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Where To Start In DIY Electronics? 301

pyrosine writes "I've been thinking about this for a while and have no idea where to start. I have little or no previous experience in electronics — just what is covered in GCSE physics (wiring a plug and resistors — not much, I know). The majority of my interest lies in the wireless communication side of the field — i.e. ham radios and CB — but I am also interested in how many things work, one example being speakers, simply to better understand it. I would preferably like to start with some form of practical guide rather than learning the theory first, but where I would find such a walkthrough eludes me."
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Where To Start In DIY Electronics?

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  • Forrest Mims (Score:5, Informative)

    by ( 463190 ) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:36PM (#31822946) Homepage
    Gettng Started in Electronics [] . It takes you through everything from basic soldering to building logic circuits, oscillators, amplifiers. His "mini notebooks" are great too.

    Once you have the basics down you will probably want to get into microcontrollers. There are a lot of ways to go here depending on how much time you want to spend wiring things up yourself, and your comfort level with software. You might start with the very popular PIC. Although the architecture is a bit long in the tooth and is a poor target for C, there loads of example projects for it so it's easy to learn. There are also many high-level building blocks (Basic stamp etc) that can get you up and running quickly. If you have sophisticated software needs, you'll want a more modern micro with better tools - check out Atmel or TI.

    Eventually you will need a more formal treatment if you want to design your own circuits. I consider The Art of Electronics [] to be the bible here - it is thorough but also very practical and you will find it has specific solutions for many everyday engineering problems. It has been a great investment, and one of the better worn books on my shelf. Have fun!

    • by maxrate ( 886773 )
      I was about to leave a comment saying "Getting Started in Eletronics" - you beat me to it. Best thing I could ever recommend to anyone just starting out. Amazing book. My book was getting old so I scanned all the pages into a PDF, only to find on BitTorrent that someone beat me to it!!!
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I started with a marine radio receiver kit from HeathKit. Don't know if they are available anymore, but it was more engrossing than a book would have been. After that project I was able to approach the written material with some context for understanding. I guess it depends on what sort of learning method appeals to the poster.

    • Re:Forrest Mims (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:43PM (#31823050)

      Art of Electronics is a good book. I am an EE and I have it and would replace it if stolen.

      I probably wouldn't replace the other one if I owned it and it was stolen.

      • Art of electronics (Score:3, Interesting)

        by olman ( 127310 )

        It's a nice reference. Once in a while you just have to get right back to the basics and remind yourself how some common BJT circuits such as current mirrors work. Ditto with basic opamp circuits.

        Depending what's understood with "electronics" it's big and sprawling subject with many sub-disciplines. You can get into EMI quagmire and never really come out of it, for example.

        I was interviewed with one company where "cad heads" and designers are quite separate with layout designers being the less appreciated j

    • Re:Forrest Mims (Score:5, Informative)

      by Curtman ( 556920 ) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:46PM (#31823100)

      You might start with the very popular PIC. Although the architecture is a bit long in the tooth and is a poor target for C, there loads of example projects for it so it's easy to learn. There are also many high-level building blocks (Basic stamp etc) that can get you up and running quickly.

      I would highly recommend the Arduino [] to beginners. It's a great target for C, and there's loads of example projects for it too. Seeed Studio [] has been a great resource for me, especially the store, and the forum. #arduino on Freenode is popular and very helpful too.

      • by mirix ( 1649853 )

        I'd skip the gimmicky arduino stuff, and get:

        Atmel STK500 link [] ($80 at digikey)
        A handful of AVRs.. a bunch of small cheap ones (atmega48p, attiny45), a few of more expensive ones with a lot of pins (atmega16/164).

        AVR-GCC (in repos for most debian based stuff, i'm sure you can get it for all the *nixen though)
        WIN-AVR is the windows port link []

        all GPL.. groovy.

        Under windows, STK500 will program with the free "AVR studio" from atmel,
        under linux I find avrdude to be the best.

        Guess this is all moot though, cause t

        • by mirix ( 1649853 )

          Forgot to mention:
          here's the site for the avr-libc (erm.. as stdlib is to gcc, this is to avr-gcc).
          link []

          Bunch of examples about how to use the library for ADC, UART, STDIO, SPI, I2C, standard LCD displays, etc.

          AVRfreaks [] is a great resource too, forums, plenty of projects posted, AVR chip comparison area, etc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          An important point about AVRs and why you might want to use them instead of a PIC. The development environment for AVRs is a lot better, mostly because they are so easy to set up with in-circuit programming. You just get a programmer (£10) and put a header on your board, after which you can update code in seconds. It's really really helpful being able to get immediate results to code changes.

          I'd also look for a cheap second hand oscilloscope. It will help immensely when trying to understand any kind o

    • I heartily second this recomendation. This is the best guide I've found for lab electronics. I was a lab manager in a low temp fluid dynamics lab while a graduate student and I used to hand out my spare copy (yes, it's that good.) on a regular basis. Bunches of Phd Physics folk have been trained from this book.

    • Re:Forrest Mims (Score:5, Informative)

      by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:58PM (#31823266) Journal

      I can second almost everything that you say.

      1. Forest M. Mimms III books are fantastic.

      2. The PicStart1 kit is very good, with excellent Linux support. The PIC datasheets are very thorough and contain all the information you need. This makes using PICs really rather covenient.

      3. The art of electronics is a truly excellent book. Amusingly, in the first edition, it points to the now venerable 741 op-amp as being obsolete. It is still going strong to this day.

      4. Designing your own analogue circuits is hard. Designing your own RF circuits is very hard. It is about 70% theory and 65% black magic, along with about 10% blind luck. However you can start from existing designs. Build them to get practise then start modifying them.

      5. Transmission line transformers are deeply strange.

      Based on the OP's use of the term "GCSE", I assume that he is English. So: Find your local Maplin. They are very handy, since you can often pick up parts from the store, reducing the latency for project building if you forget to buy the right parts. Farnell and RS are handy places to mail-order from.

      I also recommend getting a solderless breadboard, a DC power supply (a cheap wall-wart will do, as will 6V lantern batteries), a small tube of 741s and 555s, 100 resistor reels of: 100R, 1K, 10K, 100K and 1M resistors, a big bag of misc. caps, a reel of red and a reel of black single core wire, a multimeter, a bag of LEDs and a bag of small-signal transistors (eg 2N2222). That will do you for many of the things in (1) above.

      • When I was a kid, I got the catalogue every year and read it like a book lol.

        But where does one go in Canada for such non-mail-order goodness?

      • by inKubus ( 199753 )

        Check out back issues of Electronics Now and Popular Electronics magazines. The articles [] are detailed and fun. Unfortunately they went out of business. However, there are still a few mags out there, such as Everyday Practical Electronics [].

        A good way to get some chops is to build some kits. By far the best is Ramsey Electronics []. I also like Information Unlimited []; they have a lot of high-voltage and other stuff. Quite an amusing website if you dig around.

        Set up an area, because most anything you do will

    • by richardkelleher ( 1184251 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:52PM (#31824038) Homepage

      I concur on The Art of Electronics. It contains most of the information I received in two+ years of Electrical Engineering classes. It starts out slow with the basics, this is a resistor, this is a capacitor, this is an inductor and the like. Scanning through my (now 21 year old) second edition, about the only area it doesn't cover that I got in school is power, but then power is not electronics.

      If you are not interested in getting an engineering degree to do some DIY electronics, I'd suggest two places to start: 1. Make: magazine. Regular articles on electronic control circuits with some good information on how they work. (and many other great things I might add) 2. The Encyclopedia of Electronic Circuits, Rudolf F. Graf. (now called Volume 1, since they put out 6 more over the years) It has almost 100 simple to complex circuits with descriptions of what they do, but not much about how. To get the how, get The Art of Electronics and plan on reading a lot of the first 100 pages and then using it for a reference each time you try to decipher what some circuit is doing.

    • Re:Forrest Mims (Score:5, Informative)

      by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:04PM (#31825592)

      Gettng Started in Electronics []

      If you're going with Forrest Mims, go all the way and get his Electronics Learning Lab []. From there check out MakerShed's Intro Electronics []. Also check out, and subscribe to, Make Zine []. You mention micro-controllers, they have a number of projects that will let you learn them. One I liked and thought about trying was Garduino: Gardening + Arduino []. This project uses an Arduino [] controller to control how much light and water plants get.

      Now the OP asked about ham radio and CB, the best thing there is to find a local amateur radio group and ask them about learning. I don't know if things have changed much, but the local groups I knew or heard of were willing to help new people. They even had free classes.


    • Wait, this WASN'T a setup ?

  • I would start with DIY audio electronics, since it's easy to test, usually not dangerous, and you get a useful product in the end. The CMoy amplifier is popular and has several good tutorials written about building them from RadioShack parts for about $25. The best is from TangentSoft []. The CMoy has a simple circuit that should be pretty obvious to anyone with some classwork in electrical engineering. You can build the amp without that knowledge, too. If you enjoy it then there's a huge range of other m
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by searleb ( 168974 ) *
      I should also point out Tangent's tutorials [], which are fantastic introductions into wiring and soldering even if you're not interested in audio work.
  • Simple answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:41PM (#31823024) Homepage

    The majority of my interest lies in the wireless communication side of the field -- i.e. ham radios and CB

    Join your local amateur radio club. Get your licence.

    73s de MM0YEQ

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khakipuce ( 625944 )

      Build a crystal set. It's simple and magic. With only a diode, inductor (coil), tuning capacitor and head phones you get real radio. You can build one with just a hammer and nails on a piece of wood (or you can be more sophisticated if you want and use screws or even do soldering, it's up to you).

      If you want to build wireless equipment it is a good learing curve about what is important - i.e. capacitance, inductance and the antenna (all them transistors etc are just added extras).

      Google and you will turn up

  • by jab ( 9153 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:43PM (#31823044) Homepage

    Thumbs up from this electrical engineer. Here's a portion of the Amazon description:

    It may be the only "introduction to electronics books" with back cover comments by Dave Barry, Ray Bradbury, Clive Cussler, and George Garrett, as well as recomendations from Robert Hazen, Bob Mostafapour, Dr. Roger Young, Dr. Wayne Green, Scott Rundle, Brian Battles, Michelle Guido, Herb Reichert and Emil Venere. As Monitoring Times said, "Perhaps the best electronics book ever. If you'd like to learn about basic electronics but haven't been able to pull it off, get There Are No Electrons. Just trust us. Get the book."

  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:43PM (#31823048) Journal

    Learn not to grab hot soldering iron by the barrel or tip.

    Handle is much safer.

    Metalesson 1: it doesn't matter if you think you need to keep your eyes on that twitchy almost-mechanically-sound connection in order to keep it from springing apart before you can solder it. You still need to pick your head up and guide your hands to the soldering iron, because grasping blindly WILL HURT.

    • by Maddog Batty ( 112434 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:53PM (#31823204) Homepage

      This is not a joke. It is insightful advise and it doesn't matter how many times you are told before you start, you will still learn this lesson the hard way.

      There is a reason soldering iron handles are bright yellow. It will still not stop you from picking it up by the hot bit at least once...

      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        There's a reason pros use a soldering-iron stand that encloses the business end and leaves the handle in the most accessible position.

        Laying your iron down on the table or a prop is lazy and sloppy.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ari_j ( 90255 )
          For me, it was more cheap than lazy or sloppy. But I second most of the advice and offer the following:

          Great soldering station with adjustable temperature: SS-1 for $40 []. Get this one or something like it. It's worth every penny.

          Now, story time with a good moral. I was, two years ago, working on something with a super-cheap soldering iron that came with a computer toolkit with various screwdrivers and such, all of which are great other than the soldering iron. My grip on it slipped and my instinct
      • by tftp ( 111690 )

        There is a reason soldering iron handles are bright yellow.

        I haven't seen a professional soldering iron with a yellow handle. Usually they are black [] or sometimes cyan [] as it is a trademark Weller color. Hakko [] was traditionally black but now has blue irons too.

        All these irons are pretty safe - in part because they come with enclosed stands, and in part because the handle's shape allows you to feel the position of your grip without looking. After a few years of practice burns of that type just don't happe

    • by olman ( 127310 )

      Learn not to grab hot soldering iron by the barrel or tip.

      Surprisingly, getting your fingers repeatedly burned will teach you this lesson sooner or later. It just becomes a learned instinct to look at the soldering iron every time you're reaching for it...

    • Another important lesson is "Do NOT try to catch a falling soldering iron."

    • by c++0xFF ( 1758032 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:09PM (#31823424)

      Lesson 2: Don't let out the magic smoke.

      While the general population may be unaware, electronics gurus know that all components rely on a small amount of magic smoke. Manufacturers want you to think that some sort of fancy semiconductor physics is responsible for the operation of their device. This is a lie.

      If the smoke escapes, the device will no longer work. It is vital to the operation of the chip; do not let it out.

      • Hmmmm... all my years working as an IC designer and all I have been creating is magic smoke??? Cool!
        Thanks for making me smile.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        If the smoke escapes, the device will no longer work. It is vital to the operation of the chip; do not let it out.

        Don't breathe this!

    • Learn not to grab hot soldering iron by the barrel or tip.

      Universal Rule: Every electronic technician and engineer will inevitably burn themselves with the solder iron at least once.

      Corollary: Keep a live aloe plant in a pot in your lab. Apply the juice from a small piece immediately to a burn.

  • Maplin (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Since you seem to be in the UK, Maplin is the place to go for hobbyist electronic stuff.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by K10W ( 1705114 )
      I think he meant for UKers maplin is the place NOT to go just as pcworld is the place NOT to go for comp stuff. I'm in the UK and online prices are good enough if you shop around and steer clear of fleabay. For big orders and especially if need decent components I tend to use digikey but shipping and so on mounts up to make it not worth it for bits and bobs. Mauser have some alright stuff too along with other stores but again they are better for bulk orders. For small bits I use either my local shop (indep
  • Short list (Score:5, Informative)

    by Paul Rose ( 771894 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:43PM (#31823060)
    Short list:
    1) Horowitz and Hill "Art of Electronics" 2nd ed -- human readable mix of theory and practical application -- must have
    2) ARRL Handbook -- any year in the past decade -- great introduction to RF communications, good mix of theory and practice -- must have for ham radio
    3) Wes Hayward "Experimental Methods in RF design" -- must have for homebrew ham radio enthusiast who wants practical advice but also wants to learn the theory
  • AARL Handbook.

    Nearly everything you need to know about the basics.

    Also, join a radio club

    Someone up there recommended the Forrest Mims book. Yeah, that too.


  • Try this:

    Understanding Basic Electronics []

    It's the first of three books designed for hams, or people who want to become hams. Although it won't help you get your license, it will at least help you understand the test questions better and give a decent grounding (pun not intended, but happily accepted) in electronic fundamentals without too much advanced math.

    73, KJ6BSO

  • A classic trainer (Score:2, Informative)

    by AcidTag ( 528338 )
    Formerly sold at Radius Shack as an OEM product. I learned on Radio Shack's earlier version the 100-1 Electronic Project Kit when I was 10.

    Elenco 200-in-1 Electronic Project Lab, you can find it on amazon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by IceCreamGuy ( 904648 )
      Seconded - these were great for any age and I think there are still new versions of them with nice prototyping boards built in. Look on the shelves near the dwindling supply of components in the now tiny bins at the back of the store.
  • Do what I did (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <slashdot3@just[ ... t ['con' in gap]> on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:55PM (#31823226)

    I come from a programming background, and I wanted to get into electronics. So I bought an Arduino, a breadboard, and some LEDs. Write some C code, compile it and throw it on there, and blinkenlights galore.

    But wait! It can also read analog values. Hook up a potentiometer and a LED, and dim it based on the pot's position. Or grab a 7-segment display and map the pot to the display's 0-9.

    All of these use the microcontroller, and since I already knew how to program I knew how to make that part of the circuit do what I wanted. I had to learn how to safely connect the micro and the other components together - but I wasn't starting from nothing.

    I'm working through RC circuits now, which requires a strong working knowledge of resistors and capacitors and how they interact with the system. Wikipedia is your friend

    Basically, take what you already know and use it as a wedge to push your way into something new. For me, the wedge was programming.

    A word of caution - You should know enough about electricity to avoid killing yourself before you even start. Internalize the difference between voltage and amperage, for one. But if all you're working with is the small side of a 9v transformer, you should be OK.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:20PM (#31823588) Journal

      Wikipedia is your friend

      You mean the flaky one with the congenital deformities, who sometimes has answers you don't have yourself, who comes up with random shit out of the blue that you can only trust about 70% of, who always seems to be in legal trouble over stuff you learned not to do in kindergarten, and who hits you up for money every time you see him?

    • So I bought an Arduino [...] Write some C code [...] Hook up a potentiometer and a LED, and dim it based on the pot's position.

      Most redundant use of a microprocessor, EVER.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tftp ( 111690 )

        Most redundant use of a microprocessor, EVER.

        Not necessarily. The efficiency of this dimmer is nearly 100% (assuming PWM use) and you can have good linearity of the light output. You won't get that with a ballast resistor.

        • by BillX ( 307153 )

          Plus, depending on the size/wattage of the LED in question, the tiny 1/16W pot you use as A/D input* PLUS microcontroller and transistor may well be cheaper than a beefy pot that can handle the LED current. (And now that you have the microcontroller in the loop, you can make it do tricks such as visually "linear" (log current) output without log pots, buss them, remotely control, and make them reactive to their environment for free/cheap as well.)

          You'd be amazed how often such 'backward' designs are found

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Dragoniz3r ( 992309 )
        Is that an achievement? Did he unlock something?
  • I would recommend you get your hands on an old copy of "Electronic Communications" by Schrader (or however you spell his name). It is a College-level book that will take you from basic DC circuits (Ohms law and friends) all the way up to the design (circuit level) of microwave transceivers.

    If you need to learn your way around RF systems, this is the book to get. It is the only book I kept when I went to college many years ago...


    Wireless is a black art. Difficult even for experts.

    Get a soldering station, voltmeter, oscilliscope and multi-output power supply.

    Do some classic student exercises.. Get comfortable calculating resistor networks, then building and measuring them. Characterize a bipolar transistor, and a FET. Build some opamp circuits, inverting and noninverting amplifiers.

    Find some s

    • Read datasheets. Look at National Semiconductor, TI, Maxim, Linear Tech. Most modern electronic stuff is made out of higher level building blocks, not individual parts.

      For those who like them, tubes and more [] are still available.


  • Start with a kit, like these [] or these []. See if you enjoy the practical end of putting something together []. You'll need some basic tools - a soldering iron, sidecutters, solder [].

    If you enjoy that, then there's a bunch of different ways you can go, depending on what you're interested in. Microcontroller based systems, if you like software too, are easy enough to start working with []. Or if you prefer analogue electronics, old school audio and radio, then you'll want to learn some more about the theory and practice

  • Make Electronics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Whomp-Ass ( 135351 )

    Start here : []

    Probably the lowest cost, best-value combination of tools and supplies.

    Start with this book : []

    Don't be afraid to blow stuff up. Hell, in all the best books/articles I've read about the very first thing the authors have you do is blow up an LED. Get used to it.

    • by Jearil ( 154455 )

      I would like to second this. I picked up Make: Electronics as I am a programmer who's played with robots but never the physical design of circuits and such and I've found the book to be a wonderful introduction.

      Going along with it, Make Magazine itself is a neat resource. A subscription gives you digital access to all past issues and there are some neat projects and ideas in it.

      Of course just searching the internet for things you want to know more about helps, but the electronics book gives you a good start

  • Make a shortwave radio that doubles a suppository.

    So when things go all The Road on us, you know, and you're running from the zombie skinheads who want to eat you, then you aren't weighed down, and after you stop running, you can pull it out and try and find other, more sane, survivors.

    It'd be really valuable. Think about it....
  • Go work in a Chinese factory making ipods for $5/hr. you will learn all about electronics there.
  • Check out some of the NerdKits Video Tutorials [], which are 20+ free video tutorials that cover all sorts of electronics topics. For example, Motors and Microcontrollers 101 [] talks about how to model motors as circuit elements (I'm the guy in this video). The Halloween Capacitive Touch Sensor [] talks about using aluminum foil as a proximity sensor. All in all, we sell breadboard-based electronics kits [], which help beginners like yourself get started with electronics and programming.

    Then, our customers adapt it

  • I agree with all the book recommendations others have listed..

    One way to virtually build circuits to experiment with is with a SPICE program.

    I like LTspice, a free circuit simulator made by Linear Technology.

    Modeling circuits will help you get a feel for how things work. The main drawback is that while your circuit might work beautifully in simulation, it could be because reality is neglected. IE, in real life you are likely to release the magic smoke from overheated parts.

    Good luck!

    • Arrrgh! SPICE is work. There is a simple joy in building something physical, that works and which you can show to people.
      • Agreed, but SPICE can help make sure when you build something it will work. Especially with limited hobbyist resources and without coworkers to perform design reviews.

  • Every issue of the Parts Express [] catalog has a homebrew speaker build featured. Some theory is included with each one. All you have to do to get this catalog sent to you is buy something. You might even be able to do it by request without buying anything. You'll also find them a good source for odds and ends like connectors, cables, crimp tools, velcro cable wraps, and the other things that make life easier.


    • by Zerth ( 26112 )

      It's online. Plus the bimonthly flyers usually have a project in them as well.

  • Since we're all assuming you're in the UK, join the RSGB [], the Radio Society of Great Britain. Their website offers local information, tutors, and a lot more, including a good bookstore. Plus, their monthly magazine, Radio Communication (RadCom []) is a wonderful entry into wireless electronics. IMHO, it's far superior in technical content (both beginning and advanced) than QST, the publication of the ARRL [], the American Radio Relay League, which siphons some of its technical content off to its sister publica

  • If you want to get started with basic electronics I highly recommend the Make: Electronics [] book from O'Reilly. It's just the right blend of theory with hands-on (or tongue-on practice as in the intro chapters on electricity!) Plus you get to have all sorts of fun ordering random parts from Jameco and Digikey.

    If you go this route I highly recommend ordering the resistor intro pack and storage case from Jameco.

    Have fun!


  • Start building kits, and study what goes into them. If you are into ham radio, there are loads of interesting radios and accessories you can build. The EleCraft K2 is an outstanding radio, a great kit, and has a great community of builder/hackers -- check out discussion list. Don't discount the learning experience of a kit, especially if you take the time to analyze what the designer did. You will learn a great deal about the components, about practical assembly techniques that you can use in your own d

  • For the absolute beginner (which is about the level of GCSE physics), I recommend the books I started with. Look for Tom Duncan's "Adventures with Electronics". As well as circuit diagrams there are clear illustrations so that you can start building working circuits right away. The workings of each project is clearly explained, and followed by suggestions for expanding or altering the circuit to do something different. It's very rewarding: you don't need to understand the circuit before you start, but

    • It looks like these books are hard to find new, but can be found second-hand online.

      Many of the suggestions above are good for somebody who already has a grounding in basic electronics. Horowitz and Hill is a great text book, but it lacks the practicalities a beginner needs to translate a circuit diagram into a flashing light on the table. Tom Duncan provides the walk-through you asked for, as well as the explanations.

    • This might be a good place to recommend using the 'secret oscilloscope' that is in every PC sold in the past ten years. The audio line input is a dual 44.1K sample per second AC input with nearly unlimited digital storage.

      Get one of the PC oscilloscope programs that are available for free.

      The disadvantages of the PC audio card oscilloscope are three:
      It does NOT measure DC voltage input.
      Its input range is a

  • - Make Electronics is very good. Available from the Make magazine folks.

    - Become a Ham. Study and take the tests. Basics required for Technician and General, Extra will require you to crack the books. Practice tests are available free on-line, but best is, which will teach you the subject matter, as well as the test. If you're not from the US, you will have a different test and potentially different rules, so YMMV.


  • Where To Start In DIY Electronics?

    Paper, a pencil and Ohm's Law.

  • by LostInTransportation ( 1012423 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:12PM (#31824290)
    Try: [] This has some good lessons describing the prinicples behind circuitry, and suggests some experiments to try. Best of all, it's free!
  • Do basic 555 timer projects to learn how to make LEDs flash, tones, bounceless switches, etc. Also, get an Arduino. It takes very little time and not so many parts to get from Cool Idea to Thing that Works.
  • by Facegarden ( 967477 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:17PM (#31824370)

    The Art of Electronics is the best book ever for learning all these basics. []
    (not an affiliate link)
    Yeah, it's $90, but its worth it. Broke? I'm sure the library has it, and that's free!

    After that I'd really recommend learning microcontrollers, and for that, Sparkfun Electronics is great. []

    My only other advice is to learn stuff the same way I've been learning stuff the last few years - just look on google. You'll find what you're looking for. []

  • I started getting interested in electronics in high school. After graduation I decided to attend a local community college. They had a degree in electronics engineering technology. This gave me the basics as well as exposure to the test equipment. I took my education much further on my own (none of my classmates ever designed anything electronic, most don't work in the field either).

    One effective way to learn this is go to hamfests and look old printed data catalogs on IC's. National Semiconductor Analog da

  • by mirix ( 1649853 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:38PM (#31824662)

    Something from the 70's - 80's. shouldn't be more than a couple bucks a piece at garage sales. Old enough to be discrete components, as opposed to a radio-on-chip sort of deal. Get an ARRL handbook from the 70's. Get a soldering iron.

    If you still can't get your head around something, try asking for help at dutchforce electronics forums []

    You have to stick to it, and sooner or later it all makes sense. :-)

    If you have a local amateur radio club, they might be helpful. (they might just be a bunch of grumpy old men too, it depends on the chapter...)

  • by NeuralAbyss ( 12335 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:45PM (#31824772) Homepage

    I'd strongly suggest that you do at least a basic level of looking into theory while you're creating "practical circuits" - it's quite helpful when you're debugging to know at least roughly what's meant to happen.

    One source I can recommend is the MIT Open Courseware resources - the 6.002 course on Circuits and Electronics [] is a good place to start; I'm an embedded software engineer who's started to push into the hardware side of things, and that set of lectures helped me turn my vague understanding of electronics (being able to read a circuit and understand what's going on) into something practical (being able to design a circuit).

  • by TimothyDavis ( 1124707 ) <> on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:45PM (#31824782)
    I have had plenty of times shocking myself when playing with what I thought were safe devices. Here are a couple that caught me off guard:

    1: Capacitors. Even though you are unplugged and powered off, a capacitor can be holding a surprise for you. The one that I learned on was built into a camera flash: So even though the device was powered by a couple of AA batteries (removed), sitting in wait was a capacitor with several thousand volts. I recall getting up off the floor wondering WTF just happened.

    2: Relays. These devices use an electromagnet to move a metal reed, which closes (or opens) the connection for another circuit. Be aware that when a magnetic field collapses, electricty is 'made'. So even though I was driving the electromagnet with 9v, the shock I got when the field collapsed was likely several hundred volts. This wouldn't have been quite the problem, if I weren't using the relay to drive the relay (the switched circuit was closed in the unpowered position, and open when powered) - which creates an oscillator. This means that I shocked myself quite a few times before I could get the breadboard off of my hand.
  • by arfonrg ( 81735 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:59PM (#31824962)

    ..oh, wait...

    Get yourself an Allied Radio kit... oh wait...

    Get your self a copy of Popular Electronics... oh wait...

    Get yourself a copy of Electronic Hobbyist... oh wait...

    Forget it, just go buy a new chinese made mp3 player!

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:08PM (#31825038) Journal

    They have a book on basic (analog) electronics, a digital electronics book that covers digital, and a communications book that include RF and amplifier design (classes A-D). The basic one is really good. It takes you through a NP junction, complete with holes and depletion zones, explaining diodes, then transistors, NPN and PNP and goes over other basic circuit components. As someone who was not new to computers or general electronics, I found these three books from RadioShack of all places to be exactly what I needed to get down to business. I would highly recommend them.

  • More basic stuff? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:17PM (#31825690)

    I think a lot of the posters here are making some assumptions. Mims, sure, Horowitz & Hill, another good choice.

    You need to find a way to just start playing. Once you've played some, you'll need to figure out how to continue in some direction. A breadboard is relatively inexpensive -- it's usually white with a buttload of holes in it. Wikipedia [] can help you find it. You'll need a power supply -- something that will provide 3, 5, 9 or 12V seems most useful and common. It can be a box that'll hold a couple of AAs or a 9V, or a computer power supply (AT is nice -- ATX means you have to wire two contacts together on the plug). And, of course, wire. And, if there's wire, there's also needle nose pliers -- the Leatherman is a mainstay of those of us who remind you that you can't spell "geek" without "Double E".

    Start by making blinking lights. Get a 555 timer and teach yourself how to make it flash at 1 or 10 Hz. Then get a speaker and make it go at 1KHz or 5KHz. You might have little luck with the transition between visual and audible frequencies -- little speakers below 100Hz are ugly, and you will have trouble viewing flashing on a stationary light above 20Hz. If you get a big enough speaker, and have it going at 1Hz with sufficient voltage swings, you can physically see the membrane moving. Adding a little salt or sand to it can make it easier to see that it is moving indirectly at higher frequencies.

    The key is to find a way to get your foot in the door. Concentrate on circuits with a chip or two and a very small handful of discrete components -- a half dozen to start with. Don't start complicated, you'll just get discouraged. Once you've enjoyed that, you can start to think about more complex things like RF transmitters / receivers or BASIC stamp type controllers. If you can pick up a cheap oscilloscope and/or frequency generator, both are good tools to have.

    And in this stage of learning, precious little should be soldered. You're prototyping exclusively. This stuff shouldn't be put together for more than a few days of playing. Okay, if you go the laser tag route, there's some merit to soldering that instead of worrying about a wire coming out in the middle of a match. Although if you know what you're doing, you can use a dozen or so parts to make a receiver and a gun can be half that (essentially a switch with a 555 timer at 40KHz is good enough for indoor play away from fluorescent lights whose plasma is / was near that frequency).

    After my kids are a little older, I'm going to move onto a stamp type controller and some servos. There's a world of fun just waiting for us there.

  • Don't try to skip parts of the books. I understand what a resistor,does and how to figure out one or two. Then you turn the page and it's algebra to calculate a resistor network.
    Never seem to get past that.

  • Your local ham radio club is one part of learning as well as school courses. Do not underestimate what you can learn by simply taking things apart. Take a look at speakers in a cheap or broken radio. In essence an electromagnet pulls a cone towards itself when the magnet gains strength due to increased current. As the current changes quickly the vibrations create sound. Usually the cheap stuff is easier to figure out than more exotic stuff.

  • []>TGIMBOEJ. Sign up. Get a box of junk. Open. Explore. Create. Learn. Contribute.
  • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:13PM (#31826230)

    Really... not kidding... become a dumpster diver for electronics. Pull junk electronics out of the dumpster and open the cases. Learn to identify the parts. De-solder them from the internal circuit boards. Start a collection of parts. Throw what you don't keep (the real garbage) back into the dumpster. Avoid old televisions. They can hold a charge on their picture tube and that tube can implode if dropped. But old televisions are not supposed to be in dumpsters anymore anyway. (Take them to the GoodWill).

        If you can't ID the parts, take a small picture of them with a digital camera and post the image to an AVR or PIC microcontroller or electronics web site, asking 'what is this?'.

        The web is fantastic for learning electronics! Thirty years ago an unknown part could stay a mystery for a long time. IC data books could be difficult to obtain. Now just type the letter/number combination printed on the part into Google and you often can find exactly what it is and what it does in seconds. Ask a question on the web and knowledgeable people answer it at your comprehension level.

        If you are interested in music, buy a few cheap guitar stompboxes on eBay and take them apart. Many hundreds of schematics are available on the web for stompboxes. And the best part is...if you mess up the circuitry hopelessly, someone will still buy it again on eBay for almost the price that you paid for it. Plus your guitar playing gets better.


  • There's a relevant game people may be interested in. It is a fairly realistic digital transistor circuit simulator. Each level assigns you a real-world microchip to implement. You draw wires and silicon transistors creating a circuit, then the game runs a simulation to test it. The low levels start with a simple inverter circuit and then AND and OR logic gates, then works up through logic latches and oscillators and memory units and multi-function math units. If the game board were large enough you could li

  • are way fun to play with. They are both (at least the basic dynamic variety) based on the simple primal shape of a coil. The human ear, as well as the basic shape of a speaker, are both spirals. The human inner ear is just a spiral with cilia of varying length which resonates of varying frequencies of sound (roughly your typical 20Hz to 20KHz). A speaker on its most basic level is really just a coil of wire inside a pice of coned paper with a magnet below it causing the wire to move back and forth based on

Where there's a will, there's an Inheritance Tax.