We feature lots of different DIY electronics projects on Lifehacker, but the barrier for entry can appear to be intimidating.It's not nearly as difficult as it looks -- here's how to get started.
Picture: Trammell Hudson/Flickr
Learn the Basics
First things first: if you want to start tinkering around with electronics, you need to make sure you don't electrocute yourself. Even smaller electronics can give you a pretty good shock if you're not careful. If you do something even slightly wrong, your whole project might even blow up in your face. Here are a few different sources to get you started:
- E is for Electronics: Yes, this is a colouring book targeted at kids, but it teaches the basics of electronics, what different components do and the terminology in a way that's incredibly easy to understand.
- Khan Academy's Electricity and Magnetism: Khan Academy's introduction to electricity and magnetism class is an excellent place to start learning the basics of how electricity works. You don't necessarily need to understand everything, but you do need to know the basics of how static electricity works, how currents work (so you don't electrocute yourself), and understand what circuits do.
- Penguin Tutor's Safety Guide: The website is a little old, but Penguin Tutor gets to the core of what matters. Penguin Tutor goes through everything you need to do to keep yourself safe when working on electronics, including all the obvious things like isolating the power supply when you're working, using appropriate fuses and first aid.
- Soldering is Easy: You're likely going to do a lot of soldering in your projects, and knowing how to do it right will make your projects a lot easier. MIghtyOHM's "Soldering is Easy" comic book teaches you everything you need to get you started.
Even if you want to just start tinkering around with something like an Arduino, learning the basics of electricity is important. Electrocuting yourself isn't all that likely, but one wrong move and you might destroy your project. If you have some old electronics sitting around, now is a good time to take them apart and start poking at them to see how they work. Children's toys, busted appliances and old computer gear are great for teaching you the essentials of how electronics work.
Get Started with All-in-One Kits
Once you know the basics of electricity and the components you're working with, it's time to actually start working on tutorials. One place to start is with a kit that includes everything you need. SparkFun's collection of kits can start you on your way to working with everything from Arduino to robotics. Likewise, Adafruit's project packs and kits provide you with everything you need to get started with whatever type of electronics project you want.
Alternatively, you can also take online classes or follow tutorials to learn the basics of your electronics. Adafruit has a huge collection of tutorials, and SparkFun's online curriculum has classes ranging from basic soldering to Arduino development.
Learn From Other People's Projects
When you're first starting out it's easy to shoot big and try to make something entirely on your own. It's a heck of a lot easier to familiarise yourself with the basics by using other people's directions. As we talked about in our guide to getting started with Arduino, using other people's projects (and code) isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the best ways to learn.
One of the key things to learn right off the bat is that expert experience isn't required for DIY projects. You just need an idea of what you want to make. From there you can find tutorials guiding you through the process. Our electronics page is a great place to start looking for inspiration, as is Instructables, Hack a Day, Make and the Adafruit forums.
Following other people's guides is where the fun really starts. Once you find something you want to make, you can make improvements to their designs to make it work better for you or move on to a bigger project. Once you get a few under your belt, you won't have any trouble hacking together something completely on your own.
Take Advantage of Local Hackerspaces for Expert Advice
If you're not a fan of learning in the void of your own home, then it's time to hit up a hackerspace and find some like minded people. The process is incredibly easy to do. The benefit is that you'll get face-to-face time to work with like-minded people and learn new skills in a safe environment.
To find a space in your area, Hackerspace provides an up-to-date listing of every registered space worldwide. Most of these spaces also have a weekly or monthly event where people can go in and familiarise themselves with the space and meet the members.
It's no secret electronics tinkering is a bit overwhelming at first, but it's really not as hard as it seems. Once you learn the basics you can tackle nearly any project that comes to mind. Picture: Mitch Altman/Flickr