A Beginner’s Guide to Circuits by Oyvind Nydal Dahl from No Starch Press

A Beginner’s Guide to Circuits is the first of two books I have lined up for review at the moment.

No Starch Press books for review

Oyvind Nydal Dahl presents a nice selection of small electronics projects over the 64 pages.  I was particularly excited about this book since my I was younger I can remember having a few books similar to this about electronics and dreaming away about making them and thinking about all the fun things I could use them for.

A key aspect for any book like this is to ensure that it is accessible enough for novices to get started.  To this end, all the projects are intended to be build using a breadboard (this is a prototyping board where you push component wires into the holes to build up your circuit).  Oyvind starts with the basics, the first project being the classic “light up an LED” and then progresses further on to more complex circuits.  The book purposely only requires a small selection of components, so getting everything for the book should be well within pocket money level budgets.  The author provides details purchasing these parts from Jameco (an electronics retailer in the US – not the Clothing store in the UK).  However, these common parts would be available from any electronics component supplier (i.e. cpc.farnell.com).  Other than a breadboard (which are often cheaper via ebay or similar) you should be able to obtain the majority of the components for less than £10.

The projects start at an easy level with clear pictures to help beginners get the hang of laying out circuits on the breadboard.  Later on the the book, with the more complex projects, there is less detail which will challenge the reader to plan their layouts and think carefully to understand the circuits and how each component fits together.  This may be more difficult for younger readers and could require a little help from a grown-up to correctly build the projects.  In some cases a few extra diagrams may have helped, even if they were to provide a starting point – it can be frustrating to discover that you’ve not left enough space on one side of a breadboard and have to shift your components about.  The project in the book tend to have helpful sections with “The Circuit Diagram”, “The Parts List”, “About The Circuit”, “Common Mistakes” and “How This Circuit Works”.  There is an excellent amount of detail about each circuit, explaining not only how and why they work but also the calculations involved with determining the component values and overall circuit design.  One aspect which I would have liked to have seen is suggestions for how to extend or alter the circuit for different purposes (since often this is a good way to underline the new understanding or challenge the reader further).

There are also more details about the circuits within the book resource site: https://nostarch.com/circuits

Required Components

It makes sense to make sure you have a basic set of components ready to start with, although the less common components (the Integrated Circuit Chips) you could get at a later date (since they are only used in the later projects) – you can use the guide below to workout what you will need for each project.

In fact, it may be worth considering getting enough components to build all the projects at once (you’ll need three 555 timer ICs instead of one, and 5 transistors – plus a few extra breadboards) so they can keep their creations.  With a little effort these could also be transferred to Veroboard (copper strip board) and soldered. A summary of the components used in each project is given below:

Project

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

9V Battery

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Battery Clip

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Jumper Wires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100ohm

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

1kohm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

10kohm

 

 

 

 

1

 

1

 

2

100kohm

 

 

 

1

 

 

1

 

 

470ohm

 

1

 

1

1

2

 

 

1

47kohm

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

0.1uF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

4.7uF

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

10uF

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

100uF

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

BC547

 

1

1

1

 

2

 

 

 

LED

 

1

 

1

1

2

6

 

10

NE555

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

1

1

CD4017B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

74C14

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

Button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

LDR

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

Buzzer

1

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

Overall, this is an excellent starter book for young people interested in electronics (or anyone who keen to pick up some new knowledge).  It is short enough to not be too overwhelming (the 9 projects would take a good many hours to compete), but with enough detail and information to provide a solid basis for further understanding. I would probably have liked a little more detail to help out complete beginners (however if they persevere it may mean that they may learn more in the process).

This would ideal for working through these projects over a couple of weekends with perhaps some adult help for some of the more complex projects later in the book.  Needless to say, once the reader has completed all of the above projects they will rightly be proud of their achievement.

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