a dirt-cheap development board that TI sells for $4.30.  When you buy a Launchpad, you get the board, two microcontrollers and a USB cable.  You may choose to use TI's Code Composer studio to program the chip if you like, or you might choose Energia, which allows you to program an MSP-430 just like you would an Arduino.At this price, you should buy 2.

Boards and cabling

Breadboards - 830 point solderless breadboard - $5.79 on eBay
Use a solderless breadboard to easily build a circuit by simply pushing wires and components into the holes. Buy 2!

Perfboard - Prototyping PCB perfboard - $2.25 on eBay
Perfboard is good when you want to make your connections more sturdy than using a breadboard.   Buy two of these.

Jumpers - 65 piece male to male jumpers - 2.85 on eBay
These are pre-made jumper wires so you can quickly make connections on your breadboard.

Dupont jumpers - 40 piece female to male jumpers - 3.22 on eBay
These jumpers are made so you can plug a pin or wire into one end, then plug the male end into a breadboard.  These are perfect when you need to connect a male header pin to a breadboard.

22 gauge hookup wire - 25' solid 22 gauge hookup wire - $3.39 on Amazon
Buy 3 spools of this.  You will be using this wire for almost every electronics project you ever do.  This wire is even good for breadboarding, since you can cut your jumpers to the proper length and make them lay flat. Anytime you have more than 10 standard jumpers on a breadboard, things start getting very spaghetti-like.

Test clips - 10 piece alligator clip test leads - $3.30 at Amazon
Great for making temporary connections or using with your multimeter to make measurements.

Components and other 'stuff'

Electrolytic capacitors - 160 pc, 23 value electrolytic capacitor assortment - $12.00 on eBay

Ceramic capacitors - 250 pc, 25 value ceramic capacitor assortment - $2.98 on eBay

Diodes - 25 pcs. 1N4001 1A 50V diodes - $0.99 on eBay

NPN transistors - 50 X 2n3904 NPN transistors - $0.99 on eBay

PNP transistors - 50 X 2N3906 PNP transistors - $2.59 on eBay

555 timers - 10X TI NE555 IC - $3.49 on eBay

3.3V voltage regulators - 10pcs EX1084CT 3.3 volt fixed regulators - $3.99 on eBay

5.0V voltage regulators - 10X LM7805 voltage regulators - $3.99 on eBay

Potentiometers - 12 potentiometer assortment - $8.25 on eBay

9V battery clips - 5 X 9V battery clips - $0.99 on eBay

2 AA battery holders - 5 2AA battery holders - $2.22 on eBay

4 AA battery holders - 2 4AA battery holders - $0.99 on eBay

LCD displays - 16X2 HD44780 LCD display - $2.25 on eBay
Easy and cheap way for your projects to give output.  Buy two.

Distance ranger - HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Sensor - $2.29 on eBay
Give your projects 'vision'.  Buy two.

Speakers - 2X piezo buzzers - $1.89 on eBay

Switches and button - Switch and button assortment 10 PCS - $6.39 on eBay

Servos - Towerpro SG90 9g Micro Servo - $3.50 on eBay
Buy two.

Solder - MG Chemicals 37/63 .032 solder - 1/2 pound - $16.75 on Amazon

Flux - Oatey flux, 4oz. - $5.36 on Amazon