Learning Electronics By Just Doing It

Learning anything new, especially so broad and far reaching as electronics, can be hard. [IMSAI Guy] knows this because he gets asked regularly “how do I learn electronics?” Many of you reading this will have a few ideas to pass along (and we encourage you to share your take on it in the comments below) but there is an even greater number of people who are asking the same question, and [IMSAI Guy]’s take on it is one that this particular Hackaday writer can relate to.

The ARRL Handbook can be found at hamfests, radio clubs, libraries, or at arrl.org

According to [IMSAI Guy], an excellent place to start is the ARRL Handbook. The ARRL Handbook is an electronics and RF engineering guide published by the Amateur Radio Relay League in the US. It’s a wonderful reference, and past editions can be had very inexpensively and are every bit as handy. Many hams will have a copy they could be talked out of, and you can likely find one at your local library. Where to start in the Handbook, then?

[IMSAI Guy] recommend starting with whatever catches your fancy. As an example, he starts with Op Amps, and rather than diving straight into the math of how they work or even worrying to much about what they are- he just builds a circuit and then plays with it to intrinsically understand how it works, a “learn by doing” approach that he has found extremely helpful just as many of us have. We also appreciated is very straightforward approach to the math: Don’t bother with it unless you need to for some reason, and definitely don’t start by learning it first.

In fact, that same reasoning is applied to any subject: Learn it as you need it, and don’t start by learning but rather by doing. The learning will come on its own! Be sure to check out the entire video and let us know what you think, and how you approached learning electronics. Thanks to [cliff] for the great Tip!

33 thoughts on “Learning Electronics By Just Doing It

  1. Funny thing. I learned electronics from reading the Morgan books in my public library in Westchester Co, and from then on eventually worked my through analog and of course digital electronics. And yes it was by doing.

    1. All the children’s library had in 1970 was books about electricty. Including one full of projects, the thing I remember was a hot dog cooker made of a line cord and nails.

      But apparently I wasn’t as segregated as I thought. I thought I’d been given permission to take books out of the adult section, but something I saw much later suggests I never needed permissiin. The children’s section, a separate but connected wing, was to collect books for kids, not keep them from the rest of the books.

      The adult section had the books I wanted about electronics and ham radio. Though now they don’t.

      1. I worked in our library’s children’s section in the late 60s and saw that same hot dog cooker project. As I recall the name of the book was “Safe and Simple Projects with Electricity”, LOL. Times sure were different back then!

    2. Yeah, my library had the 1996 ARRL handbook, even had the floppy disk with programs and resources on it. Copied the disk, hoping to check out the book later and play with the projects. Should’ve stolen the book, cause they threw it out with a bunch of other nonfiction so they’d have room for more pulp novels.

      1. When I was in high school, I wondered why anyone would ever want to own a book since you could check books out of the library. Then I found “Starting Forth” by Leo Brodie, and unfortunately, one of the times I had checked out the book, the spine gave out. When I returned it, I put in a note saying I’d like to keep it, and even left my number, but I never heard back, and I think at that point the book was out of print, so they didn’t replace it, either.

        I thus learned one reason for owning books: one *cannot* trust a library to keep the books you like.

        I have since learned other reasons, and even probably have too many books now. But I’m not sure how to “weed out” books from my collection at this point, either!

  2. I learned from the Forest Mims Getting Started in Electronics book from Radio Shack (RIP) and of course by duplicating the circuits however possible.

    Great story about it though… I loaned the book to a friend and it got destroyed in a flood, maybe not so great. But with the same friend and a decade plus later; I found the book in better condition and in a freebee bin of a used book store. I’ve got a spare breadboard on the workbench and plan to relive the memories.

    1. I still have all of my Forest Mims books from Radio Shack. The books, and Radio Shack, were the greatest influences in my electronics experience. Oh how I miss those days of picking a project from the book, buying the components, and making it all work. That was my Lego experience of building back in the 70’s and 80’s. Now we just throw out electronic devices instead of repairing them and wear ear buds instead of enjoying music from quality stereo systems. I can understand how my elders always talked about the “good ole days”…I’m getting older myself, sigh….

  3. This is absolutely the best way to get started in something new, quickly generating a frame of context that helps tie in new information as you encounter it. At some point though, you really need to sit down and learn something from cover to cover, or else your understanding of a subject will look like that picture of the airplane with all the flak damage.

  4. You read a bunch of magazines each month.

    In 1971, there was Electronics Illustrated, Elementary Electronics, Popular Electronics Radio Electronics, and Electronic World. Plus a bunch of assocjated periodicals that came out less frequently but collected articles from the authors along some line. Afew years later, I was finding Wireless World, Practical Electronics, Electronics Today International and Elektor from the UK.

    There was also QST, 73, CQ, and Ham Radio all about ham radio, and each had construction articles at that point.

    And you could easily find back issues.

    These were all about construction articles. Most had some description of operation that you could learn from. There were theory articles tucked in, and about things you didn’t know, like heat shrink tubing.

    None of this was high theory, it was about conveying concepts at a lower level. And lots of repetition, because if you started April, you never saw March. Some magazines had staff writers, but most were written by readers, or some very prolific writers. Many were variations of other projects, as someone used an existing article, and changed a bit, then wrote about it.

    1. Same here but in reverse – I am in the UK and I had the UK ones you mention and the occasional US one when I came across one. In my youth I seemed to be able to absorb so much without trying. No internet of course so these were the main sources of information once I had gone through the few relevant books in the local library countless times.

      Practical Electronics and Elektor are still going as paper (or .pdf) magazines.

      1. While I’m sure there is a point you stop learning quite so easily I think a large part of the ease we absorbed information while young is because it fascinated us, and was at that time the only interest, all absorbing – getting older and having to worry about laundry, food, bills, all the stuff of life your Parents take care off as a kid is rather distracting…

        1. Yes. I got my ham license fifty years ago come June. I was 12. I didn’t do much study to pass the test, I was just immersed in it.

          I have often thought that older peolle coming into the hobby have problems, because they aren’t interested in electronics, so they see the testing, now easier for the entry level, as a burden to overcome. No wonder they want easier testing. It was no burden for me, it was accomplishment.

      2. WH Smith came to Canada at some point in the seventies. I think that’s when I could get those UK magazines. Complete with little plastic things often taped to the cover. I still have a template for drawing schematics, and a gizmo for bendi g leads of the right length.

    2. It seems there was quite a gap in material when I was a kid. There were books in the school and public libraries with circuits of a batter. knife switch, and little light bulb. I figured out voltage versus current from the series versus parallel circuits. Electromagnet and relay. Home made little motor.

      Then you jumped to ham radio books and the electronics magazines. There were so many undefined terms and words and ways of describing bits of circuitry. The mysterious “chassis” and the “tank” circuit. Plus descriptions of of circuits had their own strange jargon. Also lots of PNP transistors in those days which “turned circuits upside down”.

      I basically screwed around and slowly figured out a few things. I did not break through until I had an electronics for physics majors course from a great professor then working with him on a a lot of projects. Basically a no-jargon approach with the actual math. No Bode plots (until I could derive it), LaPlace transforms/Z transforms, and almost never used dB (kinda wish we had just to be better at reading EE stuff). Loads of analog and op-ampery.

      At his invitation fifteen years later I sat in on his new computational physics class and it was fantastic. In fact I found an error in the Runge-Kutta derivation in Numerical Recipes – it might still be there in newer additions. I traced it back and appears to be in plenty of books and the derivation has been copied from author to author without checking.

      But I stray. The resources today on the Internet are phenomenal. The problem now is sorting through it all for the good stuff and knowing what you don’t know.

  5. I’ve learned electronics with a photocopy of Philips EE2000 series of kits, a breadboard and a pile of through hole components and wires. I never owned the kit, but the breadboard is in some ways better.
    It was great for beginner level. It shows the symbols and the descriptions, how to read resistor values and how capacitors and transistors work. It details the workings very clearly in the first few chapters with simple illustrative examples and in later chapters more complex schematics and their workings are explained. Elektor was also a great source for ideas and techniques. I’ve spent countless hours pouring over these magazines and their annual summer edition with 100+ projects.
    I think you can still find PDFs on the internet if you look hard enough.

    1. I actually have the EE2000 kit here, missing just a few parts (I still need to find those).

      The fun/creepy part, found that set at a thrift shop and it still had the original address label on it. Turned out it belonged to the ex boyfriend of my mom’s niece. He died somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s but both my dad and my mom knew the person it belonged to. Apparently someone has kept that around all that time and just recently donated it.

  6. I learned by hanging out in the school library and scouring the web on the public computers almost every morning and after class. Funnily enough that was around the time I discovered hackaday and it became a sort of morning ritual to read a few articles before the bell rang. I think that was around 2005 or so and 17 years later here we are. It was rough at first since most of what I read flew over my head but little by little I absorbed more and more info which I would experiment with when I got home to my parts and breadboards. Those were good times …

  7. hah hah i can’t post an “i learned electronics by” story because i don’t really figure that i have…i can count on both hands the number of times i’ve successfully deployed a transistor and gotten the result i desired :)

    but i’m a big fan of understanding the math, and learning the sort of things they teach in books. especially when it comes to concepts like RF impedance where understanding the mathematical reality that your wire changes from a short circuit to an open circuit every half wavelength along its path is really surprising until you learn the math and then it’s…well it’s still kind of surprising.

    so what i’ve found is that i can read the book cold (unprepared) and it doesn’t do anything for me. but when i’m doing it, i see the thing that was in the book, and *then* it clicks. i remeber reading a bunch of gardening books, and then i saw a mark on my plants and i googled it and it said “nitrogen deficiency” and until that moment i literally had read chapters and chapters about fertilizer without understanding a bit of it. i do want to read the book but the first step to reading the book is going to have to be struggling with it by ‘doing’ first. then i’ve got my set of motivating ??huh?? sort of questions in my mind, and then i can understand the book.

  8. I disagree. It depends on what you want to do. My interest is microcontroller-based projects. Learning op amps or reading the ARRL is useless to me. Ohm’s law is about all I need.

    And yeah, I do real design, making the schematic of a uC board with whatever else I need, laying it out, having it fabricated, etc.

    But digital electronics is soooo much easier!

  9. I’ve learned enough to now have a job in LED manufacturing after having studied linguistics in university. I learned by taking things apart, modding my old game consoles, wanting to build things and trying until I succeeded or temporarily set it aside until I learned enough to go back to it, copying and pasting C code in Arduino IDE, then reading through it until I got a better understanding of what was happening, and reading a ton on HaD and wherever. Then building more and different projects. I ran an electronics meetup before I had learned enough to really do so, but preparing for the meetings and projects taught me a ton as well. My mantra is this: ‘You can do anything you want if you try hard enough, but if you never try, you will never succeed.” My advice to others is this: Get off your ass and try it already.

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