Introduction: My Top Ten Most Useful Breadboard Tips and Tricks

Picture of My Top Ten Most Useful Breadboard Tips and Tricks

There's 6 inches of snow on the ground, and you're cooped up in the house. You have momentarily lost your motivation to work on your GPS-guided metal-cutting laser. There haven't been any new projects on your favorite site which have piqued your interest. What to do with yourself?

Well, how bout pimping up your breadboard and turning it into a lean, mean, digital-development machine?

This is a short list of the most useful breadboard tricks that I have picked up over the years. Hopefully there's something in here that you will find useful which you haven't already thought of.

Ok, I don't really have 10 tips to share; it just makes for a catchier title. :P

Step 1: Power Connector

Picture of Power Connector

Well, the first thing that a breadboard needs is power. Many breadboards come with binding posts. This is fine if you care to use them. But you still have to plug the wires into the board. I have messed this part up on occasion, mixing up the power and ground wires. Even though rare, this has usually resulted in rather annoying and/or expensive consequences. The solution I came up with is to always use 3-pin connectors.

See the following picture. It's made from SIP header pins and protoboard. After point-to-point wiring, it is covered with sculpting epoxy.

Step 2: Power and Ground Buses

Picture of Power and Ground Buses

There are times where it would be useful to dedicate some of the power and ground rails to different voltages. For me, this occasion has yet to arise. I decided to connect them permanently to reduce some of the clutter.

All you have to do is unscrew the breadboard from the backing, if it has one. Then cut away a strip of the foam backing with an Exacto knife. Next, solder the power and ground buses with some fine wire. Then cover with tape and screw it back onto the backboard.

Step 3: LED's

Picture of LED's

LED's are commonly used in the debugging/development of most any electronic circuit.

Well, these breadboard-friendly LED's aren't quite as quick to make as bending around some leads, but they are indefinitely reusable and will save you a lot of space on your breadboard.

Because they have a current-limiting resistor built-in and the lead-spacing is 0.4", they plug directly between your power/ground rail and the main breadboard section. And even better, they can be stacked side-by-side.

I used 0.03" thick single-sided pcb, 3mm LED's, 240R surface mount resistors, and SIP header pins to make these. The only trick is to leave the pins in the header until after you have soldered them, in order to preserve the spacing. And to get them to stack side-by-side, I ground the sides of the LED's a bit with a Dremel.

Here's a video showing how I made them:

Step 4: Buttons

Picture of Buttons

Buttons, buttons, everywhere.

The ubiquitous 6mm tactile switch is another breadboard staple. When you need only 1 or 2, you can just stick them in the breadboard. But try using more than that, and you'll soon have buttons popping out by themselves all over the place, in addition to growing a nice plate of spaghetti.

The simple tactile switch's most common role is to provide a digital input by temporarily connecting an input pin to either the ground rail or the power rail. By making a button array, you can plug the ground/power rail in just once, and will also have a greater density of buttons that won't fall out. You can make your button array up to 3 buttons deep and still take up the same number of breadboard holes... but I find 2 rows to be a more convenient size.

Step 5: Switches

Picture of Switches

Sometimes it's useful to have a small switch rather than a push-to-make button. Most switches will not fit into a breadboard. A DIP switch array fits nicely and also happens to have 0.3" by 0.1" spacing. Super!

Step 6: Pullup Resistors

Picture of Pullup Resistors

Anyone messing with electronics will be familiar with pullup/down resistors. It wasn't so bad in the good old days when 1/4 watt resistors had nice sturdy leads on them. Due to the increased demand for copper, these parts are now made with skinny leads that don't hold up to repeated use as well as they used to.

These pullup resistors are made the same way as the LED's and will last indefinitely.

It's also nice to have some 10k bussed network resistors on hand, for when you need to pullup an entire row of IC pins or buttons!

Step 7: For My Fellow PIC-heads: Breadboard With Built in ICSP

Picture of For My Fellow PIC-heads: Breadboard With Built in ICSP

Microcontrollers are being incorporated in a growing number of DIY projects. During the development process, a chip may have to be reprogrammed many times.

I don't know if the same thing applies to AVR's, but most every 8 and 14-pin PIC (as well as many of the 20 pin ones) share the same pinout for the programming lines. So I have dedicated a breadboard just for development of these PIC's.

The technique here is the same as that used to connect the power/ground buses. After peeling away some of the backing, you can permanently wire your programming connections and port them out to a standard header. You can also connect your power and ground pins to the appropriate rails and add a chip capacitor while you're in there.

You'll also notice some extra circuitry next to the programming header. Well, the same pins that are used for ICSP can also be used by the micro as normal input/output pins or other functions. If you are using those pins in your project, then you may very well have to connect/disconnect your programming cable each and every time you change and update your code. I have found, for instance, that the PICKit2 programmer holds the programming lines low when the programmer is inactive. Rather than put up with this, I have connected the data and clock lines through signal relays which are only closed when the programmer supplies power to the Vdd rail. The power goes through a rectifier diode so that when only external power is used the relays remain open. The HVP line doesn't get a relay to itself. Instead it is simply diode rectified, so that when it is not active it does not pull the MCLR line low. There is also a programming button at the top left of the board. This simple Instructable shows how I did that:

*Edit: Since publishing this, I've been informed and have also personally confirmed that the Vpp line on a PICKit2 becomes high impedance when inactive, so it does not actually need to be diode-rectified for circuit-isolation; all I have achieved is to remove the ability of the programmer to do a hardware reset of the MCLR line (which hasn't bothered me so far). Oh, well.. I needed a jumper for my pcb, anyway, and the diode was the perfect size. :P

**update: wow, that method of clock/data isolation is sooo last year. Check out the latest pic.

Step 8: ICSP Hat

Picture of ICSP Hat

For non-standard pinouts, a simpler solution may be more desirable. Here's a simple programming "hat." It has 0.5" spacing, so it slips over a standard narrow DIP IC. It's point-to-point wired, then covered with sculpting epoxy. You can leave it in the breadboard, if you don't mind giving up the extra space. Then just plug the programming cable when necessary.

Step 9: The End

Well, that's it. If you have any tips you can share, I'd like to see them!


spectatorst (author)2017-01-14

Is this a time machine?

klk149 (author)2016-02-07

Hi klee27x, have you worked with MOSFETs or solid state relays? I have a few questions to ask you if you have the time.

fritsie123 (author)2009-01-23

Those little PCB's for your bread board are commonly called "BreadOut" boards. For some other examples see:

Nice job on the InCircuit Programmer, by the way!

TheZuke! (author)fritsie1232015-08-14

The weblink is now longer valid.

PKM (author)fritsie1232009-01-23

Are the ones for inputs call InBread? /terrible pun Every time I see a project like this it makes me want to get my own breadboard/IC stuff and start hacking on electronics. Maybe a trip to Maplin is in order while it's still winter...

dreadengineer (author)PKM2009-02-08

I recommend for breadboards; they have one for $6 that is about half the size of the one in this instructable, and they can lock together to make bigger sizes. They're cheap enough that I usually just leave projects on them instead of transferring to a soldered breadboard. Here's a link to it:;jsessionid=CVZB6s0oXjB6nv7dFdydxg**.node3?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG

klee27x (author)dreadengineer2009-02-08

Yeah, I have one project that is permanently breadboarded. It covers an entire double breadboard, and I just don't want to redo it! For anything much smaller I usually like to solder something together. And by "like" I mean I actually enjoy soldering, for what it's worth.

If you go through a lot of these, you might wanna try these guys:

I just love this company. The customer service is excellent.

DavidRobertson (author)klee27x2010-07-06

Just out of curiosity, what is your residential solderless-breadboard project?

klee27x (author)klee27x2009-02-08

um, for some reason the link doesn't work. Enter "breadboard" into the search engine and you'll find it. Same thing for $4.95, as of 2/8/09. $3.95 per for 10 or more.

The Green Gentleman (author)2014-01-08

I am totally envious of your soldering skills.

When your fingers become immune to soldering burns, you can do a lot of impossible stuff. :) It is also immensely helpful to have the right tools.

1. Lead solder

2. Use acid flux where you need to. Zinc chloride plumbers flux. It must be washed thoroughly, because it's conductive and corrosive. But when you can't get the connections you want any other way, there's nothing to lose, is there?

3. Get yourself a fiberglass scratch brush for cleaning contacts/pads.

4. Pair of locking surgical forceps for holding things

5. Tweezers

6. Good lighting!

TheZuke! (author)klee27x2015-08-14

Corrosive is right! Decades ago I saw a VOM kit that had been assembled with acid core solder. Every trace on the PCB was green with corrosion!

lewis.powell2 (author)2015-01-13

i'd like to see a good way of connectung POTs to the breadboard. I'm starting to play around with guitar pedals, and i've managed to make something similar to the BEAVIS board, but having different POTs for each project, i dont want to have to hook wires around them every time and have them hanging off the board.

WilminC (author)2014-12-13

That circuit looks beautiful, I like how you cut your wires. The 5eBoard is a better solder-less solution for prototyping. You can place components anywhere you like kind of like Lego. Much neater and organized. Google "5eBoard."

churchjw made it! (author)2014-03-30

Made a set of the LEDs. One set with 220 ohm for 3 volt range. Painted them purple. The other set uses 470 ohm for 5 volt range. Painted them yellow so I could tell the different ones apart easily. Each part uses 2 LEDs one on each side. Painted the negative end black and the positive end red so orientation is easy. The aluminum block was used to hold the legs while soldering. Also made some push buttons like these. Really great post and great ideas. I had never tried surface mount components before and this was a great chance to try it. Thanks.

aamonster (author)2014-03-14

Nice tips.

About LED boards: I think it's a good idea to solder two LEDs (e.g. red and green) in opposite direction (so if you put them between 2 microcontroller pins you do not need extra line to ground). I'm going to make a few of such microboards for experiments with FPGA board (it have 2-rows pin headers - so it's easy to connect such a microboards with 2-pin female header without using breadboard and wires)

adennen (author)2014-01-02

great ideas thanks!

iceng (author)2013-09-25

Nice Tips

yaly (author)2013-09-06

use staples as jumpers, run thin wires in the groove in the middle of the breadboard (under DIP ICs), excellent ible !

Antzy Carmasaic (author)2013-09-04

The LEDs and pullup resistors are pure genius. I don't use buttons much usually. I know how daunting is the task of connecting those ICSP wires each time, so for ICSP with AVR(greetings from AVR universe to PIC universe), I made ArrDrownHo! (I have an instructable for that). Attaching the programmer to the breadboard was also great, but then I always prefer working with my latest and shiniest breadboards :)

azharz (author)2013-09-04

Thank you. Awesome tips and tricks!

Mrmorton103 (author)2013-08-14

Created an account just to tell you how much I love that "pluggable" LED/ componant tip.
Other good stuff too :)

klee27x (author)Mrmorton1032013-09-03

Thanks Mrmorton. Just be warned lest you consider making an instructable. It's completely addictive. The best part is the ease of adding little text boxes to the pics, and having them accessible online from any computer or phone. Sometimes I find myself referring back to my own instructables to figure out how to fix my own stuff. :)

dmanmoka (author)2012-09-30

Thanks gread idea...but whats the password for the video? :)

klee27x (author)dmanmoka2012-10-15

I changed the link. It should play without a password, now. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

TampaGeek (author)2011-11-20

Great stuff! But the link to your video for the LED "headers" doesn't work. :( It's asking for a password to a private Photobucket account. I'd really like to see how you did those.

tim127 (author)2011-08-27

what is the difference between a pullup resistor and a regular resistor

klee27x (author)tim1272011-08-30

"Pullup" is descriptive. I just means that the resistor is used to pull a high impedance input pin (that would otherwise be floating) to the power rail. The pullup/down resistor is quite commonly used, often for input pins or for open-drain outputs.

It would be impractical to try to make a set of resistors that would work for all your analog uses. There, you using a wide range of resistances which are often specifically tailored to produce exact voltages. But for the common pullup/down, 10k will pretty much work, anywhere.

axeman911 (author)2011-06-20

awesome really helpful thanx!

coleyy (author)2010-12-26

push the foam back in and tape or glue it

mummywan (author)2010-06-28

Hahaha.. Nice one! i've learned a lot! THANKS very much .

XylophonicMonkey (author)2009-10-22

Green stuff FTW!

Arduino Guy (author)2009-10-18

i dont think that tape alone will hold the small clips in the breadboard. shouldn't there  be more stuff to hold the clips? because there will be a drop because the foam is taken away and it probably it will be hard to insert wires.

klee27x (author)Arduino Guy2009-10-18

I dunno. I have used this type of breadboard without any backing at all, and have never inadvertently pushed out a clip.

I've intentionally removed clips, before. So I can tell you they are wedged in there pretty tight. You CAN push them out from the front, using a needle vice. But I bet you can't pop one out with a jumper wire (or a needle) using just your bare hands - meaning no pliers or thimble!

(If you ever really want to remove one, it's a lot easier to pry them out from the back using a small jeweler's screwdriver. :))

geeklord (author)2009-01-23

sheesh, i wihs my soldering was that nice...

klee27x (author)geeklord2009-01-23

Actually, anyone should be able to solder this well. My equipment is cheap and my technique is lazy. I use a crutch. I use zinc chloride flux wherever I can get away with it. This is regular old plumber's flux... acid-core stuff that's traditionally a no-no for electrical work. It produces weak hydrochloric acid when heated. This means it is corrosive to ferrous metals, but it's fine for copper and solder.

Using this strong flux, I can get away with bad soldering techniques, like picking up a blob of solder and transferring it to the fluxed joint. And things that would normally take 4 hands can be done with just 3.

The main thing to watch out for is that it's conductive when wet. If you use too much and leave excess residue on your circuit, it will cause problems if it gets wet (and it's somewhat hygroscopic to make matters worse). Luckily, it's water soluble, so it's usually pretty easy to wash off when you overdo it. But you have to take care not to get too much of it underneath smd parts, or it might be impossible to get to.

I use a small syringe or the tip of a broken Q tip to apply it sparingly. When working on ferrous metals, I wipe them with a damp cloth immediately afterwards.

geeklord (author)klee27x2009-01-24

ok, i don't even use flux. Does it help that much?

Plasmana (author)geeklord2009-01-24

I use solder with an flux core, I am quite surprised that is it unsuitable for electronic work!

klee27x (author)Plasmana2009-01-24

There are different kinds of flux. Rosin flux is the most common one for electronics work. It leaves a sticky residue which is noncorrosive and nonconductive. But the active acid is abeitic acid, which is very weak. It works only on copper that's pretty clean to begin with and doesn't work at all on many other metals. There is a spectrum of available soldering fluxes for electrical work which have a combination of fluxes. The more aggressive ones have more "activated flux" vs rosin flux. Zinc chloride happens to be an one of the activated fluxes that is used in some electrical solder. They just don't add very much and combine it with other fluxes. So I guess that's what I'm doing. I use rosin-core flux and add a dot of zinc chloride where I know it'll help... which is practically everywhere.

klee27x (author)klee27x2009-01-24

The other thing is that fluxes are quickly dried out when touched by your soldering iron. So by placing flux on the joint, not inside the solder itself, you gain the ability to bring a blob of solder to the joint with the tip of the iron. The dried out solder is instantly revitalized by the flux at the joint.

Plasmana (author)klee27x2009-01-25

Wow, it sounds like strong flux makes job easier... With the strong flux, is it possible to solder onto aluminum and/or iron? Also, where can I find strong flux?

klee27x (author)Plasmana2009-01-25

No to aluminum. Iron and steel are a yes. You can easily solder to battery cases, nails, screws, etc. You can also do weak structural soldering with a torch, although it is very weak compared to brazing. And remember to wash your joints promptly when using acid-core flux on ferrous metals. You can buy zinc chloride flux in a white hocky-puck looking container at home improvement stores next to the propane torches. If it dries out, add some water and stir it with a wooden stick. A supply of tooth picks or wooden Q tips is the best applicator. You do not want to smear it across an entire row of connections like other electrical fluxes. You want to just dot each pad/trace. A small plastic syringe is also handy - one with large tip so you can stick component leads right or small wires right into the end.

Plasmana (author)klee27x2009-01-28

Okay, thank you for telling me all of this useful information! I will try find the flux for a easier life on soldering! :-)

Also, why solder don't stick to aluminum? Is it because of its strong oxide layer?

klee27x (author)Plasmana2009-01-29

No, it's because solder doesn't stick to aluminum, oxidized or not. You're welcome. Just don't complain to me if you use it to solder a bunch of 0603 1Mohm smd resistors and it screws up your circuit. Use some common sense where you apply it. DIP stuff and low impedance smd stuff, only. :P

przemek (author)klee27x2009-10-01

> No, it's because solder doesn't stick to aluminum, oxidized or not. Well, me and Mother Nature disagree :) Drop by my pad and I'll show you my aluminum solder joints, done by the under-oil technique. For instance I soldered a light switch to a bendable aluminum low voltage lighting track, so that the switch is integrated with the fixture.

ste5442 (author)klee27x2009-01-31

Yes, I've used conductive flux by accident in the past - you end up with a 1Mohm/sq inch conductive blanket over everything!
Nothing a bit of IPA can't remove though ;-)

PCB Police Electronics Forum - Try our competition!

przemek (author)Plasmana2009-02-01

Yes, the trouble with soldering Aluminum is that it forms a continuous Al2O3 layer, which reforms very quickly in air so you can't just scratch it off and solder. Here's a nice trick to defeat it though: put a drop of light oil (motor oil, sewing machine lubricating oil) and scratch the surface 'underwater' with a dental pick or scalpel. When it is nicely worked up, bring in a healthy blob of molten solder straight from a hot soldering iron tip, and rub it in vigorously under the oil puddle.

Plasmana (author)przemek2009-02-04

Hmm, I might give that a go...

geeklord (author)klee27x2009-01-25

Sweet, that would be handy.

klee27x (author)geeklord2009-01-24

In a word, "yes." In 2 words, "zomg, yes."

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