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Make Cool Stuff: Kits

With the Botanicalls kit from Sparkfun, your plants tweet when they need watering!

Kits are a great way to teach yourself a new technique. Pick the right kit and you’ll get detailed instructions and all the materials to create a finished project. It can take the guesswork out of assembling materials and allow you to focus on the new skill you want to learn.

Electronics can be a particularly daunting hobby to get into if you don’t have any experience. Thankfully, there are a lot of great electronics kit providers out there. Here are the sources we use in my household, but if you know of others please drop a note in the comments:

The kits available for sale are listed down the left-hand menu.

Click on “Kits” on the left-hand menu.

Select “Make Kits” from the left-hand menu. This site in particular has some very good beginner kits, as well as some low-cost options.

Adafruit and SparkFun also boast active user forums where you can search past questions and request help if you get stuck.

Practice soldering with a Larson Scanner kit from Maker Shed - the basis of any homemade Cylon.


Read reviews, looking for comments about the instructions. Are they clear? Can you download the instructions in advance? Many of the kits will include a link to the full instructions.

  1. Read through the instructions. Make sure you understand them.
  2. If there is anything that isn’t clear, check the forums for the site. Your question has probably been answered there.
  3. Do you own all the necessary tools? Nothing sucks more that getting your kit in the mail and realizing you needed to order a special wrench.
  4. Most importantly, do you think the techniques described are within your grasp? Whenever I try to teach myself too many new skills at once, the project just ends up shoved in a drawer. Baby steps, friends.

A safety warning: If I’m encouraging you to try out electronics projects, I would be remiss if I did not include some information about soldering. Soldering is a key skill and while it’s easy to learn, it’s also easy to do it wrong and burn yourself or burn down your apartment. We don’t want that. Continue at your own risk. Promise yourself you’ll be careful, you’ll never leave your soldering iron unattended, and open a window while you’re at it.

Here are a few good tutorials for learning how to solder:

The best way to learn is with a teacher, so now is the time for my usual hackerspace plug. If you’re lucky enough to have a hackerspace in your area, drop them an email to see if they would be willing to offer a soldering class. Your local community education programs may also have soldering or beginning electronics classes.

You can find Mindy on Twitter: @HolaMindy.

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