DIY Electronics: Fundamental Skills You Need to Master

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The world of do-it-yourself electronics is rewarding because it requires a lot of learning and hard work. Whether you’re doing something as simple as assembling a computer or more complex like building an RC helicopter, you need basic electronic skills to do them correctly. These include simple electronic safety to soldering components. Here are the best practices to learn for each skill:

Through-hole Soldering

Soldering is essential in electronics, as you almost always work with circuit boards. It’s a process where you join components to a circuit board using solder, which is often made of lead and tin. This alloy doesn’t just bind the parts together, but it also connects them electronically.

For basic DIY projects, you’ll likely encounter through-hole soldering, which is the easiest variation. For through-hole soldering, you only need a flat surface, a soldering iron, leaded solder, and a copper tip cleaner to do it. Don’t worry about advanced techniques like surface-mount technology (SMT) soldering used for prototype assembly just yet.

Electronics resource portals like Adafruit have excellent, in-depth guides on how to do through-hole soldering. But the gist is to:

  1. Heat your soldering iron to around 660 to 670 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Add a small amount of solder to its tip.
  3. Thread the metal legs of the component into the corresponding hole in the circuit board. Temporarily secure it with some tape so that it doesn’t move when you flip it over.
  4. On the other side of the board, heat one metal leg and the copper pad it’s threaded to with the iron.
  5. After about two to three seconds, let the solder wire touch the leg so that it melts just enough that it forms a small, shiny, and concave cone.
  6. Remove your solder wire and iron.

Desoldering

If you find that the solder is bulging or forming into a ball, you need to desolder it and try again. To do this, you’ll need a soldering pump, which can be bought for cheap in any hardware store. Push the pump down, melt the solder, direct the pump’s nozzle onto the melted solder, and push the release button. The component should be free of any solder. If there are still bits of lead, repeat the process.

computer circuit board

Testing Components

For around $6, you can buy a fully-functioning multimeter. It’s an electronics enthusiast’s best friend because it helps you determine whether some of your electronics components work or not. Take the fuse, for example. Fuses are essential to keeping appliances safe from overloading. Set the multimeter to test the resistance. Rotate the dial to the ohm symbol. Then, put the two leads on the opposite ends of the fuse.

If it reads 0, then your fuse still works. If it reads anything more than 0, it’s likely blown. You can use the multimeter to test other components like resistors and diodes. Just make sure you’re using the right lead for the negative and positive sides of the part, if there are any.

Avoiding ESD

Electronics contain a vast number of microcontrollers and other tiny parts. If they get zapped even with the tiniest amount of electricity, they’re likely going to fail. You’ve probably done this without knowing and wondered why your creation doesn’t work. This is because you probably created static electricity that fried the components. This is called electrostatic discharge or ESD.

You create a significant amount of static electricity when you rub your skin against polyester clothes, fur, and saran wrap, to name a few. Doing this can be unavoidable at times. This is why you should always use an anti-static strap that’s clipped onto a grounded connection. You could also touch unpainted metal appliances that are mounted directly to the ground, like your radiator pipe to discharge electricity. And for good measure, avoid touching sensitive parts of the board, like the microcontroller.

Building your own PC or putting together a custom keyboard is satisfying, primarily if it works the first time you test it. Ensure your success when working on your DIY electronics projects with these best practices. With the right soldering technique, testing methods, and safety practices, you’ll be an electronics wizard in no time.

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