Kook Hacks when the Surf Sucks

Lab Gear

The Surfncircuits Lab

There is no such thing as the Ideal Hacking Laboratory! No matter how fast your oscilloscope is, or precise your multi-meter, how big your monitor, how hot your iron, how large your isolations transformer, there is always more to get that will make your hacking, and fixing, and tinkering better. Not that we can’t have fun trying!! Just like searching for the ideal surf break, or the perfect golf club, the ideal laboratory is something every hacker strives for. The list below is all the major gear in my Laboratory. As you can see, it is a work in progress, but will grow as the blogs, the projects, the lay days continue. Near the bottom, I also have a list of items I “NEED” to acquire to make my lab more complete. Let me know if you have help or suggestions.

Lab Equipment:

Prologix GPIB-Ethernet Controller

This is great for controllering and connecting old, but useful lab gear that have a GPIB BUS connection. I wrote a blog about my python script to capture screen shots of the Tektronix TDS754A scope.

Connecting GPIB Lab Equipment together for control and Screen Captures

1Amp Dim Bulb Current Limiter

Dim Bulb AC Current Limiter

This 1Amp Dim Bulb AC current limiter is an important addition to the isolation transformer and variac testing equipment (see below) and used for repairing equipment connected directly to the Grid AC. By connecting the device under repair into this AC Output Current Limited socket and ensuring the Power On LAMP and AC Limiter On Lamp is on, any faults occurring in the repaired equipment will cause the 60W bulbs at the top of the limiter to lite, protecting the equipment from explosions, smoke, and fire. The complete schedule and building steps for this AC limiter was described in the blog entry:

Lab Sounds:


All Labs needs a good sounding stereo to be playing when you need to do some serious thinking. For me the choice was a classic looking home stereo with big ANALOG D’Arsonval VU meters for the audio channel gain, a IP connected audio connection that can play lossless audio to a high accuracy 24 bit DAC system and a pair of decent sounding bookshelf speakers.

The Volumio player is set up to play digital music from my NAS system, allowing for Lossless playback of ripped CD music. Not all my connection is lossless, just a few, but I like the ability. The 24 bit DAC uses the I2S port o on the Raspberry Pi to convert this high bit rate audio to an accurate analog signal that is amplified by the ONKYO M-505RS amplifier. Another cool feature is that the Volumio will accept Apple Play so I can stream anything from my iPhone when in the LAB. Admittedly there are better DACs, but the sound is not bad. The only issue I have found so far is that with this Raspberry Pi version, the DAC will send out a short blurb before each song sometimes causing the amplifier to go into protect mode. However, I think of this as a good thing because it is a fun problem to solve when I have the time. 🙂

ONKYO with Big VU Meter
Raspberry Pi model B+ with a Pi-Zero Audio DAC loaded with
NHT Classic 2 Bookshelf Speakers

Soldering Station:

The Hakko FX888D soldering station is probably the most important tool in the LAB.  I have used Weller solding stations in the past, but decided to try out Hakko and I have not been disappointed.    The heat is plenty and with the correct tip, I have not had any issue with any DIY or repair.   From fine tip surface mount to large capacitor replacements, this iron has been great.   I heartily recommend picking one up.

Hakko FX888D Soldering Iron

Isolation Transformer and Variac:

Isolation Transformer
Variac Transformer

When fixing and testing power supplies or Vacuum Tube Radios, this combination of equipment is a must to ensure safety and limit catastrophic damage when things don’t go right.  I purchased each of these from Ebay.

The Isolation transformer is a Stancor GIS-250:

  • Input:   115V
  • Output: 115V 250VA

The Variac is a Model TDGC2-2KM  2000VA:

  • Input 110VAC
  • Output: 130VAC
  • VA:  2000

Retro Lab Computer:

Lab Computer: Fujitsu Lifebook T Series Model T4210:  T2500 2GHz Intel Core Duo

I never seem to get rid of any of my computers, but one purchase that has been an awesome workhorse was the Fujitsu Lifebook T Series Model T4210.  It has a T2500 2GHz Intel Core Duo processor with a Passmark score of 850.

Unit Specs:

  • Intel Core Duo Processor T2500 (2 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 667 MHz FSB)
  • 12.1″ XGA (1024Ă—768) active digitizer indoor/outdoor display with wide viewing angles
  • 1 GB DDR2 667 MHz SDRAM memory (512 MB x 2)
  • Modular Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD Writer
  • Integrated Multinational 56K V.90 modem and 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
  • Integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection (Tri-mode 802.11a/b/g)
  • Integrated Bluetooth wireless
  • Main battery: Lithium ion (6-cell, 10.8V, 5200 mAh)

Operating System:

Recently I installed the Lubuntu 17.10 system and have never been happier.  This lightweight operating system is fast and snappy for my lab.    Here is the laptop powering the Visio TV I repaired earlier in 2017,   A 25 Second Heat Gun Repair of a VIZIO 47in LCD TV.

Circa 2005 Fujitsu Laptop Powering Visio Lab TV

Key Software:

  1. KiCad PCB editor.     Open source EDA platform with great support.   The 3D image renderer is super.
  2. Gedit:  an Excellent editor for coding python on the laptop or Raspberry pi.
  3. Dropbox: Super convenient to synchronize files across computers and platforms
  4. Git:  Revision control of the software and projects

De-soldering Iron:

Anyone who has ever de-caped a power supply or piece of gear knows that desoldering is a pain.     And while it can be therapeutic to just sit and de-solder, I would rather spend my time creating.  So I splurged on a well recommended de-soldering Iron.  If you want a awesome Youtube video on different de-soldering tools, check out Mr. Carlson’s Lab video

Hakko FR-300 Desoldering Iron

Features & Benefits

  • N50 Series desoldering nozzles optimize performance
  • Easy-to-clean solder recovery chamber minimizes maintenance and reduces waste
  • Fast release tool for the quick-change nozzle system
  • Closed-loop sensor integrated heating system for improved thermal performance
  • Compatible with lead-free solders
  • Ergonomic grip design to minimize stress on your hand and wrist
  • Unique pump design that lowers vibration and noise, but improves vacuum pressure and flow
  • Easy-to-use adjustable temperature control built into the handle
  • Includes storage case and maintenance accessories


I just acquired this in 2017 and it is actually the best, fastest oscilloscope I have ever worked with.       It is amazing what you can pick up on Ebay these days for just a little money.   when this was new, it cost close to $20k,    I picked it up for less than $500 on Ebay.

I really recommend a four channel scope to solving key analog and mixed signal problems.   And with a 500MHz bandwidth on each channel, you won’t miss much.  In addition, this four channel scope also has the memory per channel to get decent digital coverage.   It won’t replace a logic analyzer, but with a record length of up to 500k over 10k divisions, you can see quite a bit.      This helped when i was checking out my nixie tube clock serial communication to the raspberry pi zero.

Tektronix TDS754A 

2 GHz sampling, 500MHz,  4 channel, digital

Features & Benefits

  • InstaVu™ Acquisition (up to 400,000 wfms/sec)
  • 500 MHz Bandwidth (TDS754A/744A/724A); 1 GHz (TDS784A/782A)
  • Sample Rates to 2 GS/s (TDS782A/754A/744A)
  • 4 Input Channels (TDS784A/754A/744A)
  • Pulse Width, 1 ns Glitch; Runt, Pattern, State, Triggering
  • 1 mV/div -10 V/div Sensitivity
  • Infinite and Variable Persistence
  • Color Grading
  • Record Lengths to 500,000 Points
  • 8-Bit Vertical Resolution and up to 13 Bits with HiRes
  • High­Resolution Color Monitor
  • 3.5­Inch DOS Floppy Disk Drive (Standard)
  • Vertical Accuracy to 1%
  • Slew Rate, Setup & Hold Violation, and Time-Out Triggers
  • Waveform Pass/Fail Testing
  • Advanced Signal Processing Functions
  • 25 Automatic Measurements
  • Full GPIB Programmability
  • VGA Output
  • Direct Readout in “Amperes” and “Watts” using P5200 and TCP202 Probes
  • Channel Deskew
  • HP Deskjet Printer Support

Power Supply:


A super basic single output power supply I picked up on Amazon for $46, but now the part is closer to $90.  I would recommend it for $46, but not $90.  I bet you can find something better for $90 on Ebay.    The model is the FCH Digital Adjustable Regulated Stabilizer DC Power Supply (30V 5A).       This won’t be good for low noise measurements, as I see switching frequency artifacts on the output, but for a basic power supply you could do worse.

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