Seven Circuitbuilding Secrets

Below are seven bits of wisdom aren't about specific circuitbuilding techniques, but generally apply to everything. They can help make and keep circuitbuilding an enjoyable activity that will continue being enjoyable for years and years.

Be patient and alert

Take your time at the workbench — it's not a race! After a long session bent over the soldering iron, take a walk to clear your head and loosen your muscles. When you're troubleshooting and starting to get a little frustrated, that's the time to take a break. Many a project has been ruined or delayed because of working in a hurry or past the point of being alert.

Spring for quality tools and toolbox

Buy the best quality tools you can afford. Some of your tools might be with you for 40 years or more! Keep them clean and dry, don't abuse them, and store them in a good tool chest or carrying case. Beware of "grocery-store specials!" A high-quality tool will get the job done better and faster, plus it won't wear out as quickly.

Use plenty of light

It's important to be able to see what you're doing! Particularly when working on surface-mount electronics or other miniaturized circuits, good lighting can mean the difference between success and failure. A swing-arm lamp with a high-intensity bulb can put brilliant light exactly where it's needed. A head-mounted LED lamp will also do the job.

Hold on to your junk

Here's one of the best-kept secrets — the junk box full of spare, castoff, and reused items. Entire projects can be built from a well-stocked junk box! Start with one for mechanical hardware (screws, nuts, springs, and so on) and another for electronic parts (transistors, resistors, and knobs). Save the conductive foam and bags that your parts are shipped in; you can use them in your junk box, too!

Buddy up

Get to know other local circuitbuilders. They can be invaluable sources of information and parts. Troubleshooting can also go a lot smoother with a friend around to ask the questions you didn't think of. Have an open house and learn from each other. Attend local flea markets or conventions together. Keep on the lookout for ham radio, computer, and antique radio flea markets — these are usually treasure troves of electronic bargains.

Test in steps

As you build a project, stop as you complete sections of circuitry to perform simple checks. Did power get connected to everything it should and nothing it shouldn't? Does the amplifier amplify? Does the filter filter? Does the switch switch? These are much easier to test before the entire circuit or system is built. After everything is put together, any bugs in the finished product can be devilishly hard to isolate, so find as many as you can when things are simple.

Take pride in your craft

Last, but not least, take pride in the craft of your workmanship! Not all projects need to be works of art, but paying attention to detail and appearance often pays benefits of fewer failures and easier maintenance. Plus, you'll swell with pride when somebody looks over your work and says, "Nice job!"

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