Electronics, STEM projects a good hobby for quarantine

Friday, May 8, 2020

With more work-from-home opportunities available now, there looks to be more time to explore some possible hobbies, for growth and development. Home maintenance, computer skill development, cooking, all these skill sets are possibilities for gaining insight on, and having fun while doing so. If you have ever had shop class in high school, most likely you will have courses on electricity, or electronic theory. Maybe you would get the chance to pick up a solder gun, or pencil, to solder some wiring together, or parts on a circuit board. Needless to say, this can be an invaluable skill to possess, for a job, or just for fun. The availability of electronic project hobby kits are numerous, low cost, and easy to build. Amplifiers, sound generators, home alarm systems, cool STEM type kids projects, and robotics are available cheaply, and easy to build, with easy-to-follow instructions. If you’re really adventurous, you could build a computer from scratch, as well. Jameco, BG Micro, C.E. Distribution, and Analogman.com are a few suppliers for many electronic kit projects, that are low voltage, and can be built in the comfort of your own home.

First, some disclaimers, and warnings: when dealing with any electronics, even battery powered kits, please do the research to follow basic safety precautions. Eye protection, ventilation needed from solder fumes, and the awareness of using a solder gun, or pencil, that can get up to 840 degrees F, to melt alloy metal for soldering, is a must-follow, to work safely. Also, even working with low voltage items, such electronic components as capacitors, can store voltages to be released when they come in contact with anything, humans included. For example, building or repairing audio equipment, some capacitors can store up to 500 volts of direct current, which is not much fun, if you come in contact with the part that still has energy in it. When working with electronics, always consider the lethal nature of voltage, or current – this can’t be stressed enough. Parents working with kids on electronic projects need to be educators on safety first, so research on safety procedures is highly recommended, before starting on a project.

Looking into electronic theory basics is not just educational, but much needed, to get a grasp of how circuits work, even with simple, battery-powered projects. One truism, and law, of electricity, and electronics, is understanding Ohm’s Law. This concept of ‘how things work electronically’, can be found online, but is better grasped just through the trial-and-error, and practical experience of building electronic projects. One could start off with a simple, battery-powered electronic project, that was based on pictorials, and most likely be able to build it, without fully understanding Ohm Law. But, if you intend to dig deeper into electronic projects even as a hobby, it helps to understand basic principals.

Having a good basic soldering technique, and the ability to use wire strippers, clippers, and other small hand tools, is paramount. Soldering parts onto circuit boards takes time to learn, and develop. Again, because of the temperatures involved, good safety precautions need to be heeded. But the more projects that you build, the better your soldering technique will become, as well as learning how to strip insulation off wires, and clipping excess wire from parts placed into circuit boards. Let’s stress again that electricity, as it applies to household wiring, isn’t electronic project building, although you could have computer-based items that operate your home needs. The safety factors involved in wiring a home are equally as great, to follow, and not precautions to take lightly. Awareness of these factors is needed, as well.

Electronic project building is something you can do by yourself, or with family members. It is also STEM-centric, so while your kids might not be getting a science or tech class in school, this could be a good alternative to explore. Do the research, and see what could work for you. There is plenty of info online, or through DIY project books. Stay safe, and have fun exploring.