My Workshop – Atelier Fabrique Fabric

A few people have expressed interest in the little room I spend much of my time in. I call it ‘Atelier Fabrique Fabric’. Why not?

In a small room at the back of my house I have a humble little setup, but all that you really need for good results. Most importantly I have a nice view of my backyard where we have many trees, like apples, oranges and other citrus. Fresh fruit is a key ingredient in any serious endeavour, particularly electronics. I am very appreciative to be able to solder in a well lit room.

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I use a modified Hakko FX-888D soldering iron for most of my work, which looks like a bit of a Frankenstein (though I really mean Frankenstein’s monster). I purchased an FX-888D whilst living overseas where they are much cheaper but not 230V. Since I dislike using stepdown transformers I had planned on replacing the internal transformer with a 230V model. It turned out the transformer I bought was slightly too large for the original enclosure so I had to rehouse the whole thing. Ugly but it works. My desoldering station is a cheap micron unit I need to buy new tips for, so I’m currently using desoldering braid for almost everything, Goot – always Goot.

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My scope is a Tektronix 7603 with a few plugins. I’ve got a spare one of these (actually the R7603) for spare parts when things die inside of it, which happens more often than I would like. I have recapped the power supply in my main one. I love these scopes and as a rule you cannot go wrong with Tektronix anything. I would like to get some more interesting plugins for it at some point. I also have a spare/my first scope in the shed, an Elix HC-L202.

I have a three multimeters, two cheap-o units and one nice one. My main unit is a Fluke FM-27. The FM stands for ‘For Military’ apparently, and indeed mine came in an oversized case with military markings all over it. Even the cal stickers (from 1991) have US military insignia on them. It still tests very accurately (just out of spec, but still good enough for my humble laboratory) despite having not been adjusted in 25 years. These have true RMS capability, essential for working with waveforms other than sines. The other two cheapies are nice to have when monitoring multiple voltages.

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I have two bench supplies on my desk at the moment, a cheap-o Tenma/Korad 2x30V/5A supply that does little more than get the job done. There is a whole lot written about this PSU so I won’t really say much more than a). the fan is indeed annoying and b). I’ve not had any trouble with it as I rarely hit more than 0.5A of current draw.

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My significantly nicer power supply is a Takasago GP050-2, 25V at 2A or 50V at 1A. There is very little written about this in english but I’m sure they are much more common in Japan.  They were released in 1964 but this particular model has 1974 datecodes on the transistors. I was surprised to discover you can still purchase them brand new for ¥74,000. How many other electronic items have a 52 year life span? Anyway, it was dead when I picked it up for next to nothing. I wound up changing all the capacitors, diodes and resistors – a number of which were totally burnt out. This left some pretty serious scarring on the PCB inside. Anyway, I load tested it for 24hrs after repair and it works great. I will need to replace a few of the wirewound resistor arrays at some point but can’t get my hands on a schematic anywhere – Takasago didn’t respond to my request for one. Any chance a Japanese viewer has them anywhere?

I started with electronics by building a few items for a Eurorack modular synth I owned a few years ago. I’ve since sold this and built a Serge sytem because I hated the euro format, the 3.5mm jacks are awful and people have a habit of trying to jam way to much into a module. Anyway, back then I used a computer ATX supply in an old tupperware container for my  +/-12V supply – worked great for what I need it for! I think I still have it somewhere.

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I have an Hewlett-Packard 3312A function generator which is a pretty cool little unit. I bought it impulsively off the net after missing an auction for a loaded Tektronix TM-500 rack. Anyway, this HP is a solid like everything from HP. I also have a little Altronics handheld function generator, audio rates only, but it is handy to have something that isn’t referenced to earth now and again.

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For counting I have a Philips PM6674 Frequency Counter with the TCXO upgrade. Works great, not much to say. I only really use it when calibrating oscilators and anything else with a 1V/Oct CV input.

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Parts. Hmm. I have a real love for the little bits and pieces that come together to make electronic devices. They are humble little things that seemingly perform such mundane and basic operations and yet when lashed together the right way they are capable of creating some of the most beautiful reactions in the world. The phrase ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ should be defined by these little wonders. When I started making my own PCBs a few years ago I also started to purchase surplus parts. These are usually of some unusual and interesting vintage that won’t fit in normal PCBs bought these days, hence the need to make my own. I have many more boxes of parts in the shed.

I’m always fascinated by the labels on the boxes and take great pleasure in pouring over the markings made by the original purchasers. I seem to buy lots of bits and pieces from military surplus, always very well labeled with dates and so on. I bought a big box of surplus resistors and caps that were individually packaged, often a single capacitor in a piece of tissue paper, in a foam package, in a cardboard box, in a plastic packet.

A few years ago I took the plunge and bought one of the resistor kits floating about websites like Mouser and Digikey. The one I bought was something like 35,000 resistors in all. Admittedly there are so many values I won’t ever use, but I find it so useful having every value on hand whenever I need it that I think the loss on the useless values isn’t significant. I suppose I’m quite impatient but waiting for parts really kills my enthusiasm for projects.

What do I want next? Well I’ll admit I’m highly motivated to sell electronics so I can buy more test equipment. I dream about these things. At the moment I’m really lusting after a Tektronix TM-5000 series mainframe and plugins. I’m hunting for reasonable prices on these:

  • AA501A – Distortion Analyser
  • AFG5101 – Digital function generator
  • DC508A – Counter/Timer
  • DM5120 – Multimeter

Any leads?

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