What you have laying around your house might just be useful for your next project.

Have you ever been tried to find a solution to some weird problem on your project and ended up using something crazy? Well, that is the heart of this article: there are several household items your house that you can use to make your next project better or easier. You may never use the items on this list, or some may end up becoming go-to's for you. My hope is to get engineers and makers thinking about daily objects in a new way.

*The suggested items and applications are suggested by the author and are not the expressed opinion of All About Circuits.

 

Cleaning Supplies

 

If you're repairing an old project, using old parts, or just making a mess, you'll end up needing to clean up your project at some point. Cleaners come in two basic types: mechanical and chemical. I have a few of both for you today.

 

Mechanical

  • Toothbrush (nylon brush) The soft bristles can be used to clean things off your project without causing damage. It can also be used to apply another cleaner.
  • Sand Paper Sometimes you need to round the edges of a board or clean off some oxide buildup on a contact.
  • Toothpaste Did you know that toothpaste is a polishing compound? It contains diatomaceous earth that acts as a very high-grit sand paper. Need to clean off a little oxide or polish some metal up to a shine? Look no further.
  • Razor Blade When you really need to get tough on some messy "goop" on your project. Or to cut something.

 

Chemical

*Use caution when using flammable materials for cleaning and consult a material safety data sheet (MSDS) before applying them

As a note, you will want some sort of applicator: cotton swabs, cotton balls, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and disposable towels all work great.

  • Rubbing Alcohol One of the all-time great all-purpose cleaners. You probably have some sitting around in your first aid kit. It may even come in prepackaged disposable wet wipes.
  • Nail Polish Remover Most polish removers use Acetone as the active ingredient, which is another great cleaner. Just use them in a well-ventilated room so you don't get a headache.
  • Paint Thinner Most paint thinners use Acetone and other solvents, making them great cleaners. Again, use in a well-ventilated space.
  • WD-40 An excellent cleaner, available in easy-to-use spray cans or by the gallon. It's best used for cleaning up oil-based products but it leaves a residue. Also, keep away from heat sources as it is highly flammable. It may damage plastics as well.
  • Gasoline One of the best cleaners ever. Just use in a well-ventilated area away from any heat sources. Like WD-40, it's excellent at cleaning oily substances, but it will evaporate away, leaving a residue-free surface. May damage plastics.
  • Coca-Cola Great for dissolving rust and oxide. Just make sure to wipe it off afterward with a damp towel.

 

Fabrication

 

Electronics projects often require that we fabricate some sort of object. It could just be a case or frame, or it could be something quite complicated with a multitude of sensors and moving parts. Depending on what you need, there are a lot of options for fabrication. 


Adhesives

  • Super Glue If you don't have any you really should get some. It's cheap, dries in under 30 seconds, and adheres to most surfaces with a decent bond strength. Just don't get it on your skin as it bonds to skin instantly.
  • Hot Glue Often used in crafts for its ease of use and quick "drying," it's also wonderful for electronics. First, it's an insulator so you can glue leads or wires or even use it to cover exposed leads. It is a little flexible and easy to build up. Need to support a part, or need to keep your battery leads from bending and breaking? Just add hot glue. Extra points for taking the spring out of a click pen to further support your battery leads.
  • Epoxy It's harder to work with and can make quite a mess, but it's wonderful. Because of the incredible bond strength of most epoxies, it has become my first go-to and I rarely use glues anymore in favor of an epoxy. I personally like the generic quick bond for most surfaces and JB Weld for metals. 
  • Tapes Duct, masking, scotch, electrical, packing, or even medical tapes: They all have places where they excel, but more often than not, you can just use the most convenient one.
  • Magnets These could be in multiple categories because they can be used to build sensors, act as part of a more complicated mechanical system, or just hold your project onto a metal surface.
  • Caulks/Construction Adhesives These come in handy when your project is rather large or has special needs in an adhesive.

 

Structure

  • Wood Cheap and easy to shape. This makes it a great choice for a doing a quick frame for a simple project. Or maybe your project is going to be visible and you want to make an attractive box/structure that matches the decor of the room.
  • PVC Pipe I have only seen this used a few times for larger, lightweight structures. It can be very fast and easy to assemble a larger structure with it. And if you don't glue them together, your structure can be disassembled for transport. My favorite example is a Ham radio operator who had a 20-foot tower that he used to just raise his antenna.
  • Wax, Plaster of Paris, Epoxy Let's say you want to build some little part but you don't have a 3D printer—what is an engineer to do? Well, take some wax and shape the part by hand. Follow that up by casting the part in plaster of Paris. Use an oven to melt and pour the wax out. Next, mix up your favorite epoxy and fill your mold. For better results, add a filler (preferably something fibrous like wood or cloth). Finally, remove the plaster of Paris, and you have your part. It may not be as nice as a 3D-printed part but this works in a pinch. Bonus points if you build a furnace to cast your parts in aluminum.

 

Tools

  • Clamps Sometimes you just need an extra hand to hold something. Or to hold something for a long time. Also, you can build a soldering stand in a few minutes with wood, clamps, and quick-set epoxy.
  • Magnifying Glass Comes in handy for inspecting small traces, soldering, or reading small lettering on parts.
  • Mirrors Great for seeing that spot that you just can't see otherwise.
  • Nail Polish Learned this one from a mechanic: Nail polish sticks to just about anything, making it great for marking wires or other objects that your Sharpie won't write on.
  • Tweezers Great for surface mount, manipulating that small part or wire.
  • Assorted Home Tools Screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, measuring tapes, speed squares, levels, scissors, and more. Just because you didn't buy it for electronics doesn't mean it won't work well for it.

 

Repurpose/Salvage

 

Many people hold onto old objects that they don't have a use for, but are still functional. Some of that old "junk" may be useful for a project.Maybe it can even be the inspiration for your next project. Why start from scratch when somebody else has already done some of the work for you?

  • Alarm Clock/ Cooking Timer These can be used to set a long delay or a daily timer for your project. Just rewire the speaker to power your project, directly, or with a transistor.
  • Solar Light/ Night Light Rewire the lights on these to turn your project on only in the dark, or add an inverter and only turn on in the light.
  • Motion-Activated Lights/Halloween Props Modify these products to only turn on your project when they see motion. Turn on the radio when you walk in? Check! Or make custom Halloween props so you have the scariest yard on the block this fall.
  • RC Car Need limited wireless capability? Look no further than that old RC car and remote. You will even be able to send more than just a thumbs up, unlike NASA in Interstellar.
  • Assorted Cables Just because it was an audio, network, or power cable, that doesn't mean it that can't be used for something else.
  • Broken Electronics I almost always take apart broken devices just to see what they look like on the inside, but you can also get a few components from them. Maybe it's an old audio jack, large capacitor, small motor, inductor, or some other odd or end. Satisfy your curiosity, and maybe get a part or two while you are at it.

 

Unsorted

 

  • Aluminum Foil It's a metal so it conducts, making it pretty easy to build a large contact for your next project. Or use it to block and reflect radio waves to make a "directional" antenna.
  • Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) This slimy stuff can be used as a lubricant for any moving parts, or as a quick waterproofing agent for that odd project that will come in contact with water.
  • Paint Often used to protect the surface underneath. If you have a project that is going to be exposed to the elements, consider using a layer of paint to protect it.

 

I hope that as you read this list, it got you thinking about what you might be able to use to solve that problem in your project, or got you thinking about what you could use to tackle that cool project you just haven't done yet.

What's your favorite household item for your electronics projects? Let us know in the comments!

 

*The suggested items and applications are suggested by the author and are not the expressed opinion of All About Circuits.

 

Comments

14 Comments


  • saif-aljanahi 2016-04-25

    thanks for all this useful information

  • Ibrahim ibrahim 2016-05-01

    Thanks a lot, please accept my humble contribution. Cigaret lighters can help when hot air isen’t enough.

    • Jacob Smith 2016-05-01

      That is a great idea, have you ever tried to use one for shrink tubing?

  • Jagathkari Mahesh 2016-05-02

    I want to make line follow robot without using micro controller help me guys

    • Jacob Smith 2016-05-02

      you can build PID control out of op-amps I have never done it, but I know it can be done. That using like 2 photo diodes or photo resistors should be enough to get it done

  • GrahamRounce 2016-05-06

    Super Glue might stick in 30 seconds, but with nothing like it’s full strength. If you DON’T TOUCH the assembly and leave it overnight, if you’re one of the people (like I was) who say “Super Glue isn’t what it used to be”, you’ll be surprised.

  • bprewit 2016-05-06

    Using gasoline as a cleaner is a Really Bad Idea.  The vapors can travel a considerable distance, and are bound to find any source of ignition possible.

  • TrilliumIoT 2016-05-06

    You might want to skip coca-cola for removing rust.  It will leave a stick mess.  The component in it that helps removing rust is the acid in it.  Just use vinegar, or a lemon instead.

  • wisconsinjimmy 2016-05-06

    never ever use gasoline

  • cuyler1 2016-05-06

    Mine is home made penetrating oil I found in an article that is wonderful : in a throw away spray bottle add 8 ounces of dextron/mercon transmission fluid with 4 ounces acetone.
    Shake well before each spray as the two components do not blend well. Spray liberally and let set overnight. Contain unused mixture in a safe container as the acetone eats plastic alive. Also throw Plastic spray bottle away as It’s toast also!

  • graybeard 2016-05-06

    GE Silicone II makes a great potting compound.

  • refnoredcard 2016-05-06

    Like others, I cringed too when I read Gasoline mentioned…the article does indeed cover household/garage items so makes sense to put it on the list, although maybe with a strong warning?
    On another note, paint thiner is listed and described as containing acetone.  In general paint thinner is mostly un-refined mineral spirits, acetone is not a component.  What is pictured is lacquer thinner, which definitely has a high percentage of acetone.  Good idea to check the MSDS, but for a high-level review of different solvents, Bob Flexner has posted some useful articles.
    My contribution - blue painters tape.  Great for all kinds of temporary holding things together whether soldering components or fabricating enclosures.
    Thanks, very well done article! Mike

  • mcinque 2016-05-08

    “Coca-Cola Great for dissolving rust and oxide.” NO. It has been mythbusted years ago, it’s useless. Do you think that we are a bunch of moroons?

  • mcinque 2016-05-08

    “WD-40 It’s best used for cleaning up oil-based products but it leaves a residue.” YES, it leaves OIL, because it’s oil based. GREAT: using an oil based product to clean oil based product. FACEPALM.