I'd like to learn about electronics!
March 23, 2008 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get into building electronics and I need some advice. What would be a good place to start?

I recently decided to change my college major to Computer Engineering, which means I'll be taking a lot of Electrical Engineering classes, some of which will involve building electric circuits. While I haven't done much of this, it's something that's very interesting to me, and I'd like to get a head-start on some of the stuff I'll be learning in class, and also go a bit beyond what I'll do in a classroom environment--that is, I want to actually build some stuff.

What I need is recommendations on specific books or whatever to start with. I'd like something that's sort of project-based, so I can build something and in the process learn the concepts behind it--I learn better when I actually do something, and really enjoy making things.

I'm a patient person and I can handle menial tasks if it's helping me build a foundation for further use, but I'd really like to jump into making things. I'll be getting plenty of theoretical instruction in my upcoming classes, so please consider that in your recommendations.

So, in short, are there any books or kits or whatever that you guys can recommend to me to learn more about electronics, and hopefully build a few things in the process?
posted by DMan to Education (14 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Make magazine has some interesting electronics/robotics projects that don't require too many supplies or much money.

Check out some videos here.
posted by frankie_stubbs at 4:52 PM on March 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am not sure how great they'll be for a novice and money-strapped college student, but The Evil Genius books are very project oriented and I have heard good things about them. That one is on basic electronics. Here is another one on electronic sensors. The books have a lot of varied topics.
posted by Hypharse at 5:44 PM on March 23, 2008

'The Art of Electronics' and 'Practical Electronics for Inventors' are very good supplementary material for any EE course. I actually use both as reference for my job quite often. Highly recommended. Art of Electronics is worth the money as being a very complete a user friendly reference on just about all subjects, and Practical Electronics is full of beautiful illustrations and is very easy to understand because is is so well written.
posted by nickerbocker at 5:45 PM on March 23, 2008

I didn't mean to submit, but once you get the initial knowledge, and I can't stress enough, PROPER safety measures you can experiment on your own. You will no doubt have to get a breadboard sometime during your college career and Radio Shack has a lot of little resistors, logic gates, diodes, leds, etc. that you can have some fun with. When a topic, such as amplifiers, is discussed in class try looking for a schematic online and see if you can build a small one on your own. You can do some really cool things with a basic breadboard, battery and a lot of wires.
posted by Hypharse at 5:50 PM on March 23, 2008

Definitely Make.
posted by watercarrier at 5:56 PM on March 23, 2008

Do you want to just build cool stuff, or do you want to understand what you're doing to the extent that you can design non-trivial circuits yourself?

If the former, Make is great, as are other here's-the-circuit-board and here's-the-component-list resources. But you'd be building black boxes; they only make a superficial effort to explain what's going on.

If the latter, there's a lot to be said for amateur radio. There's a logical progression from simple to complex electronics theory as you progress through the licensing scheme, and the advanced licenses are certainly at the kind of level you'd encounter studying electronics in college.
posted by thparkth at 6:23 PM on March 23, 2008

There is also What's a good introduction to electronics? From Frequently Asked Of Metafilter on the wiki.
posted by Chuckles at 12:25 AM on March 24, 2008

Best answer:
Lots of people have covered some good resources here already, and I agree with everything that has been said so far. So I'd like to add to that:

I bought a LEGO Mindstorms NXT and designed a sensor for it as one of my senior projects.

Since the thing is fully (well, mostly fully) documented there are several very good books that can teach you things like assembly level programming (it uses an 40 MHz ARM7 32 bit microprocessor) and can integrate with sensors using either analog or digital (I2C) inputs.

It's trivial to build a simple light sensor using a photo diode and a resistor, and you can work up from there. It's a good way to see the differentiation and integration between hardware and software.

I used these books and the internets to help:
Extreme NXT
Robotics in C

NXT-G programming guide

HTH. Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:39 AM on March 24, 2008

If you are already an EE student then you may be beyond this but the NEETS books are great for beginners. They are the kind of book for which you will never need a prof to fill in the details. If you do not already own a copy get thee a copy of Horowitz and Hill's The Art of Electronics; it is the bible in this area.

As for projects, the world abounds. Make has some good stuff. There are also many dedicated sites on the internets. Amplifiers are a favorite. Here are some amp links:
Bottlehead Kits - tube amps (some semi-nudity of the products page)
Chip amps

Darling tube amp
Headphone amps
posted by caddis at 6:49 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got my start as a kid with Nuts and Volts, back when it was a free magazine at my local electronics surplus store.

Make is great, but N&V focuses on electronics and, nowadays, microcontrollers.

I had one of the Forrest Mims books, too, but have since lost it. I've heard lots of people recommend those.
posted by kableh at 7:07 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you play electric guitar, The Stompbox Cookbook is pretty good.
posted by springload at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

The kits from Ramsey are a good place to start.
posted by neuron at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2008

I recently got a copy of Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects. by Tom Igoe (from Make/O'Reilly) which has some cool projects in the computing/electronics crossover (who doesn't want a networked cat). A lot of them use the Arduino - a cheap, open source microcontroller board with a good user community.
posted by tallus at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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