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In hindsight, I can see how dumb my singlebreadboard lifestyle was. Basic solderless breadboards aren't all that expensive. Most cost under $10. You make things a lot easier on yourself by simply having several solderless breadboards in your toolkit and building different circuits on them. You can leave a circuit on the board until you're done with it or until you run out of boards for your new projects.
You can also use multiple breadboards to build circuits bit by bit. You essentially build each part
of the circuit as a module. This approach lets you experiment with different sections of a more complicated circuit, perfecting each section before going on to the next. You can then use a couple of wires to easily connect the modular breadboards together.
To make a really sophisticated experimenter's station, buy some wide Velcro® strips and attach the strips onto a piece of 12 x 12-inch wood. You can get wood already cut to this size at most hobby or craft stores. Then, stick a strip of the mating piece of the Velcro® to the underside of each of your solderless breadboards. When you want to use a board, just press the Velcro® on the board to the Velcro® on the square of wood, helping your breadboard stay put while you work on it. With this trick, you don't have to worry about the breadboards sliding around and pulling their wires out of their sockets.
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Chapter 11: Creating Your Own Breadboard Circuit 237
Breadboard manufacturers make contact strips from a springy metal coated with a plating. The plating prevents the contacts from oxidizing, and the springiness of the metal allows you to use different diameter wires and component leads without seriously deforming the contacts. However, you can damage the contacts if you attempt to use wire larger than 20 gauge or components with very thick leads. If the wire is too thick to go into the hole, don’t try to force it. Otherwise, you can loosen the fit of the contact, and your breadboard may not work the way you want it to.
When you’re not using it, keep your breadboard in a resealable sandwich bag. Why? To keep out the dust. Dirty contacts make for poor electrical connections. Although you can use a spray-on electrical cleaner to remove dust and other contaminants, you make things easier on yourself by keeping the breadboard clean in the first place.
All sizes, big and small
Solderless breadboards come in many sizes. Breadboards with 550 contact points accommodate designs with about three or four 14- or 16-pin integrated circuits, plus a small handful of resistors and capacitors.
For the most flexibility, get a double-width board, such as the one you see in Figure 11-3. This style accommodates at least 10 ICs and provides over 1,200 contact points. If you’re into really elaborate design work, you can purchase extra large breadboards that contain 3,200 contacts or more.
For larger circuits, you can use bigger solderless breadboards.
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238 Part V: A Plethora of Projects
Obviously, don’t overdo it when buying a solderless breadboard. You don’t need to buy one the size of Wyoming if you’re making only a small circuit to power a light bulb. If you get into the middle of designing a circuit and find that you need a little more breadboard power, remember that some solder-less breadboards have interlocking ridges so that you can put several together to make a larger breadboard.
Creating a Circuit with Your Solderless Breadboard
Essentially breadboarding consists of putting components onto the board with wires. But there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. This section gives you the lowdown on what type of wire to use, efficient breadboarding techniques, and the ins and outs of giving your board a neat, logical design.
Why you gotta get pre-stripped wires
You have to use solid (not stranded) insulated wires to connect components together on your breadboard. You should use 20- to 22-gauge wire. Thicker or thinner wire doesn’t work well in a breadboard. Too thick and the wire won’t go into the holes; too thin and the electrical contact will be poor.
As we suggest in Chapter 5, stay away from stranded wire. The individual strands can break off, lodging inside the metal contacts of the breadboard.
While you’re buying your breadboard, purchase a set of pre-stripped wires. (Don’t get cheap now; this is worth it.) Pre-stripped wires come in a variety of lengths and are already stripped (obviously) and bent, ready for you to use in breadboards. A set of pre-stripped wires costs from $5 to $7, but you can bet the price is well worth the time that you save. Otherwise, you need to buy a bunch of wire and painstakingly cut off about a X inch of the insulation on each end.
The assortments that you find in stores come with wires cut to different lengths. Table 11-1 gives you a rundown of the lengths and quantities from one popular assortment.