Hobby Focus – Electronics

Hobby: Electronics

Cost: You can do some neat stuff for $50 but the cost can go up quickly depending on what you want to do.

Time Required: Completely up to you

I’ve been into electronics since I was five years old. That Christmas, my parents gave me an electronics kit from Germany that demonstrated concepts relating to resistors, capacitors, diodes, and transistors. I was hooked. Over the following years I’ve built up quite the selection of parts, whether it was from buying them or salvaging them from other devices.

I find electronics to be a rewarding hobby because if you’ve done it right, you get instant gratification. You can also spend hours trying to figure out what went wrong. There are an uncountable number of electronics sites and books out there, one of my favourite is Adafruit (adafruit.com). They have a lot of really good documentation for beginners and sell tons of kits that let you do anything from transmitting data over radio waves to making fancy jewellery.

What do you need to get started? Well, it depends. If you want to build kits, you’ll need:

– A low-wattage soldering iron,

– Solder,

– Solder remover (a solder sucker, solder wick, or both),

– A work surface free from combustibles that you can leave burn marks on,

– A multimeter,

– The kit,

– Some paper and a pencil, and

– A calculator.

If you want to build circuits from scratch (my preferred method), you’ll need:

– A solderless breadboard (get the biggest one you can reasonably afford – you’ll be surprised how quickly you can fill one up),

– A multimeter,

– A work surface free from combustibles that you can leave burn marks on,

– Some 22-gauge solid wire,

– Wire strippers,

– Some paper and a pencil, and

– A calculator.

If you’re starting from scratch, you can sometimes find kits of 1/4 watt resistors on sale that have several of the common sizes (multiples of 1, 2.2, 4.7, and 6.8).

That first kit that I got for Christmas so many years ago did a good job of making me interested in electronics. The first book that I got that really helped me dive into it was Getting Started In Electronics, by Forrest M. Mims III. I still have my copy, thirty-plus years later. Every once in a while I’ll go back to it, too. The book does a great job of describing what different components do and has a bunch of neat circuits you can build at the back of the book.

One thing I should say, though – if you’re new to the hobby, you should really be running your projects off of batteries. I don’t know how many 9V batteries I’ve gone through but it’s probably in the hundreds by now. Do not use line power, even through an AC/DC adapter until you are 100% certain you know what you’re doing. Electronics is a perfectly safe hobby if you go about it safely. Playing around with line power before you’re ready may end up with you getting hurt or starting a fire.

Stay safe!

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