Do you have an idea for an electronics project that you want to build? Are you stuck because you don’t know how to start?
Well, then this is for you…
Whenever I take on a new project that is very different from anything I’ve ever done before, this happens:
Let’s say I want to build an RC model airplane (which is something I’ve never done before). The first automatic reaction in my brain is “But I don’t even know where to start!!!”.
When I was more inexperienced I often gave in to this first reaction. So, I postponed the project.
“Maybe next month” I told myself.
And then life got in the way and it never happened.
Now, after I’ve gotten some more experience, I know better: If it’s something I’ve never done before, of course, I don’t know how to do it!
The trick is to figure out how to do it.
So how can you do that?
Here’s what I do: I draw.
First, Sharpen The Axe
I want to start with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I really like:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
To sharpen my axe, this is what I do:
First, I break down the project into parts and draw boxes that represent the different parts.
By the way – if you don’t know how to draw, that’s okay. This drawing is (probably) not going to be on display in a museum anyway. It’s for your eyes only.
And it’s only a draft. You’ll improve on it as you learn more.
Here’s one drawing I did many years ago for a project:
Don’t Know The Parts?
If you have no idea which parts you need to build your project, here’s what to do:
Make a guess!
For example, I could guess that an RC airplane would need at least wings, something to make the plane turn, something to receive signals from a wireless controller, a wireless controller…
Then I would draw these things as boxes on paper.
So make your guesses, make boxes for the different parts and draw lines between the boxes that are directly connected in some way.
Your guess will of course be much better if you know the basics of electronics.
Make notes around each box on how you think you could build this part of the project. If it’s a big project, maybe you need separate sheets of paper to make more detailed boxes for the main boxes.
By doing this, you’ll probably find some errors in your first guess that you can improve upon.
Do Your Research
Now, you have a paper drawing of your project, with the things you *think* you need in your project.
It’s time to do research.
For my RC plane example, I might start with by googling How to build an RC plane. For such a popular topic, I will probably get a lot of results. And I will find many tutorials that I can use to improve my block diagram.
For more creative projects that nobody else has done before, you can do research on the smaller parts that make up the project. Like the motor you need. Or the wireless controller.
Redraw as many times as you need to get the boxes as good as you’re able to with what you know.
When you’ve done all this, you’ll have a blueprint for your project.
It might be very close to an ideal solution, or it might be very far from it. But at least it’s your best shot for now.
Ask An Expert
If you want to save time, now is the time to ask an expert.
You could of course skip this step and try to build it on your own. Then learn from experience what works and not. You’ll gain a ton of experience, but it will take time.
If you don’t know any experts, you can find plenty of experts in discussion forums online. For example on Ohmify.
For example for my RC plane example, I could go to a forum for people who build RC planes and write: “Hey, I’m trying to build an RC plane, but I have no experience whatsoever. I’ve made a first draft blueprint, could anyone have a look and give me some feedback?”
If people see that you’ve put in the effort to learn, they are more likely to put in the effort to help you. You also make it easy for them to help you because you have a blueprint that they can pick apart.
Make A Plan
By now, you should have the best blueprint you’re able to have with the effort you’ve put forth.
Do you want to buy a motor controller module to save you time and energy? Or do you want to learn to build a motor controller yourself from scratch? Decide how you plan to create each part.
Then create a circuit diagram for your project.
If you’re looking at your blueprint and are thinking “Ahh, I will never be able to do all this!” then you have two choices:
Either you can decide to do a smaller/simpler project first to gain experience, then come back to this later. Or, you can do more research and ask more experts until you get to the point where you go “Yes, I can do this!”.
You have your boxes that tell you what needs do be done.
It’s time to start.
Was this helpful? Or have you done all this and still don’t know where to start? Let me know in the comments field below.