Beginners Guide to DYI Electronics

So you have this amazing idea for the next great gadget. Maybe you’ll create a new way to communicate. God knows we could use it. Or maybe your invention will be a completely new way to keep people entertained. That sounds nice too, right?

Whatever your idea, you can turn that thought into action with a few very basic skills. And I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have any engineering or computer programming experience, so how in the world can you make your own electronics? Don’t worry. It’s easier than you think! With just a few simple tools and some basic know-how, you can make whatever you imagine.

To start off, let’s get to the basics. 

You can buy or build your own circuit board and add all the components you need for your project. You can use pre-made circuitry or create your own design by hand. The larger projects can take quite a bit of time to create, so it is up to you whether you want to take it on. This beginner guide will help you talk the lingo, and introduce you to the basic parts used in electronics kits. Let’s get the nomenclature out of the way quickly. There are many terms you will see in your electronics journey.

Resistor: a variable resistor or rheostat (commonly just called a “resistor”) is probably the most common component. They look like little silver cylinders and are typically used to adjust current flow in circuits. A resistor is used to ensure that the voltage or current going into a circuit does not exceed what the circuit can handle.

If you put a 9V battery into a circuit with a 1k resistor, you’ll find that it doesn’t do much. However, if you put a 9V battery into a circuit with no resistor, it will blow up pretty quickly!

The first thing to learn about designing electronics circuits is Ohm’s Law. Ohm’s Law states that Voltage = Current * Resistance – and that these three things are always equal.

So by putting in a resistor, we can limit how much current can flow through a circuit – just as a faucet limits how much water can flow out of it. Different circuits have different limits; we call these limits the “load” or “current load” of a circuit and the amount of current it can handle is known as the supporting current or load current.

We use resistors for lots of cool things: limiting current to LEDs and heaters in circuits, adjusting the brightness of bright LEDs, and doing complicated things like automatically dimming LEDs or changing their color based on temperature.

Short Circuit: This is where two points on a circuit are connected together by accident.

Microcontroller: This is an integrated circuit that has been designed to run a computer program. Commonly these are used to run the code for your Arduino or Basic Stamp projects.

What Do I Need?

The tools you need will change based on what you are soldering, but in general, you will need a soldering iron, solder, flux, clippers, wire snips, needle nose pliers, flush cutters, and a multimeter. You will also want to consider what sort of circuit board you will be using. A multimeter is an essential tool for determining if electricity is flowing through a circuit at all or what component is causing your circuit not to work. It will look like a big analog clock with multiple dials that measures voltage, current, resistance, and more. You can find these on Amazon for about $20 – $60 USD. For ham radio building or other electronics projects, a perf-board is a good option since they are rigidly mounted and easy to work with. Some of the parts you will be working with will be surface-mount components that can be soldered by hand, or mounted onto a PCB. This great article has all that you need to design a simple DIY walkie talkie project

Shopping for parts

You have decided and bought the components for a DIY electronics project: a laptop, a 3d printer, or a robot. What do you do now? How do you solder? Where do you get tools and supplies? How much will it cost? What are some popular projects that are fun and relatively easy to do?

One of the best resources is our online community. There are lots of great tutorials to help you get started. Here are some of the websites we use to get started, get help, and find parts.

Commercial Vendors

Adafruit, Sparkfun, and Radio Shack are great places to find parts and tools. I am a huge fan of the Toner Transfer method for getting images onto flexible circuit boards. This method is fantastic for making custom PCBs for wearable electronics. Amazon is also a great place to get supplies at a reasonable cost.

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