It is often difficult without a steady source of income to afford to have hobbies, however with electronics there are easy workarounds to get what you want done on a budget. Here I’ll list my top picks for budget gear to get started with DIY Eurorack and electronics in general.
NOTE: My recommendations are from personal experience. Some items were purchased a long time ago and so the quality of the product may have decreased at the time of linking. Items I do not personally own but recommend due to good reviews or recommendations from other hobbyists are marked NT for Not Tested.
UK: I previously recommended a plug in soldering iron which I deemed to be of suitable quality. Since then it has gone off the market and I believe that the best value for money is represented in one of these new kits which have come to the market. However it does include one of those garbage soldering iron stands, I’d replace that with the recommendation below.
US (NT): Unfortunately due to numerous factors (including the 120V grid power in the US) it is normally necessary to have a full soldering station as opposed to just the iron. This iron is renowned as a great choice for hobbyists (thanks to AdmiralBumbleBee for this recommendation). I’ve linked to a search page for a 937D soldering iron, as these listings often disappear as quickly as they come around. $40-50 should buy a good 937D or 937D+.
I find that maintaining the tip and using a fine tip (especially for audio electronics) is much more important for hobbyist and low-intensity projects than the brand of your soldering iron. If using leaded solder, you should experience no problems with most off the shelf irons.
Soldering Iron Stand/Helping Hand
This choice is somewhat one of personal preference, but I’ve added some links anyway.
UK: (This one takes some screw tightening to get it working in its optimum state, but the built in magnifying glass and sponge holder comes in handy. Not sold on the helping hands honestly, but I never was a fan of the current varieties of helping hands on the market with the exception of the below listed product.)
US: The iron I recommended already comes with a stand. However in terms of helping hands I can’t find a US variant of this product I’d recommend you avoid this type as the sponge holder is too shallow and the base is not very stable.
If you have loads of money and don’t mind having what is practically a tentacle monster on your desk then you could try this (UK/US) NT and let me know how it goes. If you have even more money than that. I hear that Quadhands products are very good for this purpose.
For a cheaper version of the Quadhands solution, you can follow this guide and build a version of the helping hands shown there.
It is a requirement in some countries (EU member states) to use lead free solder in commercial electronics. However, it has a higher melting point and it is more tricky to deal with, so for hobbyist purposes it is perfectly fine to use leaded solder. The most common type is 60/40 (meaning a 60% to 40% split between tin and lead) with a flux core. Acid flux core is for plumbing purposes and should not be used with electronics, whereas rosin flux core is appropriate for electronics use. With that in mind I can link some good solder with a rosin core for maximum ease of use.
No matter whether you’re a noob or an expert, you always have the potential to mess something up. I thoroughly recommend getting a solder sucker for this reason.
UK Note: A solder sucker is already included in that kit. But if you need another one these are cheap and cheerful.
US Note: You guys don’t seem to get that good of a deal with these, however most solder suckers with this design are the exact same quality and indeed probably manufactured in the same factory, so cheapo it is.
I still don’t know about these designs, it seems that I have let the screw threads in mine fill with fragments of metal, and so it occasionally falls apart as shown below. However, I think with greater care you should find them fine.
Using these regularly should save you from having to use the tip tinner below, I find that rubbing all sides of the tip on one of these is a much easier alternative, and I have maintained the same solder tip for multiple years using this.
UK: Amazon add on item, but you can also purchase from other sellers.
US NT: (I couldn’t find these on Amazon US, but they should be similar to their UK counterparts.)
If the tip cleaner above does not clean your tip, tip tinner may be necessary to improve thermal conductivity and get your solder flowing again.
Hilariously, people have been finding these little pots hard to open, so it may be a good idea to put a bend in the lid after you open it for the first time so you can shove a screwdriver up there or something and wedge it open the next time you need to use it.
I’m going to leave this one down to you by leaving a cheap option and a quality option. There is only around £5 of difference between the two products. I have personally been recommended Xuron shears by everyone I have spoken to in the DIY Eurorack community, but if you’re really strapped for cash the cheap ones should get the job done (but will not last anywhere near as long). All products in this category are NT, but as mentioned above the Xurons have been recommended to me by some folks in the industry.
Needle-Nose Pliers NT
Handy for bending component legs, holding things in place, pulling things out when you inevitably do something wrong… it’s always good to have these around.
UK version is an add-on item, but available from other sellers on the Amazon Marketplace.
While some of these tools may not last as long as their expensive/professional counterparts, the resources listed here should strike an acceptable balance between price and quality. If you have any issues with the products contained within or have other recommendations I may wish to add, please get in touch with me through the Contact Page. Thanks!