Electronic Breadboards: Your Guide To Breadboarding

What Is An Electronic Breadboard?

An electronic breadboard is a piece of hardware specially designed for making experimental models of electronic circuits without the need to solder, making it the perfect design tool for beginners, DiY enthusiasts and professionals alike. By removing the permanence often associated with other real-world prototyping systems, a breadboard removes the barrier to entry and allows you to quickly build, test and prototype electronic circuits free from the worries of ‘messing something up’.

Found everywhere from a hobbyist’s lamp-lit desk through to classrooms the world over, their ease of use, accessibility and comparatively cheap asking price make breadboards the go-to tool whether you’re creating temporary prototypes, testing ideas or simply taking your first steps into the limitless world of possibilities that is circuit design.

Where Does The Breadboard Get Its Name?

The origins of the breadboard can be traced back to the most unlikely of places: the kitchen. In the past, slabs of wood – reminiscent of the breadboards we use to slice bread on – were used as a test-bed for electronic circuit design in a process known as ‘Breadboarding’.

When the plastic breadboard was first made available in the 1970’s, the name stuck. Though you’ll also find them referred to as ‘Pegboards’ and ‘Terminal Arrays’. Nowadays, it’s these breadboards that are used to prototype electronic design projects big and small: from analog and digital circuits through to fully-functioning CPUs and retail designs.

What Is A Breadboard Made Of?

A far cry from the makeshift wooden breadboards of old, modern breadboards are typically made of plastic, dotted with a number of perforated holes. Numerous tin plated phosphor bronze or nickel silver alloy spring clips sit beneath these holes, often referred to as ‘Tie Points’ or ‘Contact Points’.

The number of perforations – and their arrangement – varies from board to board, but regardless of their layout breadboards are almost always composed of two main ‘Strips’. These are:

  • Terminal Strips
    Terminal Strips are the main areas that hold the majority of the electronic components.
  • Bus Strips
    Bus Strips provide power to any electronic components attached to the breadboard. Typically consisting of two columns. One for ground, the other for a supply voltage.

The holes on these strips are connected in an easily recognisable pattern – the top and bottom holes connected horizontally, the remainder vertically – which allows you to easily attach components to each other, as well as power and ground the circuit.

Did You Know? The Spring Clips found in a breadboard are generally rated at 1 Amp at 5 Volts, and 0.333 amps at 15 volts (5 watts).

How To Use An Electronic Breadboard

Breadboards may look imposing, but don’t let appearances fool you. A breadboard is the perfect way to begin exploring the world of possibilities that is beginner, DIY and enthusiast electronics design. Best of all? The solderless design of a breadboard means it’s infinitely reusable, so you don’t need to stress over everyday mistakes or mishaps.

Mistakes are a part of any learning process, so the no-risk reusable breadboard marks the perfect starting point free from the fear of breaking costly equipment. Prototype and test to your hearts’ content. There’s no limit.

When it comes to using your breadboard? They usually feature a slot that runs down the middle of the plastic board, called a ‘Trench’. Integrated Circuits are then inserted to straddle this trench, and from here interconnecting wires and leads of discrete, standalone components – including resistors, inductors and capacitors – can be inserted into the remaining free holes to complete the circuit you’re creating.

You don’t always need to use Integrated Circuits, either. In fact, if you choose not to, discrete components and wires are then free to use any of the breadboard’s perforations. Allowing for numerous different configurations, designs and prototypes to be created.

Just Getting Started? Here’s 5 Tips For Using A Breadboard

Using a breadboard for the first time? Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Use the breadboard’s side-lines to supply power to connected chips.
  • Use red wiring for power connections, and black wires for ground connections.
  • Keep wires and connections as flat as possible, to keep the breadboard looking clean and make it easier to use
  • Instead of routing jumper wires over chips, route them around. This will make it easier to change chips should the need arise.
  • Resistors, Transistors or LEDs being pulled out by accident? Trim down the legs so that they fit tightly.

Want To Learn More? Read Up On How To Use A Breadboard

A Visual Learner? Try This Video Guide To Using A Breadboard

What Are Breakout Boards(BOB)?

Breakout boards take a single electrical component and make is that much easier to use with a breadboard or other circuits within your project by ‘breaking it out’ from the breadboard and onto a standalone PCB Board featuring its own pins spaced to give you easier access to this new circuit.

The majority of breakout boards you’ll find are Integrated Circuits (IC) with pins on them. These pins provide a wide range of exciting capabilities, including power supply, providing a ground as well as pins for both input and output.

Types Of Breakout Boards

Breakout boards are as numerous as they are varied. Many of them are designed for a variety of different sensors – from temperature and ultrasonic distance sensors through to RFID and pressure sensors. Given their ubiquity and ease of use, breakout boards can be used with any number of breadboards and Microcontrollers, including the ever popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

The Benefits Of Using Breakout Boards

  • They can save you space by ‘breaking out’ a given component onto a standalone board.
  • Larger, DIP versions of components may not be available.
  • Like Breadboards, they can be reused time and time again.
  • Most Breakout boards are pin labelled, which makes it easier for beginners and experienced designers alike to know what connects where.

How To Connect A Breakout Board To A Breadboard

Breakout boards are a great addition to your electronics design toolbelt. But how do you connect a breakout board to a breadboard? It’s easier than you might think. Here’s just a few of the ways:

  • Use Clip-On or ‘Grabber’ Test Leads.
  • Use Pogo Pins
  • Solder a 0.1” male header to the breakout board. You can then use this header to plug directly into your breadboard.
    • Don’t want to solder? Use a solderless header instead.

Tip! You can use a right-angle header to save space and make it more convenient to access.

Other Modules To Use With Your Breadboard

Breakout boards aren’t the only addition you can make to your breadboard toolset. There are numerous other pre-fab modules on the market than you can use with – and attach to – your breadboard to make the prototyping process easier and increase the options at your disposal. Some of these include:

  • Power Supply Module
  • Screw Terminal
  • MIDI Out Port
  • MIDI In Port
  • Proto Area
  • Stereo Audio Jack
  • Dual Power Supply

Learn More About The Range Of Modules Available For Breadboards With These Resources

  • Embedded Lab – DiY Plug-In Modules To Make Microcontroller Breadboarding Easier

Ready To Go? Try These 5 Simple Electronic Breadboard Projects

Now that you’ve got the basics of breadboards down, why not consider giving some of these simple breadboard projects a try?

Five not enough? Instructables features a wide array of even more breadboard projects.