How did you get involved in electrical hobby work?
June 10, 2010 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I’m coming from a non-technical background, and would like to learn more about circuit design and electrical engineering on a hobby based level. How did you get involved, and what resources are good for beginners?

This relates to two of my previous questions:


I found this helpful thread,
here, but it’s from 2007.

Is circuit bending a good foot-in-the door option, or should I try to get real skills before I go poking around in something that could electrocute me? Just assume, for the moment, that I don’t live in a convenient driving distance to a hackers space, and that I’m somewhat cost adverse to buying a lot of equipment.
I’m thinking about building something like this… would that be a good starting project, or might something else better serve?
posted by codacorolla to Technology (13 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
It seems I shill for Make magazine all the time, but they have a whole section of their store devoted to beginner electronics, and their book Make: Electronics is an excellent start. They also have kits with everything you need to do the experiments.

Their blog is also an excellent resource.

After that, Arduino is an excellent beginner microprocessor that has a lot of good resources on the web.

Good luck!
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:44 AM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: The Arduino micro controller is a good place to start. Sparkfun and others sell Arduino starter kits so you can jump right in and start making things. There are also a few good books on using the Arudino - Making Things Talk, Getting Started with Arduino, etc. If $60 is too much you can start with just a bare bones arduino for $10-20 and a handful of LEDs and sensors. With a bit of creativity, an arduino and a few sensors you can

You certainly don't need "real skills" before you start poking around, I think most people in the field or the hobby got their start by trying to fix something they broke poking around.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:47 AM on June 10, 2010

For the beginner nothing is better than the US Navy Electricity and Electronics Training Series (NEETS). They start with the assumption that you are not in university, are not a scientist etc. This is for training technicians who nevertheless need to know the basics of electronics. They are heavy on the practical and light on the theory, pretty much the opposite of college texts and such stalwarts as The Art of Electronics (a great reference once you master the basics).
posted by caddis at 10:48 AM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am just starting to circuit bend, so I'll be following this thread with interest. One of the best tips I read about circuit bending is that, as a novice, you should only work on battery powered devices. Working with AC power is significantly more dangerous.
posted by gnutron at 10:57 AM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: gnutron: good advice I think. I was looking at circuit bent VCRs on youtube, and was excited, until I realized what sort of power is going into the machine. I'm probably taking a trip to the thrift store today to look at some battery powered sound-creating toys.
posted by codacorolla at 11:00 AM on June 10, 2010

Heathkit has reinvented itself as an educational institution. I don't know too much about them, but I know that it was fun and interesting to put together their kits back in the day. (I built my own stereo.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:04 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding an arduino starter kit. Focusing on circuit bending sounds like a self-limiting approach. If you want to be able to make stuff you should get some of the basics under your belt. Sparkfun and LadyAda have decent kits and you can find free tutorials on the net.

IMHO, a lot of this stuff isn't fun unless you can get it to talk to a computer or somehow connect to the real world. You can only spin motors, make beeps, and blink lights for so long. The nice thing about the arduino is that it supports USB and ethernet. You may also want to check out this book when you're past the beginner tutorials.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:15 AM on June 10, 2010

Is there a hackspace where you live? They can be good places to meet like-minded folks who are interested in learning about the same stuff and sharing what they already know. The one I'm involved with does fairly frequent "kit nights," where newbies can learn to build simple Arduino-based devices.
posted by twirlip at 11:37 AM on June 10, 2010

Sparkfun, above and AdaFruit have lots of kits suitable for a beginner. Forrest Mims' Getting Started in Electronics is a classic introductory text.
posted by ecurtz at 12:14 PM on June 10, 2010

Seconding Forrest Mims' and Heathkit
posted by mincus at 12:50 PM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: You're mainly interested in video, right?

If so, you might want to try building one of Velleman Pong Kits. It's the only kit I can think of that has a video output.

If you or anyone you know makes music, you could try making a guitar pedal. Build Your Own Clone makes the best kits and has a really friendly forum if you get into trouble. I can point you to some other great pedal resources if you're interested.

Start reading Get Lofi too if you're interested in circuit bending.

I've read a lot of books on electronics, but the first that really clicked was Handmade Electronic Music. The books mentioned previously in the thread are all pretty good too.
posted by drezdn at 5:28 PM on June 10, 2010

The kit you linked to would actually be a great kit to start with. It sounds like it shouldn't have any temperature sensitive parts or IC chips and would be a great first step because you could use it for circuit bending.
posted by drezdn at 5:32 PM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: That resistor box is a decent way to get your feet wet with soldering and it is a useful device if you continue with the hobby. However, it won't teach you much about circuits. You will want to progress to something that involves an actual circuit with a circuit diagram from which you can see how the circuit operates and can be tweeked even. I don't know if you play guitar or not but if you do there are DS-1 pedal mods that might fit the bill and or kits from Small Bear Electronics (they are also a good part source for electronic projects). These are good beginner projects. A more general interest project would be a headphone amp like this simple solid state amp. I agree that for your first project it is safer to stay with low voltage solid state projects, but if you want to learn about circuits in a hurry nothing beats tube amps. The circuits are relatively simple, and there is an avid community for support. This Single Ended eXperimenter's kit is a great example. The sound quality is very good as well.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2010

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