The SolderBuddy is a DIYers Delight!
Maybe it's just my old school mindset, but I find being able to get "under the hood" to tinker around with some gizmo or other to be a perfectly satisfying pursuit. I like old motorcycles because they have carburators, points, and plugsgive me the right wrenches with the parts and bits and I can fix any of that. Audio also has lots of places for your Average Joe with a little skill and the right tools to begin to corral electrons and learn how to watch them flow. To my eyes and finger-tips the SolderBuddy ACS ($40.50) feels like just the right kind of old school tool for building audio cables. Ah the sweet smell of flux after midnight!
The SolderBuddy ACS is one of a series of wood block-based solder assist tools by Lee Tingler that address the particular needs of certain hobbyis groups. Each wood block has a number of machined holes, slots, and/or clamps that fit particular connectors or parts used in a particular area of interest. For example: the SolderBuddy ))SPK(( is set up for a house sound technician to repair speaker and instrument cables; the SolderBuddy Hobbyist HAM is for amateur radio enthusiasts; the SolderBuddy Hobbyist RC is for radio control enthusiasts.
Lee sent me a SolderBuddy ACS as it's the appropriate one for building audio cables. It's pretty simple really: you put your connector in the appropriate hole; prepare and position the cable ready for soldering by clamping it in the "Post N Clip"; and then solder your connections. I like the optionally available Versa-Vice ($8.75) bendable Post N Clip. Machined connector holes are provided for: XLR male male and female; 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 1/4" phone plugs; RCA male and female; 5.5mm dia coaxial power plug; and Mini XLR.
I really liked the pin labeling on the XLR connectorsdidn't have to get my glasses on to read the numbers. Most of the connectors fit nice and snug in the holes, though the female RCA was a bit tight. I also felt the Post N Clip holes were a bit loose, but it was less of a problem in use than I expected as once you position the cable and connections things seemed pretty stable. All-in-all, this tool worked quite nicely, and has the added convenience of packing up into a small enough size for a tool drawer. If the price is a bit steep for your pocketbook, you can get a Helping Hands clamp for about $12. I have one, but it's way easier to get things positioned in the SolderBuddy.
Here's a little video to show you how it works.
Also available on the site is Lee Tingler's dandy soldering primer "The Artful Solderer." It's a bit pricy at $18.90, but the content is quite comprehensiveI learned a thing or two reading through itand it's printed on high-quality Yupo synthetic paper so if you get it dirty or wet you can wipe it clean.
For some more DIY resources check out Nate Maher's DIY Resources page, and if you're hankering for a bit more advanced project I highly recommend the BottleHead Crack vacuum tube headphone amp kit or Pete Millett's Butte.