United States - Flag United States

Please confirm your currency selection:

Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Journal of a Newbie Maker Colin Carter

I’ll cut right to the chase here: I’m not an engineer. By education, I’m a technical writer. By pastime, I’m a musician, homebrewer, reader, cyclist, record collector, house cleaner, and animal lover. In the past couple of years, I’ve added the mantle of maker. Or tinkerer. Or DIYer. Whatever you want to call it, I built a circuit from a handful of components — and it works! You may remember your first successful build and your sense of accomplishment. Here’s my story.

I didn’t set out to become a maker. For a technical writer, I’m not all that technical. I’m pretty sure I can remember Ohm’s Law, and I can make sense of a schematic, but I’m not very adept at putting those skills to use. At best, I can kludge something together with moderate soldering skill. But being a tech writer is about continually learning new things. So with the encouragement of my EE friends, I decided to step into circuit theory to build something I could actually use: flashing LEDs for my bicycle.

After spending some time with a Forrest Mims III book, I picked the humble 555 timer IC as the brain of my circuit. Eight pins of simplicity that even I could grasp. From there, I asked my EE friends for advice, did a bit of Googling, and arrived at a seemingly well-known circuit using the 555 in astable mode.


I breadboarded my components and marveled at the flashing LED in front of me. Success! But not bright enough or fast-blinking enough for my use. I needed more LEDs and a way to control the speed of the blink. I quickly ruled out creating my own LED series. Like I said, I’m not an expert on Ohm’s Law, so I wanted to avoid the math involved with a series of resistors and LEDs. I settled on an LED strip and its accompanying specifications, which did the math for me. I knew I could change out the second resistor to increase the speed, but I had a better idea. Enter the variable resistor.

I replaced a 4.7KΩ resistor with a 50kΩ potentiometer, wired only two terminals to change it to a variable resistor, and plugged the battery back in. Further success! Using my aforementioned moderate soldering skills, I recreated the circuit on a perf board and added an SPST switch. Still amazed that the circuit worked, I placed everything except the LED strip in a project box and started photographing my successful build.


To many Mouser customers, this circuit and my experience may seem naïve. But I’m willing to bet that most of you had a similar “electronics awakening” — that aha moment when you took what you learned and applied it to something you made. Maybe that feeling of accomplishment never goes away, no matter how many successful builds have come off your bench.

Do you remember your first success? Do you still feel that sense of accomplishment? Let us know in the comments.

« Back

Colin is Technical Content Manager at Mouser Electronics. In his off time, he enjoys bicycles, travel, and music. He received a Master of Arts in Technical Communication from the University of North Texas and a Certificate of Completion of Pre-Kindergarten from Morgan Day Care.

All Authors

Show More Show More
View Blogs by Date