Author Options:

What do I need to start getting into electronics? Answered

I saw an instructable on here for an 8x8x8 LED cube, and was completely inspired. When I was younger (I'm 19) I built a few things out of those snap-together electronics kits, but nothing involving a soldering iron or a breadboard. I've bought myself a breadboard and a few little pieces to try to start out, but I know I need more--and I'm not totally sure what. On my list is a soldering iron (I have one but it's a piece of junk), red/black wire, a multimeter, and an assortment of resistors, and an arduino, but past that I still feel like I'm missing something vital. My current project list is:

A 4x4x4 LED cube (just so I can know the fundamentals before jumping into an 8x8x8)
A stereo (I have 2 car speakers that are just laying around, I'm hoping to turn them into something useful)
Touching up my benchtop power supply (I built one out of a computer PSU but it looks.... not good)
A high-power LED flashlight (my mom is into photography and saw a post about using an LED for an improv light source--the pictures turned out great, so I want to build one that has enough brightness to be used in a real photoshoot)
An LED visualizer (This is one of the more daunting ideas I've had, I realize programming will be a bit difficult... I was hoping to use RGB LEDs and a microcontroller to handle the logic)

I have a bit of experience in coding, nothing too impressive, but enough where I feel that I can grasp at least the programming of an Arduino (which so far looks user friendly and relatively simple [to me]), and on top of that I've been into computers and done a bit of tinkering with electronics before and so I know the basics of resistors (and LEDs together), capacitors, relays etc. Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)


The forums are retiring in 2021 and are now closed for new topics and comments.

9 years ago

If you have the money to invest, purchase a real soldering iron. Even Weller has a unit that's under $100 that's a reasonable starting point. Do not buy a pencil wand with a cord hanging off the end that plugs into the wall.

Buy both thin and normal width solder. By thin, I mean ~30-40ga. This will come in very handy when you encounter SMT components.

Buy another breadboard. In fact, by a few. circuits can get large pretty fast. I have about a dozen, and I've filled them in the past.

Buy plenty of 20ga solid core wire in at least 5 colors if not the full rainbow (blk, brn, red, org, yel, grn, blu, vio, gry)

Purchase a roll of good quality silvered wire wrap wire. I can't even begin to explain how handy that will come in from time to time, whether for minute repairs or other purposes.

this will be useful for making your own jumpers for the breadboard.

Buy a resistor kit or two they have a variety of resistors in various values.

Get a decent pair of nippers. Get a decent pair of skinny needle nosed pliers

Purchase a resistor bender guide. They are very handy when using perfboard construction. The one I favor looks a bit like a venier caliper, and it's "noses" fit into the holes the componet with fit thru. One then locks the venier into place, places the component against the guides, and bends. no fuss no muss

If when you become serious (or even before) buy a decent textbook like The Art of Electronics. Even a very old copy is worth its weight in gold.

Memorize the resistor color code.

Find, purchase, or build a lighted magnifier. Soldering and desoldering small items become far easier when you have the ability to see.

Purchase a board holder and a small desk vise.

Purchase desoldering braid. Make sure that its fine braid and keep it dry and packed into a plastic bag when not in use

Purchase a solder sponge and keep your soldering tip clean at all times.

purchase a bottle of good quality alcohol for cleaning and some q-tips to go along with it. (de-fluxing solder joints is a good thing to do in many cases, if not all...)

that's all for now, gotta go back to work

shire lad
shire lad

9 years ago

another tip: start simple and stick to what you know before moving on to bigger projects to give time to fine tune your skills and reduce failure. if you fail at first you may not feel like carrying on. oh and patience is key so dont expect your fancy wires to be singing and dancing in the first five minuits.


9 years ago

Primarily you need some understanding of what you are doing.

A good primer book with some experiments in it to consolidate the knowledge is useful and read read read about electronics.

If you get it right in your head and can understand what is happening then translating it to reality is fairly easy.

For speed I like bread board

For cost I like the on screen simulations

(crocodile clips for example - http://www.crocodile-clips.com/)

although they do have an initial start up cost and not everything simulated on screed actually works in the real world without further work.


9 years ago

It took me a long time to understand that a transformer could only work on AC.
I bring this up since  you didn't.
Another xfmr ( transformer ) rule of thumb is Secondary Volts times Amps (VA)
is almost equal to Primary VA.
The cheap low cost xfmrs you buy at the local shack that get too hot to hold
because they are short on iron and copper, explains why almost but not equal.
Anyway heat from I2R losses and magnetizing reactance are some of the factors that you may need to learn about if electrical engineering appeals to
you..................  A


9 years ago

Be sure to buy a DIGITAL multimeter, not an old analog one. The analog ones must be used properly or you will burn it out. If you measure a voltage but the meter is set to OHMS, then the analog meter will very likely burn out instantly. The digital ones are much more forgiving of this type of mistake. Also, you must have some kind of solder iron HOLDER for safety and fire prevention. Be sure everyone in your house KNOWS what a soldering iron is. My wife one time came in my bench area and picked up my soldering iron by the HOT END and asked me "What is this?" Luckily, it was not plugged in, or she would have been badly burnt!

You will need a work area. An old table in the corner of a room, be sure it has GOOD lighting and ac outlets.


9 years ago

If you plan on soldering:

Soldering iron -- 25W pencil-style will do the job, if you don't feel like springing for one of the temperature-controlled irons. (I haven't felt I had to.)

Soldering iron tip-cleaning sponge (cheap and I consider it worthwhile).


Hookup wire. Can be the same gauge you're using with your solderless breadboard.

Electronics perfboard. Easiest way to lay out components when doing point-to-point wiring.

A solder sucker and/or soldering wick. You *will* have to unsolder something, at some point.

Wire stripper (doesn't have to be fancy).

Small diagonal cutters (permits trimming excess leads in tight spots).

Small needle-nose pliers are useful for shaping leads.

Soldering heat-sinks are useful for protecting heat-sensitive components, especially for beginners.

Multimeter -- VERY useful when trying to figure out why a circuit isn't doing what you expected.

A "third hand" jig (make or buy) can be useful, but it's usually possible to kluge something if needed.

Parts: As needed for the project at hand. I wouldn't bother stocking up unless you _know_ you're going to be doing a series of similar projects and aren't patient enough to order (or organized enough to order one project ahead). If you've done the design right, you shouldn't have to do much experimenting.