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Best Electronics Kits For Adults? 376

Posted by kdawson
from the resistance-is-futile dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm an adult looking to learn how electronics work and have some fun building projects. But all the kits I've found online are for kids 8-10 years old, and they don't really explain the principles — they just color-code where to place components on boards. Are there any kits aimed at adults? I know if anyone has got the answer, it's this community."
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Best Electronics Kits For Adults?

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  • heathkit (Score:5, Informative)

    by smitty97 (995791) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:21AM (#23872839)
    http://www.heathkit.com/ [heathkit.com] i remember my father made a bunch of things many years ago, like an oscilliscope and such.
    • by rpervinking (1090995) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:31AM (#23873003)
      The old HeathKits, like oscilliscopes and ham radios, were of value as exercises in assembly and part identification. Beyond getting a general sense of what the circuitry was about, I never learned anything about electronics from building such stuff.
      • by v1 (525388) on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:28AM (#23873791) Homepage Journal

        Heathkits were good for learning physically working with electronics. Soldering irons, pin identification, mechanical assembly, but didn't really teach theory.

        The 150 and 200-in-1 radio shack kits actually did a fairly good job of this. They started you out with "connect the numbered terminals, here's a picture", to later replacing the picture of the parts with a schematic. They encouraged you to experiment, and there was accompanying text for each project later on that described what was going on in the circuit so you understood what all the parts were doing.

        It didn't teach you electronics theory formally in any kind of structured way, but it was an excellent crash-course in basic electronics. It was also a very quick way to teach you how to read, use, and create schematics. There are still 200-in-1 kits available but not by Archer anymore: http://www.quasarelectronics.com/epl200.htm [quasarelectronics.com]

        There really are 200 different projects in that kit, ranging from very very basic, "press the switch to turn on the light" all the way up to "a divide-by-2 counter" and "build your own one way telephone". It teaches the basics of digital computing at the gate level which is interesting. Also there was a very wide variation in the projects. Something interesting for everyone. Photodetector alarms, simple games, noisemakers, just all sorts of variety to keep a kid interested.

        Once you want to really start fiddling, this is something you should have. It doesn't teach you anything in itself, but lets you play more: Heathkit ET-3100 electronic design experimenter: http://providence.craigslist.org/ele/696855286.html [craigslist.org]

        I had one of these and it's very basic, but by this point you should have some spare parts around already, and having adjustable voltages and signals and a breadboard takes you to the next step of design. Actually I think it did come with some projects, it's been awhile. This was a kit, so you had to assemble it properly for it to work. I used to spend my free time at school planning out schematics of things I wanted to tinker with, sometimes preplanning how to lay them out on the breadboard when I got home.

        • Elenco labs (Score:3, Informative)

          by acadiel (627312)
          Elenco made all the old lab kits for Radio Shack. They still sell the spring-terminal ones. Here's a page where they describe them: http://www.elenco.com/prolabs.htm [elenco.com] They are VERY nice, and the upper-end ones have the schematics only (no numbered diagrams) in later experiments to encourage you to learn how to wire the circuits based upon schematics.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by netringer (319831)

        The old HeathKits, like oscilliscopes and ham radios, were of value as exercises in assembly and part identification. Beyond getting a general sense of what the circuitry was about, I never learned anything about electronics from building such stuff.

        I built a lot of Heathkits in the day. There was a retail store in town.

        The Heathkit assembly manuals always included a small "How it works" section, but I agree that wasn't enough to get you a through understanding.

        Heathkit had projects as large a 27" console color television. The manual had to tell you how to tune and align it as you were building it.

      • Spot-on (Score:3, Informative)

        by FranTaylor (164577)

        Long, long ago, I pulled an all-nighter and built up an H-19 terminal all in one shot. My friends were amazed. So was I, it fired right up and worked perfectly the first time. I owned it for years and actually got a decent price when I sold it. I still have no idea how it worked.

    • Re:heathkit (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:07AM (#23873489)

      Try Ramsey Electronics. You can download their manuals and see what the kits are about. I recently built their FM30B FM radio transmitter kit to broadcast my mp3s around my house and yard. Besides getting to build something, you can also get something really useful out of the deal.

      The FM30 is digitally tuned and digitally controlled and the circuit description and how it all works is very good. Kit difficulty is good for first timers if they are careful and follow the directions.

      The final product sounds great too. I have my Linux box serving up the music and have my transmitter Y'ed into the line out with the speakers.

      The FM30B is $200, but they also have other transmitters for around $140, and $60 if you want a less complicated and less expensive setup.

    • by Simonetta (207550) on Friday June 20, 2008 @12:01PM (#23874253)

      I learned electronics as an adult. Beginning electronics books found in the library is an excellent place to start. Check many library branches and suburban nearby districts. Often you can get a library card for the suburban district libraries with a central city card at no charge.

      Some other suggestions:
          >Get a cheap digital voltmeter for about $20. Invaluable.

          >Download several of the sound-card oscilloscope programs floating around on the web. Many of them have poor quality user-interfaces and documentation, but nearly all of them work on low-frequency AC signals like audio.

          > Get an inexpensive soldering iron and salvage/recycle parts from junk electronics, especially old electronics that used through-hole components. A spring-loaded plastic tube solder-sucker used to remove solder from joints on recycled/used circuit boards is quite useful. A solder-less 'breadboard' where components can be connected to make temporary test circuits is handy. Sometimes community college students in software have to take electronics classes to graduate. They have to buy component kits for labs. After finishing the class, they show their contempt for these electronics classes by selling their supplies for super-cheap or by giving them away.

          > Ask 'stupid' questions on 'beginner's' web sites. Ignore all the smart-ass 'stupid noobie' responses.

          > Post a message on the local CraigsList for free surplus hobbyist electronic components. You might meet local people who can direct you to local inexpensive parts-sources and assistance.

          > Be open to exploring microcontrollers. There's a real learning curve, but they are now very cheap and flexible. I recommend exploring the Atmel AVR family. I strongly discourage using the Microchip PIC, because they are a pain in the neck to program, and are not very cheap. The AVR chips can be programmed directly through the PC parallel port.

          > Most electronic manufacturers will give free samples of their parts if you ask them. It is standard practice in the electronics industry to get free samples to build a prototype of a new product, and then buy thousands of the chips when the product goes into production. You can use your work e-mail address to convince the electronics manufacturers that this is your plan with the samples.

          > Eagle makes a great free software package for creating schematic drawings of your circuits and, as you advance, for designing a printed circuit board. Google for more info and download site.

          > Several companies now make small numbers of small-sized professional quality circuit boards for $35-50. These 'board-houses' are invaluable for use with tiny surface-mount components and integrated circuits that the electronics industry is standardizing on.

      I hope that all this helps. I suggest focusing on a specific area that you find interesting. For several years I studied electric guitar effects pedals like fuzz/distortion, flangers, and echo/delays. The schematic circuits (and documentation on how the circuits work) for the older 1970s and 1980s effects are available on the web. Also you can get cheap knock-off clones of expensive effects on eBay for $15-$25 each. With a DIY signal generator (like a simple 555 timer), you can feed signals into these cheap effects clone boxes and use the free PC sound card oscilloscope programs to see how the circuitry is changing the signal through each stage of the effect.

      Best of luck.

      • by TBone (5692) on Friday June 20, 2008 @01:54PM (#23876045) Homepage

        > Most electronic manufacturers will give free samples of their parts if you ask them. It is standard practice in the electronics industry to get free samples to build a prototype of a new product, and then buy thousands of the chips when the product goes into production. You can use your work e-mail address to convince the electronics manufacturers that this is your plan with the samples.

        Dear Slashdot:

        All further requests for free samples will forthwith have the originating email address compared to the Slashdot userbase, and denied if a match is found. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

        --marketing@BigElectronicsSupplier.com
    • Re:heathkit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bfwebster (90513) on Friday June 20, 2008 @12:29PM (#23874653) Homepage

      If I have less than warm feelings towards Heathkit, it's because almost 30 years ago, while working at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, my boss (a great guy, BTW) decided to save LPI some funds. Rather than buying assembled terminals to use with our new VAX, he instead bought quite a few Heathkit dumb CRT terminal kits and then paid me (per terminal) to assemble them after work hours.

      It did save LPI money, and it put some extra money in my pockets -- but as I type this, I can feel again the burns and cuts on my fingertips from hours upon hours of assembling and soldering, not to mention the general frustration at trying to make each terminal work (which I did, eventually). I can't remember how many terminals I built, but I know the VAX was intended to support 30 LPI personnel, so it was a lot.

      Mostly, it reinforced my earlier decision back in college to be a CS major, rather than a EE major. :-) ..bruce..

  • Kits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:24AM (#23872881) Journal

    It's been a long time since I built a Heathkit, do they still make them? My two favorites were my sixty watt guitar amplifier and my ham radio reciever; this was in the last '60s when I was a teenager.

    But you're not really going to learn about electronics by building stuff from kits. Read books; when you have the theory then you can get the kits and will understand what's going on with them.

    The library is your friend. It's often better than Google and Wikipedia combined.

  • Nerd (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kamineko (851857) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:24AM (#23872883)
    If you want to know about digital electronics and microprogramming, try a Nerdkit [nerdkits.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fishfish (139505)

      Going the micro-controller route, I'd consider the Picaxe -- Pic based, with a built-in Basic interpreter and a great support forum. Plus they are way cheaper than the basic stamps.

      http://www.rev-ed.co.uk/picaxe/

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PICAXE

      http://www.phanderson.com/picaxe/picaxe.html

  • by barfy (256323) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:24AM (#23872885)

    Wow, in one.... Guessing is your friend.

    http://www.electronickits.com/ [electronickits.com]

    • Re:forget kits (Score:4, Informative)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:32AM (#23873023) Homepage
      I was going to say that. Start off with a breadboard, wires, LEDs, and some logic gates, then move up from there. Kits often have the problem of not having something crucial, and making it hard to incorporate things that aren't included with the kit.
    • Re:forget kits (Score:5, Informative)

      by e2d2 (115622) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:58AM (#23873377)

      Yeah I agree. I did the same when starting out and that's half the fun. A basic kit you buy will almost always contain a bread board, a power supply, some wire, and some basic elements like LEDs. All of these can be found in one trip to radio shack with little effort.

      For instance here could be a basic kit:

      - Bread board

      - 6V-12V power supply. I prefer the ones that allow you to choose amperage

      - pack of LEDS. Blue LEDS are purdy

      - Wire. Radio shack and others sell wire "kits"of different lengths or a spool.

      - Basic multimeter. Great for when things don't work

      - pack of components. Transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc. And of course the whole reason I do this - some nice 8 bit chips.

      Again, all of this stuff can be bought in a quick trip to radio shack. Once you get the basics you can dig into the real online "part bins" like DigiKey.com or Mouser.com.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blincoln (592401)

        Again, all of this stuff can be bought in a quick trip to radio shack.

        Unfortunately, few Radio Shack stores (at least in the Seattle area) still carry electronic components. Of all of them around here, there are two (the one in the University District and to a lesser extent the one in lower Queen Anne) that stock any (I went to all of them last year looking for a particular part).

        What they do stock is very limited compared to an online store (particularly with regards to ICs), and their prices are generally

  • make (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.makershed.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=MKSL1

    pretty basic kit, but for the price you get alot of stuff that will help you on your way to doing better stuff. Decent documentation too.

  • Electronics Learning Lab [radioshack.com] Designed by Forrest Mims and sold by radio shack.

    You could also do with picking up his Getting Started in Electronics [amazon.com] book. It is like a field journal for electrical theory, very fun read.

    Hope that points you in the right direction.

    -Scott

    • by boristdog (133725) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:42AM (#23873161)

      The Mims books and kits are very good.

      And Ratshack also has an excellent microcontroller kit/book/CD called "What's a microcontroller".

      Everything you need for learning and experiments (except the 9V battery). I've got one on my desk right now.

    • by squidfood (149212)

      Electronics Learning Lab

      Those kits are great (if it still has the instructions it used to, allows one to progress quickly through the basics even easier than a breadboard, with the circuit laid out more neatly. Adding a breadboard for support, as a teenager (not into "kid" learning) I used one of the kits to play with an analog sound chip ( This [speechchips.com] looks like a modern equivalent maybe) changing the frequencies of those weird sounds with the kit's pots taught me more intuitively about RC oscillations than a scope could have.

  • This isn't exactly what you are looking for but it's along the same lines, and lots of fun. Costs $109 and you can find lots of nifty howto guides for building gadgets with it on their forums and whatnot. They sell all sorts of servos, stepper motors, buttons, etc to go along with it.

    http://www.makingthings.com/products/KIT-MAKE-CTRL [makingthings.com]

    • Even better: Arduino (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have the Make board and like it because it gives my students experience with an ARM processor.

      For someone wanting to learn a bit of electronics, I like the Arduino www.arduino.cc better. The web site has great tutorials on how to connect peripherals to the board. The board is designed to be a multimedia controller and it is designed to be used by artists. It is very easy to program but it is also easy to insert a bit of assembly code if you want things to run faster.

      Electronics these days is usually a

  • AdaFruit (Score:5, Informative)

    by jenkin sear (28765) * on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:27AM (#23872945) Homepage Journal

    I've been having fun buying and building the various kits available from http://www.adafruit.com/ [adafruit.com] . You need to solder to do them, but that's really really easy.

    The Arduino projects are particularly cool (the ethernet and the WAV shields are cheap and fun) so you can do electronics as well as program microprocessors.

    Velleman has a bunch of kits too; many are for little kids, but I built an interesting USB breakout kit (USB control of a bunch of output and input lines).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Vellemann had a kit for a wireless telephone transmitter. What I liked most about it is that it had a legal warning.

      If it doesn't have political overtones, it's not worth doing.

    • by SteveMurphy (890510) on Friday June 20, 2008 @01:01PM (#23875165) Homepage
      Most of the kits you find at Radio Shack are firmly rooted in the 60's and 70's, where the most high tech item in the kit is the venerable old 555 timer and maybe a transistor plus 50 cents worth of resisters and a couple capacitors and an LED or two. (A notable exception is their Parallax What is a Microcontroller [radioshack.com]) kit. What makes this a kit for grown ups is the solderless breadboard which can be used to hook up virtually any component instead of just a few using snaps or wires-and-springs). So if you have to have it today, you could do a lot worse than the Parallax kit. Just enter your zip code to see which store near you has it in stock [radioshack.com] (call to avoid the inevitable "...Bill have you ever heard of this?"), and you'll be in business for about $80.

      But a much, much better option is to buy this starter kit [adafruit.com] and learn the hot new Arduino [ladyada.net] instead of the aging Basic Stamp. You'll need to start a junk drawer of components, including resistor assortment like [vakits.com] these [vakits.com] four [vakits.com] kits [vakits.com]. Local Amateur Radio HamFests and eBay are both good places to fill out your junk box.

      Some good resources:

      o The Arduino Home Page [arduino.cc]
      o Peter Anderson's Arduino page [phanderson.com] (the whole site is great, and most can be adapted to the Arduino)
      o Sparkfun Tutorials [sparkfun.com] (and don't miss out on their store [sparkfun.com] that has all the good stuff)
      o The Electronic Goldmine [goldmine-elec.com] is a great resource for odd surplus electronics.

  • If you're looking at electronic kits for "adults", then why not consider building your own amplifier ?

    A quick search for DIY audio will reveal a magnitude of kits and projects, many of which are definitely NOT for novices.
    What you'll get in the end would most likely be an awesome sounding amp, that would possibly be better than something costing 10x that in retail :)

    Oh, and if your hardcore, why not build a tube amp ? Working with over 300V ... definitely not for kiddies !

  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:31AM (#23873005)
    Decades ago when I was a kid I subscribed to a "science kit of the month" advertised on the back of comic books. They kind of built on top each other - one month an amplifier, then a telegraph, then a radio, etc. The subscription was like an outrageous $5 a month - about a third of my paper-route profits. My parents then used to complain about me stinking up the basement with the soldering gun. My guess is that someone declared this dangerous and it went off the market pretty much like chemistry kits have also been emasculated. Then I suppose if it was these days I'd be hacking computers then.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      My guess is that someone declared this dangerous and it went off the market pretty much like chemistry kits have also been emasculated.
      Ah yes, why use a prosaic explanation ("they went belly up like many companies do") when a groundless rant can be substituted?
  • Nerdkits.com (Score:3, Informative)

    by half_d (314945) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:32AM (#23873015)
    Funnely enough I saw this in someones SIG in another story, just after I read your question. It looks very good, with lots of projects and videos. Their own description:

    A NerdKit is a combination of electronic parts and wisdom, which together will teach you about digital electronics, embedded systems, and how to bridge computers with the "real world". The electronics world has changed dramatically in the past few decades. We want to make sure that it's still easy to get involved with modern technology, and to experience a challenging and rewarding hobby! A NerdKit is appropriate for software hackers looking to branch out into electronics, and has educational material to allow even middle-schoolers and high-schoolers (ages 12+) looking for a fun challenge to learn by doing, especially with the help of a techie parent! A microcontroller is a small computer on a single chip, including processing, memory, and inputs and outputs -- see the Wikipedia page for more information.
    Although I could imagine you wanted more of the basics? This is (it seems) mainly built around a microcontroller and real-world/computer interaction. Good hunting
  • by slewfo0t (679988) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:34AM (#23873051) Homepage
    Great projects that encompass all types of electronics. My favorite place to find kits! http://www.makershed.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=20 [makershed.com] Enjoy! Slewfoot
  • If you want to learn, use the manufacturer's application notes [national.com] and start from there. Usually they have sample circuits with equations. Buy your parts from Digikey [digikey.com].
  • by Skylinux (942824) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:38AM (#23873117) Homepage

    Here you go, not a kit but plenty to read and learn. This is where I would start and once you understand it, pick a project and build it from scratch.
    http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/ [ibiblio.org]

    Once you have the understanding, you can create printed circuit boards with Eagle (free for non-commercial use)
    http://www.cadsoftusa.com/ [cadsoftusa.com]

    and have Sparkfun order your PCBs via BatchPCB
    http://www.batchpcb.com/ [batchpcb.com]

    This is how I got into building my own robots, not the ones from kits but scratch build by ordering the parts and doing my own designs.

    • by rmcd (53236) *

      I completely agree with your first suggestion, Lessons in Electric Circuits [ibiblio.org] by Tony Kuphaldt. I think he's done a fantastic job.

      I would also highly recommend The Electronics Club [freeuk.com]. There are wonderful explanations, example circuits, and a recommended starter kit [freeuk.com] of parts and components, including suggestions for how to organize everything. It's a great site.

  • Start by learning about logic circuits and building some yourself using a software simulator like Logisim. Once you get the basics down, you can build some really complex circuits (logisim lets you "package" entire circuits in ICs, just like you would if you built a real chip.

    http://ozark.hendrix.edu/~burch/logisim/ [hendrix.edu]

    Crossplatform too ;)

    Try and build an LCD controller ;-) Once you get circuit logic down you'll really have a good understanding of how electronics work on a fundamental level. Then you can start

  • Skip the kids' kits and get yourself a solderless breadboard and ordinary bare components. You're a big boy, you can be trusted not to eat the resistors.

    Here's a good book: "Getting Started in Electronics", by Forrest M. Mims III.

    Radio Shack used to be the place for this kind of thing: you could get assortments of resistors and capacitors, and lots of basic semiconductors. These days, not many RS's have this stuff, and it's overpriced, but it might still be your best bet. mouser.com and digikey.com are g

    • by idontgno (624372)

      You're a big boy, you can be trusted not to eat the resistors.

      Awww, the carbon-films are SOOO tasty! Especially if you chew a small electrolytic cap (2.2uf or less) with them; the piquancy of the 'lyte perfectly emphasizes the smooth activated-charcoal taste of the resistors.

      Just dont't swallow the cap; the aluminum casing'll give you the runs for sure.

  • by RaigetheFury (1000827) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:41AM (#23873139)

    Just an FYI, Radioshack Stores are moving away from being the parts store we all loved. They are now trying to be more competitive in Cell Phones and Satellite dishes. You can thank their CEO for this. It's not very easy to find a Radioshack that still has a lot of parts in stock, let alone kits.

    It's best to order it online as most stores won't have what you're looking for. Also another idea is to call up your local colleges who offer courses. They often sell kits or can tell you where their students buy kits. Those places ALWAYS have additional info.

    The project lists can range from simple circuits to digital electronics. Learning how to build your own Amplifier for your stereo you quickly realize what massive profit margins these companies have, and you start to wonder why medical equipment that performs simple functions costs tens of thousands of dollars.

    • by nuzak (959558)

      Every radio shack I've seen that wasn't in a mall has the Archer components in a modular shelf with nicely labeled color-coded drawers. Lo and behold they're full of resistors, caps, transistors, and so forth -- more selection than I remember from before. Radio Shack was never a very good place for getting components, they were always more like the 7-11 of electronics: a good place to pick up a can of Chef Boyardee, but you still need to head to A.G. Ferrari to get your fresh proscuitto-stuffed tortelloni

      • Those drawers are mostly empty now and often you can't find stuff as basic as a DB-25 connector or a stereo plug. The "help" is no help and has no idea what you are talking about.

    • by Tassach (137772)

      you start to wonder why medical equipment that performs simple functions costs tens of thousands of dollars.
      Blame the lawyers. $5 of parts, $5 of labor to assemble them, and several thousands of dollars of insurance to pay off the inevitable multi-million dollar lawsuits that will come your way when something bad happens to someone while they were hooked up to your gadget.
  • by Junior Samples (550792) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:41AM (#23873149)

    In the Good Old Days, we had Heathkit, Eico Kits, and Knight Kits (Allied Radio). The last kit that I built was a Heath AR1500 AM/FM Stereo receiver that I purchased in 1972. It's still running today.

    Today, there's not much out there. The local hobby store sells simple kits from Velleman http://www.vellemanusa.com/us/enu/product/list/?id=523008 [vellemanusa.com] but these don't compare to the kits of the 60s & 70s.

    I guess that's it's a lot cheaper to buy the product assembled and tested from China than it is to build your own.

    The ARRL handbook is a good source of do it yourself electronic projects geared toward Amateur Radio.

    • What are these made-in-China products you have that were tested first? :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nuzak (959558)

      Electronics kits follow the times: it's a digital age, and just as transistors displaced tubes, IC's stand in place of discrete components. And as microcontrollers go, it's a freakin golden age for hobbyists. You have more choices than ever before. Hell, you can even mock up full-blown CPU's with FPGAs if that turns you on, and you can do that on a hobby budget.

      I guess that's it's a lot cheaper to buy the product assembled and tested from China than it is to build your own.

      It's been that way since the 70

  • by bigHairyDog (686475) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:42AM (#23873155)
    Learning electronics is easier with a project that means something to you. I'm into photography, so I learned by building a sound trigger for my camera for high speed photography.

    You can get kits containing the components you need here: http://www.hiviz.com/ [hiviz.com]

    And use them to make pictures like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bernieandjude/2578082432/ [flickr.com]

    The kit comes with instructions and a circuit diagram. All else you need is a book like Starting Electronics by Keith Brindley to help you interpret the diagram.
  • Have you consider attending a basic eletronics course? or maybe a tech school ...

    It may sound a little too much for a hobby, but I think it's nice to get some basic knowledge in order to start on the right tracks.. I mean, after a good course, you can buy the components yourself, search the projects on google and build it without those pre-built kits.. I think it's way cooler ...
  • Try the Funway into Electronics [dse.com.au] series from Dick Smith or the Short Circuit Series [jaycar.com.au] from Jaycar. They are written to be simple enough for kids but are actually soundly based and suitable as a first step for adults. Each project aims to demonstrate a principle, includes explanation and builds on previous projects to form a short course. The books are the most important thing. The mentioned shops sell accompanying kits but the components are all generic and can be picked up at any electronics store around

  • Go to the source (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@kHORSEe ... minus herbivore> on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:46AM (#23873217) Homepage

    You are an adult, and can buy your own parts, so have no need for kits.

    All you need to get started is this book - it is basically the de-facto standard for learning electronics.

    "Getting Started in Electronics" - Forest M Mims III

    http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Started-Electronics-Forrest-Mims/dp/0945053282/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1213973092&sr=8-1 [amazon.com]

    This book is basically the bible for newcomers to electronics. Buy it, you will not be disappointed. He starts off with the simple, progresses to the relatively complex, and explains all the principles along the way. Every project comes with a complete parts listing, and lots of diagrams and illistrations to help along the way. Also there is some great reference pages included that I STILL refer to occasionally.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:47AM (#23873233) Journal

    Seriously. The kits have nice big, brightly coloured bits which are physically large and easy to handle. They are also relatively hard to break. You don't really need those featues. Instead, get a good beginners book, for instance by Forest M. Mimms III, a solderless breadbroad, and then buy the components mentioned in the book. You can then start assembling them on the breadboard.

    For what it's worth, I'd duggest the following:

    Several reels of 100 metal film resistors, 100OHm, 1K, 10K, 100K and 1M.

    A bag of brestripped, tinned and finished wires of various lengths for breadboard prototyping.

    A reel of single core wire (for when the premade ones won't quite stretch).

    Several bags of capacitors (100p 1n 10n 100n ceramic, polyester, mica or mylar and 1u 100u and 1000u in electrolytic). You want maybe 20 of the smaller ones and 10 of the larger ones.

    A nice big bag of cheap transistors. These are a little trickier, but all of the low priced ones will be similar. You probably want something like 20 small ones like BC108 (NPN, low power) a corresponding PNP one and 5 medium power ones like BFY51.

    10 cheap LEDs

    1 Buzzer

    1 loudspeaker

    A good powersupply. You won't need more than 1Amp, but you probably want 0--15V variable, and 2 outputs if you can manage it. This is the mist expensive part, but you could just get a 9V wall wart if this is a problem. Batteries get annoying quite fast.

    This will set you up way better than a kit.

    You can also add to it later. You can buy a rail of 741 op amps (indestructible, and still popular even though they're 20 years obsoloete) and 555 oscillator chips. Later still you can get some logic ICs.

    Plase, slashdotters weigh in, because I've missed something here.

    • Please, slashdotters weigh in, because I've missed something here.
      You've got most of the key things (I'd go for more of the intermediate resistors and capacitors too, but that' personal taste). Add a multimeter to that selection, and you've got a reasonable mix. Better would be an oscilloscope, but that's a much bigger outlay. Also, it's probably a good idea to get some cheap switches (both toggle and push-to-make) and a few variable resistors. And if you're going to experiment with building a radio, definitely get a variable capacitor and a diode. (If not, don't bother.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blincoln (592401)

        Better would be an oscilloscope, but that's a much bigger outlay.

        If you aren't working with high frequencies, second-hand analogue oscilloscopes are cheap. I got a 20MHz, 8-input Tektronix rackmount oscilloscope for about $40 on eBay. Since I'm mostly interested in working with audio frequencies, I don't need 100+ MHz.

        Of course, the two probes I bought were also about $40 each, but I can use those on other Tektronix oscilloscopes I might buy in the future.

        An alternative is something like a PicoScope [picotech.com], but ev

    • This is exactly what I was thinking. You are essentially setting yourself up with the equipment of a Freshmen EE lab (excluding AC equipment, power resistors and other high amperage stuff).

      You will also need a decent volt/ohmmeter and maybe an AC/DC clamp-on ammeter (not required).

    • by The Wookie (31006)

      A multimeter might be a good idea

      I'm not too good with hardware, so most of the stuff I do is digital. There are some nice microcontroller development boards from places like microcontrollershop.com and futurlec.com with a breadboard area and a serial or USB connection to program the controller.

      Again for digital, maybe a grab-bag of ICs, which will mostly be logic gates. I also use a lot of shift registers and 3-to-8 decoders.

      For a power supply, I bought a powered breadboard with a 5v supply and a variable

    • by CodeMunch (95290) *

      Plase, slashdotters weigh in, because I've missed something here.

      Would you like to buy a vowel? An 'e'?

      I'll post something useful later when I get home to dig through my electronics box/books. I have some "From the ground up" stuff - theory and then some simple projects (burglar alarm, strobe light, colour organ)

      For some adult projects try this book: Build Your Own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun & Other Working Space-Age Projects [indigo.ca]

      The author also has other books [indigo.ca] and if you search for them on Amazon a

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TerranFury (726743)

      I agree completely with parent. A few additional thoughts:

      Although I second the suggestion to get a book, I'd also suggest the following website: All About Circuits [allaboutcircuits.com]. It's basically a short textbook, online. It has some nice intuitive explanations.

      As for books... My top choice would be Hambley's Electronics [amazon.com]. It's a complete, correct, and accessible introduction to the subject. It's a great book. The Art of Electronics [amazon.com] is also very good.

      I also completely agree with the suggestion to get a solderle

    • I highly recommend BG Micro for finding parts www.bgmicro.com [bgmicro.com].

      Their site is a little ghetto looking, but it's cheap and they've always had what I need for electronics tinkering.
    • jameco.com and digikey.com both sell resistor, capacitor, and transistor assortments, where you get a bag that has 1000 or so components of various values. Sometimes you can even get them in nice individually-labelled drawer sets. It's much more convenient than trying to buy them on your own.
      here's an example of a jameco assortment [jameco.com]. yeah, that's a bit expensive, but believe me you will appreciate it once you've tried buying things in small quantities.
      It's harder to justify kits of capacitors since you do

  • I begged my parents for the Radio Trash-marketed 160-in-one and 200-in-one kits and had lots of fun with those. The instruction books explained the concepts and even touched on a little theory.

  • A couple of sites... (Score:3, Informative)

    by HogGeek (456673) on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:49AM (#23873267)

    If you are into (or want to be) audio

    http://tangentsoft.net/audio/ [tangentsoft.net]

    Else

    http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/ [allaboutcircuits.com]

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Friday June 20, 2008 @10:55AM (#23873329) Homepage

    I totally sympathize with you. I'm always looking for stuff to build but there really isn't much complex out there. I would love a little 16 bit computer or something. Something like the replica 1 [brielcomputers.com] only more complicated.

    Of what I've built, there is one and only one answer. The ultimate kit, the best out there, the Elecraft K2 [elecraft.com]. I've built that, the KPA100 power amplifier, the KAT100 tuner, and a few little modules for it. It took me weeks to build it all. It was amazing.

    Kit building is why I got into Ham Radio. The only problem is... I don't seem to care about the rest of ham radio. I haven't operated much. I keep meaning to do more to see if I like it better, but I don't seem to care enough to get around to it. I'm thinking of selling my K2 since it's just sitting around.

    Other than that there are a few kits out there. A Nixie tube clock, while not too complicated, looks interesting. I ran across an all transistor clock [transistor-clock.com] kit the other day. It looks quite neat.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      There are kits for Sinclair Spectrum clones (with a bit more stuff than the original machine) around. Of course, you can design and build your own 8 bit machine too, one of the things I did last year was roll my own Z80 based system. (It even has ethernet!)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jon_adair (142541)
      Ten-Tec has radio kits [tentec.com]. The two regenerative shortwave receivers are fun. Vectronics also has some non-ham radio kits [vectronics.com].
  • OK, this is totally not the cool answer, but I started with this one:

    http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2102913&cp=2032062.2032398&parentPage=family [radioshack.com]

    It comes with two books, one on digital and one on analog circuits. I outgrew it quickly, but it got me far enough along to step up to a breadboard and raw parts. The circuits cover extreme beginner to, say, apprentice - so it's not going to last long if it appeals to you. But that was great for me as it completely evaporated any fear

  • by KC1P (907742) on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:02AM (#23873429) Homepage

    You didn't say what *kind* of electronics you want to learn about. Ramsey Electronics has some general-interest kits, as do Jameco and JDR. TenTec has simple ham radio kits (with excellent support), so do Vectronics (part of MFJ Enterprises) and Small Wonder Labs. Elecraft has fancier ham radio kits (multiband stuff more in line with the old high-end Heathkits). And PAiA has audio kits. (All of these companies have obvious website URLs.)

    If you want a stepping stone to building your own digital stuff, most of the IC companies put out really wonderful evaluation boards to show off their parts. They're not kits themselves but they're very much intended to get your juices flowing (the IC vendors want corporate customers to choose their parts to use in products so easy prototyping is vital) so they're easy to get to the "hello world" stage (or the lights-and-switches equivalent) and there's plenty of provision for adding your own stuff to it and then transplanting the whole thing to a free-standing design once you have your rat's nest prototype debugged. Prices vary wildly but some of them are really good deals.

    I'm a huge fan of Microchip PIC CPUs because you don't need to buy *anything*, the programming protocol is simple and well-documented (none of that convoluted JTAG stuff) so you can build your own burner for a few dollars (I use the old "COM84" circuit available on the net, modified to work with the low voltages put out by current COM ports) and free burner software (or you can write your own, it's easy).

  • by TheGreatOrangePeel (618581) on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:05AM (#23873465) Homepage

    To save yourself frustration and headaches later, DON'T START SOLDERLESS! Learn how to solder first! Flow solder down a long wire. Strip parts out of a circuit board and put them back in without damaging them, without burning the board and checking with a magnifying glass that you don't have any solder tips that cross over onto the neighboring point. Get comfortable removing whole chips using both solder wick and a solder-sucker. Learn the components of solder so you're not wondering why you're leaving "tan stuff" (resin) on the board. Cut several parallel 'wires' on a circuit board and then fix it with solder and a single strand of copper wire ... if you learn how to solder first you'll save yourself the frustration of knowing how to fix a problem but lacking the actual skill to do so.

    I'd look around for kits aimed at high school students. My senior year of high school I took an electronics course where we had to put together a radio from a kit. The good thing about a radio is that there's a lot of cans that need tweaking and points that need to be seen on an oscilloscope to get everything properly calibrated. In fact, this is the kit [electronickits.com] I used (note that I'm not endorsing the seller. I just happened across the product is all).

    I'd go ahead and pick up an electronics text book geared toward college students as well.

    ...and start memorizing that v=i*r starting now.

  • Make your own (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:08AM (#23873511) Journal

    Seriously - make your own kit.

    You need:
    - Plug in solderless breadboard. Get something reasonably big.
    - An assortment of resistors, capacitors, and inductors. Many suppliers sell bags of common values for these.
    - Some transistors: get some NPN and PNP small signal bipolar transistors. Get some N and P channel small signal MOSFETs.
    - A few 555 timer ICs.
    - A handful of 74-series logic ICs (typical quad gates, flip flops, shift registers).

    And of course a whole heap of LEDs. You need some blinkenlights when learning.

    With this you can look at the 'net - for example, while reading 'Lessons in Electric Circuits' http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/ [ibiblio.org] you can devise circuits to expand your knowledge on what you've just read.

    You also need at least a reasonable multimeter. As you start getting into stuff that oscillates at more than a few hertz, and if you are enjoying what you're doing, it's worth looking on ebay for a reasonable 2nd hand oscilloscope.

    As you get more advanced, you can get microcontrollers, for example, get some Atmel AVR 8 bit microcontrollers - they are supported by GCC and you can make your own parallel programmer with an old printer lead and 4 resistors. Or build a proper computer with external memory - the Z80 microprocessor is still made, and is cheap, and is great for tinkering because it is a 'static' design and run at sub 1Hz clock frequencies where you can see what's happening by putting LEDs on the data and address bus.

    • Digi-key is good too, but you just can't beat Mouser. They have EVERYTHING you need, they ship fast, and their packaging is just darned elegant. They're not the cheapest, but most parts are so cheap that it doesn't make much of a difference.

    • Horowitz and Hill is the best book on electronics that I know of. It does have some handy circuit examples that you can build, but don't think of it as an instruction book for a kit. If you read Horowitz and Hill, you will be ready to go out and design your own circuits.
  • Virtual breadboard (Score:5, Informative)

    by saburai (515221) on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:09AM (#23873527)

    I don't know if this has come up already, but there's a handy online circuit simulator here:
    www.falstad.com/circuit

    You can create circuits from scratch or load and play with a large library of existing circuits. I used it a lot in grad school when I had to build something electronic for the lab, just to make sure it was going to do what I expected.

  • but I'd say that it depends on what you are wanting to learn. Learning about radio and building a simple radio to help learn is one thing. It can be accomplished without having to learn digital electronics, using discrete analog parts; these are the basic building components of electronics. When I first learned electronics that is how I started.

    If you buy a kit, it is likely that there will be digital parts included. They tend to complicate matters of comprehension.

    If you have a good understanding of basic

  • This starter kit [curiousinventor.com] comes with basic circuit building instructions and soldering tips, as well as an explanation of the circuit. You can plug any wall-wart into this and then plug it into a breadboard to get 3.3 or 5V, or anything else with an added pot. Good if you don't want to invest in a bench-top power supply and just need small power.

    The Velleman kits mentioned above are good because they usually come with circuit and component explanations.
  • When I wanted to get into robotics, I just dove right in. Bought some books on electronics and started buying tools and components.

    For components, there are a lot of options. Check out E-bay and any of the many electronics surplus suppliers on the internet. For specific components, Mouser [mouser.com] and Digi-Key [digikey.com] tend to be excellent.

    I'd recommend buying some of the mix packs of things like resistors, capacitors, ICs, etc. You can usually get variety packs of them pretty cheap.

    As for books, Horowitz' The Art of Electro [amazon.com]

  • by mpechner (637217) * on Friday June 20, 2008 @11:31AM (#23873849) Homepage

    For the basics, you can earn your Amateur Radio Licenses. They require you learn some basic electronic principles that are beyond most of the kits.

    I have played with the kits and they did not help. What I had to know to earn my amateur extra radio license required more knowledge. No morse code anymore, just 3 multiple choice licenses where all the questions are published.

    What you learn is also specific to radios. Filters, amplifiers( sound and power), transmitter and receiver circuits. You learn what it means to apply Kirchhoff's laws. Also to put resistors, capacitors and inductors in serial or parallel configurations. The basics of analyzing power through circuits.

    The basic books from amazon work well with the kits from radio shack. Make sure what you get has a breadboard. So I do not think that the snap electronics kits are good for adults. At the makers fair, there was the kit from sparkle labs, http://kits.sparklelabs.com/ [sparklelabs.com]. The initial parts from sparkle labs are great, but the instructions are bad. But this kit, along with purchasing a reasonable digital multimeter and a book from amazon would be a great start. The kits sold by make magazine are excellent, http://www.makershed.com/ [makershed.com]. Make magazine is also a great resource,http://makezine.com/magazine/.

    For the meter, spend the $50 for one that will test your components, resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors also.

    If you dive in and buy a soldering iron, do not cheap out. Spend the $40 for the basic Weller red soldering station or $110 for the basic blue station. Buy a pointy tip, $5. The chisel tip that comes with it is not good for soldering boards.

    There are plenty of books that cover the topic with sample circuits. Look at the books offered at http://arrl.org./ [arrl.org.]

    A book "Hand's On Radio Experiments" is an excellent book. It publishes the first 60 articles written for ARRL's QST magazine. You can also buy a kit with all the parts needed to do the experiments. The book (http://www.arrl.org/catalog/?item=1255) and the parts kit (http://www.arrl.org/catalog/?item=1255K) is $100 from the ARRL.

    Most of the above covers analog electronics. For digital electronics, there is a lot of support for digital electronics. The basic stamp kits are great for that. They sell very proven kits, http://www.parallax.com/ [parallax.com] with very well written manuals that will take more than a weekend to go through. Also through the make magazine site you'll find project sites for other micro processors used by hobbyists.

    Also, to have guided lessons, a class with lab at the local community college is also a great way to go if you have the time. After all the long winded crap above, if you really want to learn and want more than to look at a board and know what the parts are, this is probably the best way to go. Either way, depending on the depths of the knowledge you are looking for, it is between months and a couple years of learning.

    Hope I see you at a booth selling a kit at the maker faire in a couple of years.

    Long ass winded sermon over.

  • One of my favorite recent kit projects was my PIC Programmer. Unlike the cheap parallel-port varieties, the programmer I got is a quality piece of hardware. It has RS-232 and USB (integrated USB-to-serial) interfaces, an onboard microcontroller running programmer software with a documented protocol, etc. They originate at "KitsRUs" (http://www.kitsrus.com)

    The PIC programmers I got from them are kit 149 and 182. 182 isn't really a kit, it's a USB-only ready-made circuit, but it's very handy because it do

  • Elenco has some amazing products (humorously a toys r us DIY wiretap kit linked from slashdot).

    http://www.elenco.com/ [elenco.com]

    They have some great stuff aimed at all ages, I took a look through, and I was deeply impressed.

  • Books and Kits (Score:3, Informative)

    by smurd (48976) * on Friday June 20, 2008 @12:18PM (#23874507)

    I am an electronic engineer that also builds stuff at home. Get yourself the book "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill, and the Radio Shack electronics kit with the breadboard. It has a power supply, blinkinlights and a half decent selection of parts. www.digikey.com is your friend. Get the additional parts there. I use this setup for prototyping. If it's something I wat to keep, THEN I solder it. Don't worry about soldering now, it's just a skill that is easy to learn (like welding but not as difficult).

  • Analog Kits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sebastopol (189276) on Friday June 20, 2008 @12:28PM (#23874637) Homepage

    I noticed a lot of the replies focused on digital kits. But are there any good analog kits? Seems to me that's where the lost art is: downloading code to flash to fix a big is a world away from computing quiescent points by hand.

  • by Stavr0 (35032) on Friday June 20, 2008 @04:26PM (#23878375) Homepage Journal
    Find a dead piece of equipment, try to repair it. I'm surprised at the success rate I'm having. Laserjet III, Philips DVD player, Toshiba PVR ,space heater, answering machine... all stuff I salvaged and brought back to life.

    Google for the name of the equipment, if it's a frequent/known problem you'll find repair instructions. BTW almost half of the salvaged stuff was repaired by replacing leaky/bulgy capacitors.

As long as we're going to reinvent the wheel again, we might as well try making it round this time. - Mike Dennison

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