10 DIY Alternatives to Off-The-Shelf Electronics Components

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About: I am a Canadian electronics hobbyist turned electronics student. I enjoy building all kinds of cool projects!

Welcome to my first ever instructable!

Do you feel that certain parts from online retailers are too expensive or of low quality?

Need to get a prototype up and running quickly and can't wait weeks for shipping?

No local electronics distributors?

The following is a list of 10 Do-It-Yourself alternatives to common electronics supplies and components that can be made with access to any hardware store. Some of these may be obvious but hopefully you learn at least one new trick!

Step 1: Inexpensive Breadboard Wire

If you're in a pinch and need some 22 American Wire Gauge solid core wire, telephone cable is an inexpensive and plentiful supply. Peel back the jacket to reveal 4 22 AWG copper wires that fit nicely into a breadboard. I paid 50 cents per meter at my local hardware store.

Step 2: 9 Volt Battery Clip

Commercial 9 volt battery clips are available, but you can make your own. Take a dead battery apart to liberate the top and bottom tabs. Solder wires to each tab making note of polarity, and you've created your own battery holder.

Note: please wear gloves and safety glasses and have a fire extinguisher on hand.

Step 3: Alligator Clips

Alligator clips are a useful tool for electronics work, but the commercially available ones are somewhat unreliable due to thin wire and poor contact between the wire and clip. Make your own using beefier clips and thicker wire. Strip about 2 cm or 3/4 inch of insulation from the wire and fold the stripped portion in half. Crimp the alligator clip onto the wire. Cover the connection with heat-shrink tube for extra style points. You can see the difference this makes in the resistance of the leads.

Step 4: Soldering Stand

If your soldering iron came with a tiny little bent piece of metal to be used as a stand, look no further than the recycle bin for the solution. Use a piece of scrap plywood as the base, glue on an Altoids tin and a cut-off soup can, and fashion a stand by bending a coat hanger around the iron. Drill 2 hole in the base and glue in the stand. You won't win any beauty contests with this stand but it is functional and very low cost.

Step 5: Fuse Holder

If you're looking to incorporate over-current protection into your project but want something cheaper and easier than mounting a glass fuse onto a printed circuit board, you can use an automotive fuse and two crimp-on terminal connectors. Both the red and blue ones will work so use whichever is needed for your wire gauge. Fuse holder here in Canada are are quite expensive, so this method can really save you some money.

Step 6: PCB Stand-offs

Brass PCB stand-offs can really help to make your projects look well-polished and professional, but when you're in a pinch, you can make your own using only screws and nuts. If more height is required, slide a plastic tube over the screw. The plastic tubing can be anything you have on hand including straws or pen tubes.

Note: be careful not to touch any components on the board with the screws. This could energize the stand-off which would be especially bad with a metal enclosure.

Step 7: Heat Sinks

If you often need heat sinks in your projects, you can create your own custom ones inexpensively. I purchased 4 feet of this aluminum trim for only $6 at my local hardware store. I cut it using a simple miter box and hack saw but you can use any power tools you may have. I placed a TO-220 package voltage regulator on the aluminum and marked the hole with a marker. I first drilled a tiny hole and got progressively larger until I got the right size. I then fastened the regulator to the heat sink with a screw and nut.

Step 8: Power Supply

If you're new to electronics, you may not necessarily have a fancy variable lab power supply, but you still have options. AC (Alternating Current) adapters, wall-warts, AC-DC (Direct Current) converters, or whatever you call them can be repurposed from old appliances. They are also a great way to avoid mains power if you are not confident using it.

Understanding AC adapter labels:

Input - This is what is coming out of the wall. It should match what you use in your county. For example, here in Canada we use 120 volts at 60 Hertz. This varies from country to country so make sure the adapter matches what you're using.

Output - This is what will come out of the adapter. This will usually be DC, but be careful because you may come across the odd AC to AC adapter. Check the label. The voltage written on the adapter will be the voltage coming from the positive wire of the adapter. You will want this to be the same as what you need for your project. The current written on the adapter is not necessarily the current that it will output. It is the maximum current that the adapter is able to output. You will want this to be equal to or greater than the current you need for your project.

To find out which wire is positive and which is negative, cut off the plug, strip each wire, and with your multimeter set to DC volts, connect the red lead of your meter to one wire and the black to the other. If your meter displays a positive voltage, you know that the wire connected to the red lead is positive. If your meter displays a negative voltage, you know that the wire connected to the black lead is positive.

Example:

I am making an overhead lighting system for my workbench. I want to connect 3 dollar store flashlights in parallel and power them using an AC adapter so that I don't have to keep buying batteries for them. I see that each flashlight runs on 3 1.5 volt AA cells connected in series, so I know that I must supply at least 4.5 volts to each flashlight. I checked the current consumption of each flashlight and found it to be about 100 milliamps. From this, I know that I should select an adapter that supplies 4.5 volts and at the very least, 300 milliamps.

(I actually used a 5 volt, 2 amp adapter. I used 5 volts instead of 4.5 volts because fresh batteries are actually about 1.6 volts or so. For more information on this, look up the "discharge curve" of a battery.)

Step 9: Project Enclosure

Sure, you could go and buy a plastic enclosure from the internet or 3d print one. Or make one out of an old sewer pipe! OK, I do recommend using a NEW sewer pipe for this. I picked up this 8 foot section of 4 inch diameter pipe and my local hardware store for under $10.

You will need PVC pipe, a heatgun, some scrap wood, gloves, safety glasses and a saw.

The idea here is to heat the pipe with a heat gun until it becomes soft and pliable, then press it into shape using pieces of wood. When first starting to flatten the pipe, it is helpful to use a 2x4 as pictured above to hold the pipe open as you heat it. Once you get it open, you can flatten it by placing a piece of wood on top and sitting on it. The 90 degree bends are achieved by heating the PVC only along the line you wish to bend, and then pressing it into shape between the 2x4s. It is helpful to clamp one of the 2x4s to the workbench for this.

Once your lid and base are created, it is just a matter of trimming away excess material until they fit together nicely. I used a hack saw for this. I fitted the pieces with brackets and self tapping screws out of a junk drawer and screwed the finished assembly together.

Pro tip: PVC will shatter if you use a saw with a low tooth count. The last image is the result of using a 32 tooth blade on a miter saw. I switched to a ~70 tooth blade and had no problems afterwards. Whenever you're using a miter saw, keep your hands well out of the path of the blade and be prepared for "kickback."

Step 10: PCB Vise

A PCB vise is a handy tool when soldering in volume. When you're only soldering a single project or prototype, an arrangement of clamps as shown can hold your work for you. A bit of Plasticine can hold individual components onto the PCB when you need access to the underside.

Step 11: Done!

Do you know of any other ways to re-purpose items into electronics components? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments. Also, if you learned something new from this instructable, please consider giving me a vote for the contest.

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    24 Discussions

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    indoorgeek

    16 days ago

    Great Instructable!

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    demosthien

    18 days ago

    Great Instructable, lots of really useful information. And, as others have already said, they’re actual tips/tricks so you’ve got my vote!

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    billbillt

    26 days ago

    GREAT IDEAS!.....

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    LisaW270

    27 days ago

    Excellent stuff, thank you.

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    TonK5

    Tip 4 weeks ago

    Good work, tip, in case you need a dummy load to test a high power amplifier without the ambition to upset the neighbours, you may try modifying a hot air heater which is often found cheaply at a charity shop. Use screwable connectors and make sections of 4Ohm, 8Ohm etc. by cutting the heater wire and using screw clamps. Added bonus, it comes with a fan to cool the heater wires down since they will get hot when testing i.e. 100 Watt amps. for that you just have to use the existing fan and mains wiring and switch. I suggest to extra isolate the mains portion (hot melt and plastic) to avoid the amplifier load portion to make contact with the mains i.e. when the loadbox accidentally drops...

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    kenfillups

    4 weeks ago

    Very well done. If this is, as you said, your first, I look forward to more from you. I also like de- assembling old electronics for through-the-hole components. If you do, remember to test any electrolytic capacitors. I have also noted that most charity thrift stores will have small bins of "wall worts" for a very low price, often under a $1.00 US; a great source of power supplies. Always test everything and be safe. A shorted wall wort could put 120 volts AC or 240 volts AC from utility (mains) on the output wires.

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    BuddyMartn

    4 weeks ago on Step 9

    “Recommend NEW Sewer Pipe for enclosures”... :-) Ha! That’s so funny! If you don’t, don’t be putting your fingers in your mouth... :-) So sorry, had to comment, this is so true but it just struck me as being so funny! Never tried this PVC bending but is a great idea!

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    Trancified

    4 weeks ago

    All excellent tips. I have even done the soldering station one before. One thing about the PVC, when you are heating it, make sure it is outside with plenty of ventilation. Don't need to be breathing in VOCs.

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    throbscottle

    4 weeks ago

    Great idea with the PVC pipe. I never thought of re-forming it before. I've done the trick the the PP3 battery connector years ago, it's a really good idea. I'm also a big fan of re-using wires. Old CAT5 cable is also good for breadboards. You actually get a better connection if you use the stranded sort though. You can strip old multi-core cable for hook-up wire too.
    I don't like using non-insulated croc clips because they tend to short too easily. You can improve the connection on the bought leads though by soldering the connection or even just crimping it a bit tighter.
    Nice and useful information though - keep on experimenting!

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    JamesA41

    4 weeks ago

    Awesome resourceful inspiration. Thanks for the idea with PVC... never thought of that. For heat sinks recycling video card or CPU ones seems handy also even if you cut them like you did. That is one of the items I find in free CRT's also though are more in the design like yours. Thanks again.

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    privatier

    4 weeks ago

    Using PVC pipe material for enclosures is a marvellous idea.
    I have used the sheet metal from discarded microwave oven or desktop computer enclosures for some of my projects; it has already a nice finish.

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    misterxp

    4 weeks ago

    Nice one. I already do a couple of your tips but others not. got my vote because you promote recycle!

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    Aaaecm

    4 weeks ago

    Great Instructable! I’m like to make things myself. It helps me understand my tools better. I am removing installed land telephone lines from my house. I may never run out of bread board wire. Thanks.

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    JohnC430

    4 weeks ago

    Thank you. Thank you.Thank you.
    I am making a couple of electronics projects that require enclosures. I could not fine the shape and size I need and the nearest one to what i need costs US$10. This will save me buying and making do with a misfit size and high cost.
    I have a bench power supply which puts out 5V at 0.5A and I definitely need more current. I have several 'wall warts' with 2 to 5 Amp outputs and have never given them any thought... So that's another idea I want to thank you for.

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    ianuzzi

    4 weeks ago

    Love the fuse holders! Even with the commercially available ones, it’s hard to find exactly the right geometry for DIY projects, and this solves that problem.

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    cobourgdave

    4 weeks ago

    Excellent instructable. Never thought to try your project container; really inventive.

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    olihart

    4 weeks ago

    Hadn't considered re-purposing old 9V batteries as battery connectors by flipping them round. Nice!

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    red_gear

    4 weeks ago

    nice post! you got my vote..

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    DonS89

    4 weeks ago

    Excellent post! As RobC said above this really is actual tips and tricks. Over the years I have collected wall warts at yard sales (best deal was 16 in a bag for $1). Then I mark the volts and amps on the side with white paint and store them in order of voltage - maybe I should write an I'ble.