Good learning electronics kits
October 26, 2006 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for electronics kits that have explanations of how the circuits work.

In my attempt to learn electronics and get better at general soldering/assembling, I'm looking for kits that explain how the circuit accomplishes what it does in easy to understand english. Unfortunately the ones I've bought thus far haven't done this. Bonus points though if its not to expensive ie. <$30
posted by drezdn to Technology (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know of any kits -- the ones you could get at Radio Shack when I was a kid don't seem to be for sale any more. However, Forrest Mims wrote a lot of short, accessible electronics hobbyist books (which, coincidentally, were also sold at Radio Shack). The books are still available, and are what I'd recommend to somebody who wanted to learn hands-on electronics.
posted by spacewrench at 1:22 PM on October 26, 2006

Why are you wasting money on kits? Don't pay someone else to gather the components for you! Buy generic components and spend the money you save on a really good electronics book. Personally I recommend The Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill. It's college-level and assumes only a basic understanding to get started.

That being said, it's a shame Radio Shack doesn't make the variety of electronics project labs they used to. The "lab manual" that came with my early-eighties 200-in-1 was remarkably well written, and targeted at an absolute newbie. Their only decent offering anymore is $63, but I don't think that's so bad considering you'll be building dozens of different circuits with it.
posted by Myself at 1:31 PM on October 26, 2006

I thoroughly enjoyed the kits I've bought and built from Ramsey Electronics.

If you're looking for the "30-in-1" type of kits like Radio Shack used to sell, Ramsey has 130-in-1, 300-in-1, and 500-in-1 versions.

The Snap Circuits stuff seems to be gaining in popularity as well.
posted by mrbill at 1:33 PM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Spacewrench and Myself, thanks for the tips. I actually ordered a "Getting Started In Electronics" by Mims earlier this week, I own a copy of the "Art of Electronics" by I want to get my feet wet with something simpler. I also have a big component bundle I ordered from Jameco, but I like the thrill of a simple kit too.
posted by drezdn at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2006

Best answer: I don't recommend the "x-in-1" kits, however. I started out with a Velleman Learn To Solder kit, moved to a number of electronic kits, building a more advanced kit each time.

Three months later, I'd progressed to the point where I needed a professional-grade soldering iron (cheap off eBay!), after which I built the Ramsey shortwave receiver and then a Ten-Tec regenerative shortwave radio.

The last major kits I built were a Z80-based single-board computer and then the Replica-1 clone of an Apple 1.

After that, I lost my dedicated work area and haven't been able to do much, but I really want to build a Nixie clock.

As for books, I learned the most from Mims' "Getting Started in Electronics". Best twenty bucks I ever spent (and then I found it as PDF on the 'net a week later for free, d'oh!).
posted by mrbill at 1:46 PM on October 26, 2006

Response by poster: Mrbill, I've actually built that Velleman Pong kit too!
posted by drezdn at 1:51 PM on October 26, 2006

drezdn: I've been tempted to dig it out of the "old projects" box and wire up a set of Atari 2600-style joysticks so it can be properly played. The button switches just don't cut it...
posted by mrbill at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2006

Best answer: I haven't used it, but this kit looks so well designed that I was tempted to get it just to use as a tool for prototyping.

The kit is a product of the already mentioned Forrest Mims, and if you follow the link, the page includes a link to PDF versions of the manuals so that you can take a look and find out if they offer a "how it works" explanation per circuit. I imagine it does - the point of it seems to be to teach electronics.

At $60, it's more than you were looking to pay, but as I said, it looks like it will remain quite useful for constructing circuits of your own design long after you've learned all the stuff in the manuals, so may well be a good investment.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:36 PM on October 26, 2006

I'm a ham radio nerd therefore, I'm obligated to recommend that you get your ham radio license and find a radio club near you. In the ham world, building stuff is referred to as 'homebrewing' and is a respected special interest within the amateur radio hobby. Hams love to teach and help. Coincidentally, I had the same impulse as you not more than 2 months ago. I got great advice and help from folks in my radio club on tools, soldering, kits to start with, etc.

I would like to recommend Getting Started in Audio DIY which has three nice little soldering how-to videos that are a good intro.
posted by KrustyKlingon at 9:08 AM on October 27, 2006

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