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Create Your Own Mobile Toolshed

Also, a pop quiz: Do you know what this little gizmo is used for?

Fig. 1: A multi-drawer cabinet mounted behind the front seat provides storage for the busy broadcast engineer.Fig. 2: A wooden slat locks the drawers in place when the vehicle is moving.

Fig. 3: A useful tool for engineers; can you identify it?Fig. 4: A close up of the “business end” of the mystery tool. Nothing is more frustrating for an engineer than having to search frantically for specific tools needed to complete a job. Most of us have a tool kit or bag where we store gizmos, but if you service multiple stations or transmitter sites, you may keep tools in your vehicle. That’s fine, but being more organized can make finding tools or parts easier — especially important during an emergency.

Tom Van Gorkom is the engineer for the Radio Esperanza Network of stations in Edenburg, Texas. Tom was faced with this question of organizing tools and parts, and came up with the custom cabinetry seen in Fig. 1.

The cabinet keeps tools and meters where Tom knows he can find them, helping him to do his job more efficiently. While the vehicle is in motion, the drawers are kept locked by the vertical wooden slat, shown in Fig. 2. Remove the slat, and you have full access to the drawers.

Smaller plastic parts drawers can hold parts like connectors, wire ties and other common components. The small plastic bins can be stored in the cabinet drawers.

If you maintain multiple facilities, you need to work smarter (and harder). Time spent rummaging through cardboard boxes or bins in the trunk or truck bed just cuts down on your efficiency.

Tom also sent in a photo for readers to identify. It is seen in Fig. 3, with a closeup of the end of the device in Fig. 4. Can you ID this tool? Send your answers to [email protected].


Projects and contract engineer Greg Muir is a frequent contributor to this column. Greg is a principal with Wolfram Engineering in Montana. He writes that a few years ago, he purchased a Weller WPA2 self-igniting Pyropen butane-fired soldering iron for use on the kind of “quick” field projects where you don’t want to drag out an AC-powered soldering iron, let alone try to find an outlet to power it.

The purchase price is significant (in the $120–$150 range), but well worth it, because you always have instant heat available for soldering and shrinking tubing.

Greg’s Pyropen has seen only a few dozen uses over the time he has owned it, mostly for small projects (installing XLR connectors).

Recently Greg needed to install two more connectors, so he pulled it out to complete the job. The first connector job went fast, but when he tried to ignite the iron for the second one, it would not light.

A call to the Weller service department found that use of conventional cigarette lighter butane fuels will clog the catalytic burner assembly in the iron, rendering it useless. Greg said Weller does not caution about this issue in its accompanying instruction sheet — due to “liabilities,” according to the service rep on the phone. But the rep instead recommended “triple refined” or similar butane fuels, which apparently do not contain the contaminants found in the conventional fuels.

If you have experienced this problem, a possible remedy to regain use of the iron is to exhaust the conventional fuel and then refill the iron with the better grade. Next, take the iron outdoors, open the valve but do not ignite it, and allow the new fuel to pass through the catalytic burner until the supply is exhausted. This may or may not clean up the burner assembly.

When Greg inquired about what to do if this remedy did not work, he was told to buy a new Pyropen. That seemed a little excessive; but Weller has an exchange program in which you can take a photo of your Pyropen, email it to their service department, and they will send you a replacement unit for $75. In Greg’s mind, this cost is still steep, but it beats buying one at full price.

He inquired about obtaining a replacement burner assembly. According to a customer service representative, the company does not sell that part, again due to “liabilities.”

Not one to give up easily, Greg did a web search for Weller part number WPAB. This produced numerous sources that provide the part, including Weller, apparently! Prices range in the low $20s for this item.

If you haven’t enjoyed the freedom that a gas-fired soldering iron can provide, you’re missing a great tool for today’s broadcast engineer. Thanks, Greg, for the detective work.

Contribute to Workbench. You’ll help your fellow engineers and qualify for SBE recertification credit. Send Workbench tips to [email protected].

 Fax to (603) 472-4944.

Author John Bisset has spent 46 years in the broadcasting industry and is still learning. He handles West Coast sales for the Telos Alliance. He is SBE certified and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award.