The STEMpunk Project: Beginning Schematics

As of today I am excitedly in the middle of stage I of the electronics module. I have been working with the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit and the Elenco Electronics Playground, learning a ton along the way.

One of the first problems I ran into was trying to figure out how to read the schematics that accompany so many electronics projects. Here is an example of one:


Both kits include wiring diagrams which make reading the schematic unnecessary, but this step can’t be skipped if you really want to understand the circuit and get as much as possible from the exercise. Plus, once the training wheels are off schematic reading becomes indispensable.

I started with learning the basic symbols for electrical components like resistors, capacitors, and so on. These three tutorials helped:

  1. Sparkfun’s “How to Read a Schematic”.
  2. An Instructable on How to Read a Circuit Diagram.
  3. Make’s tutorial contains a nice summary near the end to which you might want to refer in the future.

But I still couldn’t figure out how to translate the symbols and wire connections to an actual circuit. What I really needed was to see someone walk through a schematic while illustrating their process and building the physical device. Luckily some people have done just that, and I’ve compiled a list of some of the better videos I found:

  1. Collin’s Lab: Schematics Collin Cunningham patiently lays out the basics of reading a schematic in his own oddball, funny way.
  2. Principles of Schematics Follow along with Ben Heck as he builds a touch plate LED circuit. Pay special attention to his method for laying out and keeping track of all those little components.
  3. Reading Electronics Schematics Very thorough explanation of schematic reading by Youtuber Cold Redd. Near the end of the video there are a number of close-up shots of the circuit he’s built. Pause the video and make sure you can see where power is coming from and how it gets to the various pins on the Integrated Circuit. Hand draw the schematic for easy reference if needed.
  4. How to read an Electronic Schematic Paul Wesley Lewis walks you through a simple breadboard, carefully illustrating how each connection corresponds to a part of the schematic.
  5. How to Read a Schematic RimstarOrg’s video contains the simplest circuit and explains symbols for connections like a chassis ground which aren’t contained in the other videos.

One of the difficulties in planning something like The STEMpunk Project is the simple fact that I just have no way of telling in advance when some essential, basic skill is going to be required and I’ll have to spend several days figuring it out.

But then exactly this sort of adaptability will be required in anything else I’ll want to do in the future, so it’s a skill worth building!

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