Have you ever wondered how to use a breadboard?
All those rows of tiny holes… At first glance, breadboards look mildly intimidating.
Fear not! They’re actually a cinch to understand. Once you see how breadboards are built, you’ll be using them to build circuits in no time.
We’ll explain how to use a breadboard, and then we’ll give you step-by-step instructions to use a breadboard to build a simple circuit that launches a flying saucer.
This project and all Geek Pack Hack activities must be undertaken with a suitable adult completing their own risk assessment and supervising their children at all times.
Here’s everything you need to get going in minutes!
You can check out our video tutorial here and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with new projects.
We’ll explain everything below also (but you have to watch if you want to see us do the fun flying saucer challenge at the end!).
How a breadboard works
Breadboards come in different sizes. Here are a few examples.
Even though those breadboards look very different, they all work in the same way. They’re also all used for the same purpose– designing circuits. (Can you imagine the tangle of wires you’d end up with if you tried to connect your circuit just using alligator clips?)
The first thing to notice about your breadboard is all the little holes. When you use a breadboard to build a circuit, you insert the parts directly into those holes.
Some of these holes are electrically connected to others inside the breadboard.
You can easily see which holes are electrically connected. Each of the short rows of 5 holes are connected. For example, the row of 5 holes indicated by the green line below are all connected by metal inside the breadboard. They do not connect to any other holes on the breadboard.
That’s true for these 5 holes as well– they are all connected to each other by metal inside the breadboard and not to any other holes.
On the larger breadboards, the holes all along each side usually connect to each other. These form the “positive bus” and the “negative bus.” You generally connect the positive terminal of your power source to the positive bus and the negative terminal of your power source to the negative bus.
There’s nothing different about the holes in the positive and negative buses. You don’t have to connect the power source to them, but it helps with keeping track of how you build your circuit
In the image below, the red and black lines indicate the positive and negative buses. As you can see, the positive and negative buses run half the length of the breadboard.
Different breadboards have slightly different designs. Sometimes, the positive and negative buses will run the entire length of the breadboard. In that case, the breadboard often includes colored lines running the full length of the breadboard to indicate how the holes are electrically connected.
Small breadboards do not have a positive or negative bus. Holes on those breadboards are only connected in short rows.
The last thing to notice about your breadboard is the groove running down its middle. When circuits include chips, the chips straddle that groove. In that way, each pin of the chip is electrically isolated and can be wired up individually in the circuit.
How to use a breadboard to build a flying saucer circuit
We want to use the breadboard to build a simple circuit with a motor to launch a flying saucer. We adapted this project from Snap Circuits and use parts from that kit.
Before we talk about how to wire up our circuit on a breadboard, let’s look at a picture of the circuit we’re going to make.
As you can see, the circuit includes a battery pack connected to a motor, which connects to a switch. The switch then connects back to the battery pack. We’ll need to make sure we connect the motor so that it spins forwards.
Here is a nice standard breadboard
Snap Circuits pieces including the motor, flying saucer, switch, and battery pack
**Note: for this project, you only need pieces from the Snap Circuits Junior set. However, if you want to build our electromagnet doorbell project, you’ll need the electromagnet from Snap Circuits Extreme.
2 new AA batteries
Optional: Battery pack for 4 AA batteries
Step 1: Connect the battery pack to the positive and negative buses
First we’ll connect the negative lead of the battery pack to the negative bus and the positive lead of the battery pack to the positive bus.
In the image above, you’ll see that we used a battery pack for 4 AA batteries. The battery pack came with a little connector at the end of the leads. We used wire clippers to clip off the connector and strip the ends of the wires.
You can also use the Snap Circuits battery pack for 2 AA batteries. If you’re only using 2 AA batteries, the batteries need to be very new to launch the flying saucer. If you use the Snap Circuits battery pack, you can use copper wire to connect the positive and negative contacts to the breadboard. We make a little loop of copper wire to slip over the “snap” connector and then sandwich it in place with one of the single snap pieces.
Solid core wire should push right in. Stranded wire is tricky to insert, but you can make it work by twisting the strands together and using a separate wire to push it in.
Either way, we need to make sure that we insert the wire far enough so that it makes a good connection with the metal inside the breadboard.
Step 2: Connect the motor
Next we’ll connect one wire from the motor to another hole on the positive bus, which will electrically connect the motor to the battery.
Then we connect the other wire of the motor to one of the horizontal rows of the breadboard, which is not connected to the battery.
For the flying saucer to launch, you’ll want to connect the positive terminal of the motor to the negative battery contact and vice versa.
Step 3: Connect the switch
The switch can connect to another hole in the row including the motor contact, and the switch’s other lead will close the circuit when we insert it into the negative bus.
That’s it! Now, if you turn the switch on for a few seconds and then off again, the motor will spin and then launch the flying saucer.
We had a blast seeing how many times we could launch and catch the flying saucer in one minute.
If this post inspired you to want to build more fun breadboard projects, you might enjoy one of the subscription kits currently available.
Inspiration Laboratories has a nice review of their experience building EEME’s “Genius” Light breadboard project.
And STEAM Powered Family wrote up their experience building Creation Crate’s memory game.
Check out all of our cool engineering projects.
We also have a helpful basic electronics page that teaches skills such as how to use a multimeter and how to solder.
Please leave us a comment to let us know if you built this project and if you have suggestions for future posts.