Breadboards

These "solder-less" breadboards are incredibly handy for building circuits. They are durable and reusable and have tons of work space. They not only hold your parts steady, a breadboard also has internal wiring to make connections super fast.

The most common type, the "Full Size" breadboard looks like this:

This dependable classic hasn't even changed that much since it's invention in 1971!

Basically, a chunk of plastic with a bunch of holes. However, something special is going on inside the breadboard! Although you can't see it, inside the breadboard are many strips of metal that connect the rows and columns together.

If you look on the back of your breadboard, there's a yellow waxy paper covering some sticky foam. If you were to peel back that foam you'd see dozens of these metal rows.

(Don't actually do this, you should keep the yellow paper on your breadboard, we'll sacrifice this one for some photos!)

If you pulled the metal parts out with pliers (again, don't do this yourself!) You'd see each one is a metal clip with little teeth. The rows have 5 teeth - one for each hole on the top of the breadboard.  (The power rails have 50 teeth)

These little teeth are great at gripping onto electronic parts. When a part is pushed into the breadboard, the clip pushes open and grabs onto the metal leg. Any other parts that are plugged into the other 4 teeth are thus electrically connected together

Just about every breadboard is made of three sections: Two sets of very long power rails and the large middle section that is full of those 5-hole-long terminal strips.

You put the components (buttons, LEDs, resistors, integrated circuits, etc) in the middle section, with each pin connected to the rows terminal strip. The power rails are long columns used to distribute the power and ground connections along the entire circuit.

As you build circuits you'll quickly find that each part usually needs a connection to power or ground, so having a lot of power/ground pins available will be very handy. To help you keep track of which rail is ground and which is power, there's a red (+) and blue (-) stripe down the sides of the rails. Just make super-sure you connect positive to (+) and ground to (-) or you're gonna have a bad time!

The curse of the flaky breadboard

Distressing as it may sound, solderless breadboards can be flaky, especially as they age. If you're having problems with your circuit, it could be that the little metal clips on the inside aren't working well. Try poking it with your finger, or moving it to a different section.

Each clip can handle at least a hundred plugs and unplugs before the springiness of the clip slowly weakens and eventually stops gripping so well. You'll know when the breadboard needs replacing because you wont feel the clip gripping onto the part when you press it in.

However, this takes years to happen. Even if you did have to replace it, breadboards are quite affordable. Most makers have a half dozen different sizes for projects, sometimes dedicating each one to a 'long term' project and keeping one for playing around.

This guide was first published on Sep 06, 2016. It was last updated on Sep 06, 2016. This page (Breadboards) was last updated on Sep 19, 2019.