Thursday, December 03, 2009

Stocking up the parts box

When I was young, in fact for many years even before I got a ham radio license, I used to build a lot of electronic projects from scratch, following articles in magazines. In recent years I have only built kits.

When I was a teenager living in Essex I would get on my bike and ride over to a radio shop in Westborough Road, Westcliff-on-sea which was run by a balding elderly guy, his wife and their long-haired hippie son who was a dead ringer for Jesus. I can remember their faces now like it was yesterday, though it must be 35 or 40 years ago I last went there. I would hand over my parts list and they would disappear into the back of the shop and come back a few minutes later with everything I needed. Out front they had boxes of surplus boards for a few shillings each and sometimes I would buy one or two and spend several happy hours reclaiming the components to fill up my parts box.

That shop eventually closed, as did the parts suppliers in Tottenham Court Road and Edgware Road London, where I started work, and soon the only way to get parts was to order them by post from suppliers like Cirkit and Maplin. Cirkit stocked a lot of parts useful for RF projects, but they eventually disappeared, while Maplin gradually reduced its range of RF parts to give more space over to "consumer electronics". Eventually, sourcing the parts for a radio project would typically involve ordering from several different suppliers because none of them had everything you needed. It was a lot more hassle than going down to the local radio shop with a parts list, and with minimum order charges and postage costs it also got expensive. So I lost my enthusiasm for home construction.

A few months ago I ordered something online from a firm called CPC, as a result of which they started sending me catalogues. It is incredible the range of products they sell, and at very low prices too. But I discovered that CPC is related to Farnell, a well known professional supplier of electronic components, and one of the catalogues had a big section of electronic parts. Because they are a professional supplier, cheaper components have to be ordered in quantities of 5 or 10. But the prices are so much cheaper than Maplin that this is not such a disadvantage.

I decided that I would put together an order for a basic stock of resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors and so on that should be enough for several small projects. Deciding exactly what to order was the hard part, and I kept putting it off for weeks. It seems to me that a good topic for an article in one of the radio magazines would be "What to buy to stock up your parts box."

Eventually I made a list as there were a couple of other things I wanted to buy from CPC and it is worth ordering more than £40 worth of stuff at a time to avoid the small order processing charge. The order came this morning. I have organized the parts into separate polythene bags (they came packed in dozens of them) so I can easily find them.

Now all I have to do is start building something!
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