Well, unlike good’ol software, hardware involves physical stuff. You’ll need components, boards, tools that you’ll actually use with your very own hands. Isn’t that cool as a change?
So let’s get shopping!
The breadboard is your best friend when prototyping a project. It’s a real must-have! It allows you to create circuits without the need for soldering. Really handy, it comes in a variety of sizes. Even though the half-size and 1/4 sized breadboards are really cute and work well for small projects, you should have at least one full-size breadboard, since it’s more spacious and “comfy” to play with.
There’s a bunch of basic components you should have at hand in case you need (and you will). LEDS, resistors from different values, buttons (click and toggle), jumper wires to use in the breadboard, and other stuff you might find interesting! Well, to make things easier, I highly recommend you get a starter kit with these basics. I got a Sidekick basic kit for Arduino that was / still is very helpful and contains all these basics and plus a few other cool things, like a mini servo motor, a buzzer, a potentiometer…
Microcontroller board (easier)
To put some brains on your creations, you’re gonna need a microcontroller or a microcontroller board. You could also use a Raspberry Pi, which is more like a computer in a small board, however it goes more high-level since it has a whole operating system running on it. It surely gives you more flexibility, thou. But I personally find Arduinos the easiest to get started! I definitely recommend getting an Arduino Micro, because it’s very small and still quite good. Arduinos are so popular, you can find a lot of accessories and shields easily… It’s a good starting point. Remember: we’re talking about getting started. Once you’re more familiarized with the ins and outs of digital electronics, you should try new horizons and play with other boards too 🙂
Soldering Iron and Accessories
There’s no way around it: eventually, you will need to deal with soldering. I know, I know – it’s scary! It’ s hot! It’s… totally badass! And not as hard as it seems. Actually, it’s pretty easy. But it needs practice and patience! It can be a really meticulous job, depending on what you’re soldering.
Soldering irons come in a variety of versions and prices. The “stations” that have temperature control and a place to rest the iron safely (like the one in the photo above) are a really good choice.
A Solder Sucker is also important for when you make a bit of a mess when soldering, or simply if you want to “undo” solder points.
Last, but not least, you’ll need some solder. There are two main types: with lead, or led-free. The lead ones are said to be easier to work with, since they have a lower melting point. I can’t abide since I don’t want no business with breathing lead vapors 😛 I’ve been using the lead-free.
We have a page dedicated to basic soldering, check it out!
You might not be using this one all the time, or not in the very beginning, but boy, is it handy… The multimeter is the most basic debug tool for digital electronics. It can save you HOURS of suffering when things are going south. I’m definitely not an experienced user, but it has saved me after some very poor soldering I’ve done. This page from LadyAda explains how to use a multimeter and how to choose one to buy.
Well, that’s all for the moment. Once you get more familiarized with basic circuits and soldering, you can start exploring new boards, shields and kits to play with! The sky is the limit…