How to Use a Breadboard

boy working on electronics
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Are you hoping to get started with electronics projects, but you don’t have a breadboard, soldering iron, or other materials needed to built your own circuits? Don’t worry! We’ll teach you everything you need to know about how to use electronics! But first, let’s go over how to use a breadboard. 

Breadboards make it easy to build connections and develop prototypes for your electronics projects. Once you’ve gotten set up with a breadboard, you can use them to build cool electronics projects and even connect them with an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi!

What is a breadboard?

A breadboard is a plastic board with holes that let you plug in and connect various electronic components. 

You’ll find long rows of holes, called “strips.” Each breadboard has two types of “strips” – bus strips and terminal strips. Bus strips let you connect the board and its electronic components to a power source. Terminal strips let you actually plug various electronic components in and connect them to each other. 

Inside, metal strips create connections between the electronic components that you plug in. These connections create an electronic circuit, which you can then use to control any of your electronics projects!

Why are breadboards used?

electronics project

You can use a breadboard for any project that involves electronic circuits. They are easy to connect to things like a light emitting diode (LED) lights and batteries, as well as microcontrollers such as Arduino boards.

Breadboards are used for electronics projects that need to be assembled without a fully equipped electronics workshop. Because the inner workings of a board already provides connections between the electronic components, you can create an electronic circuit without needing to solder or do anything else besides simply plugging things in. 

They are also great for any electronic circuit that you don’t want to make permanent, such as a test project or prototype. If you make a mistake or want to change something, you can unplug things from the breadboard and move them around or try something else. This makes breadboards excellent for things like prototyping, testing, and any electronics projects for beginners.

Why do we call it a breadboard?

old electronics breadboard

After seeing a big plastic rectangle full of tiny holes, you might be wondering: why on earth do we call that thing a breadboard?

The answer is actually quite interesting. Back in the 1970s, when people wanted to create their own circuits, they used wooden boards to build them on. In fact, the standard wooden breadboard found in nearly every kitchen seemed perfect for assembling homemade circuits!

However, using a pre-made breadboard with connections built into it already made things a lot easier, so people stopped using wooden breadboards once these awesome tools became available.

Still, the name stuck, so even though a plastic rectangle full of small holes isn’t great for making sandwiches on, we still call it a breadboard! Some people still make circuits on real wooden breadboards the old-fashioned way – you can see an example here.

Now, we call them breadboards, and we call the act of using one to develop a circuit “breadboarding.”

Different types of breadboards

When getting started with a breadboard project, it’s important to know what type of breadboard you need. 

There are two primary types of breadboards: solder boards and solderless breadboards. 

solder board

A solder board requires you to actually use a soldering iron to connect electronic components to the board. Solder boards are better for projects that are permanent and need to hold up to being installed somewhere or used multiple times.

A solderless board is the plastic board we’ve been discussing, and it’s the type of breadboard you’ll use for most Thimble.io projects. This type of breadboard lets you plug in and unplug electronic components without having to do any soldering.

electronics breadboard

Another aspect of breadboard types is their size. Both types of boards come in a variety of sizes, from very small ones for miniature projects to bigger ones that let you build large, complex circuits and give you lots of room to work. 

Parts of a breadboard

bread board

Bus Strips

A bus strip lets you connect the breadboard to a power supply so that the other electronic components on the breadboard can be powered. To give your breadboard power, you’ll use the bus strips to connect to a power supply.

Bus strips are usually found at the outer edges of a breadboard or in between the terminal strips, and are almost always narrower than the terminal strips.

A typical breadboard will have two bus strips: a column for ground, which is marked in blue or black coloring, and a column for power, also called voltage, which is marked in red. 

Bus strips are also sometimes called rails, power rails, power buses, or just buses.

Terminal Strips

Most of the area in a breadboard is taken up by terminal strips. Terminal strips are made up of small holes, or perforations, where you can plug in your electronic components. 

Terminal strips are connected in specific ways based on their rows and columns. It’s important to understand the layout of the terminal strip on the breadboard you’re working with. Make sure you check the labeling of your breadboard before plugging things in!

Center groove (or DIP Support) 

Most breadboards have a notch or a groove that runs down the center, through the middle of the terminal strips. This line down the middle serves a number of functions.

The center groove on a breadboard allows certain types of integrated circuits called dual in-line packages to be connected in a way that straddles that line. It also shows where the terminal strips have been divided and which columns are connected, and it also allows breadboards to be easily stacked on top of each other for storage or larger projects.

Metal clips

breadboard metal clips

Inside each breadboard are metal clips that catch an electronic component whenever it gets plugged in. These metal clips are arranged in lines that correspond to the rows and columns on the terminal strips, so that you can see and control which electronic components are connected.

Breadboard labels

 

 

The markings on a breadboard are very important, since they help you identify which holes on the terminal strip will allow you to connect your electronic components.

Each column on a breadboard is labeled, usually with a letter. Check the top of a terminal strip to see how the columns are labeled. Each row on a breadboard is also labeled, usually with a number. 

That means that each of the holes in a terminal strip has its own unique position, which can be identified with its column letter and row number. 

Breadboard labels help you identify which holes in the terminal strips are connected. On most breadboards, they are connected horizontally in sets of five. That means the first five holes in Row 1 are connected, but none of those holes are connected with Row 2, or with holes on the other side of the center groove.

Jumper wires

jumper wires

Jumper wires are not technically part of the breadboard itself, but they’re an important part of any circuit or other electronics project that uses a breadboard.

A jumper wire is a short piece of wire with hard metal points on the end which plug into the holes on a breadboard. These allow you to make connections on the breadboard and start building a circuit.

Jumper wires come in different colors and lengths, and you can buy them pre-made or make them yourself. 

Other electronic components

breadboard parts

Breadboards are designed to work with any electronic component that has metal leads or pins that can be plugged into the holes on a breadboard. These are called “through hole” or “thru hole” components. 

These can include LED lights, push-buttons, resistors, power supplies, and anything else labeled “through hole.”

Using a breadboard

How to connect components on a breadboard

Connecting components to a board is very simple and doesn’t take any specialized tools. All you have to do is push the metal pins or leads of your electronic components into the holes on your breadboard.

If you are using jumper wires, use the different colors of the wires to color code your project and more easily keep track of how things are connected.

When you plug a component into a breadboard, make sure it’s plugged in all the way. Push it in as far as it will go. This prevents shaky or unreliable connections between the components and the metal clips. After you’ve plugged something in to your breadboard, you should be able to pick the breadboard up and turn it upside down without anything falling out!

However, you also have to make sure that your components are connected properly, and not just plugged in. That means making sure that everything is plugged in to the correct row and column. 

To do that, you’ll need to reference your circuit diagram, if you are working with one. If you have written directions for your electronics project, that can also tell you which row and column each electronic component needs to connect to.

If you need help finding, understanding, or developing a breadboard diagram, check out a tool called Fritzing. Fritzing lets you see and set up breadboard diagrams on a computer, so you can test things out and see how a circuit board fits together. 

Where to connect components on a breadboard

breadboard labels

Where you connect your electronic components on your breadboard is important, because that controls what other components they are able to connect to. 

Each horizontal row on one terminal strip is connected – meaning that anything you plug in on that row will be electrically connected to anything else plugged in on that row.

Any electronics project you do with a breadboard will have its own requirements, so you’ll need to check your project’s breadboard diagram and instructions to identify where to connect the components.

How the holes in a breadboard are connected

The holes in a breadboard are connected by metal clips that span five holes, horizontally. These metal clips allow each row of five holes to be connected. 

There are no vertical connections on a terminal strip. Horizontal rows on either side of the center groove are also not connected to each other. 

How to connect a push button to a breadboard

One specific type of electronic component you can use with a board is a push button. Including a push button in your electronics project lets you provide “input” to your circuit based on whether the button is being pressed.

button breadboard

First, make sure that your push button is a “through hole” style component, meaning that it has the right metal parts to be plugged into the breadboard. 

Then, identify based on your project’s instructions where the push button should be plugged in. Many push button components are meant to straddle the center groove on the breadboard, with their pins plugged in to holes on either side. 

Make sure your push button’s pins or leads are plugged all the way into your breadboard. 

Next, you’ll want to make sure that your push button is connected to the other components. Check your project’s breadboard diagram to see what else you need, and where to put it. You might use something like a resistor or jumper wires to connect your button to an external power supply or other components. 

How to connect a breadboard to a power supply

All of the electronic components that you connect to your breadboard need electricity to work! In order to power your board, you’ll need to connect it to a power supply.

A breadboard connects to a power supply through the bus terminals, which are also sometimes called “rails.” Most board bus terminals include a positive, or voltage, bus and a negative, or ground, bus. Positive bus strips are marked with the color red and a plus sign, and negative bus strips are marked with the color blue or black and a minus sign. 

When connecting a power supply, always make sure you follow the breadboard diagram you’re using exactly. If your board doesn’t seem to be connected to the power supply, check to make sure you have plugged things in to the right bus strip and haven’t confused positive and negative ones.

You can also use color coding to ensure that you’re plugging things in correctly. For example, many battery packs and other power supply options have red and black wires to indicate which bus strip they are meant to be plugged in to – use the red wire for positive, and the black one for negative.

battery pack for breadboard

Most breadboards have multiple bus terminals, usually one on either side of the board. These different strips are not connected, so if you want to connect both sides, you’ll need to use a jumper wire. 

Binding posts

binding posts on breadboard

Some boards, especially larger breadboards, come with binding posts, which are another way to connect your breadboard to an external power source. Binding posts look like pegs, or pins, attached to the platform that the breadboard is on. 

Binding posts are not automatically connected to the breadboard, so if you want to use them, you’ll first need to use jumper wires to connect the binding posts to the bus strips. To connect wires to binding posts, first unscrew the post until you can see the hole that goes through it. Thread your wire through that hole, then screw the post back down.

Always make sure all your wires are securely connected – a loose connection will make your power supply unreliable and prevent your circuit from working. 

What can you build with a breadboard?

You can use a breadboard for any electronic project that uses circuits. These simple aspects of electronic engineering let you build and control all sorts of things, from lights to sensors, and can be connected to a microcontroller to do even more.

The best way to find electronics projects that will let you use your board is to check out project ideas on various websites! Here are some great examples of electronics projects that use breadboards:

Ten Breadboard Projects for Beginners

Here, Instructables lists ten awesome, easy to do electronics projects that can get you started with your breadboard. Most of them include an LED circuit, which lets you see exactly how things are working by blinking, flashing, or turning off a light. Learn how to make a light blink, a bell ring, and even how to detect static electricity!

Arduino Breath Sensor

This project from Build Electronic Circuits lets you use a breadboard to connect a radar device to a microcontroller to detect a person’s breath and use that input to fade or brighten an LED light.

Remote Tester

Build Circuit provides this simple breadboard project that lets you build a basic circuit that can test a remote by lighting up an LED when a remote switch is pressed.

Color Changing Lamp

This project from Build Electronic Circuits uses a breadboard to connect a microcontroller to a temperature sensor, which then uses code to change the color of a lamp based on the temperature.

Simple Breadboard Projects for Engineering Students

This list from Elprocus includes ten awesome breadboard projects, including a kitchen timer, a water tank level indicator, and smart fan that turns on and off based on the temperature.

Melody Generator

This cool electronics project from Build Circuit uses a breadboard and a simple circuit to generate a small tune when a button is pressed.

Get started with breadboards

Breadboards are an excellent way to get started building circuits and making your own electronics projects. You can easily move things around, test things out, and try different components.

A breadboard lets you experiment with your own circuits, but it also has the right labeling to help you follow along with a board diagram someone else has provided. 

If you want to get started with breadboards and other awesome engineering and computer science projects, check out our monthly subscription service that pairs online classes with hands-on STEM kits. All ages welcome! 

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