D. Cappels’s “Stimulating Mess”

Dick Cappels enjoys tinkering with and writing about analog circuits and microcontrollers. He says the projects he designs at his workbench in his Mueang Udon Thani, Thailand, home are analog and RF microcontrollers. Many are tools for electrical measurement (e.g., a function/sweep generator, a field strength meter, and an HF/VHF/UHF variable frequency oscillator).

Cappels has submitted articles to Circuit Cellar about projects he designed on the workbench shown in Photo 1. He designed many other projects—from battery checkers to spread-spectrum demodulators—on the bench. Cappels said except for a few things, such as a Tektronix oscilloscope and some digital voltmeters (DVMs), he made most of his equipment on this bench.

Photo 2 workbench

Photo 1: “What was originally the dining table in our one-room apartment overlooking a train became a workbench as soon as we moved into a house,” Cappels said. “It turns out that it doesn’t matter how large the workbench is because I always end up doing all the work on a cleared space size about the size of a book.”

Cappels says he spends most of his project-related time in his home’s 4-m × 4-m office/lab. The office has three small desks (see Photo 2). Two of the desks keep project materials and completed projects off the floor. There are also three shelves to hold books, parts, finished projects, and test equipment. Many of cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins hold bulky items for projects (e.g., circuit board material, heatsinks, and packages of unused components). “Family rules dictate that the door must be closed when guests are over. You can see why from the photographs,” Cappels says.


Photo 2: This is “the desk where things sometimes happen,” Cappels explains. “Most preliminary work takes place on the clipboard with pencil and paper.”

Cappels described his workspace via e-mail:

At the working desk besides the Mac Mini that runs Mac OS and Windows and a couple of calculators are some projects in various phases, parts for projects I have started or am about to start, and lots of other things I have not put away because seeing them may spark an idea.

To the right of the desk, beyond the printer, is a small wire frame shelf that holds 20 stationary boxes plus a few smaller ones that are packed with (mostly) unused electronic parts. When new parts come in, I record them in a notebook with the part number, source, quantity received, where the parts are to be stored, and sometimes the cost. The boxes have writing and often schematic symbols on the exposed side so I know which box to pull out to search for a given type of part.

A small 70-cm × 70-cm table with a shelf holds some test equipment and serves as a workbench. On the shelf above the workbench is an old Tektronix TDS2002 (the most reliable oscilloscope I ever used), a dual-output variable power supply based on the LM317 and LM337 regulators, and a function/sweep generator based on the discontinued Maxim Integrated MAX038 IC.

I have an old Fluke 75 multimeter on the bench and I keep four newer Uni-Trend DVMs on one of the desks, ready for power supply work. Also on the bench are two soldering stations; a 1980s Weller soldering station that I brought from the US and converted to 240-VAC, which I use for heavy soldering jobs; and a Yugo soldering station that I completely rebuilt within two years of purchase. It now sports a $3 soldering iron connected to its rebuilt triac power control. I use it for light soldering jobs.

Toward the right side of the photo are boxes of stuff—mostly new components waiting to be used for a project or a repair. Some of the cardboard boxes contain finished projects. After a while, I ran out of places to put my finished projects. A HF/VHF/UHF variable frequency oscillator, a field strength meter, small power supplies, dummy loads, and so forth litter the top of the shelf to the right of the workbench.

Cappels said one of the workspace’s main goals is to have as much storage as possible. As for organization, “Most of the parts for projects are cataloged and stored in marked receptacles. For everything else, I rely on memory,” he said. “Some people need to have things around them all the time to stimulate them. As you can see from the 10-cm thick layer on the bench, I am well stimulated.”

A list of 105 completed projects is available at Cappels’s website. Cappels wrote an article about a full-duplex signaling path, which will be featured in Circuit Cellar’s November issue.

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D. Cappels’s “Stimulating Mess”

by Circuit Cellar Staff time to read: 3 min