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Many of us have never even touched a soldering iron – but making things can feel incredibly rewarding. There are some key skills you need when tackling electronics projects – whether you plan on fixing broken devices or assembling Arduinos (our Arduino guide Getting Started With Arduino: A Beginner's Guide Getting Started With Arduino: A Beginner's Guide Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. Read More ), the right skills make the difference between rage and elation. Here’s a quick run-down of ten of the most basic DIY electronics skills to help you get started:

Breadboarding

A breadboard allows the construction of a circuit, but without soldering. Why? Because you won’t want to assemble using solder if any individual part is defective or if you’ve misunderstood the diagram. It also can instruct beginning students of electronics and circuit pathways the various components that go into many devices.

A breadboard allows the input of a DC current using the channels in the left and right sides of the board. Current on these channels conducts vertically. The rows on the inside of the breadboard allow current to follow horizontally. Here’s what the back of a breadboard looks like – remember that each length of metal functions as a wire:

breadboard reverse section

I reviewed several YouTube tutorials, which covered basic breadboarding – and this is the best:

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Soldering

Soldering irons run the gamut from expensive to cheap – I recommend this iron. Although you can prototype circuits on a breadboard, you will need some soldering skills to do much else.

One particular method from this tutorial that I don’t recommend: Flicking solder. Flicking solder throws liquid metal and could prove dangerous. I recommend that users instead use a metal pad and rub the heated soldering iron over it to remove solder. There will remain impurities on the tip of the soldering iron, but for basic work, it’s not a big deal.

Here’s a clip of using a metal “Brillo” pad (it’s not really a Brillo pad) to clean your soldering iron’s tip:

Using a Multimeter

Multimeters perform a number of tasks. The most common use is to measure current, resistance, and voltage. They’re also relatively inexpensive: A cheap one costs around $6 – the better regarded models cost upwards of $20. Professional models cost hundreds of dollars.

Remember, multimeters can actually damage – or be damaged – by the electronics that you’re working on. Watch at least one tutorial, if you’ve never used a multimeter before. There’s quite a few clips on YouTube. I selected one that’s relatively comprehensive, being broken up into a four part series. It covers safety and diagnostics in a sensible and clear manner.

Testing Batteries

Multimeters can do a lot of practical things, as well as troubleshoot circuit boards. For example, you can also test batteries:

Drilling Holes in Project Boxes

You’ll find yourself needing to drill holes in project boxes at some point. A project box keeps all your wires in one spot – they offer convenience, ease of assembly and the ability to hold circuit boards.

I won’t go into too much detail here – just keep in mind that multiple methods exist for drilling holes in plastic. I recommend using a variable speed rotary drill (colloquially referred to as a “Dremel”, which is in fact a brand name). Dremels offer a number of different bits for different tasks. While other methods work, they do so with more labor and less accuracy.

Using Hot Glue Guns

Hot glue guns don’t cost much. I found one for ~$6 on Amazon and it includes several glue sticks. While you can use any kind of non-conductive adhesive (insulator) to anchor the various components in place, hot glue guns offer a good mixture of convenience, low-cost and ease-of-use.

The glue used in hot glue guns is actually a plastic — not really a glue. Plastic acts as an insulator, meaning it won’t cause a short circuit. This property makes it an ideal adhesive for working with electronics. There’s no chance of inducing a short.

Using Liquid Electrical Tape

Exposed wires and solder-points can create shorts. Applying electrical tape or heat shrink tape in tight enclosures sometimes won’t fit. Liquid electrical tape fixes both problems. While it costs more than regular electrical tape, it offers ease-of-use, plus some additional features, such as water-proofing, insulating and increasing the durability of soldered joints.

Electronics Safety

There’s a lot of dangers to keep in mind when working with electronics. Capacitors can kill you (never disassemble a power supply How to Make a Bench Power Supply From An Old ATX PSU How to Make a Bench Power Supply From An Old ATX PSU If you have an old computer ATX PSU lying around, you can give it new life as a bench power supply. Here's how. Read More as James Bruce has, bad James!), electrostatic discharge can ruin sensitive electronics and always power off your devices before working on them.

Here’s a clip on electrostatic discharge:

Cleaning a Circuit Board or Solder Joint

Here’s a great way to clean up the organic residue from soldering or if you just want to clean a printed circuit board (PCB):

Wire Stripping

I prefer thicker, unbraided wires for use with a wire stripper. I don’t recommend using the cheaper ones (adjustable strippers) that come with technician kits – they tend to cut right through braided wires. The best are the automatic wire strippers (or heated automatic wire strippers), but these tend to cost quite a bit. Gauged wire strippers offer the best midground between price and performance.

Here’s a tutorial that covers multiple wire-stripping strategies:

With these skills, you’re ready to tackle some beginner’s electronics projects and get started making things! Are there any skills you would add to the list?

Image Credits: Microcircuit being fixed Via Shutterstock

  1. Abdelkader BenAhmed
    September 13, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks for the topic, I love it. Informative.

  2. Tony Pham
    August 20, 2015 at 1:34 am

    Good tips, alot infomation i see on your site, i bookmarked for read long time

  3. ROBOTS
    March 1, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks for post

  4. Soldering Sunday
    November 19, 2014 at 1:21 am

    Love this list and we totally agree with you opener "Many of us have never even touched a soldering iron – but making things can feel incredibly rewarding. " A few us have started on a mission to help people, of all ages do just that - learn the basics. In fact we have a kickstarter right now for a soldering kit designed to easily grow from a basic soldering, to breadboarding, to something you can plug into Arduino and code. Chip - An electroincs Kit with Character by Soldering Sunday - http://kck.st/1rS0PoW

  5. Lee Giles
    November 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    What about the solder sucker? The best way to get solder off boards and components.

    • Kannon Y
      November 16, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Nice! I'm going to include solder removal. I've never used the pump or vacuum method before though. Nothing but woven copper pads for me. It works well enough, although the videos of the pumps look really, really cool. Had I know about that years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of time and effort.

  6. Dark Passenger
    November 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I'm not a beginner anymore, but I still avoid doing too many electronic projects because of the potential for overheating, fire or electric shock. Its not that I don't know what I'm doing, I have been doing this stuff for years now, but I simply have no control over what happens to a device after it leaves my hands. Unfortunately, I've learned that no matter what people may do to destroy their electronic device, they will universally blame all damages on the person who last repaired it!
    What I'm trying to say is, If you really are a beginner, only work on your own stuff.

    • BasdenLeco
      October 8, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      Your comments resonates for me

  7. bben
    November 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Seriously people these videos really are for beginners. If you cannot do these simple things you need to get someone to teach how to do them properly before you ruin some expensive piece of electronics. None of these videos are perfect. Soldering does take practice, and a mentor to show you how to do it properly and the many ways you can make bad solder connections. I guarantee your first solder joint will not pass my inspection. But the 10th might. As for the meter. A $20 meter is still a cheap meter and not considered suitable for professional work. (fine for occasional around the house and learning though) - my own cost over $350 (current price is around $400) and is absolutely worth it. It is also still certified as accurate after 14 years of daily use in a dirty greasy industrial environment and the kind of abuse the airlines put a tool case through. Testing batteries with a meter - the simple (approved) way is to put a 1K ohm resistor (or higher value) across the battery to act as a load, and read the voltage. Don't leave it on long as it can get hot. There is a LOT more to each of these simple things that the videos did not even touch on. Safety is always number one - electricity can kill and it does not respect either experience or noobs.

  8. Gavin
    November 13, 2014 at 11:35 am

    The only 3 things I have done on this list is the Hot Glue Gun, drilling and wire stripping, everything else is beginner for me.

    Anything that requires a steady hand (like soldering) I can't do. My hands shake when under pressure and I am too scared I'll do something wrong.

    • Kannon Y
      November 16, 2014 at 12:39 am

      I've been there Gavin. My hands shake pretty badly the more expensive the system I'm working on.

  9. salim
    November 13, 2014 at 8:56 am

    good news

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  10. eric jay
    November 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

    this pique my interest back during my basic electronic class. and oh i love mehdi's youtube channel its quite hilarious but with loads of info.

  11. Bob
    November 13, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Beginners computer engineering ?

  12. Andrea Torres
    November 12, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    There is a problem with the videos... it's same for all the sections

    • Kannon Y
      November 16, 2014 at 12:38 am

      I haven't been able to replicate the problem -- Andrea, do you have any AdBlock extensions installed? They might interfere with YouTube videos playing.

    • Andrea Torres
      November 17, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      It works now, I guess it was the AdBlock extension :P thanks!

  13. Mary Ely
    November 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Beginners electronics? Holy cow, do I feel stupid now, and I'm not stupid. This is not for beginners. There is a need for a different article for true beginners, and then a link to this article at the end of it might be good. An average person who stumbles across this on the internet thinking they might learn a little about electronics will just close it out and go on to something else after watching the first video. Although, I will say that whoever did that video did a really nice job. It's just there is need for more information for an average person interested in learning about electronics before jumping straight into breadboards.

    • victorvscn
      November 13, 2014 at 10:10 am

      I think this is for people that are already interested in electronics. I don't have much experience, but I'm pretty interested, and I thought the videos were good. This isn't a "electronic skills anyone must have" posting.

    • Kannon Y
      November 16, 2014 at 12:37 am

      That's a really good idea Mary! I'll talk to someone about potentially writing that article.

  14. Matthew
    November 12, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Multimeter vs battery.... testing the battery voltage off load does not tell you if it's any good, batteries can show nearly full voltage off load, but collapse under load.

    Equally, the meter abuse of tapping the battery while in current setting is not a good idea.

    NB. Know your meter - there are often different probe sockets for the high current / high voltage range.
    The meter itself is generally most at risk from misconnection damage in the ohms range, somewhat in low current ranges, and least at risk in voltage setting.

    For digital meters, switch off when not in use - for analog pointer meters, which only use the battery for ohms, then leave in a high voltage mode for accident protection, or if the movement is very sensate, a high current mode to damp the pointer movement - or off, if it has an off, as this probably applies a short to the meter for damping and isolates the probe connections

    • Kannon Y
      November 13, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Hey Matthew, thanks for the great comment!

      The tutorial mentions that more expensive MMs can simulate a test load (which the cheapies can't). The tutorial also mentions (IIRC) that there are different probe sockets -- but those are really important points that everyone should take a very close look at. Thanks again!

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