Make a Workshop on a Budget for Under £100

May 29, 2016 by Robin Mitchell

Making a workshop for electronics projects is cheaper than you might think.

Making a workshop for electronics projects is cheaper than you might think.

The Budget Workshop

Electronics is a fantastic hobby to get into, you be as creative as you want, and the rewards are unlimited. Want to build a clapper so you can turn off your lights by clapping? Easy! How about a retro Z80 computer so you can re-create your favourite software and games? Absolutely!

But electronics doesn't need to break the bank and can easily be done by those who are on a tight budget. Don't be fooled by those who insist that you must have a top brand multimeter or a professional soldering station with heat control because the simple truth is that a £5 soldering iron will take you a long way (even surface mount devices). How do I know this? Simple, I used to be on a very tight budget of £20 a month so I made sure I got my money's worth out of every nut and bolt.

So here is how you can get a complete electronics workshop for less than £100! 

Note -  I do NOT endorse any product listed here and what you do see listed is just for example sake.

Soldering Irons

To begin, you will need a soldering iron with a small tip. Having a set of different heads is pretty pointless if you will be only using through hole parts. But which soldering iron should you get? Many types exist with many functions but at the end of the day it just needs to melt some metal and last. The best bang for buck is a kit such as this:


A 9 in 1 soldering set from eBay

This kit type is typically £10 which gets you your soldering iron, flux, simple tools (screwdriver and tweezers), de-soldering pump and a stand. I personally purchased a kit similar to this more than 8 years ago and it is still going strong! Just remember to look for an iron with a power rating of at least 40W as this results in a decent heat capacity (the ability of the soldering iron to stay hot).

Soldering Iron Kit : £10


Pliers, screwdrivers, nuts, and bolts are all useful items in an electronics workshop and can all be obtained from any decent pound shop (dollar shop for American readers). Believe it or not, these tools last a really long time as electronics work is so delicate and precise (as opposed to requiring the force of Thor’s hammer). What makes pound shop tools even better is that screwdrivers and pliers come in sets! This means that for £1 you typically get a pair of needle nose pliers, bent nose pliers, and a standard pair of pliers. The screwdriver sets are always very small, so these are ideal for taking apart most electronics (important for either salvaging or repairing).


A mini screwdriver set from Poundland


Not only are pound-shops ideal for small tool kits, they're perfect for containers too! Most times you will find many multi-compartment boxes ideal for small components and mini multi-draw desktop units.

The last tool (but possible the most important) is the faithful wire stripper. Personally, I prefer the automatic types which just require you to squeeze the handle and it will automatically grab and strip the wire. They sell for less than £3 and are great for their value!


Some trusty, inexpensive wire strippers


A word of caution about cheap tools : Tools such as pliers and screwdrivers are generally OK for electronics work but it is recommended that dangerous tools such as knifes and other sharp implements are branded such as Stanley crafting knifes. This is because they are much less likely to break and cause serious harm.

Screwdriver set + Pliers + Hex Keys + 3 containers + Wire strippers = £9


Testing your designs is vital for a functional circuit and the best tool for the job is the multimeter. There are two paths that you can take, either several cheap multimeters or one with many functions. Multiple cheap multimeters are useful when testing several aspects of a circuit and a common example would be measuring the current draw of a circuit while testing an output. But at the same time, a more expensive multi-function multimeter would be useful when needed to test components such as capacitors and transistors. 

Here is a multimeter that sells for £4 and contains many functions including the ability to test transistors!


An inexpensive multimeter from eBay


Here is a more expensive multimeter that sells for £6 but can also measure capacitance and frequency, can also be found on eBay.


An oscilloscope can help a lot when debugging circuits, but for those who are setting up their first electronic workshop, it is a tool that is better obtained later. But for those who are desperate for one, there are only a few ways on this budget :

  1. Build a custom sound card scope that costs only a few £1 and uses free software
  2. Buy a cheap DIY digital oscilloscope for £16
  3. Find a free give away (very unlikely)

Overall cost of one cheap multimeter + one multifunction = £10


What would electronics be without a source of electricity! The best option in this case, is to use a mains power adaptor as it drops the voltage to a safe level, uses a proven double insulated unit, and is cheaper than batteries. But caution must be taken when using such a unit and so a good project would be to construct a +-5V regulated circuit for your projects. You can connect this unit to a circuit containing a 5V regulator, a 100mA fuse (in case you short the power supply) and a negative voltage generator to get your split supply (very handy in advanced circuits).


An AC/DC power adapter from eBay

Total cost, £6


Components are the bread and butter of an electronic workshop because, without them, you can't exactly build a circuit. As we are on a budget we need to make a few compromises, so get onto online shops such as eBay and get component packs from China. Certain components such as ICs are better purchased from reputable suppliers but simple components such as capacitors and resistors will be OK. At the end of the day if the part fail you can get your money back and try other suppliers.



Resistor packs typically go from £3 to £5



Capacitor packs also go from £3 to £5


Mixed Parts

Mixed packs are typically expensive but give a good range of parts. This kit contains 2000 electronics components and costs £30


Breadboards & Stripboards

Breadboards are always needed for prototyping circuits and have the added benefit of being reusable. Here is one that contains jumper wires and a fitted power supply that takes power over a USB cable. Strip-boards are non-customised PCBs that contain set traces for components to be soldered into and connected via wires. They offer a more permanent circuit than breadboards and are helpful for soldering practice too.


An inexpensive breadboard and stripboard from eBay


Cost for 2000 components, mixed resistors, capacitors, breadboard and stripboard: £46

The Total Cost

 So now that all the parts have been gathered its time to see the total cost…

Item Cost
Soldering Station (Soldering Iron, stand, solder pump) £10
Tools (Pliers, Screwdrivers, wire strippers and compartments) £9
Equipment (Two multimeters) £10
Power Supply £6
Components (a lot of components) £46

Grand Total : £81


This list of parts gives a complete starter electronics workshop with £19 to spare! This is more than enough for a DIY digital oscilloscope, a simple USB logic analyser, or even more components and tools! However, don’t feel that you have to spend it, you can always put it in a jar and save for a later project or for replacements.

Just remember, fancy tools and expensive components are for fancy people with fancy circuits. If your objective is to get into electronics as a beginner, this list will see you through for a very long time!

  • takao21203 May 29, 2016

    soldering irons are crap for modern parts especially SMD. You need a soldering station with temp display.

    Can get your money back

    Advertising someone elses business policies elsewhere can be a source of trouble. Especially since you interprete it your own way.

    does it say if parts fail for whatever purpose you get your money back?

    For used CPUs about 1% to 2% are duds just to give you real world numbers.

    Its maybe a well meant piece of advice but full of flaws.

    Like. Reply
    • Robin Mitchell May 30, 2016
      That is an interesting point about soldering irons. I am not sure what soldering irons you have used but my experience tells me that a 230V AC 40W iront is more than sufficient for SMD parts down to 0602 and TQFP as I have used these parts myself. I am not interpreting any policies, PayPal and Ebay have their own default T&C which allows refunds if the product does NOT match the description or is faulty. For example, if you purchase an LM358 that does not behave like an LM358 you can get your money back (so long as the claim is within 28 days for ebay and 60 days for PayPal). This article is not an opinion but just experience with electronics. When I started my own electronics workshop as a kid I could not afford most things so I had to make every penny count. To be honest as of now I am still using pound-land containers + tools, an 8 year old iron that was £10, £4 multimeters and goodness knows what else. Just remember that not everyone is as privileged as we are now. Electronics should not be only for those who can purchase the expensive gear and we should not discourage those who lack funds.
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      • G
        go_boy June 03, 2016
        Spending a bit more in a proper iron will take you much further much faster. Trying to use a non-adjustable crazy hot, piss poor iron on components kills them as often as it works. At least spend £10 more and get a station that has some thermal mass to the tip and a temp adjustment knob.
        Like. Reply
      • Robin Mitchell June 04, 2016
        @go_boy Like my previous comment please read this article title. This article is aimed for those who do not have the funds to waste. I have used both top of the range irons and cheap irons with my conclusion being "If you are doing through hole, stick with a cheap iron". Even then, I do SMD work frequently with a cheap iron and have no problems. Remember: "A bad workman always blames his tools"
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  • M
    Mikebuk June 17, 2016

    As the title of the article states, it relates to setting up a workshop on a budget, and I think it does just that. 30 years back, like many people, I didn’t have the money for all of the kit that I now have. The analogue and digital storage scopes, signal generators, bench multimeters etc that I now have were all in my imagination. With regard to soldering irons, a cheap soldering iron was all that I could afford. Robin says “A bad workman always blames his tools”, and this is and always has been true. Even with the best soldering iron a novice will more than likely make a bad job of a simple soldering task. Like all things, experience counts for a lot. Yes, today I have a top of the range all singing all dancing iron with fume extraction and so on, but in all honesty, I can just as easily do the majority of the soldering jobs with the gas powered iron that has a 3mm pencil tip on it that I have in a toolbox in the boot of my car. So as Robin says, for through-hole work virtually any iron will do, including the eBay special.

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  • A
    alphaOmega June 17, 2016

    Nice little thread. However… only buy what you need, not what you think you may need and buy decent kit. Better to buy once than 10 times. Case in point, Temperature controlled soldering station. This is your bread and butter! It must be good (not expensive), a good iron will…. Give good joints, faster joints (less damaged components due to overheating, and less damage to PCBs), the bit will corrode less and last longer (so (also) better, cooler joints!) I can’t tell you how many soldering irons I have thrown away before buying a station. Best purchase ever! (I’ve been soldering for over 40 years!)
    Buy components for your project, otherwise you buy stuff you never use. DON’T by resistor or capacitor packs if you only use 3 values! But it’s often better to by 10 of a device than one when you consider postage costs to build stocks your your next dabble 😉

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  • A
    alphaOmega June 17, 2016

    “A bad workman always blames his tools” ? maybe, but a good workman takes extremely good care of his tools because he knows they can let him down!
    In addition to owning a good soldering station, get a good (accurate) AC/DC meter (can still be cheap) - don’t worry about fancy stuff like transistor testers, capacitance etc, nor high current/voltage ranges 2A is plenty, as is 500V FSD. but low voltage/low current accuracy in both ac & dc is a must. You can always build shunts and dividers…. And moving coil meters are great! So much more intuitive than a digital display. Get a second hand AVO 8 if you get the chance 😊

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  • G
    G-ManX June 18, 2016

    Of the several comments regarding soldering stations vs. single irons, I overwhelmingly agree on not waiting to get a station. The difference is something you must experience to believe, and of which I unknowingly suffered through for many years. This is not another case of elitist thinking but instead comes down to true versatility, practicality and functionality that can be measured (in my mind) at least by an 80% difference in frustration and workability. For example, one cannot beat: the 30 second heat-up from a cold start-up; a digital readout that confirms the temperature has been reached; the fast swap capability of multiple tips for different requirements in a single job; the true control over variable power/temp to protect varying electrical components; time adjustable auto standby and motion sensor resume feature and much more. I often used to procrastinate at doing solder work with the pitfalls of a single iron, but now that I have a station, the overall nature of the setup finds me jumping into projects without hesitation. You can simply feel the quality difference in your work and speed is increased immeasurably. I also recommend the SMD hot air stations as well, as they are wonderful for focused and even heat distribution needed in removing entire ICs instead of fighting to heat up one leg at a time with a soldering iron. It also produces a much more professional finish when doing heat-shrink jobs. These days on Amazon and EBay you can add a solder station and hot air station both for well under $75 US.

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  • P
    patman July 09, 2016

    Great thread! One note on acquiring an oscilloscope though - I strongly disagree that those are the only three viable options. Dave Jones has a wonderful tip on getting your first analog scope:

    ...and I can vouch for that from experience. My first scope - a 2-channel Phillips CRO (cathode ray oscilloscope) - was shipped to me for free by a family member who was cleaning out his workshop. There are definitely ways to get your hands on one for cheap (or free) if you’re just starting out.

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  • SalceyForest August 01, 2016

    Soldering irons are always a contentious issue, but much more so now that thru-hole parts are becoming extinct. My Weller P60D has just died after 20 years hard use and I’m surprised how much a decent iron costs, whilst distrusting no-label units from China. I did get a cheap thing as illustrated to fill in, but it was hopeless. Antex are probably a good halfway house though.

    On other tool news, if Aldi sells it, get it. Remarkable quality for the money. Great for storage racks too, just subscribe to the email.

    Apart from soldering, ebay is an invaluable workshop provider, just search for ‘wholesale and job lots’. All sorts of stuff that you never knew you needed until now for no money.

    My fave scope is an ancient Tektronix 5000 storage from their NASA era, as in you needed to be NASA to afford one. 4-channel, and a genuine differential input amp would have cost the same as a house back in the 70’s when it was made. So long as you can live with the 1MHz b/w it’s a work of art. All for £60 from ebay.

    I’m a great fan of analog, they’re the BEST form of metering IMHO, but have never loved AVO’s. Big, heavy, hard to read and hard to prop up at the right angle. Not missed.

    Finally, no-one has mentioned Maplin. Yeah, I know, but in amongst the plastic tat there are still proper bargains on the tool rails, even if Rolson (under a brand label) is far too common.

    Like. Reply
    • SalceyForest August 01, 2016
      Oh - I forgot. Solder. Never have anything to do with the green eco stuff. It doesn't whet, it doesn't work, especially with a cheap iron. You need the earth-destroying red label with real lead. This is still available so get it while you can coz it won't last forever, sadly.
      Like. Reply
      • edwardholmes91 December 06, 2016
        I tend to agree with you, but it does depend on what you're soldering. I use the lead free solder when soldering circuit boards and switch to lead solder when I am soldering or tinning heavy gauge wires. Also worth noting, lead solder has a much lower melting point than the lead free stuff too. I do find though, the flux in lead free solder seems to spit all over my boards though and regularly give my board a clean once I've finished, using some Electrolube LFFR.
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    • edwardholmes91 December 06, 2016
      I only find myself sourcing things from Maplin if I'm in a rush and need something the same day, as their markup on parts is horrendous! A note on Rolson tools... I'm sure Maplin sometimes stock fakes. I've got a Rolson Knife: and love it, but I bought a 205 piece Rolson drill driver set from Maplin for £20 and the HSS twist drill bits untwisted! They gave me another set for free and didn't want the old one back, but I'd be weary of Maplin's so called 'special offers' on cheap tools!
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  • edwardholmes91 December 06, 2016

    Interesting article Robin, you’re right, there are certainly some bargains to be had out there.  I use the exact some DMM as you show in the article… then ended up getting a similar, but more compact one for free with a purchase on eBay!

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