Starter kit of parts

Essential | Extras | Stripboard | Storage

Also see: Tools | Making a workbench

If you are new to electronics and would like to try adapting published projects, or designing and building your own circuits, you need to have a small stock of components available. However, there is a very wide range of components and it can be difficult to know where to start. I hope this page will help you choose a sensible selection within your budget. I have assumed you will mostly be building circuits on breadboard where the components can be re-used.

There's also a section showing the extra items required for building permanent (soldered) circuits on stripboard.

Kits of assorted components are available and this is a great way to start if you can afford the initial cost.

Remember that you will need to organise storage of the components.


Essential components

These are the components used in most projects. Individual components cost little but the total cost of the set is significant. One way to spread the cost is to add a few items every time you buy components for a project.

Resistors

resistors

0.25 W carbon film resistors are the cheapest type and suitable for most projects. Choose resistors with 4-band colour codes because these are easier to read (the precision of 5-band codes is unnecessary). Ideally you need a good selection of values over the range 100ohm to 1Mohm. It is best to buy a kit of resistors as this provides a wide selection of values at an economical price and it is easier than selecting and buying many values individually.

Rapid Electronics: resistor kit

Capacitors less than 1µF

capacitors, unpolarised

Capacitors less than 1µF are unpolarised so they can be connected either way round. There are several types but ceramic is a good choice for general use.

You will certainly need at least 10 each of 0.01µF and 0.1µF. Look for a kit with a selection of values at an economical price.

Rapid Electronics: ceramic capacitors kit

Capacitors 1µF and greater

electrolytic capacitors

Capacitorswith values of 1µF and greater are usually electrolytic and they are polarised so they must be connected the correct way round. There are two styles: axial (leads at each end) and radial (both leads at one end). Modern electrolytic capacitors are mostly radial style and this is the best (and cheapest) type to buy.

You will certainly need at least 10 each of 1, 10, 100, 220 and 470µF with a voltage rating of 25V (or more). Ideally you need other values and a kit of radial electrolytic capacitors is a good way to start.

Rapid Electronics: electrolytic capacitors kit

Diodes

diodes

The most useful diodes are the 1N4148 signal diode (buy at least 10) and the 1N4001 rectifier diode (I suggest about 5).

Rapid Electronics: 1N4148 | 1N4001

LEDs

LED

You will need several LEDs, I suggest at least 20. 5mm is the standard size and you may wish to choose a selection of colours. I suggest choosing LEDs with diffused coloured lenses so it is easy to identify their colour.

Rapid Electronics: Red | Yellow | Green

Transistors

transistors

It is useful to have a few general purpose, low power, NPN transistors. The exact type isn't critical but they should have a maximum collector current (Ic max) of about 100mA, and a minimum current gain (hFE min) of 200. The BC548B is a good choice.

Rapid Electronics: BC548B

You may also need a few transistors capable of passing larger currents but it is probably best to buy these as you need them, I suggest buying one or two extras each time as spares.

Integrated circuits

555 timer

You are almost certain to need the popular NE555 timer IC and I suggest at least 5 (10 if you plan to solder projects).

It is not worth buying other ICs at this stage unless you know they are needed for some of the projects you wish to try.

Rapid Electronics: NE555 timer

Variable resistors

For building circuits on breadboard it is best to buy standard variable resistors. Knobs are not essential because it is easy to turn the spindles by hand. The most useful values are: 10k LIN, 100k LIN and 1Mohm LIN. They are usually listed as 'potentiometers', LIN means 'linear', the standard type.

Rapid Electronics: 10k LIN | 100k LIN | 1M LIN

If you plan to build audio circuits you may like to have a 1Mohm LOG potentiometer for use as a volume control.

Rapid Electronics: 1M LOG

variable resistor

Standard variable resistor
Photograph © Rapid Electronics

preset, open style

Presets are often used for soldered circuits on stripboard or PCB but note that many (including those in the kit below) have pins which are too large for breadboards.

Rapid Electronics: presets kit

Battery, clips and boxes

battery clip

You will need a clip ('battery snap') for a 9V PP3 battery, buy 10 if you plan to solder projects. Remember the PP3 battery too, alkaline batteries last longer and are better value for money than zinc chloride batteries.

Rapid Electronics: 9V PP3 | battery clip

Another option (with longer battery life) is to use AA cells in a holder or battery box (helpfully available from some suppliers with a built-in switch). For example a box for 4×AA cells provides 6V and this will be fine for many projects intended for 9V.

Rapid Electronics: 2xAA cells | 4xAA box

Avoid rechargeable batteries until you are experienced because many can deliver very large currents if there is a fault in your circuit, possibly damaging the circuit and battery as well as being a fire risk.

Breadboard and wire

A small breadboard (like the picture) is suitable for simple circuits with up to two ICs, but for more complex circuits (such as counters) a larger breadboard is required.

Rapid Electronics: small breadboard

Rapid Electronics: large breadboard

Breadboard, photograph © Rapid Electronics

Small Breadboard
Photograph © Rapid Electronics

You will need single-core 1/0.6mm wire for making wire links on the breadboard. A pack with a selection of colours to help identify connections is better than a single reel of one colour.

To connect larger parts (such as variable resistors) you can either solder single core wire to their contacts or avoid soldering by using crocodile clip leads to connect them to short pieces of wire pushed into the breadboard.

Rapid Electronics: 1/0.6mm wire pack



Extra components

Buy these if you can afford them, or wait until you need them for a project.

Switches
Push-to-make and SPDT toggle switches are the most useful types. The pictures show two popular styles that are readily available from most suppliers.

Rapid Electronics: push-to-make | SPDT

Push-to-make switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics SPDT toggle switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics

Push-to-make and SPDT toggle switches
Photographs © Rapid Electronics

Light dependent resistor
A light sensor, usually abbreviated to LDR.

Thermistor
A thermistor, NTC about 5 kohm@25°C)
NTC = Negative Temperature Coefficient which means the resistance decreases as the temperature increases.

Rapid Electronics: LDRs | thermistors

LDR thermistor

LDR and thermistor
Photographs © Rapid Electronics

Loudspeaker
ohm loudspeakers are readily available, 64 ohm is a good choice too. Suppliers often list them as 'speakers'.

Piezo transducer
Piezo transducers can be connected directly to the outputs of most ICs because they require very little current. They are ideal for buzzes and bleeps but are not suitable for speech or music because they distort the sound.

Rapid Electronics: loudspeakers | piezo

loudspeaker piezo transducer

Loudspeaker and Piezo transducer
Photographs © Rapid Electronics

Buzzer
Buzzers have approximate voltage ratings, the example is rated 12V but can be used with a 9V supply. The 'buzz' is typically about 400Hz.

Bleeper
Bleepers have wide voltage ranges (such as 3-30V) and they pass a low current of about 10mA. The one shown is rated 12 V but will work at 3 V. It emits a high-pitched 2.7 kHz tone so I call it a bleeper. Suppliers may describe it as a 'piezo buzzer' or 'piezo transducer'. Unfortunately the second term may cause confusion because as well as a piezo transducer it also has a built-in circuit to produce the bleep tone.

Rapid Electronics: buzzer | bleeper

buzzer bleeper

Buzzer (400 Hz) and Bleeper (2.7 kHz)
Photographs © Rapid Electronics



Additional components for Stripboard circuits

Small sheets of stripboard such as 25x64mm (9 strips of 25 holes) are fine for projects with one 8-pin IC. Larger sheets can be cut to size with a junior hacksaw or snapped (with care) using the edge of a table or bench, it is easiest to cut (or snap) along lines of holes. A reasonable larger size is 95x127mm (36 strips of 50 holes).

Avoid handling stripboard that you are not planning to use immediately because sweat from your hands will corrode the copper tracks, making soldering difficult unless you clean the board first.

Rapid Electronics: stripboard 25x64mm

Rapid Electronics: stripboard 95x127mm

Stripboard

Stripboard circuit (copper tracks side)

A track cutter is needed for cutting stripboard tracks under ICs and elsewhere. A 3mm drill bit can be used if your budget is tight.

A crocodile clip makes a good heatsink for protecting sensitive components while soldering their leads.

Rapid Electronics: track cutter | croc clip

track cutter, photograph © Rapid Electronics crocodile clip, photograph © Rapid Electronics

Photographs © Rapid Electronics

7/0.2mm stranded wire is best for connecting off-board parts such as switches to stripboard (and PCB) circuits because it is flexible and less likely to break the joints. A pack with several colours is better than a single reel of one colour.

Rapid Electronics: 7/0.2mm wire pack

ICs will need mounting in holders known as DIL sockets. You will certainly need some 8-pin DIL sockets but 14-pin and 16-pin sockets are also popular sizes.

Rapid DIL sockets: 8-pin | 14-pin | 16-pin


Storage systems for components

You can store all your components in a single container, such as a plastic food box, but as you accumulate more items it will become increasingly difficult to find the smaller components. A low-cost solution is to organise the parts into small snap-top plastic bags which can be labelled. Some components may be supplied like this.

Plastic snap-top bags for components

Snap-top Bags
Photograph © Rapid Electronics

A better storage system is a cabinet of plastic drawers. You do not need many drawers at first because there is no need to have a drawer for every single component value. Many parts can be grouped together, such as decades of resistor values. For example you could organise a 20-drawer cabinet like this:

  1. Resistors 10ohm+ (third band black)
    (only a few but often large due to high power rating)
  2. Resistors 100ohm+ (third band brown)
  3. Resistors 1kohm+ (third band red)
  4. Resistors 10kohm+ (third band orange)
  5. Resistors 100kohm+ (third band yellow)
  6. Resistors 1Mohm+ (third band green),
    including 10Mohm (third band blue)
  7. Capacitors low values, less than 1µF
  8. Capacitors electrolytic 1µF+
  9. Diodes
  10. Transistors
  11. ICs (chips)
  12. IC holders (DIL sockets)
  13. LEDs and 7-segment displays
  14. Lamps and lampholders
  15. Presets (small variable resistors)
  16. Variable Resistors (standard variable resistors)
  17. Sensors (LDRs, thermistors)
  18. Switches and relays
  19. Connectors (crocodile clips, plugs and sockets)
  20. Other components (battery clips etc.)
Cabinet of drawers for components

Cabinet of drawers
Photograph © Rapid Electronics