This is the soldering iron I have on my bench. It's a solid iron with stable temperature and a nice variety of different soldering tips available. It takes ET series Weller tips. We use 1/64 long conical or 1/16 narrow screwdriver tips for finer work, and 1/8 screwdriver tips for heavier work. The 1/16 or 3/16 single flat tips are perfect for drag soldering surface mount parts.
I use tweezers like these for prototyping work. Both straight and curved types are useful for different types of work, so buy a set!
These are the most amazing and easy to use wire strippers I've ever used. You set the depth gauge to the desire strip length, insert any wire from 28 AWG to 10 AWG and squeeze for a professional strip every time. Nothing more — no need to select the right slot for your wire, no partial stripping. The cushioned handles and natural action reduce the fatigue from repeated operation. Naturally, the blades are replaceable as well.
I bought one off these at Fry's about five years ago, and it's still going strong with regular use. It's not a precision unit by any means, but it is a good value for the price.
A board pre-heater is an amazingly useful tool for doing surface mount rework. It makes even large and ornery packages like large surface mount LGA modules a breeze to mount and demount.
I don't like the little wet sponges that come with most soldering stations. They cool the tip and impurities in the water can contaminate the solder.
Therefore, I use a dry tip cleaner. There are a bunch of ones on the market, but I like the Hakko because it's well-contained and the angle is good for mindlessly cleaning the tip between joints like the NASA soldering manual specifies.
Sometimes, you put down too much solder or put it in the wrong place. De-soldering wick acts just like a sponge to remove the excess.
These are the calipers I have in my toolbox. I've had them for the better part of a decade now, and other than a chip in one of the jaws, they are still as good as new.
These can also be hacked to output data over a serial link, if you want or need the capability.
This is a fantastic 16-channel logic analyzer capable of sampling 1.8V-5V logic at speeds as high as 100 MHz. Besides the solid hardware design and high quality test leads it comes with, the software is dead simple to use. It's all open source, which means that you don't have to buy expensive software modules to analyze different protocols.
Also notable is Saleae's no-questions asked hardware replacement guarantee. If you manage to find a way to fry one, they'll replace it ASAP.
A hot air rework station is a crucial tool for surface mount soldering. Combined with solder paste, it makes mounting almost any surface mount component straightforward.
OpenBeam is a smaller, open-source alternative to t-slot building systems like 80/20. It's perfect for building small robots and 3D printers. Unlike most previous types of t-slot extrusion, it uses standard nuts and bolts instead of specialty fasteners, drastically reducing the cost of ownership. OpenBeam sells a variety of brackets and joining plates aimed at the 3D printer market.
This kit is a solid introduction to the OpenBeam system. It contains T and L joining plates, a variety of pre-cut lengths of open beam, all required fasteners, and a 2mm hex key for assembly.
A desoldering pump, colloquially known as a solder sucker, is a key piece of equipment in your prototyping toolkit. Melt the offending solder with your iron, and suck it away from the part with this tool.
This device uses a small vacuum to pick up electronic parts, or anything with a nice flat surface for it to grip. It comes with a variety of suction cups for different sized parts.
I find vacuum tweezers like this to be an invaluable adjunct to more conventional tweezers when prototyping large and/or complex boards.
I've had this set for a decade or so, and it's seen plenty of hard use at my hands. It has held up extremely well, and it's as accurate and as solid as you expect from a Starrett product.
A wise man once told me there are two kinds of multimeters — Fluke and crap. And he was right. This is the model I use. You can also get a number of useful accessories for this multimeter, such as a thermocouple adapter.