Starting a Hobby in Electronics


What is electronics?

Electronics, at least on my own definition, is a science (more related to Physics) of controlling or manipulating the flow of electrons to achieve favorable results or outputs. Results could be in the form of sound as with what we hear from audio devices, light as with what we see from displays, and information as with what we have from most digital devices and other communication equipments.

For me electronics is not only a science but also an art just like magic. There may be a standard way or solution to a problem but there will always have a better ways of solving it. With this people will ask you how did you do that. Hehehe

What does an electronics hobbyist do?

Now you might ask, what is an Electronics Hobbyist and what he does? Well for me, again it’s at least on my own point of view (hehehe), he (could be a she but I haven’t seen any ladies inclined with this hobby, I would love to meet one) is a person with passion for electronics and have this natural curiosity with “how stuff works” and has his own way of replicating that trick in his backyard/home. A complex process such as radio transmission of an FM station could be simplified and replicated by an Electronics Hobbyist at a lower cost and less complexity, though oftentimes the quality is disregarded. He loves making gadgets and instruments and even toys using his knowledge in electronics.

What are the things needed to get me started?

Knowledge…

If you want to be an Electronics Hobbyist, the first few things that we must have are the passion for electronics and the curiosity to learn things. The first thing you must acquire is the basic knowledge on the following…

  • Electronic Components

Electronic components are the secret behind the magic of an Electronics Hobbyist or an Engineer. These are the artifacts or the ingredients of the potions they use to achieve such an outstanding trick that others would be wondering how they’ve done such a trick. I could simply describe it as “things that made it work”.

Common Components are …

  • Resistor – It simply resist the flow of current (It’s safe to say that it limits the amount of current flowing within it’s circuit). Primarily used as a current limiting component. Since current passing through a resistor exhibits direct proportionality with its voltage drop another use of if could be as a voltage divider.

  • Capacitor – It stores energy in the form of electrostatic field and resist the change in electrical potential or voltage (Just like a rechargeable battery though capacitor stores less energy than what a battery could store. The simplest analogy is to think of it as a water tank that stores water then gets drained when the demands are high). Used in voltage filtering because the voltage across the terminal of a capacitor is almost constant when a high frequency wave is passed through it. Another use of a capacitor is for oscillator and resonant circuit.

  • Inductor – This component stores energy in the form of magnetostatic field resist the change in flow of current but don’t have it confused with a resistor, a resistor resist the “flow not the change in the rate of the flow”. Since an inductor resist the change in current, it may be used for filtering time varying currents. Inductors are also used in oscillators and resonant circuits.

  • Diode – A diode is simply a component that permits the flow of current in one direction and blocks or prevents the current to flow on the opposite direction. Used for rectification, clamper and clipper, and voltage doublers circuit. Special diodes called “zener diode” are used for small current voltage regulation and voltage reference.

  • Transistor – Transistors have two common uses in electronics one is as a switch used to turn on or off other electronic devices (when operated in cut-off or saturation region) and the other one is as an amplifier of an electrical signal (when operated at its active region)

  • Circuit Analysis

One can be an expert in assembling electronic kits but he cannot be called an Electronic Hobbyist without the basic knowledge in troubleshooting. He must have knowledge on existing circuit analysis’ laws and be able to apply it in troubleshooting.

Common Laws are …

  • Ohm’s Law – This law states that the current flowing through the circuit is directly proportional to the voltage applied to it and inversely proportional to its resistance (commonly used for DC analysis with a resistive circuit, this law is also true in AC analysis even if we have an inductive or capacitive circuit, for these cases the resistance is replaced by the term impedance).

Ohms Law

I = V / R
Note: Many hobbyist express it as V = I * R because it is easier for them to recall it
  • Kirchhoff’s Voltage Rule – This rule states that the sum of all the voltage sources and voltage drops across any given loop is zero. One must take into account the direction of the current and the signs of the voltages relative to the direction of the loop arrow. The usual convention for voltage sources and voltage drops: negative to positive takes a positive sign and positive to negative takes a negative sign (e.g. the loop direction on V1 is from its negative terminal to its positive terminal; therefore V1 takes a positive sign).

KVL 

V1 – VR1 + VR2 – V2 = 0

  • Kirchhoff’s Current Rule – This rule states that the sum of all the current entering a given node is equal to the sum of all the current exiting that node.

 KCL

I3 = I1 + I2

Books…

  • Project and Circuits (Compilation of Electronic Enthusiast)
  • Electronic Principles by Malvino
  • Electrical Circuits by Charles Siskind
  • The Art of Electronics by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill
  • Practical Electronics for Inventors by Paul Scherz

Websites and Blogsites…

Forums…

Tools / instruments / and materials…

Basic

Soldering Iron and Solder – Soldering Iron is a tool used to solder or weld electronic parts together or onto the PCB. It works in the same principle as with your mother’s flatiron. Basically it has four parts namely the AC cord, the handle, stem, and the tip. The AC cord is used for powering up the heating element of the iron. The handle is the only safe area to hold the iron when it is operating. The stem is where the heating element is housed. And the tip is where we apply/melt solder (alloy of tin and lead) for soldering.

If you’re really serious about starting this hobby I recommend you buy two soldering irons. One would be used for soldering thick wires, switches and other devices that require great amount of heat. A 60watt soldering iron is best for the said job. You will also need an all-purpose soldering iron not too hot to damage your semiconductors; I recommend you use 30 – 40watts soldering iron for these applications.

image

Soldering Iron and Solder

VOM/DMM – VOM stands for Voltmeter Ohmmeter and Milliamphere Meter. DMM stands for Digital Multimeter. Yeah right! So what does it do? Well, actually this is a must have for any hobbyist. It is a multipurpose instrument used in measuring electrical parameters such as Voltage (unit of potential difference, Voltmeter), Ampere (unit of the rate of charge flow, Ammeter), and Resistance (degree of electrical resistivity, Ohmmeter). The term VOM is often used for analog meters and DMM for a more advance digital meters. Other DMM are capable of measuring Capacitance and Inductance. Some can even measure semiconductor parameters such as diode drops and hfe (transistor gain).

image image

VOM DMM

Desoldering Tool – If you can solder components on a PCB with the use of a Soldering Iron, with the aid of a desoldering tool you can remove the components you’ve placed once you made a mistake. Most desoldering tool’s works like a syringe that sucks melted solder.

image

Desoldering Tool

Cutter/ Pen Knife – A simple cutter or knife is used for cutting purposes (of course, that’s why it’s called cutter. Hehehe). What I’m trying to say is, I often use it for cutting traces (Path/Connection) on the PCB. Some use it in preparing their DIY PCB, it is used to cut the masking tape and remove the unwanted portion of it (parts to be etched out).

Pliers (long nose and shear cutter) – Shear cutter are used for cutting wires and sometimes stripping it out. A shear cutter maybe a bit expensive for a beginner in Electronics Hobby but it is a necessity. When I was a neophyte I use a nail cutter instead. I found it ideal for stripping and cutting wires up to gauge 20.

image

Shear Cutter and Long Nose Pliers

Pre-fabricated PCB – Making a DIY PCB is an expensive and time-consuming process. Most of the time I lack the time of making my own PCB that’s why I use pre-fabricated PCBs. Pre-fab PCB cost only about Php10 – Php50 less the hassle of printing, exposing, and etching. It is ideal for simple circuits with a complexity of 100 components or less. Connections made on pre-fab PCB are semi-permanent, which means you could wire your circuit on the board then modify it later if you want to make changes.

Among of the disadvantages I found in using pre-fab PCB is its rigidity. You can place fewer components on a pre-fab PCB than on a DIY PCB on the same board area. Pre-fab PCB often requires more jumpers and component layouts are not too flexible. Another big disadvantage of pre-fab PCB is it is difficult to control the EMI because you are restricted to using the pre-defined traces, which makes this not ideal for high current – fast switching circuits.

image

Pre-fabricated PCB

If one will use pre-fab PCBs for power supply applications, one must never forget to reinforce the traces with wires or solder to increase it current capacity because the holes on the pre-fab PCB had decreased the cross sectional area of the trace conductors. More likely, you’ll burn the traces if this is not taken into consideration.

Advance

Solder wick – Sometimes a desoldering tool cannot completely remove the unwanted solder over the board, and there’s a big possibility of pads, especially SMD pads, be lifted if we use desoldering tool. A solder wick is perfect for the said case. A solder wick simply absorbs the melted solder in the same way that a baby’s diaper absorbs weewee.

image

Solder Wick

Solder Paste – Solder paste aids the soldering Iron when soldering. Solder pastes are thermally conductive compound that spreads the heat from a soldering iron over a wider area making soldering more efficient. It is ideal for soldering heatsinks and busbars but be careful when using it on semiconductors and ICs, it might damage your components.

Solderless Breadboard – If you can prototype your circuit on a pre-fab PCB very fast, with this one you’ll be faster. This type of breadboard requires no soldering and you’ll simply insert the wires or the pins of a component over the slots on a breadboard. The disadvantage of this is that the connections you’ve made are not permanent.

Just don’t try to buy one of these over the bakery. I rarely use this breadboard now because simulation software is the fastest way to test my circuit.

image

Solderless Breadboard

Exposure Box – You might need this if you want your final project to be presentable and may even want make a profit out of it. Exposure box is used for exposing photoresist PCBs. It is simply a box fitted with either a white light or UV light fluorescent lamps, some have a built in timer to control the exposure time. It is quite expensive for most hobbyists but you can always build one for yourself.

Drill and Drill Bit Set – If you’re in to building your own PCB, a drill and of course with a drill bit would be a necessity. Drills are used for boring holes on the PCB for component placements. Sometimes it is also used in assembly for boring holes on the case and other drilling purposes. You may want to have a drill bit set that contains abrasive tips.

image

Drill Bit Set and Drill

File Set – Sometimes the PCB won’t fit into the enclosure or the enclosure needs a little modification, a file is perfect for abrading purposes especially edges.

image

File Set

Wire Stripper – If you use a cutter to strip a wire, chances are you’ll accidentally cut the wire or you’ll leave a mark on the wire that would lessen its strength. A wire stripper is made to strip a wire without cutting it and preventing the cut mark created by cutters.

image

Wire Stripper

RJ45 and RJ11 Crimping Tool – A crimping tool is used for attaching the connector on the end of the wire. Sometimes a project would require you to set-up a network, let’s say a home automation system or an intercom system for example. Sometimes you even need to set-up a LAN or a telephone or even Modems. Connecting via RJ45 and RJ11 is an easy, if not the easiest way, to connect the networks thus there is a need for a crimping tool.

image

RJ45 and RJ11 Crimping Tool

Oscilloscope – An oscilloscope, same as with the DMM and the VOM, is an instrument used for measuring electrical parameters. It can measure voltages varying with time and displayed it on a graph called waveform. An oscilloscope is the most important tool a hobbyist can have. But it is pretty expensive that no hobbyist could afford to buy. Even if some can afford they wouldn’t buy it because it’s that expensive. There are a lot of oscilloscope software available at the net that you can use for free though these oscilloscope are not as good as the industrial grade oscilloscope.

PCB/Photoresistive PCB – I usually use an ordinary PCB for power supply circuit that requires thick copper traces. The common technique for placing the trace on an ordinary PCB is with the use of a masking tape. Masking tape covers the traces I don’t want to be etched out in the etching process. It is difficult to create a PCB using this process that why I only use this on designs with thick traces.

If you’re in to a design with high density of components you might consider using photoresistive PCB. With the use of this type of PCB I am able to produce an almost factory quality PCB on my home. I can even place SMDs on the PCB and there is also a double layer photoresistive PCB available in our local market.

Masking Tape – Masking tape is used to cover the PCB in the PCB making process. It is sometimes used to hold things in place.

Electrical Tape – Electrical tape is for insulating jointed wires or other connections. It may be use for other insulation purposes. Hey I’m talking about electrical insulation here so don’t use it as a heat shield. Hehehe.

image

Electrical and Masking Tape

Microcontroller Development Tools – You might need a programmer and a microcontroller demo board if you want to develop a microcontroller based system. The type of programmer you’ll need depends on the type of microcontroller you’ll use.

image image

PIC Programmer and PIC Trainer Kit

Tool Box – If you have all those things mentioned above, I bet you’ll gonna be needing this one. A toolbox used to keep your tools in one place so you wont have problems locating where your tools are.

image

Toolbox

Electrical Components…

Basic electrical components you’ll need are…

Resistors

10K, 1K – Often used as pull-up resistor for ICs with 5V supply

680 – Often used to limit current on an LED with a 5V supply

100, 220, 470

Potentiometer/Trimming resistor

10K, ¼ to ½ W – LM317 Trimming, other trimming purposes

Capacitors

Electrolytic Type (16V)

1000uF, 680uF – For Output Filtering

10uF – IC Decoupling (High Current IC such as driver ICs), Voltage Regulator Filter

Ceramic Type

1uF – IC Decoupling (Low Current IC such as logic ICs)

0.001uF – Noise decoupling and for pin5 of LM555

Rectifying Diode

1N4001 – for a maximum of 800mA

W02M – Bridge Type

LED

Red – Often used to indicate power or warning

Green – Used to signal good

7-segment common anode type – For displaying numbers

Zener Diode

5V 1/2W – reference, voltage clipper

Transistors

C636 – General purpose PNP transistor

C635 – General purpose NPN transistor

IC

74LS162 – Presettable Binary Counter

74LS163 – Presettable Decade Counter

74LS04 – NOT Gate can be configured as oscillator and digital filter or simply an inverter

74LS32 – OR Gate for summing

74LS08 – AND Gate enable / disable functions (bit masking)

74LS86 – XOR Gate selective inversion

74LS76 – Dual JK F/F

74LS47 – BCD to 7-segment Decoder (common anode)

LM555 – Multi purpose oscillator / one shot timer

LM324 – Comparator

LM358 – Op-Amp

LM431 – 2.5V reference

LM317 – Adjustable voltage regulator

LM7805 – +5V voltage regulator

 

Software (Freeware)

KiCAD – Schematic and PCB routing

LTspice– Electronics simulation software

MPLAB IDE – PIC microcontroller development environment

IC-Prog – Universal PIC programmer driver

MiSim and GPSIM – PIC software emulator (Java)

555 Timer Pro – LM555 Value Calculator

Where can we buy parts…

Most of the stuff you need is in RAON (Quiapo).

Advertisements

~ by glutnix_neo on August 22, 2009.

8 Responses to “Starting a Hobby in Electronics”

  1. Dear sirs
    we’d like to introduce you the new open hardware wireless project called openPICUS

    It’s based on PIC 24F and wifi or bluetooth module

    We started this project in Rome but we’d like to have a worldwide community and I found your Pinguino project very interesting and different from ours (our module will be used only for Wireless projects)

    Is send you our press release, if you wanna join our group or make a collaboration between our 2 projects we can discuss around

    http://openpicus.blogspot.com/

    plase contact me if you want any further information elenaeikon@gmail.com

    Best regards

    Elena

  2. Hi nice to hear about that interesting project. I’ll inform the guys from electronicslab.ph/forum about this. Maybe we can have more constructive inputs from them.

    Actually the pic trainer you see on this post is not Pinguino but my very first PIC trainer. Since I first created it, it has evolved to more complex SIMPLE(Simple Is Modular PIC16F84/PIC16F628 Lover’s Excalibur Ü) and haven’t released the final version yet.

    I’m willing to help on your project. Maybe I can create a bootloader for you just tell me what PIC are you using.

    I may be reached at glutnix_neo at yahooo.

  3. hi dear.
    i need some help to starting electronic projects.i am young in electronic, but i want start Designing practical circuits.can u help me? i want to know where i should start from?

    • Hi Omid, thanks for your interest on my post.

      Designing circuits might be a little different than becoming a hobbyist because many hobbyist doesn’t even know how to design circuits. Many of them can only assemble a circuit guided by a schematic diagram and troubleshoot the project when they encounter problems. Some beginners buy kits where they can practice soldering (mounting components on a Printed Circuit Board). I also started on KITs.

      Still you’re on the right path if you wanna become a circuit designer because the best design engineers I know started as hobbyist. Becoming a hobbyist first would teach you how to troubleshoot well (a skill many designer’s lack), and you’ll appreciate electronics more by becomming a hobbyist.

      We all took one step at a time, a good place to start is to join forums and there a lots of it but only few I could recommend. One is http://www.electronics-lab.com/, if you are a Filipino I highly recommend the http://www.electronicslab.ph/forum because people there a friendly especially to those who are willing to learn. I stay there most of my time.

  4. Thanks for the interesting post. There is a sort of course that beginners in electronics can follow at http://startingelectronics.com/beginners/start-electronics-now/
    It has a lot of breadboard circuits that are easy for beginners and also uses the Arduino (http://arduino.cc/)

    I have enjoyed following the tutorials as they start with a very simple circuit and then progress from there. It should be easy enough to follow for most people who are interested in hobby electronics.

  5. Good work, a very useful information. I will link an information based on this post 🙂 Thanks ka.elab

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: