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FREE or Cheap Hobby Parts

As a college student, money has always been tight, so finding ways of getting electronic parts for cheap or even free have been a necessity. There have been four main ways I have gone about doing this.

This article was submitted by Craig Houston as part of the uC Hobby “Hobby parts for articles” program. Craig receives a Graphic LCD module for this helpful article. Many more articles have been received, all of them are good and will earn the authors free parts. The plan is to put up one per week, this is the first.

1) Free Samples

A lot of the major manufacturers of electronic parts have a program called “sampling.” The idea behind this is that these companies send you a limited supply of various parts that you request for free (most of the time S&H is also free). You give them some information about what you plan to use the parts for and an estimated amount of parts you would use if you where to manufacture a certain project (which can be bloated to help increase your chances of getting the parts). Since I have been in school I have always associated my college with my profile. The manufacture of these electronic parts hopes that you learn about their products and start/continue to use them in high volume applications.

Here is a list of companies that I have successfully sampled products from: (click the logo to visit the sample request page)

MicrochipLogoMicrochip is well known for the PIC microcontrollers and memory products but they have a lot of other products, highly recommended and I have never been turned down.

DallasMaxumLogoMaxim/Dallas parts are extremely well documented components, I enjoy reading their application notes and using their power management (regulators, DC/DC converters, etc…) components.

TILogoTexas Instruments:

 

ADLogoAnalog Devices

EDABoardLogoEDABoard.com has a forum post listing other sampling companies but I can’t confirm any of these sites.

 

When ordering components from these sites pay careful attention to the size/type of packages you get. When I first started using this method I was ordering parts left to right not paying attention, and 2 weeks later, I found myself with some great parts but unusable because there were so fine pitch. For the hobbyist who is simply using a breadboard or strip board, one is limited to DIP’s (Dual in-line package at Wikipedia) and thru hole devices.

FreecycleLogo2) Freecycle

Freecycle is a mailing list made up individuals in certain geographical area. It is a free list to join in which people post items in which they want to give away for free and others post about items they want if anybody has them. I have had great success in getting electronics that don’t work anymore from many people (ones person garbage is another person treasure). I have gotten things like old printers, tape players, vhs players, computers, the list goes on… I live in city of around 100,000 people and I’ve had over 30 responses from a single post. From there I take the electronics apart, unscrew and desolder tell my heart’s content. Read the scrounging article at uC Hobby a general tutorial on scrounging electronics parts.

3) School Institutions – Free

Some schools throw out a plethora of great electronic equipment. A lot of this stuff is pretty dated but that usually makes it easier to scrap parts from as a lot of the components are DIP or thru-hole. If you’re not shy, find a school/college/university around your area and take a trip to their computer/electronic/electrical technology department. If you can talk to the right person you can walk away with more electronics then you can hold. While you’re there it might be a good idea to ask if they have any documentation on electronics, like old magazines or books.

Although one can find pretty much any documentation on the internet, I prefer to read a hard copy.

EbayLogo4) Ebay – Usually cheap

From personal experience I have used eBay for discrete components (resistors, capacitors, diodes). I usually search for kits which gives one a general range of components. Prices definitely vary from seller to seller but if you dig for a bit you’ll find something cheap. Just remember to always to check the shipping and handling charges to your area, or ask the seller.

Well that’s my list, hope you all enjoy it and have fun getting your free on!

Posted in Electronics Links, Microcontroller, Parts, Scrounging, Scrounging Parts.


19 Responses

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  1. Jeff says

    Try ST Microelectronics (www.st.com) – they’re the best I’ve found so far. They let you order a fair bit (op-amps, triacs, etc. – even MP3 decoders and linear accelerometers!), and they have next day delivery free.
    Also try Molex – they have every type of connector you’ll ever want, and GREAT service. I ordered something that was out of stock from them, and instead of mailing it when it came in, they sent it with an employee on a business trip to my area, and he delivered it the same day the rest arrived in the mail!

  2. Shadyman says

    It’s true, though, that schools do throw out a lot of stuff. Some, like my alma mater, Algonquin College, have an annual or semi-annual “basement sale”. Think of it as a garage sale for the obsoleted IT, etc.

  3. NGinuity says

    dfowler: Send me a PM on Hacked Gadgets. When you get back up and running, we can talk on IRLP or Echolink over 2 meters!

    As far as parts go, there are standing orders where I work for my coworkers to give me all of their old crap so that I can salvage some of the components off of them. I love the huge piles of floppy drive stepper motors, and little gears, buttons, switches, and stuff off of old VCR’s.

  4. dfowler says

    NGinuity,

    Darn.. Lucky I have not been using my 2-meter in years. I will look into renewing.

  5. BrandonU says

    Back on the subject- I do a lot of scrounging for parts, and find a lot of my electronics at some of our local thrift stores real cheap. Also, garage sale season is starting up, lots of people practically giving away their outdated electronics.

  6. BrandonU says

    I’ll be upgrading my license in the next month or so, with no code testing anymore!

  7. NGinuity says

    That last comment was @ dfowler 🙂

  8. NGinuity says

    Hey man….might wanna check it out, but your license expired on the 24th of February. You haven’t been operating lately have you? 🙂

  9. BrandonU says

    Another ham here! KD8CMC

  10. dfowler says

    I am a ham! KC5ZCM

  11. NGinuity says

    Are you guys hams too? It’s good to be in the company of radio techies!

  12. dfowler says

    Ham fest are a great place to find cheap parts. Sometimes you can buy salvaged components by the pound to stock your lab. I also scrounge from any device that fails at my home. I use a heat gun instead of a propane, here is an article describing my methods.
    http://www.uchobby.com/index.php/2006/09/01/scrounging-a-3com-super-stack-ii/

    I just scrounged a Belkin UPS, lots of transisitors and relays in that device. I hope to do an article on this soon. Next is a Lexmark printer.

  13. nolebotic says

    Don’t forget Ham fests / hobby fests. you can score all types of electronics components cheap at these gathereings- plus gain free knowledge from the multitude of intelligent people that attend!

  14. NGinuity says

    Don’t discount parts recovery from junk either. A propane torch and a hard surface can be such a valuable tool!

  15. JP says

    Microchip will also take a school email address. I will be going to college in the fall, and already have an email address that I have used to order samples. Those of you alredy out of school, check to see if you have an alumni email address at your alma mater.

  16. Craig says

    Also found this like via makezine for another samaple list : http://www.dutchforce.com/%7Eeforum/index.php?showtopic=4241

  17. Alan says

    Microchip is great, they also got me started down the road of programming their products by allowing me to sample them for free!

  18. Wim Van Gool says

    I’ve used the free samples before.
    Even for my current school project I sampled most parts.
    All the other smaller parts can easily be gotten by “trashing” old equipment.

    If you need connectors you can get alot of them from a Motherboard. Using a industrial hot-air blower you can salvage almost all headers and connectors.

    -Wim

  19. ZetaPhoenix says

    I have used some of these as well and worked very nicely! One note for microchip, you cannot use a free email provider (ex gmail). If you have a buissness email or other email that is not one of the free providers, then you should be set.

    -Zeta Phoenix