the light of day only occasionally. This minimalist approach
has been working okay for me for some time. So, could
the PCB Rax teach this old dog a new trick? It turns out it
could, and did. The first thing you notice when unpacking
the PCB Rax is the care with which it was packed. While
not as fancy, it brought to mind the pride Apple and
others display with their product packaging. The next
thing you notice is the heft and finish of the PCB Rax. It is
aircraft grade aluminum, anodized with a nice blue finish
with quality fittings — top drawer, just asking for a place
on your bench. So, could it make a difference in my
hobbyist circuit board work?
Assembling the PCB Rax is straightforward and quick
— just follow the excellent video instructions on the Bench
Werx website. Once the system was assembled, I started
with the Elenco SP-3B Solder Practice Kit, which is a 2-
1/2” x 4” rectangular board with generous component
spacing and areas to practice solder bridge avoidance and
trace repair. Placing the board in the PCB Rax horizontally,
I adjusted the extension backers to hold the board corners
and tightened the tension knobs on the rails.
There are a lot of possible adjustments (important to
the flexibility of the system) and it took me a few minutes
to get the hang of things. I soon had the Elenco PCB held
securely and was stuffing components and emulating
board repair (Figure 3).
At first, the system seemed only marginally better than
my tried-and-true method of placing a single component,
securing it with a small heatsink clamp, tacking one lead in
place, then soldering all the leads — with all work done from
the trace (underside) of the board. This required repeated
flipping of the PCB Rax for each component, which the
system supported nicely, but which didn’t seem to be any
real improvement over my old non-PCB Rax method.
So, I positioned the system to hold the board
vertically, tightening the tension knobs to make sure the
PCB didn’t slip in the extension brackets. Now, I could
stuff several components at once, then swing the PCB Rax
around and solder them all in the same pass. The little
heatsink clamp was still required to secure components,
but now I was starting to see some benefits of the PCB
Rax (Figure 4).
Next, I tackled the Parallax S- 2 Robot Badge kit, which
is a roughly circular PCB 1-1/2” in diameter with only
three components. By now, I was getting comfortable with
PCB Rax adjustments, but I was still surprised how easy it
was to secure the small round board (Figure 5). This board
was through-plated with nice lands on either side, and I
learned that I could tack some components from the
component side (using gravity to hold them in place
instead of my heatsink clamp), then set the PCB Rax
By Dane Weston Post comments on this article and find any associated files and/or downloads at www.nutsvolts.com/magazine/article/January2017_Bench-Werx-PCB-Rax.
FIGURE 3. The Elenco Solder Practice Kit, with
the PCB Rax in the horizontal position. This
position was good for trace repair and (flipped
over) component insertion.
FIGURE 4. The Solder Practice Kit in the
vertical position. This allows soldering
multiple components in one pass and offers
access to both sides of the board at once.
FIGURE 5. Assembly of the S- 2 Robot Badge.
Note the heatsink clamp holding a component
in place for soldering.
January 2017 37