Fun circuitry projects?
June 14, 2008 7:05 PM   Subscribe

What are some fun, simple electric wiring projects I can try?

I've already done a few circuits such as lights, fan motors, etc, so I'm not totally new to it, but that and drawing schematics is pretty much all I know. I want to do something that would be fun, not overly complicated, not completely pointless, and relatively cheap (which would mean no online ordering, should be parts that I could pick up at a Radioshack). I've looked through a couple sites such as Instructables but couldn't find anything I wanted to do. Any ideas?
posted by Deflagro to Technology (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Build a wind-powered generator! Google turns up plenty of suggestions for DIY projects.
posted by Quietgal at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2008

Do you want something useful, or something fun but useless you can whip up just for the heck of it? Unfortunately most things that fall into the "useful" category aren't necessarily simple, and almost always require parts you can't get at Radio Shack (Radio Shack is, unfortunately, now pretty much nothing more than a sleazy cell phone store*). If you just want something fun but useless, the canonical example is using a 555 timer to flash an LED. That particular circuit uses a potentiometer to vary the rate of flashing, if you just want a constant rate, replace with a regular resistor, between 10-47k ohm or so. Radio Shack sells 555 timers (and 556 dual timers), catalog #276-1718, for $1.69 which is ridiculously expensive, but you're paying for convenience. Get the 555 timer and the rest of the parts on the list, plus a little piece of perfboard to wire it all up on, and you're ready.

If you're into making music and/or noise, try an Atari Punk console instead. Same sort of circuit as the LED flasher, but uses the square wave as audio output instead hooking it up to LEDs. This will require a 556 dual timer, which you can also get at Radio Shack.

* I fucking hate going there. The last time I went, to just pick up some desoldering braid real quick so I wouldn't have to wait for it on order, the zit-faced teen asked me who my cell phone provider was at checkout, and went on to ineptly try to hard-sell a goddamn cell phone even after I displayed no interest whatsoever and clearly just wanted to leave with my $2 desoldering braid. Once my mother went there to try to buy a cheap pocket calculator. Whoever she had the misfortune of talking to was apparently terribly confused by this and, according to her, was presented with a digital alarm clock. "It has numbers on it!".
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're lucky enough to have a Fry's near you, they have a much better selection of electronic components and even have a little section of beginners' electronic kits that come complete with printed circuit board and all components. They have an LED flasher kit, plus some "electronic dice" kits and other simple, neat toys.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:44 PM on June 14, 2008

Yeah, nthing Fry's for parts if you have one handy. I just recently discovered them, and, wow. It's like Radioshack before Radioshack sucked, but warehouse-sized.

You might try reading the MAKE: Blog, which often has beginner-friendly projects. Hackaday also has projects, but they're generally more complex and sometimes not as thoroughly documented. I also really recommend Lady Ada (Limor Fried)'s homepage, which has a bunch of exceptionally well-documented projects and kits.

I'm about to go slightly above your pricerange (not much -- you can pick up an Arduino, one of the books I'm about to link, and a grab bag of components for well under $100), but stick with me..

You might also want to pick up a copy of Physical Computing or Making Things Talk by Tom Igoe, which are both very beginner-friendly and awesome. The latter is built around the Arduino microcontroller platform, which is really awesome to work with, and will let you connect your gizmos to your computer via USB. I also haunt the AVR Freaks discussion board, which is focused on the Atmel AVR, the chip that drives the Arduino (and a bunch of other cool stuff). The last several links are specifically microcontroller-related, and involve things you won't be able to buy at ratshack, but microcontrollers are profoundly cool and I encourage you to check them out.

The Art of Electronics is a more general electronics book, whereas the Igoe books specifically relate to microcontrollers and interfacing gizmos with your computer. If you're interested in analog stuff, Art of Electronics is a decent starting point, whereas the earlier links I gave mainly discuss analog as something to be put through an ADC (analog-digital converter) as quickly as possible.
posted by Alterscape at 8:02 PM on June 14, 2008

Yeah, seconding Alterscape, if you want to get into making things that are actually useful, get into microcontrollers. They're a lot of fun. The Arduino or one of its clones (Freeduino, Boarduino, etc.) is a great way to do that, much better than the crappy BASIC Stamps that were available when I started. I'm also partial to Atmel, but Microchip's PIC series is also quite capable.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:12 PM on June 14, 2008

I second getting an Arduino or clone. The Boarduino DecemberBoy mentioned looks rad.

If you promise to be careful ;) I recommend an ECG project as an advanced goal to work towards.

posted by stungeye at 8:29 PM on June 14, 2008

I built a blue laser pointer a while back. Fun project.

You have to buy a PS3 laser lens assembly, and another red laser to cannibalize for its collimator, but if you harvest parts from broken electronics, you probably already have the rest of the needed stuff on hand.
posted by SlyBevel at 8:37 PM on June 14, 2008

This guy has some fun stuff
posted by mattoxic at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2008

Tesla Coil. Definately Tesla Coil.

Electrically, they're dead-simple circuits. The fun part is that unlike most circuits you may have worked with in the past, everything on a Tesla Coil is jumbo-sized. Several components have to be built from scratch (the coils, for example), so they're great teaching (/learning) tools.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:26 AM on June 15, 2008

If you're really set on only getting your parts from a local radioshack, first make sure you have one with a really good parts selection. In my experience, there are a few out there, but never the mall ones, they're usually the ones that are hidden in an aging strip mall. They'll still try to sell you cell phones though.

To keep up with your plan Getting Started in Electronics has some really decent stuff that is mostly built from really simple Radio Shack infindable parts, partially because they used to sell the book.
posted by drezdn at 6:30 AM on June 15, 2008

I also recommend an Arduino as a starter project. Just playing with simple electronic circuits is fun and all, but it really ramps up the awesome when you introduce a microcontroller.

MAKE Magazine's Intro to the Arduino was what got me re-interested in electronics. It's a simple project (press a button and make a light turn on), but it illustrates how easy it is to get started with microcontrollers and _really_ make an electronics project work.
posted by Laen at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2008

« Older Cookies without eggs?   |   Gulf Coast Getaways Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.