Beginner Parts Kit Identification Guide

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Contributors: jimblom, bboyho
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Introduction

As you dig deeper into the electronics hobby, you'll probably find your personal space infiltrated by a recurring theme of electronics components. With the Beginner Parts Kit we've tried to create a delightful mish-mash of electronics components that us electrical engineers have grown to love and/or hate through the years. It's filled with capacitors, LEDs, transistors, integrated circuits, and the like that we've found to be the most useful components around. And they all come in a pretty kickin' box too! Whether you're beginning an electronics collection, or just refilling, the Beginner's Parts Kit will have a lot of what you need.

SparkFun Beginner Parts Kit

SparkFun Beginner Parts Kit

KIT-13973
$16.95
11

In this tutorial, we'll provide a quick rundown of each part in the kit, to help reinforce your understanding of the component. For some parts, we'll include an example application, in case you're in need of a circuit to plug your new toys into.

Suggested Materials

To follow along with this tutorial, you will need the following materials at a minimum to get started. You may not need everything though depending on what you have. Add it to your cart, read through the guide, and adjust the cart as necessary.

Resistor Kit - 1/4W (500 total)

Resistor Kit - 1/4W (500 total)

COM-10969
$7.95
153
Jumper Wires Premium 4" M/M - 26 AWG (30 Pack)

Jumper Wires Premium 4" M/M - 26 AWG (30 Pack)

PRT-14284
$1.95
Breadboard - Mini Modular (Black)

Breadboard - Mini Modular (Black)

PRT-12047
$3.95

In addition to those components, you need an actual power source that delivers a voltage that's 1-2V higher than your desired output. If I have a wall outlet available, I always like using "wall-warts" as my power supply; of those 9V or 12V are good options. The output of the wall-wart can be plugged into a barrel jack connector, which can, in turn, be wired to our circuit.

Wall Adapter Power Supply - 9VDC 650mA

Wall Adapter Power Supply - 9VDC 650mA

TOL-00298
$5.95
9
Wall Adapter Power Supply - 12VDC 600mA

Wall Adapter Power Supply - 12VDC 600mA

TOL-09442
$5.95
13
DC Barrel Jack Adapter - Female

DC Barrel Jack Adapter - Female

PRT-10288
$2.95
1
DC Barrel Jack Adapter - Breadboard Compatible

DC Barrel Jack Adapter - Breadboard Compatible

PRT-10811
$0.95
7

Suggested Reading

If you aren’t familiar with the following concepts, we recommend checking out these tutorials before continuing.

What is a Circuit?

Every electrical project starts with a circuit. Don't know what a circuit is? We're here to help.

How to Use a Breadboard

Welcome to the wonderful world of breadboards. Here we will learn what a breadboard is and how to use one to build your very first circuit.

How to Read a Schematic

An overview of component circuit symbols, and tips and tricks for better schematic reading. Click here, and become schematic-literate today!

Kit Contents

You will find the following parts in the kit.

Parts Separated out from Box


Adjustable Parts Box

Though it's lacking in real electrical characteristics, the Parts Box remains one of the coolest parts of the Parts Kit. When the components have grown out of the box's comfortable confines, into a circuit of their own, the Parts Box will remain to someday host a new family of components. Previous SparkFun part boxes consisted of two latching lids with different compartments. Our latest part box contains individual, adjustable dividers.

Adjustable Parts Box

Adjustable Parts Box

PRT-13867
$3.95

Capacitors

The Ceramic Capacitors - 10pF, 100pF, 1nF, 10nF, 0.1uF, 1uF

Never really going to have a starring role in a circuit, capacitors are nevertheless at the foundation of most designs. These caps are most commonly used for circuit decoupling, where they're placed in parallel with a DC voltage supply to suppress noise. They've got loads of other uses as well, such as energy storage and timing circuit tuning (see the 555 timer below).

Ceramic Capacitor

Each of these caps can be distinguished by the tiny print on their body. See the table below to match up each cap with its value, you'll probably notice a pattern:

Cap Value Cap Marking
10pF 100
100pF 101
1nF 102
10nF 103
0.1uF 104
1uF 105

The Electrolytic Capacitors - 10uF and 100uF

A not-too-distant cousin of the ceramic capacitor, these electrolytic caps have one very distinct trait: they are polarized, meaning they have both a positive and a negative leg.

Ceramic Capacitor

The negative leg is marked by both a "– " looking sign on the body of the cap (gold on the 100uF and white on the 10uF), and a shorter leg. Take care to ensure that the voltage on the long, positive lead is higher than that on the negative lead. If you do happen to hook the cap up backwards, catastrophic failure is imminent, usually in the form of the cap making a fun 'pop' noise, and sort of puffing out. Sounds fun, I know, but you've only got five of each, so you may want to keep them in working order.

For more information, check out our tutorial about capacitors.

Capacitors

June 19, 2013

Learn about all things capacitors. How they're made. How they work. How they look. Types of capacitors. Series/parallel capacitors. Capacitor applications.

Diodes

The Diodes - 1N4148 and 1N4001

Diodes are used to ensure that current only flows in one direction, this comes at the cost of a small forward drop across them. There are two varieties of diodes in this kit: the 1N4148 small-signal diode, and the 1N4001 rectifying diode. The 1N4148 is the neat looking orange-and-black diode, where the black line marks the negative (cathode) side. The 1N4001 is the black and gray diode, and the gray line marks its cathode.

Diode Small Signal - 1N4148

Diode Small Signal - 1N4148

COM-08588
$0.15
Diode Rectifier - 1A, 50V (1N4001)

Diode Rectifier - 1A, 50V (1N4001)

COM-08589
$0.15
1

Both diodes share the usual diode characteristics, however they differ in their electrical ratings. The 1N4001 has a much higher forward current rating, 1000mA, compared to the 1N4148's 200mA rating, but it also has a slightly higher forward voltage rating. Because of its relatively high-current rating, the 1N4001 usually takes a role in power conversion circuits, like DC-DC converters, and AC-DC rectifiers. The small-signal 1N4148's are better used in low-current applications, like logic circuits.

For a much deeper read on diodes, check out our diode tutorial.

Diodes

May 9, 2013

A diode primer! Diode properties, types of diodes, and diode applications.

LEDs

Green, Yellow, Red 3mm LEDs

No project is complete without a blinking LED. That's a fact! The parts kit includes one of each green, yellow, and red 3mm LEDs.

LED - Basic Green 3mm

LED - Basic Green 3mm

COM-09650
$0.35
1
LED - Basic Red 3mm

LED - Basic Red 3mm

COM-00533
$0.35
LED - Basic Yellow 3mm

LED - Basic Yellow 3mm

COM-00532
$0.35

LEDs have two terminals, an anode, the positive side, and a cathode, the negative side. The two terminals can be distinguished in two ways. If you look at the base of the diode, you'll notice it's not exactly round, there's a flat edge that signifies the cathode. I'm terrible at seeing the flat edge though, so I usually look for the shorter of the two legs, which also indicates the cathode.

There are two aspects to illuminating an LED: the LED requires a specific positive voltage, and it also needs just enough, but not too much, forward current. These ratings for all three LEDs are in the table below.

LED Color Suggested Forward Current Max. Forward Current Typical Forward Voltage
Green 16-18mA 20mA 2.0V-2.4V
Yellow 16-18mA 20mA 2.0V-2.4V
Red 16-18mA 20mA 1.8V-2.2V

For a great discussion on LEDs, check out our LED tutorial.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

August 12, 2013

Learn the basics about LEDs as well as some more advanced topics to help you calculate requirements for projects containing many LEDs.

The 7-Segment LED - RED

Taking a starring role in the Parts Kit is this rectangular component, which houses eight LEDs total.

7-Segment Display - LED (Red)

7-Segment Display - LED (Red)

COM-08546
$1.15
1

Seven LEDs comprise what we call a 7-Segment display, and can be turned on or off to create any number or near-representations of many other characters. An eighth LED controls a decimal point to the bottom right of the digit. You've no doubt seen 7-Segment LEDs in other big-time roles, like your alarm clock, radio, microwave, and tons of other devices that need to show a numerical value.

GIF of 7 Segment Display

The 7-Seg LED has 10-pins, five on each the top and bottom of the display. All LEDs share a common anode, pins 3 and 8, while the rest of the pins are the individual cathodes of each LED.

7 Segment Annotated


Inputs

Headers

This happy couple isn't all that exciting, but they're an important component nevertheless. If you ever find yourself with a SparkFun breakout board, you may need to solder in one of these headers to form a solid, electrical connection between the board and another component. The male headers are useful if you want to plug the breakout board into a breadboard, while the female headers are useful for plugging wires into. You can also use them to help solder pins to boards.

Male Headers Soldered on Arduino Pro Mini Teensy's Stacked for Soldering
Male Headers Soldered on Arduino Pro Mini Female Headers Soldered to SAMD21 Teensy's Stacked to Help with Soldering Soldering

These headers come in sets of 20 pins, and can be broken into smaller sets with a set of clippers.

Flush Cutters - Xcelite

Flush Cutters - Xcelite

TOL-14782
$7.95
1
Electronic Snippers

Electronic Snippers

TOL-10447
$14.95
4

The Inputs

Mini Power Switches and Push Buttons

At the heart of any great project is user input, exactly what these switches and buttons are built for.

Mini Power Switch - SPDT

Mini Power Switch - SPDT

COM-00102
$1.50
Mini Pushbutton Switch

Mini Pushbutton Switch

COM-00097
$0.35
2

The Mini Power Switch often lands roles as on/off control, but it can control many other functions. This single-pole/double-throw (SPDT) switch has three terminals, one of the two outer-terminals will be connected to the middle one, whichever one it is will depend on the direction the switch is flipped in. It's all pretty intuitive.

Switch Annotated

The Push Buttons have two terminals; of the four leads two on each side are shorted together. When the small black button is depressed, the terminals are shorted together, otherwise the button acts as an open circuit. Where the switch is used as an on/off control, the button is used for more momentary control, like a quick reset. Here's an annotated top view of a 12mm colored button annotated.

Button Annotated

For more information, check out our switch basics.

Switch Basics

May 7, 2013

A tutorial on electronics' most overlooked and underappreciated component: the switch! Here we explain the difference between momentary and maintained switches and what all those acronyms (NO, NC, SPDT, SPST, ...) stand for.

The Potentiometer - 10kΩ

The only real resistive component in the Parts Kit is the 10kΩ potentiometer. Like the buttons, a potentiometer can be used as a form of input; for instance if you've ever set a speaker's volume to 11, you were probably rotating the knob of a potentiometer.

Trimpot 10K with Knob

Trimpot 10K with Knob

COM-09806
$0.95
6

The potentiometer has three terminals. The resistance across the two outer terminals will always be 10kΩ. Meanwhile, as the knob is rotated, the resistance between the center terminal, called the wiper, and either of the two outer terminals will vary from 0 to 10kΩ.

For more information about this variable resistor, check out our resistors tutorial.

Resistors

April 1, 2013

A tutorial on all things resistors. What is a resistor, how do they behave in parallel/series, decoding the resistor color codes, and resistor applications.

The Photocell

This component also goes by the name of photoresistor. It's a really neat device that functions almost like a potentiometer, except that the wiper's been replaced with a light-sensitive semiconductor material. The resistance between the two terminals of the photocell are dependent upon the amount of light that's incident upon the top of the cell. In complete darkness the resistance will be around 1MΩ while in bright light the resistance may be as low as 1kΩ. Photocells obviously make great light sensors, if you want a device to only turn on when you've flipped a light switch, the photocell would be a perfect player in your project.

Mini Photocell

Mini Photocell

SEN-09088
$1.50
7

For more information, check out the photocell hookup guide.

Photocell Hookup Guide

May 5, 2016

Hook a light-sensing photocell up to an Arduino to create an ambient light monitor.

Voltage Regulators

The Voltage Regulators - 3.3V and 5V

Working behind the scenes in most circuits are the voltage regulators, ever-toiling to convert those unfriendly, unstable, high-voltage signals to something that keeps everything in the rest of the circuit happy.

Voltage Regulator - 3.3V

Voltage Regulator - 3.3V

COM-00526
$1.95
3
Voltage Regulator - 5V

Voltage Regulator - 5V

COM-00107
$0.95
3

The voltage regulators included in the Parts Kit are of the linear variety, they can be used to drop a large voltage down to either 5V or 3.3V. In exchange for this energy transfer, they'll produce anywhere from a slight warmth to searing, painful heat on the bottom, metal tab.

Each regulator has just three pins: an input voltage, an output voltage, and a common ground. The pinouts of the two regulators are annoyingly not the same, so take note of the picture below.

Voltage Regulator Annotated


Transistors and Op-Amps

The Transistors - 2N3904 NPN and 2N3906 PNP

A distant relative of the diode, the transistors are also a semi-conductor device.

Transistor - NPN, 60V 200mA (2N3904)

Transistor - NPN, 60V 200mA (2N3904)

COM-00521
$0.50
Transistor - PNP (2N3906)

Transistor - PNP (2N3906)

COM-00522
$0.50

Though you probably haven't seen them, transistors have been in just about every electrical device you've ever used. The transistors included represent both types of bipolar junction transistors (BJTs), NPN and PNP, and are some of the most common transistors around.

NPN and PNP Transistors Annotated

Internal Schematic Diagram Taken from the 2N3904 and 2N3906 Datasheet

Transistors can be thought of as electronic switches. They have three terminals: a collector, an emitter, and a base. The base acts as the control of the switch; whether it's pulled high or low controls whether current can flow from the collector to the emitter. For the NPN diode, current will flow from C to E if the base is pulled high (relative to the emitter), conversely, on the PNP transistor, the base must be pulled low relative to the emitter for current to flow from C to E.

For a much deeper read on diodes, check out our diode tutorial.

Transistors

July 1, 2014

A crash course in bi-polar junction transistors. Learn how transistors work and in which circuits we use them.

The Op-Amps - LM358

Operational amplifiers...depending on how much you love analog circuit design, these integrated circuits either conjure painful memories of ideal amplifier theory, or delightful recollections of amplifier circuit design. Fortunately, there's a lot of information out there to help you get exactly what you want out of an op-amp. Op-amps are a specifically differential voltage amplifiers, they take two voltage inputs and amplify the difference to anywhere from 10s to 1000s of times larger. They have zillions of applications; depending on the components around them they can be used to compare, invert, add, integrate, or perform all sorts of other functions on signals.

The LM358 is a good example of a really standard op-amp.

Op-Amp (Through-Hole) - LM358

Op-Amp (Through-Hole) - LM358

COM-09456
$0.95

It's dual channel, meaning it's actually got two op-amps inside it. Each amp has an inverting and non-inverting input, as well as a single output. And both amps share a single voltage supply.

LM358 Op Amp Annotated

For more information about operational amplifiers, check out our tutorial.

Introduction to Operational Amplifiers with LTSpice

April 18, 2017

Picking up where we left off in "Getting Started with LTSpice," we delve a little deeper into LTSpice through an introduction of Operational Amplifiers (OpAmps).

555 Timer

Closing up the cast of components is this staple of timing circuits.

555 Timer

555 Timer

COM-09273
$0.95

It's a component whose use is so open-ended that contests are held to see who can conceive of the most useful, complex, and/or artistic use of the thing. With the 555 at the heart of a circuit, and a handful of choice resistors and capacitors, you can create a variety of waveforms that oscillate at frequencies from thousandths to hundreds of thousands of a Hz.

555 Timer Annotated

Pinout and Schematic Taken from the Datasheet and Wikipedia

Looking for more examples with the 555? Check out the link below for 555 timer circuits.


Examples In Action!

Below we'll tackle a few common circuits that use components from the Parts Kit. Hopefully, they'll spring ideas for new projects. Unfortunately, the parts kit doesn't have quite everything you'll need to complete these quick circuits, but I'll link any additional parts you'll need. A common theme of all of these projects is they're breadboard based, if you're looking for an addition to your parts catalog, and you don't already have one, a breadboard is a great place to start. You may also want to add a resistor kit, power supply, and adapter to your collection as well.

Example 1: A Simple Regulated Power Supply

We can use the included voltage regulators, 1N4001 diode, and capacitors to create a regulated power supply.

Schematic Power Supply

From the barrel jack connector, we first run power into the 1N4001 diode. Because the diode conducts current only in the positive direction, this adds reverse power protection to the circuit. If someone were crazy enough to connect the barrel jack backwards, the diode would protect the C1 capacitor and the regulator from being subjected to -9V (remember our talk about blowing up electrolytics?).

You'll notice caps thrown about everywhere around the circuit; these are all decoupling caps, used to limit the noise in the power supply. When adding decoupling caps, it's always beneficial to add a range of values, and even different types of capacitors. Depending on the desired output voltage, you can use either the 3.3V or 5V regulator. That's it, you've got a nice, happy, regulated supply; the first and most important step in project design. If you want to take this design a step further, you could add a resistor and an LED, to act as a power indicator. To toggle power, try adding the switch between the diode and voltage regulator.

Example 2: Controlling an LED with Light

Sometimes the simplest circuits can be the most enthralling, awesome things ever. That's the case with this circuit, all you need is a power supply, a photoresistor, and an LED.

Schematic of Photocell Circuit 1

The photoresistor limits the current that flows through the LED, thus controlling the brightness. See if you can turn the LED completely off; I sure couldn't. Then see how bright you can get the LED, as it plays the part of Icarus soaring ever-closer to it's light source.

If you're like me, that circuit's a little counter-intuitive. The LED should turn on when it's dark, off when it's light; an automatic nightlight. The addition of a transistor, and a couple resistors solves that problem:

Schematic of Photocell Circuit  2

In this circuit the transistor acts as an inverter. If the resistance of the photocell is low, meaning it's bright out, the transistor is on, and the LED is pulled towards ground. If the photocell's resistance is high, and it's dark out, the transistor turns off and the LED is turned on. That's the magic of transistors! You may need to play with the R2 resistor to adjust the sensitivity of your nightlight.

Example 3: A Single-Digit 7-Segment Display

There's not a whole lot you can say with one character, but you could get a little creative and use it with a switch, to display multiple characters on a single display. Say you have a special affinity for the number 13, you could use the Mini Power Switch in addition to a 330Ω resistor and the Red 7-Segment Display to (sort-of) display it.

Schematic of 7 Segment Display Circuit

The resistor is added to limit the current going into all of the segments; you don't want to blow up your pretty red LEDs. Now flip the switch really quickly and visualize that 13! Maybe you could add a potentiometer, allowing you to dim the LED.

Example 4: Blinking an LED at 1 Hz

Continuing on the premise that blinky things rule, let's use the 555 timer to control an LED that keeps a beat. Again you'll need a few resistors, in addition to a 555, 10uF capacitor, 10nF capacitor, and an LED.

Schematic of Basic 555 Timer Circuit

Blinkies! The 555 timer is running in astable mode, which means it continuously outputs square waves at a near 50% duty cycle. You can adjust the value of R2 to speed up, or slow down the blinky. Try replacing R2 with a potentiometer.


Hopefully these examples provide you with a good idea of what kind of magic you've got in that parts box. Now it's time to create something amazing; and when you do, let us know about it!

Resources and Going Further

Looking for other great essentials for your parts box or tools? Check out some of these other great kits and books!

SparkFun Capacitor Kit

SparkFun Capacitor Kit

KIT-13698
$7.95
9
SparkFun Discrete Semiconductor Kit

SparkFun Discrete Semiconductor Kit

KIT-13682
$10.95
2
SparkFun Beginner Tool Kit

SparkFun Beginner Tool Kit

TOL-14681
$54.95
Power Resistor Kit - 10W (25 pack)

Power Resistor Kit - 10W (25 pack)

KIT-13053
$5.95
2
Timer, OpAmp & Optoelectronic Circuits & Projects

Timer, OpAmp & Optoelectronic Circuits & Projects

BOK-11131
$12.95

Need some inspiration to start prototyping? Try looking at the following tutorials for ideas!

Using the Arduino Pro Mini 3.3V

This tutorial is your guide to all things Arduino Pro Mini. It explains what it is, what it's not, and how to get started using it.

MyoWare Muscle Sensor Kit

Line of products to work with the MyoWare muscle sensor from Advancer Technologies

SparkFun Arduino ProtoShield Hookup Guide

The SparkFun Arduino ProtoShield PCB and ProtoShield kit lets you customize your own Arduino shield using whatever custom circuit you can come up with! This tutorial will go over its features, hardware assembly, and how to use the shield with an Arduino R3 footprint.

ESP32 Thing Plus Hookup Guide

Hookup guide for the ESP32 Thing Plus using the ESP32 WROOM's WiFi/Bluetooth system-on-chip in Arduino.

LED Light Bar Hookup

A quick overview of SparkFun's LED light bars, and some examples to show how to hook them up.

Boss Alarm

Build a Boss Alarm that alerts you of anyone walking into your office and automatically changes your computer screen.

SparkFun Inventor's Kit Experiment Guide - v4.0

The SparkFun Inventor's Kit (SIK) Experiment Guide contains all of the information needed to build all five projects, encompassing 16 circuits, in the latest version of the kit, v4.0a.

Or check out some of these blog posts for ideas:


Have a suggestion for how we can improve this guide? Steps missed? Instructions unclear? Please let us know. You can leave a comment below or contact us through our support team. Also, let us know if this is the most awesome assembly guide you've ever encountered and we'll stop trying to improve it.