Learning About Electronics
July 18, 2004 10:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in learning electronics/electronics repair in my spare time and was wondering if there are any good resources someone could recommend (books, kits, etc.)?
posted by drezdn to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Radio Shack has these things called Engineer Notebooks, they also have a great book called "An Introduction to Electronics" (I think). Not sure if they still have these things but they USED to. I always found electronics interesting, but although I learned to read schematics and understood what each individual component does in theory, I never understood how you can combine those parts to make something useful. I know if you really get into it there is a lot of math involved, but how you actually create things that do stuff, it's beyond me. Building things from schematics is fun though.
posted by banished at 10:21 PM on July 18, 2004

Try The Art of Electronics.
posted by Gyan at 10:57 PM on July 18, 2004

Radio shack books are good, but are only the tip of the iceberg. Use them to whet your pallete. If you like what you see, your next steps are to start reading books with more info in them. You'll *really* want to start reading some higher level math books -- much of electronics deals with past-high-school math (sorry to say). If you don't like that sort of thing, you'll probably just stick to digital stuff (like me).

Back issues of Poptronix / Popular Electronics (old name) at your local library be a godsend. They're like Maxim of electronics. :-) Everyone who was an amateur electronics lover was saddened by them taking the big flush. Nuts and Volts seems to have replaced them. Get used to Electronics magazines coming from Europe (the symbols are different -- ARGH), costing ungodly amounts, oh, and not fitting on your shelf (HELLO A4!)

Read some books from your local library on the matter. Things like basic transistor theory haven't changed for decades, so it doesn't matter if they're out of date (however, for more complex things, like ICs, the books will rapidly decline in value as they age).

Here's one book from the top of my head. You'll also, certainly, want a book dealing with analog electronics. I have a good one, but it's out of print, AFAIK. :-(

Some tools you will want right away:

- Multimeter ($20)
- Soldering iron ($10)
- Electronics Breadboard ($5)
- Power Supply ($40)

For more specific info than the books can provide go to a semiconductor manufacturer's website, such as Texas Instruments, Motorola (their site is a MESS), National Semiconductor, or Fairchild for more info. If you're into it for building audio devices, you might want to check out Burr Brown (Now part of TI? :-( ) for high quality ICs.

Parts can be purchased online from MCM Electronics, Future Active, ABRA, Electrosonic, and DigiKey, amongst others. *DO NOT PURCHASE PARTS FROM RADIO SHACK EXCEPT IF YOU ARE DESPARATE*. They are not only cheap crap, but are usually marked up, oh, about 10,000%, and their selection is reprochable (They sell capacitors but not resistors? WTF?).

If you're doing this to feed a need to play with radios, get a HAM radio license and join the local HAM club. You'll find PLENTY of competent people to speak with there. :-)

I'll see if I can think of anything else.
posted by shepd at 11:18 PM on July 18, 2004

I am ravenously interested in this thread. I hope it swells to 10x the comments with the same astounding and delicious quality, as I've always been interested in making my own goodies but can't really manage much more than extremely simple switch networks, analog circuits, battery hookups, and simple repairs and troubleshooting. Monkey stuff compared to even a simple flip-flop or TTL circuit.

Though I did recently trouble-shoot my laptop power supply with a brand new Radio Shack analog multimeter and correctly guessed it was SOL when seeing fluctuating impedence levels in the DC segment of the supply. (Leaky capacitors. Mmm, salty.)

These sorts of generalized and genre-encompassing questions are most excellent; like Huell Howser asking all the right dumb questions to get to the story real quicklike, and make me happy I found AskMeFi.

Please, continue and add what you may have knowing that it is appreciated in advance. Thanks. To all four folks so far, and shepd especially. I remember seeing Nuts and Volts when I was growing up at my local and largish public library and poring over the back catalog of them they had.
posted by loquacious at 4:10 AM on July 19, 2004

I'll second the Art of Electronics. It's not the book that I used when I went through undergraduate Electrical Engineering but it's the book I do use when I want to refresh my memory on certain things.

The best recommendation that I could give you is to find something specific you're interested in where electronics can be applied. Do you play the guitar? There's a lot that can be learned by building your own effect pedals and amplifier. If you're interested in robotics you can learn a lot by interfacing cheap or salvaged motors from ancient dot matrix printers.

The key to all of this (and unfortunately not the way at least I was taught in university) is to recognize the basic building blocks. You look at a schematic and understand what it's purpose is (maybe it's a distortion pedal). You recognize things like amplifier stages and feedback loops and understand the theory and from that you can deconstruct the overall operation.

One item I'd add to shepd's list of supplies is to eventually purchase a cheap oscilliscope. Being able to see what varying a feedback loop does to the oscillation helps a lot of people understand things. You'd be fine with a few megahertz for basic stuff. My first scope was an Eico 460 that I got for free (it'd been gathering dust for about 20 years!) It won't be calibrated but that's less important if you're just using it as a learning tool.
posted by substrate at 5:13 AM on July 19, 2004

A cheap oscilliscope and good multimeter are prerequisite, but only if you've achieved a certain level of understanding. I (somewhat embarassingly) learned a lot about basic electronic theory when my father purchased one of those 200 Projects-in-One things from Radio Shack.

It's basically a giant board with a bunch of electronic parts attached to it, and hundreds of wires of varying length for the actual connections. Each of the components (resistors, capacitors, a couple of diodes, etc.) are hooked up to a easy-connect "spring" (best way to describe it).

You are given a book with 200 different projects in it, ranging from the very simple to the more advanced. Then you just hook up the appropriate parts following the directions they give you. For each project, there is a circuit diagram of what you're building, which helps in reading schematics, and a general principle that they're trying to teach. It's a very effective way to start the learning process.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:43 AM on July 19, 2004

Lot's of repair info can be found at http://www.repairfaq.org/.
posted by caddis at 6:33 AM on July 19, 2004

For those suggesting the "Art of Electronics"-- what's the general level of knowledge needed *before* diving into the book? Is a high-school level of math (say Pre-Calc) and physics enough?
posted by gwint at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2004

Yes, at least for your purposes. You really do not need to know how to solve differential equations to repair electronic equipment. Horowitz and Hill is considered by many to be the bible on electronics. However, it is much more detailed than you will need. It is nice to have that extra detail available, but for your purposes just learn the basics and then find some repair specific books. It is like repairing cars; you do not need to be able to perform flame propagation calculations to adjust a carburetor. For your purposes, the Navy Electrical Engineering Training Series (NEETS) may be a better fit. It assumes less technical and mathematical background of the reader and was designed to train electrical technicians in the Navy. The link sells them on CD, but they are in the public domain and sometimes appear on the Web as downloadable PDF files.
posted by caddis at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2004

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