Breadboarding for Beginners

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Breadboards can be as simple as just a single slice (slice is the term for two sets of rows arranged on either side of a channel), with or without bus strips. Nicer (more expensive) breadboards will have multiple slices, and multiple bus strips. Still nicer models will have a metal plane (if you want to build radio circuits, you want this feature) and binding posts to make it easy to connect a bench power supply. The most expensive ones will have internal power supply (look for +5, +12 and -12V), internal clock, function generators, and all kinds of cool stuff.

three different breadboards
three different breadboards–the blue one is plastic, the large black one has a metal back, the small one has markings that are impossible to read
old-school Heathkit trainer
this crusty old board has all the bells and whistles

What I recommend for getting started is a single slice with bus strips and around 60 rows (600 tie points). 90% or more of what I build can be handled on that setup. A salvaged DC adapter (wall wart) makes a decent power supply for most projects using LEDs. Working with op amps might lead you into buying (or building!) a bench power supply that can do multiple voltages or adjustable voltage.

A few beginner tips for breadboarding success:

  • Build a connection list from looking at your schematic. It’s easier to check off against a list than a diagram.
  • Tick off (in pencil) each connection on your schematic as you add it to the list.
  • Make connections wth the power off.
  • Put the IC in place first.
  • Pin 1 of your IC will be marked–check your pin numbers against the datasheet (or GIICM), but pin numbers increase counterclockwise from pin 1.
  • Install power and ground connections to your IC in before other components.
  • Don’t force leads–sometimes its easier to jumper over to empty rows (potentiometers are a typical case).
  • Double check against your connection list/schematic before you apply power.
  • Check for excessive heat right after you power up (misconnections can cause componenets to fatally overheat).

Breadboards are great, but they aren’t for permanent installations. You’ll need some sort of circuit board that can accept solder connections for a finished project. The good news is that perforated boards are available with the same connection layout as a breadboard. That makes it a simple matter to transfer your component layout to a board (after you’ve worked any bus out on the breadboard). Rows and columns are usually numbered to make it even simpler to check off against a connection list. For small projects (like a 555 timer circuit) stripboard (perforated board with rows of holes fully connected) can be converted to the purpose by selectively breaking tracks.

If you’ve still got questions, bring them over to the discussion boards, where we’ll do our best to help you out.

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