For most people, electricity remains a rather mysterious phenomenon. We flick a switch and a light comes on; we plug in our phone and the battery charges. We never ask ourselves why this magic happens, or even how. Many believe that the world of electronics is unreachable for ordinary people, that it is something reserved for experienced electrical engineers. But this is not the case; like all skills, it can be learned.
This guide aims to give you a brief overview of how to build your own electrical device from scratch, either as a hobby or to make something special for your home.
Before starting the project, you need to think about what you want to achieve: do you want to build a simple lamp, or something that can perform several functions from a single power source? Remember: if you are a beginner with little experience in electronics, the level of complexity of your first project should ideally be kept to a minimum. If ambition gets the better of you, you may prefer to build a slightly more complex device, as long as you are informed and prepared to fail several times before you succeed.
Now that you’ve decided which device you’re interested in building, it’s time to get out your pencil and paper and start drawing the workings of your electrical circuit. Let’s take the simplest example. If you have a power supply, two wires and a light bulb, you will be able to create a very simple circuit that turns on the bulb. If the light is too bright, you may need to add a resistor, variable or fixed, to your circuit. If the circuit produces too much heat, you will need to add a temperature regulator. More advanced circuits require more complex components, so it is essential to create schematics that reflect all of these components and wiring.
The next step is to purchase the components needed to build your device. Some of the components you will need are obvious: some wires to carry the electrical current, the payload that will go inside your circuit, etc. But you will also need:
wire cutters, which are optimised for cutting and shearing the plastic from the wires;
other tools for inserting wires into holes and attaching them to different parts of the circuit;
a soldering iron, which is a key tool to help you fix the wires in place.
So, as you embark on your project, you’ll need to consider both the materials and the tools you’ll need to invest in. You can go to your local hardware store and ask the salesperson for advice.
There is another way to build electrical devices that will help you eliminate some of the labour, especially if it is a more complex device. In complex devices, you can use PCB circuits (or printed circuit boards) to build more advanced circuit boards. These circuits are now found in most modern devices, as they are able to condense very complex electronic circuits onto a tiny chip or board. You can find more information about PCB circuits on the internet.
In the assembly phase, you will use your tools to fit all the components together. During this phase, you must keep safety guidelines in mind. You must be careful never to work with live electrical currents and make sure you follow all the necessary precautions. Improperly manufactured devices can cause fires or electric shocks, so it is essential to make sure that the device is grounded and insulated, and to work with the power off.
If you follow all these tips, you will be able to build your own electrical device, which is quite a feat for any beginner.