In this parts practical section we'll be looking at how to prototype circuits easily. We'll be looking at two main methods of building a circuit in reality for the hobbyist starting out in electronics, the curiously named breadboard (sometimes called a protoboard) and the more permanent stripboard.
To prototype our circuits, we'll be using a breadboard, this is a plastic block with (usually) 840 holes in it, known as tie-points, components can be easily pushed into these holes. The long rows of holes running down either side of the board, of which there are 4 are called the power rails or the data buses, the rows in the middle of the board have a gap in the middle which allows integrated circuits (or 'chips') to be used in the board. To see how the boards tie pins are connected take a quick look at this diagram, we've marked example connections in blue:
We're going to be using these breadboards a lot throughout the guide, as they are quick and solderless system for assembling and testing the circuits/devices we'll be making, because of this I strongly recommend you purchase one of these inexpensive tools. We got this breadboard from Bowood Electronics (UK), click here to order one.
The other useful prototyping aid is the stripboard, this is a piece of plastic which has a grid of holes which are connected in rows by copper strips on the underside of the board. They come in all sorts of sizes and are very cheap.
Its very easy to see the connections on the strip board, they run in rows across the board connecting rows of holes, components are inserted into these holes and soldered onto the copper strip thus producing a circuit.
If you could only use one row per group of connections your circuit might get very big indeed, and soldering in IC's (or 'chips') would be impossible. To get around this you can break the copper track on the back of the board to help you lay out your circuit. You can use a very sharp knife or even a screw-driver to break the tracks, but we strongly recommend using a spot faced cutter.
Spot Faced Cutter
With this tool you can make breaks neatly and quickly, push the tool into a hole where to want to break the track and twist, this will remove the copper and leave a gap in the track...
We'll be using stripboard in later parts of the guide, often transferring a design from the breadboard on to the stripboard for practical use, you can get stripboard in many different sizes as well as spot faced cutters from Bowood Electronics - click here to order some now.
Phew! I think that's enough for this part of our guide. I hope you've enjoyed reading this and have learnt something along the way. Thanks to Bowood Electronics for providing us with the tools and components for this guide, click here to visit their online store and please remember to quote 'PC Review' when ordering.
Part 3 of 'Electronics 101' will be focusing on how to source power from your PC, two of the building blocks of circuits resistors and LEDs and we'll also be cooking up a little project to put into practice all that we've covered so far.