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Tech tips on small tools, magnetics, and more

Tech tips on small tools, magnetics, and more

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By John Landry, CSRE

Think small

How many times has a simple problem or request turned into a major re-engineering project? It’s often something that starts out very simple and then requires special mods and creative uses of hardware. Then you discover that one or more steps in the project calls for a tool you don’t have (or even think exists). Usually tools make the job, but once in a while the job makes the tool. Here are some hints on where to find that tool.

Everything is smaller in electronics today. And any modifications you plan to make to anything usually requires getting into surface-mounted components. A watchmaker’s glass (called a loupe) is ideal for this task, as are a watchmaker’s tweezers and other tools. One source of these tools is Frei and Borel (

The most useful tool I have found is the Optivisor, a stereoptic 10� magnifier that allows a working distance of 4″. That’s plenty of room to get the pencil iron in to tack a wire. The Optivisor sells for $35, and it can be handy for many other tasks.

Another source for small tools and odd parts: your local hobby store. Most carry small tools for RC cars and other projects, and you’ll be surprised at the items you might be able to use for other purposes.

No duh

Let’s face it: You can’t remember everything. I keep a looseleaf binder on my bench that I call my Duh Book. In it I have pages of infrequently used, but important information. Cable color codes, serial data pin-outs, conversion charts for tape EQ curves and other items are there for ready-reference. It’s always ready 24/7 and there are no 404 – page not found problems.

The most basic of basic rules can be forgotten in a crisis (isn’t everything a crisis?) and that even includes how to wire the XLR connector. There are many methods to remember which pin gets which wire: George Washington Bridge (G.W.B) for green/white/blue, or solid rocket booster for shield/red/black. However, remembering which pin is 1, 2 or 3 in that triangular format is a mental block for some folks.

I solved this problem with Landry’s Patented XLR Clamp. (It’s not really patented; I just call it that.) Take a scrap of wood and drill a �” hole throught it. Then saw it in half down the center of the hole. This is now a perfect securing tool for the female XLR. With the addition of three 7/64″ holes spaced like the male XLR pins, you will also have a steady place for that connector as well. With some red or white paint, mark where the appropriate wire goes. Now you will be able to correctly make them in your sleep.

Baked magnetics

By now, most of us have seen how old tapes can start to shed, which makes them impossible to play (and actually destroys them). Often some old bit from a tape has to be re-used, and most production people today have little or no experience with tape. Typically they come to engineering for guidance (sometimes blaming the tape machine). And they always need the tape right now.

Sticky shed can happen to any tape at any age from any manufacturer. It is caused by moisture and can be cured by drying the tape slowly. There are several time and temperature recipes listed in the Engineer’s Notebook at, and most require a convection oven. However, David Josephson at Josephson Engineering has a method to build your own baking chamber: Print it, and have it ready. In fact, put it in your Duh Book.

Landry is an audio maintenance engineer at CBS Radio/Westwood One, New York.

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