Make me Handy!
January 27, 2012 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get better at fixing things and diagnosing problems--particularly electronics and household stuff. Where should I start?

I work in a science lab, and a significant percentage of my job involves diagnosing problems with delicate instrumentation. I'm okay on figuring things out from the scientific end, but one area I think I could improve would be with understanding what's happening with the electronic components. I can do some *very* basic things like identify a popped capacitor or change out a fuse, but I'd love to get a better intuitive sense of what's going on when I look at a circuitry diagram, learn my way around a soldering iron, splicing a frayed wire, etc.

Related to this would be getting better at fixing things around the house. We've got a dead outlet that I'm sure I could figure out with a little more confidence, for example.

The people I know who are good at these things seem to have mostly picked it up very young by following handy family members around, or by going to a trade school. Neither option is likely to happen at this point in my life, at least not full-time. Are there any other ways you've picked up these skills?

Possibly relevant details: I work at a university and can take an occasional class in just about any department you name, so if you tell me there's a CS or EE class that typically covers this with a minimum of prereqs and irrelevant stuff, I'd be happy to do that. I'd just really like to cram in as much practical info as possible--I already took E&M as an undergrad, so I'm fine, though rusty, with the theory. I've got a lot of tools and access to people that can tell me if I'm doing something dumb, if there's a project book out there that'd help.
posted by tchemgrrl to Technology (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If what you want is an understanding of how components work together, I say buy a Snap Circuits kit. It won't help at all with the physical skills - try working with a volunteer organization like Free Geek to get the basics on wiring and soldering.
posted by SMPA at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2012

For house handiness, I've had good luck googling "Taunton" (a publisher that puts out lots of home improvement books) and whatever topic I'm interested in. Once I find a title, my local library usually has it. For instance, right now I'm working my way through Wiring a House and it's really good at explaining things, with diagrams and pictures. I don't know anything about soldering, but I feel confident with this book that I could rewire that busted outlet of yours.
posted by vytae at 3:03 PM on January 27, 2012

Go here and read as much as you can Its important to have a good understanding of how and why the basic components of circuits are used.

Then figure out a simple electronics project that you would like to build and go to town.

555 timers are a great place to start out. You can build a lot of neat things with 555 timers. I'd also recommend getting an Arduino with a prototype shield and a Mini Breadboard.
posted by jmsta at 3:38 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Instead of reading, I would recommend taking old things apart and repairing/rebuilding, after you replace them or are ready to trash them, and/or attempting to build something just for fun. I recently ordered the parts, built, and found a way to make a 3-D printer work. I'm good with general house repair and furniture making, but electronics have always been my weakness. I learned a lot that I would not have learned if I had not done it.

For me, being handy is one of those things that you learn by doing because it is about learning the process and the thinking behind it. Most of my bigger projects start with sitting there and thinking about the problem for a few minutes or hours, depending on the issue, before I actually grab the tools and get it done. Larger issues go quicker with experience and lessons learned doing other projects.
posted by Nackt at 5:46 PM on January 27, 2012

I've been on the same pursuit lately. I got big into household repair and handyman stuff, general tinkering.

Personally, I went out and bought a lot of basic tools and started putting them into practice on the various problems around the house, instead of just letting things be broken or having someone else take a look. I find that by actually investing in the tools, it gives me incentive to use them/to find uses for them. Along the way, you start learning about the things that go with the tools (the different types of screws you need, the differing types of nuts and bolts and so on) through constant experimentation.

At the end of the day though, the best way to get your head around the stuff is to just dig in there and make a mess and break stuff and see what happens as you try to fix them.
posted by Modica at 8:17 PM on January 27, 2012

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