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Triple threat: Heat, cold, and humidity
No matter where you set up shop, consider the climate. If you find a work area chilly, warm, or damp, donít use that area for electronics work. Extremes in heat or cold and humidity not only make you uncomfortable; they can have a profound effect on your electronics circuits, as well.
Use these climactic clues to guide you:
If youíre working in a garage, attic, or basement, consider adding insulation if the area doesnít already have it. You can get rolls of fiberglass insulation that are relatively cheap, and installing it requires little more than a staple gun. But fiberglass can be dangerous if inhaled: Be sure to follow the installation directions carefully. For fiberglass insulation, wear gloves, eye protection, and a respirator while youíre installing it.
Some basements and garages pose a problem because they contain too much moisture. If your basement is at or below the water table level, moisture may accumulate on the floor. For safety reasons, never work in an area where the floor is wet or even slightly damp.
When working in the garage, keep your electronics bench away from doors and other openings. This step prevents moisture from the outside from entering and ruining your projects. It also helps keep grass, bugs, and dust out of your circuit boards. (In our garage, black widow spiders like to make nests under the electronics bench. Yipes!!)
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Chapter 3: Outfitting Your Electronics Bench
You donít need a large or elaborate workbench. The types of projects that you do determine the size of the workbench, but for most applications, you need a table measuring only about 2 by 3 feet. You probably already have a small desk, table, or drafting table that you can use for your electronics bench.
Here are some other ideas for your workbench:
^ Use a door as a table surface. Build legs using 30-inch lengths of 2-by-4 lumber and attach the legs using joist hangars. (You can buy all this stuff at any home improvement store.) You can get hollow-core doors for less money, but the solid-core doors last longer and donít bow with age and weight. As an alternative, you can build your work surface using /4-inch plywood or particle board.
^ If you prefer, forget the 2-by-4 legs and make a simple table surface using a door and two sawhorses. The advantage of this get-up is that you can take apart and store your workbench in the corner when youíre not using it.
^ Many electronics technicians prefer to cover their work surface with a layer of carpeting. The carpeting acts as a cushion to protect circuit boards, cabinets, and other components. If you use a piece of carpet, get a new, clean remnant and cut it to size. The shorter the nap, the better (so that you donít constantly lose little parts in the shag). If you can, get a carpet that has been treated with an anti-static spray or, better yet, contains anti-static metallic threads.
Remember, as you work on projects, you crouch over the worktable for hours at a time. You can skimp and buy or build an inexpensive worktable, but if you donít already own a good chair, put one on the top of your shopping list. Be sure to adjust the seat for the height of the worktable. A poor-fitting chair can cause backaches and fatigue.
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62 Part II: Aisle 5, Component Shack: Stocking Up
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Getting to Know You: The Most Common Electronic Components
In This Chapter
^ Getting the lowdown on resistors
Quickly changing resistance with potentiometers (and why youíd do this)
^ Discovering how to pick the best capacitor for your circuit ^ Decoding common markings on resistors and capacitors ^ Delving into diodes, including the kind that light up ^ The truth about transistors ^ Understanding integrated circuits
Electronics folks refer to the assortment of odds-and-ends that go into a circuit, collectively, as components. These are the things that make a circuit work. Although you can make a complete circuit with just a battery, some wire, and a light bulb, most electronics projects use a few more components, such as resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits. You can think of these components as the common building blocks of the typical electronics gizmo.
The variety of components, and the way they connect to one another, determines what a circuit does. Wired one way, a collection of a few resistors, capacitors, and transistors can build an electronic siren; wired another way, the circuit can become a flashing crossing sign for a model railroad.
In this chapter, you can read about the most common electronic components used in circuits: what they are, what you can use them for, and what they do. And because part of becoming an electronics pro includes being able to identify components just by the way they look, you discover how to do that in this chapter, as well.