Q. I’ve asked my friends to give me their broken appliances so that I could scavenge parts from them. Now I have so many circuit boards lying around that it takes me longer to look for a chip than it does to remove it from the board. How can I get more organized?

A. I had this same problem. The answer is to create a database. With the work of an hour or two, you’ll soon have all your parts at your fingertips. And if you’re a Windows user, chances are you may already have all the tools you need on your computer. I’m talking about MS Access. Sure, professional DBAs may scoff at this program, but it will be sufficient for cataloging a few hundred components. On the other hand, if you’re an ambitious Linux user, you might be well-served to look into a Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP (LAMP) solution. Whichever route you take, plenty of books and Web tutorials are available.

When I set up my database, I created tables for each sort of component I wished to track. For example, the IC table looks something like this:

ID Part_Number Description Style Container Datasheet
1 L272M Dual Op-Amp 8 Pin DIP 1 L272M.PDF

The Container field points to a record in the Container table, which represents either a circuit board or other container (such as a drawer of loose components):

ID Description Location
1 Brownish board marked LP1-CD MBD 1

The Location field points to a record in the Location table, which represents the various boxes and drawers used for storing Containers:

ID Description
1 Cardboard box #1

Now if I ever need an L272M, or an Op-Amp in general, I can query the database, which will tell me that there’s one on Brownish board marked LP1-CD MBD in Cardboard Box #1 .

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