Welcome to my humble website, currently home to a whole three tutorials for hobby electronic enthusiasts like myself – written by me, the Poor Student Hobbyist! My real name is Nick, I’m a 28-year-old Electrical Engineer from Ohio, currently working on my master’s degree. I started messing around with electronics projects around 2009. I started this blog in the summer of 2013 (on Blogger), but because I’m such a busy person I take my damn good time updating these projects. I migrated my work to WordPress in 2017. Even after all these years, I’m still a (relatively) poor student hobbyist! I’m at least pretty cheap (er… frugal), so these projects should be relatively inexpensive to try.
The reason I started this blog was so that I have a record of what projects I’ve done for my own satisfaction, and for satisfaction of others. I feel like the internet is somewhat absent of thorough walkthroughs and explanations on how different practical electronics work. There is rarely any one single website that answers all of my questions, I usually have to go through multiple places to get all the answers to whatever I’m working on, so I hope that something like this blog could help answer most or all of the questions you’d ever have on these projects. And if not, I’m happy to help! Just email me, or leave a comment on the post.
I have a few other posts that I’ve started – just not finished up. Writer’s block and other distractions, you know how it is. Also, while I’m finishing my master’s degree, I’m also working full time. So my time is split between a lot of different things, many of which require my attention more than this blog and hobby electronics. I need to be a responsible adult… unfortunately.
Anyway, to give you an idea of the breadth of equipment I use for my projects, I’ll go through in detail all the tools and parts I’ve acquired over the years.
Since I got a real person job and a steady income, I started slowly building up my workbench with parts. It also helped that I had a previous job at a company that was downsizing – I was allowed to take a lot of extra parts (mostly resistors) to add to my collection. Here’s some pictures of my workbench.
Here’s the heart of the collection: a soldering station, and a variable power supply. The power supply I got from my old job (it’s a bit flaky, but it was free) and I got the soldering station from eBay. I found this one that seems pretty good, and it comes with a built-in power supply. I would try it myself if I needed one, but buy at your own risk! For reference, I got my soldering station for $65, so this ain’t a bad deal.
Here’s where I keep my parts. I bought this parts storage cabinet here for $30. I’ve been considering getting another one, since I’m running out of bins, but I don’t currently have the desk space. Parts in this cabinet include LEDs, op-amps, crystal oscillators, shift registers, capacitors, resistors, voltage regulators, diodes, transistors, logic gates, microcontrollers (ATMega328s mostly), flip flops, LCDs, servos, rechargeable batteries, buttons, and miscellaneous hardware. I’d estimate all of these parts would be valued around $75 – you can find MANY of these on eBay from China. You’ll just have to wait for them to come in the mail. For example, I got 100 electrolytic capacitors from China for about $6 (including shipping). I think ten op-amps ran me about a dollar. ATMegas are only $2 each. Just gotta look for deals!
Here are the rest of my tools – miscellaneous things that I use A LOT. First and foremost, SAFETY GLASSES. Seriously. Have you ever had a blob of solder hit your eyeball? No? Want to keep it that way? Then you better wear these. You’ll look like a dork (and your significant other will make fun of you) but it’s better than going blind.
You’ll also need wire strippers (yellow) and wire cutters (red). I recommend getting them separately, because the cutters are more suited for smaller work – I use these the most out of any tool I have, not only for cutting, but for bending wires and pins. Next, you’ll probably need a multimeter. Nothing fancy – I got mine from Amazon for $15 I believe – but it’ll definitely help you in finding out if you have faulty wiring. Speaking of wiring, I have a bunch of different colored wires. You can never have too much! I also have some 30 gauge wire for the stuff I don’t want to put stress on, like bent up pins (if you read through my NES Repro tutorial, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Along with wires, you’ll need solder as well – I recommend actually getting some higher quality solder, not just the cheapest stuff you can find from China. I got some for $2 and it really wasn’t worth it. Buy some highly-rated solder from Amazon or something and save yourself some headaches.
As far as dealing with hardware, like housing for your circuits, Loctite super glue is extremely useful to keep everything together. For when you make mistakes in your gluing, or want to clean up your fixturing a bit, an X-ACTO knife is helpful for shaving off that excess glue or plastic. And a Dremel tool is excellent for cutting large parts, or removing large ICs without having to desolder every single pin.
Now onto some more expensive tools. These are optional, but very helpful if you have access. I know this doesn’t fit the whole “poor” part of the “poor student hobbyist” moniker, I’m just more lucky than anything else.
This model of oscilloscope wasn’t too expensive, and it’s good enough for anything you’d probably be doing. Here’s the link to the scope, this thing is pretty nifty, and having four channels is amazing, especially for the relatively lower price. Again – this isn’t a necessity, but it’s hard to live without one after you’ve used it.Another extremely useful piece of equipment is a 3D printer. I actually got one as a wedding present (much to the dismay of my wife). I have a da Vinci 1.0A, they usually run around $500. They’re really easy to use, but require you to get somewhat pricier “proprietary” filament. I don’t print a lot of things, so this isn’t a huge deal breaker for me, but it might be for you. There’s a few models, like the Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer, that run lower than $300. If you want to get one, I’d recommend researching a lot before you get one. But they are dropping in price pretty quickly nowadays, because they’re getting a lot more popular. You also might have access to one at your local library or college, sometimes for free.
So there you have it, all the tools of the trade you could ever possibly need for any basic electronics projects. There are a few more specific pieces of equipment and parts I use, but I cover those in the other posts. I hope to add more projects that I’ll be working on in the future – other things I’ve made are a Skittle Sorting Machine, a handheld Raspberry Pi gaming system that plays games up to the N64 era, a binary clock, and a bunch of other various smaller-time projects that are mostly just concepts I have yet to grow into full implementation. My top future project I really want to tackle is a physical manifestation of the Tone Matrix from, like, ten years ago. I think it’d make a great toy for my child. I also plan to have some sections dedicated to explaining different components in better detail in the future. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!