Hacking away with saws

From the magician who saws his assistant in half to the saw you use to cut off a dead tree branch, these tools are handy to trim off excess bits. Here are the kinds of saws you might need when building electronics projects, especially to build the boxes or boards that contain the electronics brains or trim off little bits of plastic. See Figure 3-3 to view an assortment of saws:

A coping saw allows you to cut openings in a sheet or box of plastic or wood. For example, you might use this saw to cut a hole in a box to insert a speaker. A hacksaw or a conventional hand saw can be used to make straight cuts in sheets of plastic or wood or to cut plastic pipes or wooden boards to the desired length. A mini hacksaw is useful when you don’t have enough room to work with a full-sized saw. This can be common with electronics projects.

figure 3-3

Hacksaws and coping saws have replaceable blades; you can find new blades at hardware stores. When you buy a new blade, check the package to see what material it is intended to cut. Manufactures make blades with different pitches (that is, spacing of the teeth) for cutting different materials, such as metal versus wood or plastic. Power saws go by names such as circular saws, chop saws, jigsaws, table saws, and band saws. You don’t need to go out and buy this type of equipment for the type of projects included in this book. However, if you’re dying to work with one of these higher-powered saws and someone offers to loan you one, please make sure you know how to operate it safely. It’s best to have all your fingers and toes accounted for to work on electronics!

Garden variety tools: Pliers, screwdrivers, wire strippers, and more

This is the category of tools that you’re most likely to have floating around your garage or household toolkit. Take an inventory of your toolkit. (We’ll HacksawMini hacksaw Coping saw wait.) If you’re missing any of the tools in this list, it’s probably worth going to your hardware store and picking them up.

Precision screwdrivers: This includes both straight and Phillips head (the one with the cross shape at the tip).

Mini or hobby needlenose pliers: These are useful for bending wires to various shapes for breadboarding; you also use them to insert wires and components in the holes of the boards.

Standard sized needlenose pliers: These are useful for tasks where you need to apply more strength than mini needlenose pliers can handle. You can see both standard-sized needlenose pliers and the smaller version in Figure 3-4.


A small pair of wire cutters: These are useful for clipping wires in close quarters, such as above a solder joint. The standard size of wire clippers you find at hardware stores is so large that you might have trouble clipping the wire with enough precision. You can see the smaller version in Figure 3-4.

figure 3-4

Although you should be able to find small wire cutters and small needlenose pliers at electronics stores such as RadioShack, you might also check out the tools available at hobby supply stores or jewelrymaking/ bead supply stores. Our local bead supply store carries a nice assortment of tools that work perfectly with small wire.

Wire strippers: You use these to cut plastic insulation from the outside of a wire without harming the copper wire inside. The stripped wire can then be inserted into a breadboard or get soldered to a component to keep electricity flowing.

A vise: Use this to hold components still while you drill, saw, sand, or whatever.

A 3X magnifying glass: This helps you read part numbers on components and check your soldering joints to make sure they’re good. You can get handheld or table-mounted magnifying glasses.

Safety glasses: Your eyes are one of your most important tools, so be sure to have a pair of safety glasses on hand to protect them. When using the tools in your workshop to drill, saw, clip wires, solder, and perform many other tasks, you need these special glasses to avoid injury from small pieces that could go flying.


A multimeter is essentially an electronics troubleshooting tool that you can’t do without. You could use it to hunt down the defective part of a circuit — for example, where the voltage is too low to get your circuit going. A multimeter is a combo type of testing tool in that it combines the functions of a few others meters (a voltmeter, an ammeter, and an ohmmeter) in one package.

By using a multimeter, you can take certain electrical measurements, such as


Current: The flow of electrons through your circuit

Voltage: The force your battery uses to push the electrons through your circuit

Resistance: The amount of fight your circuit puts up when voltage pushes the electrons through your circuit To use a multimeter to test these various measurements, you set a multi-position switch on the meter to have it measure the appropriate range of volts, amperage, or resistance.

Test leads that typically come with multimeters use simple cone-shaped tips. You can buy test clips that slip onto the cone-shaped tips to make it easier to clip them onto the leads of a component. This makes testing much easier, trust us.