Stock Up on Wire for Your Electronics Projects
One of the most important items to have on hand in your electronics lab is wire, which is simply a length of a conductor, usually made out of copper but sometimes made of aluminum or some other metal. The conductor is usually covered with an outer layer of insulation. In most wire, the insulation is made of polyethylene, which is the same stuff used to make plastic bags.
Wire comes in these two basic types:
Solid wire: Made from a single piece of metal
Stranded wire: Made of a bunch of smaller wires woven together.
For most purposes, you'll want to work with solid wire because it's easier to insert into breadboard holes and other types of terminal connections. Solid wire is also easier to solder. When you try to solder stranded wire, inevitably one of the tiny strands gets separated from the rest of the strands, which can create the potential for a short circuit.
On the other hand, stranded wire is more flexible than solid wire. If you bend a solid wire enough times, you'll eventually break it. For this reason, wires that are frequently moved are usually stranded.
Wire comes in a variety of sizes, which are specified by the wire's gauge, and is generally coiled in or on the packaging. Strangely, the larger the gauge number, the smaller the wire. For most electronics projects, you'll want 20- or 22-gauge wire. You'll need to use large wires (usually 14 or 16 gauge) when working with household electrical power.
Finally, you may have noticed that the insulation around a wire comes in different colors. The color doesn't have any effect on how the wire performs, but it's common to use different colors to indicate the purpose of the wire. For example, in DC circuits it's common to use red wire for positive voltage connections and black wire for negative connections.
To get started, you may want to purchase a variety of wires — at least four rolls: 20-gauge solid, 20-gauge stranded, 22-gauge solid, and 22-gauge stranded. If you can find an assortment of colors, all the better.
In addition to wires on rolls, you may also want to pick up jumper wires, which are precut, stripped, and bent for use with solderless breadboards. An assortment can be purchased at RadioShack for about $6.