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Where do I start with Electronics? Answered

Hello everyone, I'm a sophomore in Electrical Engineering and I have only really taken one EE class so far. We used a breadboard to do some very basic logic circuits, but nothing past that really. We also did some work on MultiSim, but that was about the extent of our lab work. I've been viewing this site regularly for quite a while now, but I haven't been able to do many of the projects because I felt like I didn't really have any experience. I'm at the point now where I feel like I should just jump in and start learning, but I'm not sure what tools I need to start out. It seems like every instructable has tools such as soldering irons, solder, wire cutters/strippers, and other tools required. Can anyone let me know what is a base set of tools I need to do some of the basic electronics projects on this site? I'm talking about simple LED projects or anything for a beginner really. Would it be beneficial to buy a bread board of some type to practice wiring? I've seen kits in places like Radio Shack that came with a bread board and other items that said it had something like 100 projects or something like that. Would that be something good to start with, or would it be a waste? So if anyone could provide some links for basic tools needed, I would appreciate it.

9 Replies

creid (author)2009-09-12

Good lists here. I would suggest - in order

1.A book on Components. I got one from radioshack Years ago i wish i still had. It explained every component you can think of (some Weird ones) and had every electronic equation you can think of.

2. cheap breadboard - you can get little ones for $5 at electronic goldime etc
3. $5 soldering iron - use it to salvage components off old stuff
4. leds, resistors,capacitor assortments. Most of the stuff that looks neat will use leds. 555 timer ic's as well.
5 voltmeter - a $5 harbor freigh one will work.. usually. It will be inaccurate. I have about 4 and a good old analog one. I end up using the analog one all the time. Wish i had the money for a fluke

6. An arduino. Digital electronics imho is less complex, more fun , more capable and easier to learn than analog. Give a 12 year old an arduino and a week he'll be doing things that blow his parents mind they're awesome.

>>MULTISIM<< if there *cough* any way you can get ahold of it. It will let you try circuits in software and figure out what they do. Plus will give you access to equipment you will never own.

Once youve done all that and know the basics upgrade. Make some cupric chloride etchant and learn to make pcb's. (buy copper clad in bulk off ebay).

Then:: Cheap oscilloscope off ebay. You will never ever regret buying an oscilloscope you can use them for things you wouldnt believe.
Good soldering station or rework station (im debating a rework now)
Good multimeter- a fluke etc (i want i want!).

The list is endless from there. Toaster ovens for reflow. Hot air guns for component recovery. Entire setups to bust out pcb's. IT all depends on your budget.

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westfw (author)2008-08-28

Let's see...

An Electronics/EE "formal education" generally starts with physics and basic circuit elements, which are analyzed and combined in increasingly complex combination until you get something useful.

An Electronics "Hobby" generally starts by building kits and published circuits, which can be gradually augmented, analyzed and (eventually) understood on a sort of "as needed" basis.

No wonder there is such confusion on where to start!

You could do a lot worse than to start with a simple microcontroller "thing" (like an arduino) that can be understood and can DO things "above" the electronics level, and dig down into electronics starting from "up there." And for that, Lady Ada's (Limor Fried's) Learning Electronics with Arduino is a pretty good place to start.

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Kiteman (author)2008-08-28

I don't do much electronic work, but all the tools I use are:

Cheap soldering iron (which came with a desoldering suckie thing)
Helping hands
Wire cutters.

For components, I either buy what I need, or bodge with stuff I've pulled out of old electronics that other people dump on me give me.

Oh, I also occasionally borrow a multimeter from school.

(I have found that you don't need to "know" electronics to do the better-written ibles. As long as you can use a soldering iron with enough skill not to burn holes in your fingernails, you can be successful.)

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whatsisface (author)2008-08-28

In "Hacking the Xbox: A guide to reverse engineering" there is a list of basic tools you'll need to get into electronics as a hobbyist. These include a cheap soldering iron of ~30 watts, nothing too fancy. Alo recommended are some flux core solder, a flux pen, a cheap multimeter with voltage, current and resistance capabilities, some desoldering wick and a desoldering pump.

I'd also reccommend buying a breadboard for yourself, some needle nose pliers (for bending component legs) some small screwdrivers and a "Third hand", which can be a great aid when soldering.

As for where to buy, some good websites are listed below, try to avoid Radioshack as they are very expensive






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CameronSS (author)2008-08-28

Someone ought to do an Instructable on getting started in electronics, unless there is one already that my searches didn't find. I'm not calling dibs, I don't have time to do any Instructables right now.

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guyfrom7up (author)2008-08-27

Tools NEEDED: Soldering iron (30 watt, I recomend a good temperature controlled one, cause if you get a cheap radioshack one now you'll realize you just wasted your money) Solder (Lead solder is fine and recomended for hobbyiests, it's easier to use than lead-free solder. Fret not, it won't kill you) A sponge for the soldering iron needle nose pliers or tweezers (they cost like a dollar) Multimeter(I recomend the ones that can read: Volts, Amps, Resistance (Ohms), hfe (transistors), continuity, and test diodes. Stuff I reccomend, but not neccesary: A BIG breadboard, you will soon see you can't do much on tiny bread boards nippy cutters (like normal wire cutters but you can cut really close to pcbs and stuff) a roll of bare 22 gauge wire, it's handy for jumpers a powersupply, I modded a computer powersupply, many instructables on that heatshrink, makes it all look good and safe Components: I'd just recomend getting resistor (1/4 watt) and capacitor (ceramic) assortments. electrolyctic capacitors are really easy to salvage, and assortments are kinda expensive. Potentiometers are useful, but I usually get them on a need to be basis led assortments, they're cheap and have a ton of leds Buy most of the stuff online at surplus stores such as electronic goldmine, it's wayyy cheaper than radioshack. Only thing I don't like is the shipping ;( anoher great electronic surplus store is "all electronics". Pardon all of the spelling errors, I just got back from germany (wooooo) and I'm tired

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treg (author)guyfrom7up2008-08-28

>Soldering iron (30 watt, I recomend a good temperature controlled one, cause if you get a cheap radioshack one now you'll realize you just wasted your money) Mmm, i would not go that way. I would suggest that you buy a very cheap one or borrow one from a friend who do not use it. Then you'll learn to use it, you'll learn what you like / do not like with it, you will learn how to stop hurting him (touching power cable with the hot iron, making it fall, ...). also get a 20W one, you'll loose a few time, but I think it is better to begin. Later, you wan choose if you buy a very good fixed power one (30-40 euros here), or buy a soldering station with temperature control. I'd do the same with the multimeter. Before you start doing "usefull" things, I'd really suggest that you have a look at any free course online about resistors, condensators, and diod / leds. Once you understand what are ampers, volts, and watt, and you can do the math to calculate them, make the test on a breadboard and verify with your multimeter, then you'll have more fun building all the leds based instructables. Then you should learn transistors, then you'll have to choose if you go to microcontroller and start coding, or stay with bare component (analogique or boolean). Anyway, don't forget that learning is fun, once you have finish the project, it is often really boring :D

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westfw (author)2008-08-27

For experimenting, I'd put a personal breadboard above a personal soldering iron. There are probably soldering irons around your school that you can use.

I second the multimeter. There are really cheap multimeters that are fine for most purposes.

And yes, you should just "jump in." Buy and put together kits to learn basic soldering skills, plus what the parts look like. But pay attention to the sections that explain how they work. Haunt the dumpsters near the labs for neat things to take apart. Build some "easy" projects on the breadboard before you try something hard. Blinky lights are fun. Make a joule thief. Find some other "white LED from single cell" circuits on the net and build those. Build a flasher with a couple transistors. Build a flasher with a 555. Build a chaser with a 555 and a 4017... etc, etc... Just do it!

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caitlinsdad (author)2008-08-27

I would add a nice-solder-sucker tool and a nice desk lamp/magnifying lamp to work with and search here for those alligator clip 3rd hand holder things. For practical experience, no better way than to start taking apart things. Desolder a broken radio to scavenge parts. Make an extention cable for your headphones or rewire the speakers to an external one by adding a jack. Even rewire a lamp to get the feel for stripping wires. Rewire your house, biggest circuit there is. That will teach you safety. It does seem in school most everything is theoretical and not really hands-on. Find old toys or cheap throwaway electronics to hack. Have fun.

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