Skip to content

TS100 Oscilloscope hack

September 26, 2017

This post describes my modification of a TS100 soldering iron that transforms it into an oscilloscope. The changes are mostly made in software.

Readers of my blog will know that I have a weakness for modifying things to serve a purpose they never have been designed for. And admittedly, this project is one of the most stupid/nicest projects I’ve done recently. Why stupid? Well, I transformed a soldering iron into an oscilloscope… see for yourself:

As you can see in the video, you can use the soldering tip as your measurement probe. Coincidentally, a soldering iron has already a pretty good form factor for an oscilloscope. Here is a still picture of a UART waveform:


Right now, the user interface is very minimalistic. The vertical axis can be scaled simply by pressing and holding one of the buttons and then turning the iron around its axis. In the same manner the horizontal axis can be scaled by tilting the iron up and down. Using this as the main interface makes the oscilloscope surprisingly usable.

Of course, the iron can be used as a normal iron or as an oscilloscope without any changes to the hardware. The oscilloscope is simply a new menu option.

What and how

Even without any changes the TS100 is a very nice portable soldering iron. I use it as my main soldering tool. But what makes it special is that it contains a powerful 32 bit ARM processor, a graphical OLED display, open source firmware and a schematic that is available. And this makes it a very good target for this project.

The oscilloscope function requires a little change of the irons hardware. A single wire needs to be connected from the earth connection of the tip to one of the buttons. This “forwards” the voltage of the tip into an analog input of the ARM. The modification can be seen in the following image:


Using this direct connection is rather dangerous because every voltage on the tip directly reaches the ADC input pin of the ARM. For a real-world use-case I would recommend to add a resistor in series and a TVS protection diode before the ADC pin.


Since I’ve added no front end analog circuit to the soldering iron, it is limited to what the ADC of the ARM is able to measure: 0 to +3.3V. This is of course very poor for an oscilloscope. A cheap modification would be to add also a resistor divider in front of the ADC for being able to measure higher voltages. A 10:1 divider should be a good compromise. It allows you to measure up to 33V. Also, since the ADC has a resolution of 12 bit you should still have a sufficient resolution of 8mV/LSB.

Also, the software is still not in a usable shape. I’ve just hacked some stuff into the existing firmware. For reference, you can find the code here:

Do NOT use it on your production soldering iron. Currently, it does not let you use the soldering iron and the oscilloscope code is nothing but horribly wrong. Why did I start with such a crappy implementation? Well, it was thought of as a demonstrator to check if the idea is viable. Unfortunately, the original firmware would require rewrites of large portions of it to support high frequency ADC sampling and I am not really in the mood of investing so much effort in a code basis of questionable quality.

Instead, I will start a clean room implementation of the firmware. This will then also use the new UI interactions that I have demoed for the oscilloscope. For example, all the values like target temperature will be simply settable by pressing and holding a button while turning the iron. Turning in one direction will increase the temperature, turning it to the other direction will decrease it.

Also, forwarding the oscilloscope data over USB is an option. This would allow to display the measurements on your Android device for example.

A simple multimeter will of course also be added.

At the end, what specs could you expect from it? Roughly:

  • 0 to 30V input range
  • 2MSPS
  • >30Hz display update rate


In this post I’ve shown you a demonstrator of a soldering iron turned into an oscilloscope. The obvious question for this project is of course: Why??

Well, it probably won’t replace your bench oscilloscope. But having even the simplest kind of oscilloscope at hand while you are away from the bench can be a real lifesaver. Some examples of questions to which the soldering iron oscilloscope can give you an answer:

  • Is there a signal at all?
  • Does the timing of the look sensible?
  • Does the voltage look sensible?

And I would say that (at least in the digital domain) 80% of problems can be eliminated by having the answer to these questions. Things like:

  • I did configure the UART transmitter wrong. It outputs its data on a different pin
  • I see a valid UART signal so the problem must be at the receiving end
  • Normally, the 3.3V I2C bus shouldn’t idle at 1.2V!? Did I forget to enable the pullup resistors?
  • Why is there no ACK bit from the I2C device? Am I sending data to the correct address?


Once there is a usable alpha version of the rewritten firmware available I will publish a link to it in my blog. Please subscribe if you want to be notified about this.




From → Uncategorized

  1. Is that soldering tip isolated from the ground cable mount? It would be nice if you could just use a ground cable and a tip as GND and VCC respectively.

    • Hey, you are the Tetris guy, right? 🙂

      The earth screw seems to be connected directly to the tip. And I did not find any other connection apart from that. It is even not connected to GND of the ARM. So in principle you might be able to cut internally the connection between screw and tip, connect the tip to the adc and the screw to GND. Then you could attach the ground crocodile clip to the screw.
      But since this requires two additional changes to the iron, I would prefer to use the USB socket as GND. Just cut an old USB cable and attach a crocodile clip to it. Or use a modified power cable with an extra ground cable coming out of it. This also allows you to still use the earth screw for its original purpose (with a nonfunctional osci while doing that of course)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Part Soldering Iron, Part Hand-Held Oscilloscope | Hackaday
  2. Part Soldering Iron, Part Hand-Held Oscilloscope – High Tech Newz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: