Circuit Building With A Hammer And Nails


[Collin Cunningham] over at Make recently wrapped up another edition of “Collin’s Lab” – this time around, the subject is breadboards. He starts off by discussing a common solderless breadboard, something you are no doubt familiar with. What you might not know however is how breadboards got their name.

Way back when, before there was a RadioShack in every strip mall across the country, fancy prototyping supplies like your solderless breadboard did not exist. Amateur radio operators would prototype circuits on wooden boards, often using whatever was around as a substrate. Many times, this meant that the family’s cutting board ended up as a makeshift prototyping station.

One popular method of building circuits was to drive small nails into the breadboard, using wire wrapping to connect things together. [Collin] demonstrates this technique in the video, constructing a simple LED flasher circuit.

He says that the process works decently enough, and was kind of fun to do. He does mention however that building any sort of circuit requiring an IC would likely be out of the question.

If you have a few minutes to spare, check out the video embedded below – [Collin’s] take on technology is quirky and entertaining as always.


34 thoughts on “Circuit Building With A Hammer And Nails

  1. A DIP package could just be stuck down with a mild adhesive, then wire wrapped. Not impossible, but certainly a pain. I’ll stick to “regular” breadboards, thanks.

  2. I don’t know if I buy this explanation for the origin of the term “breadboard”. I’ve read project books and magazine construction articles that date back to the 60s and older, and I don’t recall ever seeing the “nails in wood” construction method recommended, much less the reuse of an actual “bread” board. Don’t forget that back when components were less common, woodworking (and thus, plain boards) were more common. And I think it would work about as poorly for tube circuitry as it does for ICs.

    OTOH, I’ve built circuits that ended up looking very similar to the end product using perfboard and special “plug in terminals.”

    Don’t forget that the early days of electronics were in some ways a lot more friendly to the hobbyist than today…

  3. I’ve seen breadboards on 1930s based theatre pipe organs (compton, wurlitzer). Square looped nails driven into a board with cloth!! insulation on the wire soldered to them. In this particular instance it was used for testing the the continuity on the keyboard, drag the grounded crocodile clip down the board to find out which note isn’t playing. Theatre organs that old aren’t big on electronics, a few solenoids, the odd resistor and some lamps. the volume control consists of some pulleys and opening/closing windows in the pipe room.

  4. I can’t believe the comments here that are shocked by the concept… I’m not that old (or am I?) and I took apart a ton of commercial electronics from the 60’s and 70’s as a kid in the 80’s that consisted of wirewrapped circuits – “wirewrapped” because wire wraps around pegs (or nails, in this case), sometimes attached to circuit boards, sometimes not.

    A fairly common practice in old stereo receivers, for instance, was soldering a wire to a pot and wirewrapping the end that attached to the circuit board on a peg. This was apparently before the use of ribbon cables and connectors was widespread…

    When I was first getting into electronics, breadboards were rather expensive, and making toner transfers to etch circuit boards was a big deal. There weren’t nearly as many photocopiers around either, and home laser printers were only for the rich. So point to point soldering on perfboard, or some other creative option (nails on boards) were cheap and easy… and we all love cheap and easy. Not only that, but it wasn’t uncommon to find circuits in library books (pre-internet) that detailed this build method. It’s amazing to me that people born after 1985 are not only old enough to bitch about this stuff, but to have completely missed that phase of hobbyist electronics altogether!

    All of that being said, thank God that it’s 2011 and this stuff is both archaic and impractical now.

    Rant’s over, please excuse me while I go answer this pager message on the payphone on the corner… using my phone phreaking box, of course…

  5. I used this method during the late 70’s to learn basic electronics. My big brother was an EE, and helped me turn circuit diagrams into nails on particle board. One Christmas he made a board for me with lots of components and wires with crocodile clips at each end so I could experiment with changing resistor and capacitor values! Good times…

  6. Oh, and I remember now there were books that had circuit diagrams you could cut out and use straight off – as in the dots where where you stuck nails, and everything was sized 1:1 so you just put the components in where the symbol was drawn, add wire and you were good to go. The facing page was a shopping list for the components you needed – cross off what you already had, take the list to your local electronics store and they’d make up your order.

  7. ummm….. hate to sound like an old far but I have to side with Rhyno’s comment. I hope i’m not the only one to remember the “CRAP! I gotta get this finished!” hot-glue/wire-wrap methods when even nails at the last minute weren’t available. cheap,quick and got me out of some tight jams (and fit a few projects into them!)

  8. I’ll be the next guy to side with Rhyno – Although born in ’87, I’ve been a dumpster-diver since I could ride a bicycle – Lots of old pieces to study and parts to scavenge if you know where (and WHEN) to look…

    …Never built anything on a “nailboard,” though I’ve considered it. Most of my projects have been done on one-sided clad, perfoboard, or ratshack protoboards – There’s something to be said for being able to transfer a layout to a crippled-layout board with pen and paper…

    -Big fan of the “dead-bug” style so seldomly seen these days. I recently received (well, a few months ago) my tech/general license and have been looking up some practical transceivers that I could build on the cheap – Everything that’s “mainstream” ATM is integrated – I’ve had my eye out on ebay for old AARL manuals that use parts you can actually get at radioshack or find in the trash… I’ve a couple designs to check out, but I WANT to find copies of the books I had in my high-school library (outdated even for the time, but nostalgia…)

    Dead-Bug ain’t dead – Your average led-flasher circuit or simple 555 design can be built by strategically bending a few pins and insulating properly – No need for a breadboard, protobard, or etching – Great exposure for anyone and great rapid-prototyping possibilities for anyone else – Test, hot-glue, and you’re good to go… Much more to be said, but I think I’ve summed up what I wanted to say…

  9. I agree with the old wire wrappers.

    I work in a production environment and we build BON fixtures (bed of nails). And all the wiring inside is wirewrap.

    At my previous job (8 years back) we built alarm monitoring systems that had i think 8 50 pin wire blocks on the rear of the unit for the customer to wire to. took me 2 hours to wire up the inside of those things. And i had an electric wirewrap gun. Took me 8 hours the first time i built one.

    wirewrapping is much alive. Maybe not on a real bread board.

  10. could it be possible then to just route out a path of a mm or larger and then fill it with copper or antything other that’s conductive ?

    it would be like the first pcb ever lol

  11. I took apart a *computer* that used wirewraps for wiring of the boards. It was Czechoslovakian made computer SMEP, modeled after PDP-11.

    My friends that worked as computer technicians at the time those PDP-11 clones were maintained in active duty have cool gadget – a wire wrapping gun, that let you wrap thin wires around pegs that were very closely spaced.

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