Paperclip Breadboard

TV’s MacGyver would love the breadboard arrangement we saw recently: it uses paperclips and crimping to make circuits that can be more or less permanent with no soldering. The basic idea is simple. A cardboard base has a piece of paper affixed. Metal paperclips are bent straight and glued to the paper using PVA glue (you know, like ordinary Elmer’s; hot glue would probably work, too). You could probably salvage wires out of old house wiring that would work for this, too.

The scheme uses two sizes of paper clips. Large ones are made straight and form the rails, while small paperclips make connections. The rails are bent to have a little “ear” that pushes into the cardboard base to hold them still. A little glue stabilizes them. The ears poke out the back, so the author suggests covering them with duct tape, hot glue, or another piece of cardboard. Using the top of a shoebox would also solve the problem.

Using pliers, the smaller paperclips are made to grip components. Obviously, you’ll need through-hole components and any sort of IC will probably require a little adapter board. This technique is really better for simple circuits with no ICs. For quick connections, you can crimp a single hook or use a double hook for a stronger connection that is harder to install.

There are other makeshift items included such as a magnetic battery holder. If you really prefer to solder, we’ve done something really similar using copper foil tape as the rails. You can find this tape at craft stores that sell supplies for staining glass. You can actually treat the tape like a PCB trace so long as you remember to solder where they cross as the adhesive will probably insulate the two pieces of tape.

This would be a fun rainy day project with kids. We doubt it will displace the ubiquitous breadboard, although there are some ideas that are attempting to do just that. We’ve also seen other people use paperclips for a variety of unusual purposes — including the ever popular paperclip computer.

27 thoughts on “Paperclip Breadboard

    1. Is this post just a trap to get people who are new to the hobby to run far and fast and never touch another electronic part?

      Even in the first sentence “more or less permanent connections”. Nothing is more frustrating than debugging unreliable wiring. For a new user who doesn’t better, encouraging them to try ths is just a dick move.

      1. And just exactly how did you learn this valuable lesson about wiggly wires? Surely you learned it in a book, rather than through the potentially career-ending frustration of having a loose wire in real life. Swoon! The un-bootlaced horror!

        Seriously, though, we do not live in a one-Knipex-per-child world. School resources can be limited, and there’s value in showing people/teachers/kids how far they can go with how little. I’ve lead workshops where it’s “push components through paper, twist legs together” and while there’s a ton of debugging to be done, that’s also an important part of the experience, and making something work that was giving you grief is seriously rewarding in and of itself.

        The relative values of spoon-feeding vs struggling is worth considering, no matter which choice you make for your class in the end.

        Besides, I really like the way it makes the row-wise connections that underlie a breadboard obvious. I can still remember the Wizard-of-Oz like experience when I was a teen and ripped open my first breadboard. It’s not magic at all! Just rows of paperclips! (I mean, purpose-appropriate wires, naturally.)

  1. I love how this simplifies the job of building circuits.. No soldering needed. Just wrap the component leads around the rail. And who needs battery holders or power supplies? Just tape wires straight to the batteries. Next, the creator will show us how he can put a chip in the circuit and then after that, an arduino!

  2. I remember doing stuff like this, crimping metal/twisting wires/using glue, cardboard, paperclips, and tape when I was 10. It was quick and dirty but worked for the most part. Then I got a soldering iron, learned to solder and never looked back.

    1. I know what you mean, I was very fond of tape, painters tape, I taped everything together, which was no problem as long as it was battery operated. Never worked with paperclips, experimented with staples but that wasn’t a success.

      Then I got a soldering iron, I looked back once, then burned myself with the iron and then never looked back again.

    1. THIS
      is a circle of hell. Any electronics enthusiast who is an especially evil person will be doomed to use this method for one day per year for eternity (any longer would be too cruel even for the devil to inflict).

  3. I don’t know. I can imagine having a class of 20 kids or scouts or whatever and not wanting to buy 20 breadboard and/or 20 soldering irons. But I could easily have them make a board like this and then make a simple circuit or two for very little cost. Will I use it for my projects? No, of course not. But I can see where it could have value to it. It is certainly less abstract for a new learner than a breadboard, too.

    1. 170 point breadboards are 30 cents, 400 point ones are $1 on aliexpress. Stranded wires in assorted lengths terminated with pins for breadboard work are $1 per bundle of 65.

      Rather than torturing kids with this brainfart of an idea so that they will learn to hate electronics, just take them outside for a game of soccer and leave an electronics education to someone willing to invest $2/kid. I cannot believe this is a serious suggesting. It’s just some dick punking newbies.

  4. A great way to learn that time is money and that you don’t want to spend all your time chasing bad connections when you could be learning about electronics.

  5. Only at the current Hackaday. People complain when something is posted that isn’t a hack. Then people complain when something that IS a hack isn’t the ‘correct’ way to do a thing.

    Not everyone has the resources to just go get a bread board. Some people are still curious and things like this are the very definition of the spirit of hacking.

    I have had a life long love of electronics, but growing up, there was no money for any of it, so I salvaged components from broken electronics, and even used paper clips as a way to build primitive circuits.

    And while I no longer have to worry about spending money on things to feed my hobby now, hacks like this serve as a way for people to feed their interest when doing it ‘the right way’ is out of their reach.

    People need to stop being such curmudgeons. The site is called ‘Hackaday’ not ‘How to do things the way ‘THEY’ say you have to do them a day”.

    1. “Only at the current Hackaday.” You, sir, have your rose-colored retro-spectacles on! The “not a hack!” vs “too hacky!” wars have raged on for more than a decade, with no sign of stopping.

      Hackaday editorial’s official stance is “moar hacks!”. So that’s what you’re gonna get.

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