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Experimenting with Real Circuits

There is a quotation that I have seen, which I am told was originally stated by Confucius. I present it here as a very practical statement on how the human mind approaches the learning process:

One of the best ways to understand something is to get your hands on it and actually experiment with it. In electronics, this means putting small circuits together, powering them up, and seeing first hand what they do. This is the goal of an expanding series of pages on this site.

If you have experimented with any kind of electronics circuitry in the past, you probably have a breadboarding arrangement, complete with power supplies, signal generator, digital indicators and switches, etc. If you don't already have such a setup but plan to do any serious experimenting, you should either acquire or build such equipment.

Note: While it is possible to construct a power supply and the necessary support circuitry on a breadboard socket just as if you were building such a circuit to test it, this is not a good idea. All the support circuitry can fill up a breadboard socket and leave no room for the experimental circuit itself. Therefore, if you're planning on doing any significant amount of experimenting, you should build or purchase a proper breadboarding system. This would include power supplies, LED indicators and logic switches, and appropriate signal sources.

At the same time, it is only proper for you to know what the circuits are and how they work. To help with this, these pages include appropriate circuits and methods for breadboarding the entire test system. You're welcome to use this approach for all of your experiments if you wish; just keep in mind that you may need two or three breadboard sockets to hold everything you need to use.

One possibility as you learn is to first breadboard such circuits to demonstrate them, and then move them to a more permanent home for future use. This would leave the breadboard socket free again, for additional demonstration circuits. You can, of course, design your own printed circuit (PC) boards for such purposes, if you have the skills and facilities to do so. Or, you can use PC boards or even complete kits already designed by someone else.

In a general sense, to build reasonable breadboarding and test equipment, you will need a small soldering iron (40 watts is fine for this) with a small tip (1/8" screwdriver tip is excellent). PLEASE!!!!! Do not even consider using a soldering gun or high-powered iron for printed circuit (PC) boards or small components -- you will almost certainly overheat and destroy something if you try!

You will also need some good, rosin-core solder. 63/37 tin/lead ratio is excellent; 60/40 will work well enough. Do not use acid-core solder or acid paste flux on electronic equipment; you'll find the copper traces on your PC boards dissolving in the acid.

If you don't want to build such equipment for long-term use but still want to experiment with electronic circuits, take heart: all is not lost. You can use a 9-volt battery to power many circuits. Or, you can actually build a small power supply on one end of your breadboarding socket. Various experiments included in these pages will show you how.

You may also want to purchase some test equipment to go with your experiments. This will allow you to verify the operation of each circuit in greater detail. At the very least, a Volt-Ohm-Milliammeter (VOM) would be a good investment. Digital versions of this basic instrument are readily available and inexpensive. Some of the experiments on these pages will include the design and construction of some practical instruments which you can actually assemble and use in other experiments.

Suitable components for these experiments can be purchased at Radio Shack and similar stores. There are also mail-order houses that sell quite suitable components and devices. Each experiment will include a list of required components and any appropriate specifications. None of the experiments will ever require special, high-priced versions of any component.

If you've never experimented with electronic circuits before, I strongly urge you to start with the section on breadboarding. This section will introduce you to the fundamental concepts you will need to construct and demonstrate temporary circuits without soldering and without damaging components. Once you are familiar with the process of constructing circuits on a breadboarding socket, you can move on to whichever experimental sections are of interest to you.

Next: Breadboard Sockets

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