Today, while I was tweaking the microscope that I use for surface mount soldering, I realized that I have collected quite a bit of hard to find information about this circa~1975 model 569 American Optical StereoStar Stereoscopic Zoom Microscope (say that three times fast!).
So, I made a wiki page and put it all online. StereoStar owners, rejoice!
When I buy a piece of electronic test equipment, the first thing I do is turn it on and see if it works. This is the moment of truth: was that awesome eBay find the killer deal I thought it was? (Hint: If it’s missing case screws and came with no packing material, probably not.)
Sometimes, everything works out and I have a shiny new piece of test gear for bottom dollar. Often, things don’t work out quite as expected. Luckily, test equipment is often made to be fixed.
To fix it, I need a service manual.
This means that with my luck, more often than not, the second thing I do is try to track down the service manual for my new semi-functional piece of test equipment. Even if the it’s not broken, I’ll usually try to get a service manual anyway; often the service manual doubles as a user manual and I need to figure out how to use special features, find specs, etc.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips for finding test equipment manuals:
If it’s a fairly new piece of test equipment, chances are the manufacturer will have a manual on their website, usually in pdf format. For example, Agilent has lots of manuals online, but unfortunately, anything over 20 years old is probably not listed. Other vendors are better about archiving old manuals. I have had very good luck getting old Fluke manuals on their website.
Google is your friend. Are you feeling lucky? Some manuals are easy to find, like this one for the HP 3312A Function Generator. The first link that isn’t an ad goes right to it. Easy!
There are several free service manual repositories on the web. These can be very hard to find when you need them (spammy links from manual vendors sometimes derail your search). I have started keeping track of free sources for test equipment manuals on the wiki. If you are looking for the manual for a fairly common piece of HP/Agilent or Tektronix gear, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find it for free on one of the sites listed.
As a last resort, consider paying for an electronic copy of the manual. Beware of vendors who are simply downloading readily available manuals for free and selling them to you. Use eBay with caution. The wiki now includes a list of reputable service manual vendors. The only vendor I have used is Artek Media. They have very reasonable prices and great support. At $5-$10 a pop, sometimes it’s easier to just buy the manual than scour the web for hours, so it’s nice to be able to trade laziness for dollars.
Usually by step 3 I have the manual I need, so I rarely have to pay for a copy, but it’s nice to know that most obscure manuals can be had for a few dollars.
I hope these tips keep more old test equipment running – remember they don’t make ’em like they used to!
If any readers have more sources for manuals to add, please leave a comment or add them to the wiki.
This is my kind of place. Surplus electronics piled from floor to ceiling. Lots of oscilloscopes and useful stuff mixed in with bizarre industrial equipment.
Lots of cool rack-mounted equipment here. Lots of push-buttons too.
Need a random computer-related printed circuit board?
My recommendation for places like this is always to come to the counter with the biggest pile of stuff you can carry and haggle on a single price for everything. You’ll end up paying a fair price for one or two big items and getting the rest thrown in “for free”.
Here’s what I went home with: HP chart recorder, some IC sockets, webcam stand, random RF module, and some kind of monitor shutoff device from back when ‘green’ was just a color. This is a remarkably small pile of stuff given what was available, but I knew I would have to pack all this into my checked luggage on the flight home.
This was my first visit to Ali’s, and I came home really impressed. I can’t think of a better place to find surplus electronics junk in the Sacramento area, especially now that HSC Electronics on Auburn Blvd. is gone. I also feel that if you are looking for used industrial and test equipment, Ali’s has a better selection than Bay Area shops like Weird Stuff. I will definitely be visiting Ali’s again the next time I’m Sacramento.
Mitch and I are in the process of compiling a list of places to buy electronics parts and tools for a book we are writing about getting started with AVR microcontrollers.
Where do you go to buy electronic parts, tools, and other supplies? Do you have a walk-in store in your area, or do you shop online?
I’m particularly interested in hearing from readers outside of the United States. If you live in South America, where do you buy soldering irons, solder, resistors, capacitors, and other odds and ends? Do you buy locally or online? What about Europe? Asia? Africa?
If you do have a favorite place to shop for electronics goodies, leave a comment here or consider adding it to the MightyOhm Wiki!