Yes, you can build your own gear.
Here's what you need:
- A realistic first project
- Good tools (about $50 worth)
- A desire to learn
And here's what you don't need to get started:
- Any electronics knowledge
- A full electronics lab
- Soldering experience
Choose a Realistic and Rewarding First Project
For most people, the worst thing you can do to get started is try to do everything at once. Trying to learn electronics, buy parts for multiple projects, and assemble a full electronics lab from the get-go is bound to leave you with a bunch of broken parts and expensive tools you don't use (and what was Ohm's Law again?).
Instead, chose one simple project to begin your DIY journey with. This will give you a clear, achievable goal. Focus on only buying the tools and learning the things you need to know to complete that project. Once you've successfully built it, you'll be excited and ready to repeat the process with a more complex project.
We have a number of kits designed specifically to be great first projects. Check out our Beginner Friendly Kits for some great first DIY projects.
Tip: No matter which kit you start with, we highly recommend building our SAFE Input Protector kit as well. The SAFE kit allows audio to pass while blocking DC and excessive voltages, so you can be sure your interface won't be harmed when trying out your completed build.
Get the right tools
Using good tools, especially a good soldering iron, massively increases your odds of success. Like many people, I attempted my first project with a cheap pencil iron, thinking I'd invest in a better one if the project went well. But halfway through the project, my tip disintegrated--I thought my new hobby was surely a lost cause! Then I bought a nice soldering station and the same tip has lasted me five years and hundreds of projects.
Metal that acts like conductive glue between two electronic parts. I highly recommend good old leaded solder like this Kester 60/40 Solder Tube (~$6). Don't waste your time with the newer, lead-free stuff; it doesn't flow as nicely and requires flux, which is sticky, gross, and toxic.
What you use to melt the solder. I recommend a high-quality, adjustable station like the Weller WES51 Analog Soldering Station (~$100) shown above. If you are on a tighter budget, the cheaper Weller WLC100 (~$40) will perform just fine, but you may outgrow it after a couple of years.
It cuts wire. You'll need clippers like the Hakko CHP-170 Micro Soft Wire Cutter (~$5) to trim wires and clip off extra leads after soldering.
When you mess up (and you will mess up), this Solder Sucker (~$5) is your undo button. You can reheat the problem joint, suck out the molten solder, and start over.
Dirt and oxidation are the enemies of good solder joints. Dipping your tip in a wire "sponge" like this Hakko 599B-02 Solder Tip Cleaner (~$10) between every solder joint is the best way to make sure your joints are impeccably clean.
Measures things like voltage, current, and resistance. You don't need one to get started with DIY, but doing a few simple measurements before plugging in your finished project can prevent exploding parts and save you money. Most of our project guides include specific instructions for verifying your build with a cheap multi-meter like this Dragonpad Digital Multimeter (~$10).
For the jobs your fingers are too big and clumsy to do pick up a set of Stanley 5-Inch Needle Nose Pliers (~$4).
Set Up a Space and Start Soldering
Choose a comfy, well lit, and well ventilated place to be your DIY nook. If possible, solder by an open window with a fan running. Next, gather some practice soldering with some spare parts and an empty circuit board. Buy a pack of assorted resistors and a blank circuit board at your local Radioshack, or pick up our Solder Starter practice kit. Soldering is actually quite easy, it just takes a bit of practice. Check out the video below from Sparkfun for an excellent intro to soldering.
Once you've gained a bit of confidence in your ability to make a clean solder joint, begin on your first project! Buidling your own gear may seem intimidating at first, but with realistic goals, the right tools, and a bit of practice, anyone can do it.