Top 10 Small and Fun DIY Electronics Projects for Beginners
This article is several years old and will not be updated or maintained, as such it is possible some of the projects no longer exist in their original locations (although a little extra Googling should reap relevant results). The article was also published before the rise of the RaspberryPi and similar single-board computers; these boards also provide a great way into electronics now.
So a few of years ago, I developed a sudden interest in electronics, don't ask me why, but I did. Up to that point I hadn't really had much experience in the field, though possessed basic soldering skills and electronic circuitry knowledge. Anyhow with this newly developed interest and enthusiasm to get started, I set out to find my first small electronics project!
Electronics For All
This article is to give other would be electronic enthusiasts/hobbyists a few small projects to get started and which provide an insight into the world of electronics and electronic engineering. None of these projects are my own, and all credit goes to the original designers/creators obviously. But when I was starting out I had to do a lot of searching to find projects at my ability so I thought this list may be useful, and many of the projects on the lists are ones that I have done myself.
The great thing about some of these projects is that even if you have no interest in the theory behind them and just want a hobby/something to do which you have something to show for, then many of these projects have very easy to follow guides which require no real prior knowledge of electronics to produce the end result, just an ability to buy the correct components as listed. If you choose to do so, you could follow the guide to the end ignoring the majority of 'technical bits' and still manage to have a working end product! I encourage all to learn what you can as it will mean you can take on bigger and better projects in the future.
10 Projects To Get You Started
I would provide the direct links to each project, but am unable to as a result of HubPages policy, so I'm afraid you'll have to find them on the appropriate sites yourself, however here are the links to the sites homepages, each site has a search function so it should be easy enough to find the projects:
(Be sure to check the list of required tools and components for each project)
MintyBoost - Ladyada
This is a popular first project for quite a few. Gone are the days of paying ridiculous amounts of money to charge many of your USB devices on the go! No really, you can buy one on Amazon for a fairly reasonable price... But that's not the point, so get off Amazon and pick your soldering iron back up!!! 'Cos you can't beat a USB Charger in an Altoids tin(!) or even an enclosure of your own choosing; be creative! This project is great for beginners, it's not very complicated, the guide is brilliant as they are for all the projects on ladyada.net, you can even buy the kit to build it from the website! And unlike many beginners electronics projects you actually get something useful out of it! I strongly suggest you check out more projects from this site too(I will be mentioned a few more in this list)!
Supercapacitor USB Light - Bust A TECH
This project is a really simple little circuit which uses a supercapcitor to power a small LED challenge: can you find something else it will work for) by first charging the supercapcitor via USB. Literally all the project consists of is a USB plug, supercapacitor and an LED. I'll admit, there may not be much of a practical application for this project, aside from perhaps using it as an emergency light, though you'd have to have your USB device charger ready with you as well... not to mention the fact that you'd have to be able to predict the emergency 10-30 seconds in advance to give you chance to charge it up! 30 seconds can feel like a long time when you've fallen down a manhole! However this is a great quick and simple project, and the concept itself is interesting and if you are interested in the theory then it's great project to learn from as well! Check out the wiki page on supercapcitors to find out more about how they work.
Altoids Tin 1/8" Stero Mixer - Instructables
Another Altoids tin project....for some reason there's so much you can do with Altoids tin, someone once told me you can even store mints in them, though I'm yet to be convinced of this. This is a pretty cool project to allow multiple audio inputs to a something like a car stereo. It's not actually a particularly complicated project as far as electronics go, so don't be put off, there's not an awful lot to it, but it is potentially a pretty useful and nifty device.
TV-B-Gone - Ladyada
Surrounded by TV's distracting you from your soldering? Well firstly I would suggest not practising your hobby in the TV store, or the living room for that matter, I don't think burn holes in the coffee table would be greatly appreciated. My other suggestion would be to make of these! I think the title of the project is fairly self explanatory; it is essentially a universal remote which allows you to turn off (and on), it will automatically scan the different frequencies. This is another project on the ladyada website, check out the excellent guide. You can also buy the kit for this project, which is especially useful as it means if you don't want to get into programming chips yet then the chip with the kit comes preprogrammed!
LED Throwies - Instructables
This is probably the most basic circuit possible, I wouldn't really call this a project, but hey make thousands of them and you could decorate your house...or something. It literally just consists of LEDs taped to a watch battery. Just thought I'd throw this one in here for a bit fun!
MiniPOV v3 - Ladyada
This is a great little programmable persistence of vision toy! If you've just run off to hide in a cave and return the stone ages because I mentioned programming, then come back! Do not fear, as it says on the site, this project is an excellent introduction to soldering, assembling kits, programming micro-controllers and making blinky stuff. You can download the code to program the micro-controller with from the website, and in order to program your own message into the device you only have to change a small amount of code and the entire process is covered on the website. It's a nice easy introduction to programming micro-controllers as you don't have to do an awful lot but you can look at the code and begin to understand how it works.
If you're not sure what I mean by all this, have a look at the YouTube video below, which will also show you how to assemble the kit if you prefer to learn this way rather than reading the official guide:
RGB LED Mood Lighting - Instructables
LEDs, you can never have too many, right? Regardless of the answer to that question this project remains pretty cool. It is a bit bigger than the majority in the list, and potentially a little bit more complicated and costly, the guide is ok and comes with videos to show you what the end product should look like, so you can look utterly puzzled when comparing your end result with theirs, trying to figure out what went wrong! Hopefully that won't happen though of course! Anyway, it is a great project, though it will require a little bit more work, and I wouldn't recommend this project as a first or even second project or to anyone who's significant other has been complaining about the lack of 'quality' time spent together. But if you have the time, resources and a bit of experience, then this is a pretty cool project to take on!
The best way to show you what you'll be building on this one is again through the medium of YouTube (excuse the gossiping in the background, the video is not mine):
Jitter Drive - Instructables
One for those bored times. Not really a practical application for this one, but who says everything needs to be practical! It's a basic little circuit, pretty easy to construct. It's essentially a USB drive (which can still be used as such) mounted on a toothbrush head which, there is a small motor attached to the circuit, so when you switch it on it will 'jitter' around your desk. You could even a rechargeable battery or a capacitor.
USB Doomsday Device - Instructables
Everyone should have one of these! Ok, it's actual function may not be quite as awesome as the project title sounds, but is still a pretty cool idea! You'd think making your own doomsday device would be much more complicated, but no, it's this simple. Pretty easy circuit, little bit of drilling as well as the normal soldering required, but definitely give it go! This device connects to your computer and when you press the button you can program the response to be almost anything. The guide includes a program which allows you to easily set the trigger to open a program on your computer.
Chapstick LED Flashlight - Instructables
There seem to be so many everyday items which are perfect dimensions for electronics projects! I am not really sure whether there is any benefit in being able to disguise a flashlight as a chapstick, but hey, here you have it! I guess if you did want to make a flashlight but didn't want to spend money buying a suitable enclosure, then this would be a 'sensible' option, I use that term loosely. Still, give it a go!
Please feel free to add any projects to this list in comments.
Where To Buy Components?
Most of the projects in the list either provide full kits you can purchase and assemble or places you can buy the project components from, but if you are still struggling here are a couple of suggestions:
Now that you've finally decided to pick up that old rusty soldering iron that's been lying around in your shed for years(which you have no idea where it came from) and now that you've had some experience in electronics, you may find yourself asking: "What do I do now?" or "Why did I bother?" Well hopefully you're asking the former! If that's the case then as I said before I would recommend learning more theory, so you can take on bigger projects and actually understand how things work, and why they work the way they do (knowing this will also help solve any problems that may arise).
Probably the next logical step would be to look at programmable devices, this article on Instructables is well worth checking out:
I would also suggest checking out Arduino, the Arduino starter kits are great for lots of projects: