An average home contains a startling range of electronic devices, from powerful computers and stereos to tiny watches and kitchen timers. Although they differ widely in size, price and complexity, all of these devices rely on the same handful of principles and components. Learning how they work, and how to build your own circuits, is surprisingly easy and inexpensive. You need just a few basic supplies, and some instructional books and websites, to complete a variety of beginner electronic projects.
The first few circuits you build should be very simple, because you need to learn the basics before you go on to more advanced projects. It's important to understand how to read a circuit diagram, because most instructional books and websites use them. RadioShack's series of "Engineer's Mini Notebooks" and their "Getting Started in Electronics" book take readers through several levels of increasingly complex diagrams. Many websites also offer similar guides. You also need to learn how to solder, which is the most basic of DIY electronics skills.
Start by creating basic circuits with just a few components, such as a lights-or-buzzer circuit. Connect a battery to a switch, and then the switch to both a small LED and a low-power piezo buzzer. As you flip the switch, the light and buzzer are activated in turn. This very simple circuit introduces basic skills such as stripping and soldering wires, the use of switches and reading the circuit diagram. Build a variation of this circuit with a small fan as the output, but with resistors of different ratings between the power and the fan. Watch its rotational speed change as you flip the switch.
There are a number of projects designed as tutorials to demonstrate the use of various electronic components. Many are built around the 555 timer chip, an inexpensive and low-power component that's versatile and readily available. For example, you could make a variable sound generator with a 555 timer by adding a volume control -- a variable resistor -- to a circuit, including the timer, a battery and a small number of resistors and capacitors. This is essentially how tones are created in appliances, children's toys and inexpensive musical keyboards.
Once you've mastered the basics and constructed enough demonstration circuits to understand the uses of major components, it's time to build a few real-world projects. Usually the components are soldered to a circuit board, or "breadboard," and then mounted neatly into an enclosure. For example, fuzz pedals and other guitar effects are a relatively easy real-world project that requires just a small circuit board, a few switches and connectors, and a handful of components. Another easy real-world project is a power supply to replace a dead "brick" from one of your home electronics devices. This project requires a transformer, and the use of rectifiers and capacitors for good-quality output power.
Electronics stores are a good source for instructional materials, as well as a selection of common components in small-quantity packaging. Not all stores have a DIY enthusiast on staff, but associates can usually direct you to hobbyists and clubs in your area. Social media and search engines can help you find or establish a club for mutual support and brainstorming. Ham radio enthusiasts are usually experienced with electronics, and some are willing to coach beginners. Vocational and community colleges sometimes offer beginners' classes as well, during evenings and weekends.
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