Birmingham-Based Electronics Design Nook

Steve Karg of Birmingham, AL, recently submitted info about his well-planned, cost-conscious design nook where he builds lighting control products, develops software, tests and debugs his projects, and more. The workspace is compact yet intelligently stocked with essentials such as a laptop, a scope, a toaster, a magnifier, a labelled parts bin, an AC source, and more.

Karg writes:

Here is a photo of my electronics workspace in my cellar. I use the toaster oven for soldering surface mount parts to printed circuit boards, the scope and meters for the usual diagnostics and validation, the AC source for developing line voltage dimming and switching lighting control products, the laptop for developing software including the open source BACnet Stack and Wireshark, and the light tent for deriving dimming curves for various lamps.  I bought the chairs and lab bench at a Martin-Marietta yard sale in Colorado, and they moved 3 times with me to Pennsylvania, Georgia, and now Alabama. I found the Metcal soldering iron in a dumpster in Maryland near an office building.—Steve Karg, Birmingham, AL

Steve Karg’s circut cellar in Birmingham, AL

In addition to placing his essential tools within reach, Karg did a few things we think every designer should consider when planning his or her workspace.

One, Karg neatly labelled the parts box located on the right side of the shelf above his workbench. Label now and you’ll thank yourself later.

Two, Karg has deep, sturdy, wall-mounted shelves above his workbench. As you can see, they’re capable of holding fairly large bins and boxes. They aren’t flimsy 8″ deep shelves intended for displaying lightweight curios or paperback books. If you’re planning a workspace, consider following Karg’s lead by installing sturdy shelving capable of holding everything from electronic equipment to every copy of Circuit Cellar since 1988.

Three, we applaud Karg’s magnification and lighting equipment. A cellar can be dark place, especially if it is completely underground and isn’t a “walkout” (or “daylight basement”) with a windowed door. Many basements have only a few small hopper windows that enable daylight and fresh air to get inside. In such spaces, darkness and shadows can be problematic for electrical engineers and electronics DIYers working on small projects. Without a properly placed light or lighting system, your body can overshadow your work. Good luck trying taking a close look at a board or attempting to repair a PCB trace without proper lighting. It’s clear Karg has proper lighting in mind. As you can see, he has plenty of lamps and light sources at his disposal.

And finally, kudos to Karg for purchasing the bench at a yard sale and staying with the discarded soldering iron he found in a dumpster. We all know the saying: “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We agree, except when what’s broke is mounted on your circuit board, of course!

Do you want to share images of your workspace, hackspace, or “circuit cellar” with the world? Click here to email us your images and workspace info.

Navy Engineer’s Innovation Space

When electrical engineer Bill Porter isn’t working on unmanned systems projects for the Navy, he spends a great deal of engineering time at his workspace in Panama City Beach, FL. Bill submitted the interesting images that follow (along with several others) for an interview we plan to run an upcoming issue of Circuit Cellar magazine. Once we saw his workspace images, we knew we had to feature it on our site as soon as possible.

The workspace of a true innovator (Source: Bill Porter)

The workspace of a true innovator (Source: Bill Porter)

Check out Bill working on a project. He told us: “I am a hardware guy. I love to fire up my favorite PCB CAD software just to get an idea out of my head and on the screen.”

Bill is self-proclaimed "hardware guy"

Bill is self-proclaimed “hardware guy” (Source: Bill Porter)

Interesting the sorts of things Bill designs? Check out his wedding-related projects.

Pretty unique proposal, right? (Source: Bill Porter)

Pretty unique proposal, right? (Source: Bill Porter)

This is just one of the many electrical engineering-related items developed for his wedding (Source: Bill Porter)

This is just one of the many electrical engineering-related items developed for his wedding (Source: Bill Porter)

You’ll be able to learn more about his innovations in a future issue of Circuit Cellar magazine.

Share your space! Circuit Cellar is interested in finding as many workspaces as possible and sharing them with the world. Email our editors to submit photos and information about your workspace. Write “workspace” in the subject line of the email, and include info such as where you’re located (city, country), the projects you build in your space, your tech interests, your occupation, and more. If you have an interesting space, we might feature it on!

A Rat’s Nest-Less Workspace: Clean with Plenty of Screens

Two sorts of things we love to see in an electronics workspace: cleanliness and multiple monitors! San Antonio, TX-based Jorge Amodio’s L-shaped modular desk is great setup that gives him easy access to his projects, test equipment, and computers. The wires to all of his equipment are intelligently placed behind and below the workspace. Hence, no rat’s nest of wires! He doesn’t need to work on top of cords and peripherals like, well, a few of us do here in our office. We like how he “sectioned” his space to provide maximum multitasking capability. The setup enables him to move easily from doing R&D work to emailing to grabbing his iPhone without any more effort than a slide of his chair. Very nice.

Jorge Amodio’s workspace (Source: J. Amodio)

Submitted by Jorge Amodio, independent consultant and principal engineer (Serious Integrated, Inc.), San Antonio, TX, USA

“For the past few years I’ve been working on R&D of intelligent graphic/touch display modules for HMI (Human Machine Interface) and control panels, with embedded networking for ‘Internet of Things’ applications.” – Jorge Amodio

Jorge perform R&D with handy test equipment an arm’s length away (Source: J. Amodio)

A closer look at Jorge’s project space (Source: J. Amodio)

Jorge has easy access to his other monitors and iPhone (Source: J. Amodio)

Do you want to share images of your workspace, hackspace, or “circuit cellar”? Send your images and space info to editor at circuitcellar dotcom.

Dutch Designer’s “Comfort Zone”

Check out this amusing workspace submission from Henk Stegeman who lives and works in The Netherlands (which is widely referred to as the land of Elektor). We especially like his Dutch-orange power strips, which stand out in relation to the muted grey, white, and black colors of his IT equipment and furniture. StegemanWorkspace

Some might call the space busy. Others might say it’s cramped. Stegeman referred to it his “comfort zone.” He must move and shift a lot of objects before he starts to design. But, hey, whatever works, right?


Attached you picture of my workspace.
Where ? (you might ask.)
I just move the keyboard aside.
To where ?
Euuh… (good question)


The Netherlands

Visit Circuit Cellar‘s Workspace page for more write-ups and photos of engineering workbenches and tools from around the world!

Want to share your space? Email our editorial team pics and info about your spaces!

Robotics, Hardware Interfacing, and Vintage Electronics

Gerry O’Brien, a Toronto-based robotics and electronics technician at R.O.V. Robotics, enjoys working on a variety of projects in his home lab. His projects are largely driven by his passion for electronics hardware interfacing.

Gerry’s background includes working at companies such as Allen-Vanguard Corp., which builds remotely operated vehicle (ROV) robots and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for military and police bomb disposal units worldwide. “I was responsible for the production, repair, programming and calibration of the robot control consoles, VCU (vehicle control unit) and the wireless communication systems,” he says.

Gerry recently sent Circuit Cellar photos of his home-based electronics and robotics lab. (More images are available on his website.) This is how he describes the lab’s layout and equipment:

In my lab I have various designated areas with lab benches that I acquired from the closing of a local Nortel  R&D office over 10 years ago.

All of my electronics benches have ESD mats and ground wrist straps.  All of my testing gear, I have purchased on eBay over the years….

PCB flip rack

PCB flip-rack

To start, I have my “Electronics Interfacing Bench” with a PCB flip-rack , which allows me to Interface PCBs while they are powered (in-system testing). I am able to interface my Tektronix TLA715 logic analyzer and other various testing equipment to the boards under test. My logic analyzer currently has two  logic I/O modules that have 136 channels each. So combined, I have 272 channels for logic analysis. I also have a four-channel digital oscilloscope module to use with this machine. I can now expand this even further by interfacing my newly acquired expansion box, which allows me to interface many more modules to the logic analyzer mainframe.

Gerry's lab bench

Gerry’s lab bench

Gerry recently upgraded his  Tektronix logic analyzer with an expansion box.

Gerry recently upgraded his Tektronix logic analyzer with an expansion box.

Interface probes

Logic analyzer interface probes

I also have a soldering bench where I have all of my soldering gear, including a hot-air rework station and 90x dissecting microscope with a video interface.

Dissecting microscope with video interface

Dissecting microscope with video interface

My devoted robotics bench has several robotic arm units, Scorbot and CRS robots with their devoted controllers and pneumatic Interface control boards.

Robotics bench

Robotics bench and CRS robot

On my testing bench, I currently have an Agilent/HP 54610B 500-MHz oscilloscope with the GPIB to RS-232 adapter for image capturing. I also have an Advantest model R3131A 9 kHz to 3-GHz bandwidth spectrum analyzer, a Tektronix model AFG3021 function generator, HP/Agilent 34401A multimeter and an HP 4CH programmable power supply. For the HP power supply, I built a display panel with four separate voltage output LCD displays, so that I can monitor the voltages of all four outputs simultaneously. The stock monochrome LCD display on the HP unit itself is very small and dim and only shows one output at a time.

Anyhow, my current testing bench setup will allow me to perform various signal mapping and testing on chips with a large pin count, such as the older Altera MAX9000 208-pin CPLDs and many others that I enjoy working with.

The testing bench

The testing bench

And last but not least… I have my programming and interfacing bench devoted to VHDL programming, PCB Design, FPGA hardware programming (JTAG), memory programming (EEPROM  and flash memory), web design, and video editing.

Interfacing bench and "octo-display"

Interfacing bench and “octo-display”

I built a PC computer and by using  a separate graphics display cards, one being an older Matrols four-port SVGA display card; I was able to build a “octo-display” setup. It seamlessly shares eight monitors providing a total screen resolution size of 6,545 x 1,980 pixels.

If you care to see how my monitor mounting assembly was built, I have posted pictures of its construction here.

A passion for electronics interfacing drives Gerry’s work:

I love projects that involve hardware Interfacing.  My area of focus is on electronics hardware compared to software programming. Which is one of the reasons I have focused on VHDL programming (hardware description language) for FPGAs and CPLDs.

I leave the computer software programming of GUIs to others. I will usually team up with other hobbyists that have more of a Knack for the Software programming side of things.  They usually prefer to leave the electronics design and hardware production to someone else anyhow, so it is a mutual arrangement.

I love to design and build projects involving vintage Altera CPLDs and FPGAs such as the Altera MAX7000 and MAX9000 series of Altera components. Over the years, I have a managed to collect a large arsenal of vintage Altera programming hardware from the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Mainly for the Altera master programming unit (MPU) released by Altera in the early ’90s. I have been building up an arsenal of the programming adapters for this system. Certain models are very hard to find. Due to the rarity of this Altera programming system, I am currently working on designing my own custom adapter interface that will essentially allow me to connect any compatible Altera component to the system… without the need of the unique adapter. A custom made adapter essentially.  Not too complicated at all really, it’s just a lot of fun to build and then have the glory of trying out other components.

I love to design, build, and program FPGA projects using the VHDL hardware description language and also interface to external memory and sensors. I have a devoted website and YouTube channel where I post various hardware repair videos or instructional videos for many of my electronics projects. Each project has a devoted webpage where I post the instructional videos along with written procedures and other information relating to the project. Videos from “Robotic Arm Repair” to a “DIY SEGA Game Gear Flash Cartridge” project. I even have VHDL software tutorials.

The last project I shared on my website was a project to help students dive into a VHDL based VGA Pong game using the Altera DE1 development board.