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Capacitors

Polarised (> 1F) | Unpolarised (< 1F) | Real Values | Variable & trimmers

Also see: Capacitance and Uses of Capacitors

Function
Capacitors store electric charge. They are used with resistors in timing circuits because it takes
time for a capacitor to fill with charge. They are used to smooth varying DC supplies by acting
as a reservoir of charge. They are also used in filter circuits because capacitors easily pass AC
(changing) signals but they block DC (constant) signals.

Capacitance
This is a measure of a capacitor's ability to store charge. A large capacitance means that more
charge can be stored. Capacitance is measured in farads, symbol F. However 1F is very large, so
prefixes are used to show the smaller values.
Three prefixes (multipliers) are used, (micro), n (nano) and p (pico):

means 10-6 (millionth), so 1000000F = 1F


n means 10-9 (thousand-millionth), so 1000nF = 1F
p means 10-12 (million-millionth), so 1000pF = 1nF

Capacitor values can be very difficult to find because there are many types of capacitor with
different labelling systems!

There are many types of capacitor but they can be split into two groups, polarised and
unpolarised. Each group has its own circuit symbol.

Polarised capacitors (large values, 1F +)

Examples:
Electrolytic Capacitors

Circuit symbol:

Electrolytic capacitors are polarised and they must be connected the correct way round, at
least one of their leads will be marked + or -. They are not damaged by heat when soldering.
There are two designs of electrolytic capacitors; axial where the leads are attached to each end
(220F in picture) and radial where both leads are at the same end (10F in picture). Radial
capacitors tend to be a little smaller and they stand upright on the circuit board.
It is easy to find the value of electrolytic capacitors because they are clearly printed with their
capacitance and voltage rating. The voltage rating can be quite low (6V for example) and it
should always be checked when selecting an electrolytic capacitor. If the project parts list does
not specify a voltage, choose a capacitor with a rating which is greater than the project's power
supply voltage. 25V is a sensible minimum for most battery circuits.
Tantalum Bead Capacitors
Tantalum bead capacitors are polarised and have low voltage ratings like electrolytic capacitors.
They are expensive but very small, so they are used where a large capacitance is needed in a
small size.
Modern tantalum bead capacitors are printed with their capacitance, voltage and polarity in full.
However older ones use a colour-code system which has two stripes (for the two digits) and a
spot of colour for the number of zeros to give the value in F. The standard colour code is used,
but for the spot, grey is used to mean 0.01 and white means 0.1 so that values of less than
10F can be shown. A third colour stripe near the leads shows the voltage (yellow 6.3V, black
10V, green 16V, blue 20V, grey 25V, white 30V, pink 35V). The positive (+) lead is to the right
when the spot is facing you: 'when the spot is in sight, the positive is to the
right'.
For example: blue, grey, black spot means 68F
For example: blue, grey, white spot means 6.8F
For example: blue, grey, grey spot means 0.68F

Unpolarised capacitors (small values, up to 1F)

Examples:

Circuit symbol:

Small value capacitors are unpolarised and may be connected either way round. They are not
damaged by heat when soldering, except for one unusual type (polystyrene). They have high
voltage ratings of at least 50V, usually 250V or so. It can be difficult to find the values of these
small capacitors because there are many types of them and several different labelling systems!

Many small value capacitors have their value printed but without a multiplier, so
you need to use experience to work out what the multiplier should be!
For example 0.1 means 0.1F = 100nF.
Sometimes the multiplier is used in place of the decimal point:
For example: 4n7 means 4.7nF.
Capacitor Number Code
A number code is often used on small capacitors where printing is difficult:

the 1st number is the 1st digit,


the 2nd number is the 2nd digit,
the 3rd number is the number of zeros to give the capacitance in pF.
Ignore any letters - they just indicate tolerance and voltage rating.

For example: 102 means 1000pF = 1nF (not 102pF!)


For example: 472J means 4700pF = 4.7nF (J means 5% tolerance).
Capacitor Colour Code

Colour Code

Colour Number
A colour code was used on polyester capacitors for many years. It is now
obsolete, but of course there are many still around. The colours should be read Black
0
like the resistor code, the top three colour bands giving the value in pF. Ignore
Brown
1
the 4th band (tolerance) and 5th band (voltage rating).
Red
2
For example:
Orange
3
brown, black, orange means 10000pF = 10nF = 0.01F.
Note that there are no gaps between the colour bands, so 2
identical bands actually appear as a wide band.
For example:
wide red, yellow means 220nF = 0.22F.

Polystyrene Capacitors
This type is rarely used now. Their value (in pF) is normally printed
without units. Polystyrene capacitors can be damaged by heat when
soldering (it melts the polystyrene!) so you should use a heat sink

Yellow

Green

Blue

Violet

Grey

White

(such as a crocodile clip). Clip the heat sink to the lead between the capacitor and the joint.

Real capacitor values (the E3 and E6 series)


You may have noticed that capacitors are not available with every possible value, for example
22F and 47F are readily available, but 25F and 50F are not!
Why is this? Imagine that you decided to make capacitors every 10F giving 10, 20, 30, 40, 50
and so on. That seems fine, but what happens when you reach 1000? It would be pointless to
make 1000, 1010, 1020, 1030 and so on because for these values 10 is a very small difference,
too small to be noticeable in most circuits and capacitors cannot be made with that accuracy.
To produce a sensible range of capacitor values you need to increase the size of the 'step' as the
value increases. The standard capacitor values are based on this idea and they form a series
which follows the same pattern for every multiple of ten.
The E3 series (3 values for each multiple of ten)
10, 22, 47, ... then it continues 100, 220, 470, 1000, 2200, 4700, 10000 etc.
Notice how the step size increases as the value increases (values roughly double each time).
The E6 series (6 values for each multiple of ten)
10, 15, 22, 33, 47, 68, ... then it continues 100, 150, 220, 330, 470, 680, 1000 etc.
Notice how this is the E3 series with an extra value in the gaps.
The E3 series is the one most frequently used for capacitors because many types cannot be made
with very accurate values.

Variable capacitors
Variable capacitors are mostly used in radio tuning circuits and
they are sometimes called 'tuning capacitors'. They have very small
capacitance values, typically between 100pF and 500pF
(100pF = 0.0001F). The type illustrated usually has trimmers
built in (for making small adjustments - see below) as well as the
main variable capacitor.
Many variable capacitors have very short spindles which are not
suitable for the standard knobs used for variable resistors and
rotary switches. It would be wise to check that a suitable knob is
available before ordering a variable capacitor.

Variable Capacitor Symbol

Variable Capacitor
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Variable capacitors are not normally used in timing circuits


because their capacitance is too small to be practical and the range of values available is very

limited. Instead timing circuits use a fixed capacitor and a variable resistor if it is necessary to
vary the time period.

Trimmer capacitors
Trimmer capacitors (trimmers) are miniature variable capacitors.
They are designed to be mounted directly onto the circuit board
and adjusted only when the circuit is built.
A small screwdriver or similar tool is required to adjust trimmers.
The process of adjusting them requires patience because the
presence of your hand and the tool will slightly change the
capacitance of the circuit in the region of the trimmer!
Trimmer capacitors are only available with very small
capacitances, normally less than 100pF. It is impossible to reduce
their capacitance to zero, so they are usually specified by their
minimum and maximum values, for example 2-10pF.

Trimmer Capacitor Symbol

Trimmer Capacitor
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Trimmers are the capacitor equivalent of presets which are miniature variable resistors.

Diodes
Signal diodes | Rectifier diodes | Bridge rectifiers | Zener diodes

Also see: LEDs | AC and DC | Power Supplies

Example:

Circuit symbol:

Function
Diodes allow electricity to flow in only one direction.
The arrow of the circuit symbol shows the direction in
which the current can flow. Diodes are the electrical

version of a valve and early diodes were actually called valves.


Forward Voltage Drop
Electricity uses up a little energy pushing its way through the diode, rather like a person pushing
through a door with a spring. This means that there is a small voltage across a conducting diode,
it is called the forward voltage drop and is about 0.7V for all normal diodes which are made
from silicon. The forward voltage drop of a diode is almost constant whatever the current passing
through the diode so they have a very steep characteristic (current-voltage graph).
Reverse Voltage
When a reverse voltage is applied a perfect diode does not conduct, but all real diodes leak a
very tiny current of a few A or less. This can be ignored in most circuits because it will be very
much smaller than the current flowing in the forward direction. However, all diodes have a
maximum reverse voltage (usually 50V or more) and if this is exceeded the diode will fail and
pass a large current in the reverse direction, this is called breakdown.
Ordinary diodes can be split into two types: Signal diodes which pass small currents of 100mA
or less and Rectifier diodes which can pass large currents. In addition there are LEDs (which
have their own page) and Zener diodes (at the bottom of this page).

Connecting and soldering


Diodes must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be
labelled a or + for anode and k or - for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c,
for cathode!). The cathode is marked by a line painted on the body.
Diodes are labelled with their code in small print, you may need a
magnifying glass to read this on small signal diodes!
Small signal diodes can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the
risk is small unless you are using a germanium diode (codes beginning OA...) in which case
you should use a heat sink clipped to the lead between the joint and the diode body. A standard
crocodile clip can be used as a heat sink.
Rectifier diodes are quite robust and no special precautions are needed for soldering them.

Testing diodes
You can use a multimeter or a simple tester (battery, resistor and LED) to check that a diode
conducts in one direction but not the other. A lamp may be used to test a rectifier diode, but do

NOT use a lamp to test a signal diode because the large current passed by the lamp will destroy
the diode!

Signal diodes (small current)


Signal diodes are used to process information (electrical signals) in circuits, so they are only
required to pass small currents of up to 100mA.
General purpose signal diodes such as the 1N4148 are made from silicon and have a forward
voltage drop of 0.7V.
Germanium diodes such as the OA90 have a lower forward voltage drop of 0.2V and this
makes them suitable to use in radio circuits as detectors which extract the audio signal from the
weak radio signal.
For general use, where the size of the forward voltage drop is less important, silicon diodes are
better because they are less easily damaged by heat when soldering, they have a lower resistance
when conducting, and they have very low leakage
currents when a reverse voltage is applied.
Protection diodes for relays
Signal diodes are also used to protect transistors and
ICs from the brief high voltage produced when a
relay coil is switched off. The diagram shows how a
protection diode is connected 'backwards' across the
relay coil.
Current flowing through a relay coil creates a magnetic field
which collapses suddenly when the current is switched off.
The sudden collapse of the magnetic field induces a brief high voltage across the relay coil which is very likely to
damage transistors and ICs. The protection diode allows the induced voltage to drive a brief current through the coil
(and diode) so the magnetic field dies away quickly rather than instantly. This prevents the induced voltage
becoming high enough to cause damage to transistors and ICs.

Diode

Maximum
Maximum
Reverse
Current
Voltage

1N4001

1A

50V

1N4002

1A

100V

1N4007

1A

1000V

1N5401

3A

100V

Rectifier diodes (large current)

1N5408

3A

1000V

Rectifier diodes are used in power supplies to convert alternating current (AC) to direct current
(DC), a process called rectification. They are also used elsewhere in circuits where a large
current must pass through the diode.
All rectifier diodes are made from silicon and therefore have a forward voltage drop of 0.7V. The
table shows maximum current and maximum reverse voltage for some popular rectifier diodes.
The 1N4001 is suitable for most low voltage circuits with a current of less than 1A.
Also see: Power Supplies

Bridge rectifiers
There are several ways of connecting diodes to
make a rectifier to convert AC to DC. The
bridge rectifier is one of them and it is available
in special packages containing the four diodes
required. Bridge rectifiers are rated by their
maximum current and maximum reverse
voltage. They have four leads or terminals: the
two DC outputs are labelled + and -, the two AC inputs are labelled

The diagram shows the operation of a bridge rectifier as it converts AC to DC. Notice how
alternate pairs of diodes conduct.
Also see: Power Supplies

Various types of Bridge Rectifiers


Note that some have a hole through their centre for attaching to a heat sink
Photographs Rapid Electronics

Zener diodes
Example:

Circuit symbol:

a = anode, k = cathode
Zener diodes are used to maintain a fixed voltage. They are
designed to 'breakdown' in a reliable and non-destructive way
so that they can be used in reverse to maintain a fixed voltage
across their terminals. The diagram shows how they are
connected, with a resistor in series to limit the current.
Zener diodes can be distinguished from ordinary diodes by
their code and breakdown voltage which are printed on them. Zener diode codes begin BZX... or
BZY... Their breakdown voltage is printed with V in place of a decimal point, so 4V7 means
4.7V for example.
Zener diodes are rated by their breakdown voltage and maximum power:

The minimum voltage available is 2.4V.


Power ratings of 400mW and 1.3W are common.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)


Colours | Sizes and shapes | Resistor value | LEDs in series | LED data | Flashing | Displays

Example:

Circuit symbol:

Function
LEDs emit light when an electric current passes through them.

Connecting and soldering


LEDs must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be labelled
a or + for anode and k or - for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c, for cathode!).

The cathode is the short lead and there may be a slight flat on the body of round LEDs. If you
can see inside the LED the cathode is the larger electrode (but this is not an official identification
method).
LEDs can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the risk is small unless you are very slow. No
special precautions are needed for soldering most LEDs.

Testing an LED
Never connect an LED directly to a battery or power supply!
It will be destroyed almost instantly because too much current will pass
through and burn it out.
LEDs must have a resistor in series to limit the current to a safe value,
for quick testing purposes a 1k resistor is suitable for most LEDs if
your supply voltage is 12V or less. Remember to connect the LED the
correct way round!
For an accurate value please see Calculating an LED resistor value below.

Colours of LEDs
LEDs are available in red, orange, amber,
yellow, green, blue and white. Blue and white
LEDs are much more expensive than the other
colours.
The colour of an LED is determined by the
semiconductor material, not by the colouring of
the 'package' (the plastic body). LEDs of all
colours are available in uncoloured packages which may be diffused (milky) or clear (often
described as 'water clear'). The coloured packages are also available as diffused (the standard
type) or transparent.

Tri-colour LEDs
The most popular type of tri-colour LED has a red and a green LED combined in
one package with three leads. They are called tri-colour because mixed red and
green light appears to be yellow and this is produced when both the red and green
LEDs are on.

The diagram shows the construction of a tri-colour LED. Note the different lengths of the three
leads. The centre lead (k) is the common cathode for both LEDs, the outer leads (a1 and a2) are
the anodes to the LEDs allowing each one to be lit separately, or both together to give the third
colour.

Bi-colour LEDs
A bi-colour LED has two LEDs wired in 'inverse parallel' (one forwards, one backwards)
combined in one package with two leads. Only one of the LEDs can be lit at one time and they
are less useful than the tri-colour LEDs described above.

Sizes, Shapes and Viewing angles of LEDs


LEDs are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. The
'standard' LED has a round cross-section of 5mm diameter and this is
probably the best type for general use, but 3mm round LEDs are also
popular.
Round cross-section LEDs are frequently used and they are very
easy to install on boxes by drilling a hole of the LED diameter,
adding a spot of glue will help to hold the LED if necessary. LED
clips are also available to secure LEDs in holes. Other cross-section
shapes include square, rectangular and triangular.

LED Clip
Photograph Rapid Electronics

As well as a variety of colours, sizes and shapes, LEDs also vary in their viewing angle. This
tells you how much the beam of light spreads out. Standard LEDs have a viewing angle of 60
but others have a narrow beam of 30 or less.
Rapid Electronics stock a wide selection of LEDs and their catalogue is a good guide to the
range available.

Calculating an LED resistor value


An LED must have a resistor connected in series to limit the
current through the LED, otherwise it will burn out almost
instantly.
The resistor value, R is given by:

R = (VS - VL) / I

VS = supply voltage
VL = LED voltage (usually 2V, but 4V for blue and white LEDs)
I = LED current (e.g. 10mA = 0.01A, or 20mA = 0.02A)
Make sure the LED current you choose is less than the maximum permitted and convert the
current to amps (A) so the calculation will give the resistor value in ohms ( ).
To convert mA to A divide the current in mA by 1000 because 1mA = 0.001A.
If the calculated value is not available choose the nearest standard resistor value which is
greater, so that the current will be a little less than you chose. In fact you may wish to choose a
greater resistor value to reduce the current (to increase battery life for example) but this will
make the LED less bright.
For example
If the supply voltage VS = 9V, and you have a red LED (VL = 2V), requiring a current I = 20mA
= 0.020A,
R = (9V - 2V) / 0.02A = 350 , so choose 390 (the nearest standard value which is greater).
Working out the LED resistor formula using Ohm's law
Ohm's law says that the resistance of the resistor, R = V/I, where:
V = voltage across the resistor (= VS - VL in this case)
I = the current through the resistor
So R = (VS - VL) / I
For more information on the calculations please see the Ohm's Law page.

Connecting LEDs in series


If you wish to have several LEDs on at the same time it may
be possible to connect them in series. This prolongs battery
life by lighting several LEDs with the same current as just one
LED.
All the LEDs connected in series pass the same current so it
is best if they are all the same type. The power supply must
have sufficient voltage to provide about 2V for each LED (4V
for blue and white) plus at least another 2V for the resistor. To
work out a value for the resistor you must add up all the LED
voltages and use this for VL.
Example calculations:

A red, a yellow and a green LED in series need a supply voltage of at least 3 2V + 2V = 8V, so
a 9V battery would be ideal.
VL = 2V + 2V + 2V = 6V (the three LED voltages added up).
If the supply voltage VS is 9V and the current I must be 15mA = 0.015A,
Resistor R = (VS - VL) / I = (9 - 6) / 0.015 = 3 / 0.015 = 200 ,
so choose R = 220 (the nearest standard value which is greater).

Avoid connecting LEDs in parallel!


Connecting several LEDs in parallel with just one resistor shared between
them is generally not a good idea.
If the LEDs require slightly different voltages only the lowest voltage
LED will light and it may be destroyed by the larger current flowing
through it. Although identical LEDs can be successfully connected in
parallel with one resistor this rarely offers any useful benefit because
resistors are very cheap and the current used is the same as connecting the
LEDs individually. If LEDs are in parallel each one should have its own
resistor.

Reading a table of technical data for LEDs


Suppliers' catalogues usually include tables of technical data for components such as LEDs.
These tables contain a good deal of useful information in a compact form but they can be
difficult to understand if you are not familiar with the abbreviations used.
The table below shows typical technical data for some 5mm diameter round LEDs with diffused
packages (plastic bodies). Only three columns are important and these are shown in bold. Please
see below for explanations of the quantities.
Type

Colour

Standard

Red

Standard
Standard

IF
max.

VF
VF VR
Luminous
Viewing
Wavelength
typ. max. max.
intensity
angle
60
660nm
30mA 1.7V 2.1V 5V 5mcd @ 10mA

Bright red 30mA 2.0V 2.5V 5V


Yellow 30mA 2.1V 2.5V 5V

80mcd @ 10mA

60

625nm

32mcd @ 10mA

60

590nm

32mcd @ 10mA

60

565nm

Standard

Green

High intensity

Blue

25mA 2.2V 2.5V 5V


30mA 4.5V 5.5V 5V

60mcd @ 20mA

50

430nm

Super bright

Red

30mA 1.85V 2.5V 5V 500mcd @ 20mA

60

660nm

Low current
IF max.
VF typ.
VF max.
VR max.

Red

30mA 1.7V 2.0V 5V

5mcd @ 2mA

60

625nm

Maximum forward current, forward just means with the LED connected
correctly.
Typical forward voltage, VL in the LED resistor calculation.
This is about 2V, except for blue and white LEDs for which it is about 4V.
Maximum forward voltage.
Maximum reverse voltage
You can ignore this for LEDs connected the correct way round.

Luminous
intensity
Viewing angle
Wavelength

Brightness of the LED at the given current, mcd = millicandela.


Standard LEDs have a viewing angle of 60, others emit a narrower beam of
about 30.
The peak wavelength of the light emitted, this determines the colour of the
LED.
nm = nanometre.

Flashing LEDs
Flashing LEDs look like ordinary LEDs but they contain an integrated circuit (IC) as well as the
LED itself. The IC flashes the LED at a low frequency, typically 3Hz (3 flashes per second).
They are designed to be connected directly to a supply, usually 9 - 12V, and no series resistor is
required. Their flash frequency is fixed so their use is limited and you may prefer to build your
own circuit to flash an ordinary LED, for example our Flashing LED project which uses a 555
astable circuit.

LED Displays
LED displays are packages of many LEDs arranged in a pattern, the most familiar pattern being
the 7-segment displays for showing numbers (digits 0-9). The pictures below illustrate some of
the popular designs:

Bargraph

7-segment

Starburst

Dot matrix

Photographs Rapid Electronics

Pin connections of LED displays


There are many types of LED display and a supplier's
catalogue should be consulted for the pin connections. The
diagram on the right shows an example from the Rapid
Electronics catalogue. Like many 7-segment displays, this
example is available in two versions: Common Anode (SA)
with all the LED anodes connected together and Common
Cathode (SC) with all the cathodes connected together.
Letters a-g refer to the 7 segments, A/C is the common
anode or cathode as appropriate (on 2 pins). Note that some
pins are not present (NP) but their position is still
numbered.

Pin connections diagram


Rapid Electronics

Also see: Display Drivers.

Resistors
Colour Code | Tolerance | Real Values (E6 & E12 series) | Power Rating

Also see: Resistance | Ohm's Law

Example:

Circuit symbol:

Function
Resistors restrict the flow of electric current, for example a resistor is placed in series with a
light-emitting diode (LED) to limit the current passing through the LED.

Connecting and soldering


Resistors may be connected either way round. They are not damaged by heat when soldering.
The Resistor
Colour Code
Colour Number

Resistor values - the resistor colour code

Black

Resistance is measured in ohms, the symbol for ohm is an omega .


1 is quite small so resistor values are often given in k and M .
1 k = 1000
1 M = 1000000 .

Brown

Red

Orange

Resistor values are normally shown using coloured bands.


Each colour represents a number as shown in the table.

Yellow

Green

Most resistors have 4 bands:

Blue

Violet
7
The first band gives the first digit.
Grey
8
The second band gives the second digit.
The third band indicates the number of zeros.
White
9
The fourth band is used to shows the tolerance (precision) of the
resistor, this may be ignored for almost all circuits but further details are given below.

This resistor has red (2), violet (7), yellow (4 zeros) and gold bands.
So its value is 270000 = 270 k .
On circuit diagrams the is usually omitted and the value is written 270K.
Find out how to make your own Resistor Colour Code Calculator

Small value resistors (less than 10 ohm)


The standard colour code cannot show values of less than 10 . To show these small values two
special colours are used for the third band: gold which means 0.1 and silver which means
0.01. The first and second bands represent the digits as normal.
For example:
red, violet, gold bands represent 27 0.1 = 2.7
green, blue, silver bands represent 56 0.01 = 0.56
Tolerance of resistors (fourth band of colour code)
The tolerance of a resistor is shown by the fourth band of the colour code. Tolerance is the
precision of the resistor and it is given as a percentage. For example a 390 resistor with a
tolerance of 10% will have a value within 10% of 390 , between 390 - 39 = 351 and 390 +
39 = 429 (39 is 10% of 390).

A special colour code is used for the fourth band tolerance:


silver 10%, gold 5%, red 2%, brown 1%.
If no fourth band is shown the tolerance is 20%.
Tolerance may be ignored for almost all circuits because precise resistor values are rarely
required.

Resistor shorthand
Resistor values are often written on circuit diagrams using a code system which avoids using a
decimal point because it is easy to miss the small dot. Instead the letters R, K and M are used in
place of the decimal point. To read the code: replace the letter with a decimal point, then
multiply the value by 1000 if the letter was K, or 1000000 if the letter was M. The letter R means
multiply by 1.
For example:
560R
2K7
39K
1M0

means 560
means 2.7 k = 2700
means 39 k
means 1.0 M = 1000 k

Real resistor values (the E6 and E12 series)


You may have noticed that resistors are not available with every possible value, for example 22k
and 47k are readily available, but 25k and 50k are not!
Why is this? Imagine that you decided to make resistors every 10 giving 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and
so on. That seems fine, but what happens when you reach 1000? It would be pointless to make
1000, 1010, 1020, 1030 and so on because for these values 10 is a very small difference, too
small to be noticeable in most circuits. In fact it would be difficult to make resistors sufficiently
accurate.
To produce a sensible range of resistor values you need to increase the size of the 'step' as the
value increases. The standard resistor values are based on this idea and they form a series which
follows the same pattern for every multiple of ten.
The E6 series (6 values for each multiple of ten, for resistors with 20% tolerance)
10, 15, 22, 33, 47, 68, ... then it continues 100, 150, 220, 330, 470, 680, 1000 etc.
Notice how the step size increases as the value increases. For this series the step (to the next
value) is roughly half the value.

The E12 series (12 values for each multiple of ten, for resistors with 10% tolerance)
10, 12, 15, 18, 22, 27, 33, 39, 47, 56, 68, 82, ... then it continues 100, 120, 150 etc.
Notice how this is the E6 series with an extra value in the gaps.
The E12 series is the one most frequently used for resistors. It allows you to choose a value
within 10% of the precise value you need. This is sufficiently accurate for almost all projects and
it is sensible because most resistors are only accurate to 10% (called their 'tolerance'). For
example a resistor marked 390 could vary by 10% 390 = 39 , so it could be any value
between 351 and 429 .

Resistors in Series and Parallel


For information on resistors connected in series and parallel please see the Resistance page,

Power Ratings of Resistors


Electrical energy is converted to heat when current flows
through a resistor. Usually the effect is negligible, but if the
resistance is low (or the voltage across the resistor high) a large
current may pass making the resistor become noticeably warm.
The resistor must be able to withstand the heating effect and
resistors have power ratings to show this.
Power ratings of resistors are rarely quoted in parts lists because
for most circuits the standard power ratings of 0.25W or 0.5W
are suitable. For the rare cases where a higher power is required
it should be clearly specified in the parts list, these will be
circuits using low value resistors (less than about 300 ) or
high voltages (more than 15V).
The power, P, developed in a resistor is given by:

High power resistors


(5W top, 25W bottom)
Photographs Rapid Electronics

P = I
R
or

P = V /
R

Examples:

where: P = power developed in the resistor in


watts (W)
I = current through the resistor in amps (A)
R = resistance of the resistor in ohms ( )
V = voltage across the resistor in volts (V)

A 470 resistor with 10V across it, needs a power rating P = V/R = 10/470 = 0.21W.
In this case a standard 0.25W resistor would be suitable.
A 27 resistor with 10V across it, needs a power rating P = V/R = 10/27 = 3.7W.
A high power resistor with a rating of 5W would be suitable.

Transistors
This page covers practical matters such as precautions when soldering and identifying leads. The operation and use
of transistors is covered by the Transistor Circuits page.
Types | Connecting | Soldering | Heat sinks | Testing | Codes | Choosing | Darlington pair

Also see: Heat sinks | Transistor Circuits

Function
Transistors amplify current, for example they can be used to amplify the
small output current from a logic IC so that it can operate a lamp, relay or
other high current device. In many circuits a resistor is used to convert the
changing current to a changing voltage, so the transistor is being used to
amplify voltage.
A transistor may be used as a switch (either fully on with maximum current,
or fully off with no current) and as an amplifier (always partly on).
The amount of current amplification is called the current gain, symbol hFE.
For further information please see the Transistor Circuits page.

Types of transistor

There are two types of standard transistors, NPN and PNP, with
Transistor circuit symbols
different circuit symbols. The letters refer to the layers of
semiconductor material used to make the transistor. Most transistors used today are NPN because
this is the easiest type to make from silicon. If you are new to electronics it is best to start by
learning how to use NPN transistors.
The leads are labelled base (B), collector (C) and emitter (E).
These terms refer to the internal operation of a transistor but they are not much help in understanding how a
transistor is used, so just treat them as labels!

A Darlington pair is two transistors connected together to give a very high current gain.
In addition to standard (bipolar junction) transistors, there are field-effect transistors which are
usually referred to as FETs. They have different circuit symbols and properties and they are not
(yet) covered by this page.

Connecting
Transistors have three leads which must be
connected the correct way round. Please take
care with this because a wrongly connected
transistor may be damaged instantly when you
switch on.
If you are lucky the orientation of the transistor
will be clear from the PCB or stripboard layout
diagram, otherwise you will need to refer to a
supplier's catalogue to identify the leads.
The drawings on the right show the leads for
some of the most common case styles.
Please note that transistor lead diagrams show
the view from below with the leads towards
you. This is the opposite of IC (chip) pin
diagrams which show the view from above.

Transistor leads for some common case styles.

Please see below for a table showing the case styles of some common transistors.

Soldering

Crocodile clip
Photograph Rapid Electronics.

Transistors can be damaged by heat when soldering so if you are


not an expert it is wise to use a heat sink clipped to the lead between the joint and the transistor
body. A standard crocodile clip can be used as a heat sink.

Do not confuse this temporary heat sink with the permanent heat sink (described below) which may be required for a
power transistor to prevent it overheating during operation.

Heat sinks
Waste heat is produced in transistors due to the current flowing
through them. Heat sinks are needed for power transistors because
they pass large currents. If you find that a transistor is becoming too
hot to touch it certainly needs a heat sink! The heat sink helps to
dissipate (remove) the heat by transferring it to the surrounding air.

Heat sink
Photograph Rapid Electronics

For further information please see the Heat sinks page.

Testing a transistor
Transistors can be damaged by heat when soldering or by misuse in a circuit. If you suspect that
a transistor may be damaged there are two easy ways to
test it:
1. Testing with a multimeter
Use a multimeter or a simple tester (battery, resistor and
LED) to check each pair of leads for conduction. Set a
digital multimeter to diode test and an analogue
multimeter to a low resistance range.
Test each pair of leads both ways (six tests in total):

The base-emitter (BE) junction should behave


like a diode and conduct one way only.
Testing an NPN transistor
The base-collector (BC) junction should behave
like a diode and conduct one way only.
The collector-emitter (CE) should not conduct either way.

The diagram shows how the junctions behave in an NPN transistor. The diodes are reversed in a
PNP transistor but the same test procedure can be used.
2. Testing in a simple switching circuit
Connect the transistor into the circuit shown on the right
which uses the transistor as a switch. The supply voltage is not
critical, anything between 5 and 12V is suitable. This circuit
can be quickly built on breadboard for example. Take care to
include the 10k resistor in the base connection or you will
destroy the transistor as you test it!
If the transistor is OK the LED should light when the switch is
pressed and not light when the switch is released.
To test a PNP transistor use the same circuit but reverse the
LED and the supply voltage.

A simple switching circuit


to test an NPN transistor

Some multimeters have a 'transistor test' function which


provides a known base current and measures the collector current so as to display the transistor's
DC current gain hFE.

Transistor codes
There are three main series of transistor codes used in the UK:

Codes beginning with B (or A), for example BC108, BC478


The first letter B is for silicon, A is for germanium (rarely used now). The second letter indicates the type;
for example C means low power audio frequency; D means high power audio frequency; F means low
power high frequency. The rest of the code identifies the particular transistor. There is no obvious logic to
the numbering system. Sometimes a letter is added to the end (eg BC108C) to identify a special version of
the main type, for example a higher current gain or a different case style. If a project specifies a higher gain
version (BC108C) it must be used, but if the general code is given (BC108) any transistor with that code is
suitable.

Codes beginning with TIP, for example TIP31A


TIP refers to the manufacturer: Texas Instruments Power transistor. The letter at the end identifies versions
with different voltage ratings.

Codes beginning with 2N, for example 2N3053


The initial '2N' identifies the part as a transistor and the rest of the code identifies the particular transistor.
There is no obvious logic to the numbering system.

Choosing a transistor

Most projects will specify a particular transistor, but if necessary you can usually substitute an
equivalent transistor from the wide range available. The most important properties to look for are
the maximum collector current IC and the current gain hFE. To make selection easier most
suppliers group their transistors in categories determined either by their typical use or
maximum power rating.
To make a final choice you will need to consult the tables of technical data which are normally
provided in catalogues. They contain a great deal of useful information but they can be difficult
to understand if you are not familiar with the abbreviations used. The table below shows the
most important technical data for some popular transistors, tables in catalogues and reference
books will usually show additional information but this is unlikely to be useful unless you are
experienced. The quantities shown in the table are explained below.

NPN transistors
Structure

Case
style

BC107

NPN

TO18

100mA 45V

110 300mW Audio, low power

BC108

NPN

TO18

100mA 20V

110 300mW

General purpose,
low power

BC108C

NPN

TO18

100mA 20V

420 600mW

General purpose,
low power

BC109

NPN

TO18

200mA 20V

200 300mW

Audio (low noise),


low power

BC184 BC549

BC182

NPN

TO92C 100mA 50V

100 350mW

General purpose,
low power

BC107 BC182L

BC182L

NPN

TO92A 100mA 50V

100 350mW

General purpose,
low power

BC107 BC182

BC547B

NPN

TO92C 100mA 45V

200 500mW Audio, low power

BC107B

BC548B

NPN

TO92C 100mA 30V

220 500mW

General purpose,
low power

BC108B

BC549B

NPN

TO92C 100mA 30V

240 625mW

Audio (low noise),


low power

BC109

2N3053

NPN

TO39

BFY51

NPN

TO39

1A

BC639

NPN

TO92A

TIP29A

NPN

TIP31A

Code

IC
max.

VCE hFE
max. min.

Ptot
max.

Category
(typical use)

Possible
substitutes
BC182 BC547
BC108C BC183
BC548

50

500mW

General purpose,
low power

BFY51

30V

40

800mW

General purpose,
medium power

BC639

1A

80V

40

800mW

General purpose,
medium power

BFY51

TO220

1A

60V

40

30W

General purpose,
high power

NPN

TO220

3A

60V

10

40W

General purpose,
high power

TIP31C TIP41A

TIP31C

NPN

TO220

3A

100V

10

40W

General purpose,
high power

TIP31A TIP41A

TIP41A

NPN

TO220

6A

60V

15

65W

General purpose,

700mA 40V

high power

2N3055

NPN

TO3

15A

60V

20

117W

General purpose,
high power

Please note: the data in this table was compiled from several sources which are not entirely consistent! Most of the
discrepancies are minor, but please consult information from your supplier if you require precise data.

PNP transistors
Structure

Case
style

BC177

PNP

TO18

100mA 45V

125 300mW Audio, low power

BC477

BC178

PNP

TO18

200mA 25V

120 600mW

General purpose,
low power

BC478

BC179

PNP

TO18

200mA 20V

180 600mW

Audio (low noise),


low power

BC477

PNP

TO18

150mA 80V

125 360mW Audio, low power

BC177

BC478

PNP

TO18

150mA 40V

125 360mW

General purpose,
low power

BC178

TIP32A

PNP

TO220

3A

60V

25

40W

General purpose,
high power

TIP32C

TIP32C

PNP

TO220

3A

100V

10

40W

General purpose,
high power

TIP32A

Code

IC
max.

VCE hFE
max. min.

Ptot
max.

Category
(typical use)

Possible
substitutes

Please note: the data in this table was compiled from several sources which are not entirely consistent! Most of the
discrepancies are minor, but please consult information from your supplier if you require precise data.

Structure

This shows the type of transistor, NPN or PNP. The polarities of the two
types are different, so if you are looking for a substitute it must be the
same type.

Case style

There is a diagram showing the leads for some of the most common case
styles in the Connecting section above. This information is also available
in suppliers' catalogues.

IC max.

Maximum collector current.

VCE max.

Maximum voltage across the collector-emitter junction.


You can ignore this rating in low voltage circuits.

hFE

This is the current gain (strictly the DC current gain). The guaranteed
minimum value is given because the actual value varies from transistor to
transistor - even for those of the same type! Note that current gain is just a
number so it has no units.
The gain is often quoted at a particular collector current I C which is usually in the middle
of the transistor's range, for example '100@20mA' means the gain is at least 100 at
20mA. Sometimes minimum and maximum values are given. Since the gain is roughly
constant for various currents but it varies from transistor to transistor this detail is only
really of interest to experts.
Why hFE? It is one of a whole series of parameters for transistors, each with their own
symbol. There are too many to explain here.

Ptot max.

Maximum total power which can be developed in the transistor, note that a
heat sink will be required to achieve the maximum rating. This rating is
important for transistors operating as amplifiers, the power is roughly IC
VCE. For transistors operating as switches the maximum collector current
(IC max.) is more important.

Category

This shows the typical use for the transistor, it is a good starting point
when looking for a substitute. Catalogues may have separate tables for
different categories.

Possible substitutes These are transistors with similar electrical properties which will be
suitable substitutes in most circuits. However, they may have a different
case style so you will need to take care when placing them on the circuit
board.

Darlington pair
This is two transistors connected together so that the amplified
current from the first is amplified further by the second transistor.
This gives the Darlington pair a very high current gain such as
10000. Darlington pairs are sold as complete packages containing
the two transistors. They have three leads (B, C and E) which are
equivalent to the leads of a standard individual transistor.
You can make up your own Darlington pair from two transistors.
For example:

For TR1 use BC548B with hFE1 = 220.


For TR2 use BC639 with hFE2 = 40.

The overall gain of this pair is hFE1 hFE2 = 220 40 = 8800.


The pair's maximum collector current IC(max) is the same as TR2.

Variable Resistors
Construction | LIN & LOG | Rheostat | Potentiometer | Presets

Construction

Variable resistors consist of a resistance track with connections


at both ends and a wiper which moves along the track as you turn
the spindle. The track may be made from carbon, cermet (ceramic
and metal mixture) or a coil of wire (for low resistances). The
track is usually rotary but straight track versions, usually called
sliders, are also available.
Variable resistors may be used as a rheostat with two connections
(the wiper and just one end of the track) or as a potentiometer
with all three connections in use. Miniature versions called
presets are made for setting up circuits which will not require
further adjustment.
Variable resistors are often called potentiometers in books and
catalogues. They are specified by their maximum resistance,
linear or logarithmic track, and their physical size. The standard
spindle diameter is 6mm.

Standard Variable Resistor


Photograph Rapid Electronics

The resistance and type of track are marked on the body:


4K7 LIN means 4.7 k linear track.
1M LOG means 1 M logarithmic track.
Some variable resistors are designed to be mounted directly on the circuit board, but most are for
mounting through a hole drilled in the case containing the circuit with stranded wire connecting
their terminals to the circuit board.

Linear (LIN) and Logarithmic (LOG) tracks


Linear (LIN) track means that the resistance changes at a constant rate as you move the wiper.
This is the standard arrangement and you should assume this type is required if a project does not
specify the type of track. Presets always have linear tracks.
Logarithmic (LOG) track means that the resistance changes slowly at one end of the track and
rapidly at the other end, so halfway along the track is not half the total resistance! This
arrangement is used for volume (loudness) controls because the human ear has a logarithmic
response to loudness so fine control (slow change) is required at low volumes and coarser control
(rapid change) at high volumes. It is important to connect the ends of the track the correct way
round, if you find that turning the spindle increases the volume rapidly followed by little further
change you should swap the connections to the ends of the track.

Rheostat

This is the simplest way of using a variable resistor. Two


terminals are used: one connected to an end of the track, the other
to the moveable wiper. Turning the spindle changes the resistance
between the two terminals from zero up to the maximum
resistance.

Rheostat Symbol

Rheostats are often used to vary current, for example to control


the brightness of a lamp or the rate at which a capacitor charges.
If the rheostat is mounted on a printed circuit board you may find that all three terminals are connected! However,
one of them will be linked to the wiper terminal. This improves the mechanical strength of the mounting but it
serves no function electrically.

Potentiometer
Variable resistors used as potentiometers have all three terminals
connected.
Potentiometer Symbol
This arrangement is normally used to vary voltage, for example to
set the switching point of a circuit with a sensor, or control the
volume (loudness) in an amplifier circuit. If the terminals at the ends of the track are connected
across the power supply then the wiper terminal will provide a voltage which can be varied from
zero up to the maximum of the supply.

Presets
These are miniature versions of the standard variable resistor. They
are designed to be mounted directly onto the circuit board and
adjusted only when the circuit is built. For example to set the
frequency of an alarm tone or the sensitivity of a light-sensitive
circuit. A small screwdriver or similar tool is required to adjust
presets.

Preset Symbol

Presets are much cheaper than standard variable resistors so they are sometimes used in projects
where a standard variable resistor would normally be used.
Multiturn presets are used where very precise adjustments must be made. The screw must be
turned many times (10+) to move the slider from one end of the track to the other, giving very
fine control.

Preset

Presets

(open style)

(closed style)

Multiturn preset

Relays
Choosing a relay | Protection diodes | Reed relays | Advantages & disadvantages

Also see: Switches | Diodes

Circuit symbol for a relay

Relays
Photographs Rapid Electronics

A relay is an electrically operated switch. Current flowing


through the coil of the relay creates a magnetic field which
attracts a lever and changes the switch contacts. The coil
current can be on or off so relays have two switch positions
and most have double throw (changeover) switch contacts
as shown in the diagram.
Relays allow one circuit to switch a second circuit which can
be completely separate from the first. For example a low
voltage battery circuit can use a relay to switch a 230V AC
mains circuit. There is no electrical connection inside the
relay between the two circuits, the link is magnetic and
mechanical.
Relay showing coil and switch contacts

The coil of a relay passes a relatively large current, typically


30mA for a 12V relay, but it can be as much as 100mA for relays designed to operate from lower
voltages. Most ICs (chips) cannot provide this current and a transistor is usually used to amplify
the small IC current to the larger value required for the relay coil. The maximum output current
for the popular 555 timer IC is 200mA so these devices can supply relay coils directly without
amplification.
Relays are usuallly SPDT or DPDT but they can have many more sets of switch contacts, for
example relays with 4 sets of changeover contacts are readily available. For further information
about switch contacts and the terms used to describe them please see the page on switches.
Most relays are designed for PCB mounting but you can solder wires directly to the pins
providing you take care to avoid melting the plastic case of the relay.
The supplier's catalogue should show you the relay's connections. The coil will be obvious and it
may be connected either way round. Relay coils produce brief high voltage 'spikes' when they
are switched off and this can destroy transistors and ICs in the circuit. To prevent damage you
must connect a protection diode across the relay coil.
The animated picture shows a working relay with its coil and switch contacts. You can see a
lever on the left being attracted by magnetism when the coil is switched on. This lever moves the
switch contacts. There is one set of contacts (SPDT) in the foreground and another behind them,
making the relay DPDT.

The relay's switch connections are usually labelled COM, NC and NO:

COM = Common, always connect to this, it is the moving part of the switch.
NC = Normally Closed, COM is connected to this when the relay coil is off.
NO = Normally Open, COM is connected to this when the relay coil is on.
Connect to COM and NO if you want the switched circuit to be on when the relay coil is on.
Connect to COM and NC if you want the switched circuit to be on when the relay coil is off.

Choosing a relay
You need to consider several features when choosing a relay:
1. Physical size and pin arrangement
If you are choosing a relay for an existing PCB you will need to ensure that its
dimensions and pin arrangement are suitable. You should find this information in the
supplier's catalogue.
2. Coil voltage
The relay's coil voltage rating and resistance must suit the circuit powering the relay coil.
Many relays have a coil rated for a 12V supply but 5V and 24V relays are also readily
available. Some relays operate perfectly well with a supply voltage which is a little lower
than their rated value.
3. Coil resistance
The circuit must be able to supply the current required by the relay coil. You can use
Ohm's law to calculate the current:
Relay coil current =

supply voltage
coil resistance

4. For example: A 12V supply relay with a coil resistance of 400 passes a current of
30mA. This is OK for a 555 timer IC (maximum output current 200mA), but it is too
much for most ICs and they will require a transistor to amplify the current.
5. Switch ratings (voltage and current)
The relay's switch contacts must be suitable for the circuit they are to control. You will
need to check the voltage and current ratings. Note that the voltage rating is usually
higher for AC, for example: "5A at 24V DC or 125V AC".
6. Switch contact arrangement (SPDT, DPDT etc)
Most relays are SPDT or DPDT which are often described as "single pole changeover"
(SPCO) or "double pole changeover" (DPCO). For further information please see the
page on switches.

Protection diodes for relays


Transistors and ICs must be protected from the brief
high voltage produced when a relay coil is switched
off. The diagram shows how a signal diode (eg
1N4148) is connected 'backwards' across the relay
coil to provide this protection.
Current flowing through a relay coil creates a magnetic field
which collapses suddenly when the current is switched off.

The sudden collapse of the magnetic field induces a brief high voltage across the relay coil which is very likely to
damage transistors and ICs. The protection diode allows the induced voltage to drive a brief current through the coil
(and diode) so the magnetic field dies away quickly rather than instantly. This prevents the induced voltage
becoming high enough to cause damage to transistors and ICs.

Reed relays
Reed relays consist of a coil surrounding a reed switch. Reed
switches are normally operated with a magnet, but in a reed relay
current flows through the coil to create a magnetic field and close the
reed switch.
Reed relays generally have higher coil resistances than standard
relays (1000 for example) and a wide range of supply voltages (9Reed Relay
20V for example). They are capable of switching much more rapidly
than standard relays, up to several hundred times per second; but
they can only switch low currents (500mA maximum for example). Photograph Rapid Electronics
The reed relay shown in the photograph will plug into a standard 14-pin DIL socket ('IC holder').
For further information about reed switches please see the page on switches.

Relays and transistors compared


Like relays, transistors can be used as an electrically operated switch. For switching small DC
currents (< 1A) at low voltage they are usually a better choice than a relay. However, transistors
cannot switch AC (such as mains electricity) and in simple circuits they are not usually a good
choice for switching large currents (> 5A). In these cases a relay will be needed, but note that a
low power transistor may still be needed to switch the current for the relay's coil! The main
advantages and disadvantages of relays are listed below:
Advantages of relays:

Relays can switch AC and DC, transistors can only switch DC.
Relays can switch higher voltages than standard transistors.
Relays are often a better choice for switching large currents (> 5A).
Relays can switch many contacts at once.

Disadvantages of relays:

Relays are bulkier than transistors for switching small currents.

Relays cannot switch rapidly (except reed relays), transistors can switch many times per second.
Relays use more power due to the current flowing through their coil.
Relays require more current than many ICs can provide, so a low power transistor may be needed to
switch the current for the relay's coil.

Switches
Switch Contacts - pole, throw etc.
Standard Switches - SPST, SPDT, DPST, DPDT.
Special Switches - multiway, key, tilt, reed etc.

Also see: Relays | Series and Parallel Connections - Switches

Selecting a Switch
There are three important features to consider when selecting a switch:

Circuit symbol for a


simple on-off switch

Contacts (e.g. single pole, double throw)


Ratings (maximum voltage and current)
Method of Operation (toggle, slide, key etc.)

Switch Contacts
Several terms are used to describe switch contacts:

Pole - number of switch contact sets.


Throw - number of conducting positions, single or double.
Way - number of conducting positions, three or more.
Momentary - switch returns to its normal position when released.
Open - off position, contacts not conducting.
Closed - on position, contacts conducting, there may be several on positions.

For example: the simplest on-off switch has one set of contacts (single pole) and one switching
position which conducts (single throw). The switch mechanism has two positions: open (off) and
closed (on), but it is called 'single throw' because only one position conducts.
Switch Contact Ratings

Switch contacts are rated with a maximum voltage and current, and there may be different
ratings for AC and DC. The AC values are higher because the current falls to zero many times
each second and an arc is less likely to form across the switch contacts.
For low voltage electronics projects the voltage rating will not matter, but you may need to check
the current rating. The maximum current is less for inductive loads (coils and motors) because
they cause more sparking at the contacts when switched off.

Standard Switches
Type of Switch

Circuit Symbol

Example

ON-OFF
Single Pole, Single Throw = SPST
A simple on-off switch. This type can be
used to switch the power supply to a circuit.
When used with mains electricity this type
of switch must be in the live wire, but it is
better to use a DPST switch to isolate both
live and neutral.

SPST toggle switch

Photograph Rapid Electronics

(ON)-OFF
Push-to-make = SPST Momentary
A push-to-make switch returns to its
normally open (off) position when you
release the button, this is shown by the
brackets around ON. This is the standard
doorbell switch.

Push-to-make switch

Photograph Rapid Electronics

ON-(OFF)
Push-to-break = SPST Momentary
A push-to-break switch returns to its
normally closed (on) position when you
release the button.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Push-to-break switch

ON-ON
Single Pole, Double Throw = SPDT
This switch can be on in both positions,
switching on a separate device in each case.
It is often called a changeover switch. For
example, a SPDT switch can be used to
switch on a red lamp in one position and a
green lamp in the other position.

SPDT toggle switch

A SPDT toggle switch may be used as a simple onoff switch by connecting to COM and one of the A or
B terminals shown in the diagram. A and B are
interchangeable so switches are usually not labelled.

ON-OFF-ON
SPDT Centre Off
A special version of the standard SPDT
switch. It has a third switching position in
the centre which is off. Momentary (ON)OFF-(ON) versions are also available where
the switch returns to the central off position
when released.
Photographs Rapid Electronics

SPDT slide switch


(PCB mounting)

SPDT rocker switch

Dual ON-OFF
Double Pole, Single Throw = DPST
A pair of on-off switches which operate
together (shown by the dotted line in the
circuit symbol).
A DPST switch is often used to switch
mains electricity because it can isolate both
the live and neutral connections.

DPST rocker switch

Photograph Rapid Electronics

Dual ON-ON
Double Pole, Double Throw = DPDT
A pair of on-on switches which operate
together (shown by the dotted line in the
circuit symbol).
A DPDT switch can be wired up as a

DPDT slide switch

reversing switch for a motor as shown in


the diagram.

ON-OFF-ON
DPDT Centre Off
A special version of the standard SPDT
switch. It has a third switching position in
the centre which is off. This can be very
useful for motor control because you have
forward, off and reverse positions.
Momentary (ON)-OFF-(ON) versions are
also available where the switch returns to
the central off position when released.

Wiring for Reversing Switch

Photograph Rapid Electronics

Rapid Electronics stock a wide range of switches and they


have kindly allowed me to use their photographs on this
page. The photographs are from their Image Gallery CDROM.

Special Switches
Type of Switch
Push-Push Switch (e.g. SPST = ON-OFF)
This looks like a momentary action push switch but it is a
standard on-off switch: push once to switch on, push again to
switch off. This is called a latching action.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Microswitch (usually SPDT = ON-ON)


Microswitches are designed to switch fully open or closed in
response to small movements. They are available with levers
and rollers attached.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Example

Key switch
A key operated switch. The example shown is SPST.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Tilt Switch (SPST)


Tilt switches contain a conductive liquid and when tilted this
bridges the contacts inside, closing the switch. They can be used
as a sensor to detect the position of an object. Some tilt switches
contain mercury which is poisonous.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Reed Switch (usually SPST)


The contacts of a reed switch are closed by bringing a small
magnet near the switch. They are used in security circuits, for
example to check that doors are closed. Standard reed switches
are SPST (simple on-off) but SPDT (changeover) versions are
also available.
Warning: reed switches have a glass body which is easily
broken! For advice on handling please see the
Electronics in Meccano website.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

DIP Switch (DIP = Dual In-line Parallel)


This is a set of miniature SPST on-off switches, the example
shown has 8 switches. The package is the same size as a
standard DIL (Dual In-Line) integrated circuit.
This type of switch is used to set up circuits, e.g. setting the code
of a remote control.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Multi-pole Switch
The picture shows a 6-pole double throw switch, also known as
a 6-pole changeover switch. It can be set to have momentary or
latching action. Latching action means it behaves as a push-push
switch, push once for the first position, push again for the

second position etc.


Photograph Rapid Electronics

Multi-way Switch
Multi-way switches have 3 or more conducting positions. They
may have several poles (contact sets). A popular type has a
rotary action and it is available with a range of contact
arrangements from 1-pole 12-way to 4-pole 3 way.
Multi-way rotary switch
The number of ways (switch positions) may be reduced by adjusting a stop
under the fixing nut. For example if you need a 2-pole 5-way switch you can
buy the 2-pole 6-way version and adjust the stop.
Contrast this multi-way switch (many switch positions) with the multi-pole
switch (many contact sets) described above.
Photograph Rapid Electronics

1-pole 4-way switch symbol

Rapid Electronics stock a wide range of switches and they


have kindly allowed me to use their photographs on this
page. The photographs are from their

Other Components
LDR | Thermistor | Piezo transducer | Loudspeaker | Buzzer & Bleeper | Inductor (coil)

Photograph Rapid Electronics

Light Dependent Resistor (LDR)


An LDR is an input transducer (sensor) which converts
brightness (light) to resistance. It is made from cadmium sulphide
(CdS) and the resistance decreases as the brightness of light falling
on the LDR increases.

circuit symbol

A multimeter can be used to find the resistance in darkness and


bright light, these are the typical results for a standard LDR:

Darkness: maximum resistance, about 1M .


Very bright light: minimum resistance, about 100 .

For many years the standard LDR has been the ORP12, now the NORPS12, which is about
13mm diameter. Miniature LDRs are also available and their diameter is about 5mm.
An LDR may be connected either way round and no special precautions are required when
soldering.

Thermistor
A thermistor is an input transducer (sensor) which converts
temperature (heat) to resistance. Almost all thermistors have a
negative temperature coefficient (NTC) which means their
resistance decreases as their temperature increases. It is possible to
make thermistors with a positive temperature coefficient
(resistance increases as temperature increases) but these are rarely
used. Always assume NTC if no information is given.
A multimeter can be used to find the resistance at various
temperatures, these are some typical readings for example:

Icy water 0C: high resistance, about 12k .


Room temperature 25C: medium resistance, about 5k .
Boiling water 100C: low resistance, about 400 .
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Suppliers usually specify thermistors by their resistance at 25C


(room temperature). Thermistors take several seconds to respond
to a sudden temperature change, small thermistors respond more
rapidly.

circuit symbol

A thermistor may be connected either way round and no special


precautions are required when soldering. If it is going to be immersed in water the thermistor and

its connections should be insulated because water is a weak conductor; for example they could
be coated with polyurethane varnish.

Piezo transducer
Piezo transducers are output transducers which convert an
electrical signal to sound. They require a driver circuit (such as a 555
astable) to provide a signal and if this is near their natural (resonant)
frequency of about 3kHz they will produce a particularly loud sound.
Piezo transducers require a small current, usually less than 10mA, so
they can be connected directly to the outputs of most ICs. They are Photograph Rapid Electronics
ideal for buzzes and beeps, but are not suitable for speech or music
because they distort the sound. They are sometimes supplied with
red and black leads, but they may be connected either way round.
PCB-mounting versions are also available.
circuit symbol
Piezo transducers can also be used as input transducers for
detecting sudden loud noises or impacts, effectively behaving as a crude microphone.

Photograph Rapid Electronics

capacitor in series to block DC

Loudspeaker
Loudspeakers are output transducers which convert an
electrical signal to sound. Usually they are called
'speakers'. They require a driver circuit, such as a 555
astable or an audio amplifier, to provide a signal. There is
circuit symbol
a wide range available, but for many electronics projects a
300mW miniature loudspeaker is ideal. This type is about 70mm diameter and it is usually
available with resistances of 8 and 64 . If a project specifies a 64 speaker you must use this
higher resistance to prevent damage to the driving circuit.
Most circuits used to drive loudspeakers produce an audio (AC) signal which is combined with a
constant DC signal. The DC will make a large current flow through the speaker due to its low
resistance, possibly damaging both the speaker and the driving circuit. To prevent this happening
a large value electrolytic capacitor is connected in series with the speaker, this blocks DC but
passes audio (AC) signals. See capacitor coupling.
Loudspeakers may be connected either way round except in stereo circuits when the + and markings on their terminals must be observed to ensure the two speakers are in phase.
Correct polarity must always be observed for large speakers in cabinets because the cabinet may
contain a small circuit (a 'crossover network') which diverts the high frequency signals to a small
speaker (a 'tweeter') because the large main speaker is poor at reproducing them.
Miniature loudspeakers can also be used as a microphone and they work surprisingly well,
certainly good enough for speech in an intercom system for example.

Buzzer and Bleeper


These devices are output
transducers converting electrical
energy to sound. They contain an
internal oscillator to produce the
sound which is set at about 400Hz
for buzzers and about 3kHz for
bleepers.
Buzzers have a voltage rating but
it is only approximate, for
example 6V and 12V buzzers can
be used with a 9V supply. Their
typical current is about 25mA.

Buzzer (about 400Hz)

Bleeper (about 3kHz)

Photographs Rapid Electronics

circuit symbol

Bleepers have wide voltage ranges, such as 3-30V, and they pass a low current of about 10mA.

Buzzers and bleepers must be connected the right way round, their red lead is positive (+).

Inductor (coil)
An inductor is a coil of wire which may have a core of air, iron
or ferrite (a brittle material made from iron). Its electrical
property is called inductance and the unit for this is the henry,
symbol H. 1H is very large so mH and H are used,
1000H = 1mH and 1000mH = 1H. Iron and ferrite cores
increase the inductance. Inductors are mainly used in tuned
circuits and to block high frequency AC signals (they are
sometimes called chokes). They pass DC easily, but block AC
signals, this is the opposite of capacitors.

Inductor (miniature)

Ferrite rod
Photographs Rapid Electronics
Inductors are rarely found in simple projects, but one exception
is the tuning coil of a radio receiver. This is an inductor which
you may have to make yourself by neatly winding enamelled
copper wire around a ferrite rod. Enamelled copper wire has
circuit symbol
very thin insulation, allowing the turns of the coil to be close
together, but this makes it impossible to strip in the usual way the best method is to gently pull the ends of the wire through folded emery paper.
Warning: a ferrite rod is brittle so treat it like glass, not iron!
An inductor may be connected either way round and no special precautions are required when
soldering.

Power Supplies
Types | Dual supplies | Transformer | Rectifier | Smoothing | Regulator

Next Page: Transducers


Also See: AC and DC | Diodes | Capacitors

Types of Power Supply


There are many types of power supply. Most are designed to convert high voltage AC mains
electricity to a suitable low voltage supply for electronics circuits and other devices. A power
supply can by broken down into a series of blocks, each of which performs a particular function.
For example a 5V regulated supply:

Each of the blocks is described in more detail below:

Transformer - steps down high voltage AC mains to low voltage AC.


Rectifier - converts AC to DC, but the DC output is varying.
Smoothing - smooths the DC from varying greatly to a small ripple.
Regulator - eliminates ripple by setting DC output to a fixed voltage.

Power supplies made from these blocks are described below with a circuit diagram and a graph
of their output:

Transformer only
Transformer + Rectifier
Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing
Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing + Regulator

Dual Supplies
Some electronic circuits require a power
supply with positive and negative outputs
as well as zero volts (0V). This is called a
'dual supply' because it is like two ordinary
supplies connected together as shown in
the diagram.
Dual supplies have three outputs, for
example a 9V supply has +9V, 0V and -9V outputs.

Transformer only

The low voltage AC output is suitable for lamps, heaters and special AC motors. It is not
suitable for electronic circuits unless they include a rectifier and a smoothing capacitor.
Further information: Transformer

Transformer + Rectifier

The varying DC output is suitable for lamps, heaters and standard motors. It is not suitable for
electronic circuits unless they include a smoothing capacitor.
Further information: Transformer | Rectifier

Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing

The smooth DC output has a small ripple. It is suitable for most electronic circuits.
Further information: Transformer | Rectifier | Smoothing

Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing + Regulator

The regulated DC output is very smooth with no ripple. It is suitable for all electronic circuits.
Further information: Transformer | Rectifier | Smoothing | Regulator

Transformer

Transformer
circuit symbol

Transformers convert AC electricity from one voltage to


another with little loss of power. Transformers work only
with AC and this is one of the reasons why mains
electricity is AC.
Step-up transformers increase voltage, step-down
transformers reduce voltage. Most power supplies use a
step-down transformer to reduce the dangerously high
mains voltage (230V in UK) to a safer low voltage.
The input coil is called the primary and the output coil is
called the secondary. There is no electrical connection
between the two coils, instead they are linked by an
alternating magnetic field created in the soft-iron core of
the transformer. The two lines in the middle of the circuit
symbol represent the core.

Transformer
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Transformers waste very little power so the power out is


(almost) equal to the power in. Note that as voltage is
stepped down current is stepped up.

There is more information


about transformers on the
Electronics in Meccano
website.

The ratio of the number of turns on each coil, called the turns ratio, determines the ratio of the
voltages. A step-down transformer has a large number of turns on its primary (input) coil which
is connected to the high voltage mains supply, and a small number of turns on its secondary
(output) coil to give a low output voltage.
turns ratio =

Vp
Np
=
Vs
Ns

and

Vp = primary (input) voltage


Np = number of turns on primary coil
Ip = primary (input) current

power out = power in


Vs Is = Vp Ip
Vs = secondary (output) voltage
Ns = number of turns on secondary coil
Is = secondary (output) current

Rectifier
There are several ways of connecting diodes to make a rectifier to
convert AC to DC. The bridge rectifier is the most important and it
produces full-wave varying DC. A full-wave rectifier can also be made
from just two diodes if a centre-tap transformer is used, but this method
is rarely used now that diodes are cheaper. A single diode can be used as

There is more information


about rectifiers on the
Electronics in Meccano
website.

a rectifier but it only uses the positive (+) parts of the AC wave to produce half-wave varying
DC.

Bridge rectifier
A bridge rectifier can be made using four individual diodes, but it is also available in special
packages containing the four diodes required. It is called a full-wave rectifier because it uses all
the AC wave (both positive and negative sections). 1.4V is used up in the bridge rectifier because
each diode uses 0.7V when conducting and there are always two diodes conducting, as shown in
the diagram below. Bridge rectifiers are rated by the maximum current they can pass and the
maximum reverse voltage they can withstand (this must be at least three times the supply RMS
voltage so the rectifier can withstand the peak voltages). Please see the Diodes page for more
details, including pictures of bridge rectifiers.

Bridge rectifier

Output: full-wave varying DC

Alternate pairs of diodes conduct, changing over


the connections so the alternating directions of
AC are converted to the one direction of DC.

(using all the AC wave)

Single diode rectifier


A single diode can be used as a rectifier but this produces half-wave varying DC which has gaps
when the AC is negative. It is hard to smooth this sufficiently well to supply electronic circuits
unless they require a very small current so the smoothing capacitor does not significantly
discharge during the gaps. Please see the Diodes page for some examples of rectifier diodes.

Single diode rectifier

Output: half-wave varying DC


(using only half the AC wave)

Smoothing
Smoothing is performed by a large value electrolytic capacitor connected across the DC supply
to act as a reservoir, supplying current to the output when the varying DC voltage from the
rectifier is falling. The diagram shows the unsmoothed varying DC (dotted line) and the
smoothed DC (solid line). The capacitor charges quickly near the peak of the varying DC, and
then discharges as it supplies current to the output.

Note that smoothing significantly increases the average DC voltage to almost the peak value
(1.4 RMS value). For example 6V RMS AC is rectified to full wave DC of about 4.6V RMS
(1.4V is lost in the bridge rectifier), with smoothing this increases to almost the peak value
giving 1.4 4.6 = 6.4V smooth DC.
Smoothing is not perfect due to the capacitor voltage falling a little as it discharges, giving a
small ripple voltage. For many circuits a ripple which is 10% of the supply voltage is
satisfactory and the equation below gives the required value for the smoothing capacitor. A
larger capacitor will give less ripple. The capacitor value must be doubled when smoothing halfwave DC.
Smoothing capacitor for 10% ripple, C =

5 Io
Vs f

C = smoothing capacitance in farads (F)


Io = output current from the supply in amps (A)
Vs = supply voltage in volts (V), this is the peak value of the unsmoothed DC
f = frequency of the AC supply in hertz (Hz), 50Hz in the UK

There is more information


about smoothing on the
Electronics in Meccano
website.

Regulator
Voltage regulator ICs are available with
fixed (typically 5, 12 and 15V) or variable
output voltages. They are also rated by the
maximum current they can pass. Negative
voltage regulators are available, mainly for
use in dual supplies. Most regulators
include some automatic protection from
excessive current ('overload protection')
and overheating ('thermal protection').
Voltage regulator
Photograph Rapid Electronics
Many of the fixed voltage regulator ICs
have 3 leads and look like power
transistors, such as the 7805 +5V 1A
regulator shown on the right. They include a hole for attaching a heatsink if necessary.
Please see the Electronics in Meccano website for more information about voltage regulator ICs.

Zener diode regulator


For low current power supplies a simple voltage regulator can
be made with a resistor and a zener diode connected in reverse
as shown in the diagram. Zener diodes are rated by their
breakdown voltage Vz and maximum power Pz (typically
400mW or 1.3W).

zener diode
a = anode, k = cathode

The resistor limits the current (like an LED resistor). The


current through the resistor is constant, so when there is no
output current all the current flows through the zener diode and
its power rating Pz must be large enough to withstand this.
Please see the Diodes page for more information about zener
diodes.
Choosing a zener diode and resistor:
1. The zener voltage Vz is the output voltage required
2. The input voltage Vs must be a few volts greater than Vz
(this is to allow for small fluctuations in Vs due to ripple)

3.
4.
5.
6.

The maximum current Imax is the output current required plus 10%
The zener power Pz is determined by the maximum current: Pz > Vz Imax
The resistor resistance: R = (Vs - Vz) / Imax
The resistor power rating: P > (Vs - Vz) Imax

Example: output voltage required is 5V, output current required is 60mA .


1. Vz = 4.7V (nearest value available)
2. Vs = 8V (it must be a few volts greater than Vz)
3. Imax = 66mA (output current plus 10%)
4. Pz > 4.7V 66mA = 310mW, choose Pz = 400mW
5. R = (8V - 4.7V) / 66mA = 0.05k = 50 , choose R = 47
6. Resistor power rating P > (8V - 4.7V) 66mA = 218mW, choose P = 0.5W

There is more information


about regulators on the
Electronics in Meccano
website.

Transducers
Input Transducers | Output Transducers | Using Input Transducers

Next Page: Voltage Dividers

A transducer is a device which converts a signal from one form to another.


Most electronics circuits use both input and output transducers:

Input Transducers
Input Transducers convert a quantity to an electrical signal (voltage)
or to resistance (which can be converted to voltage). Input
transducers are also called sensors.
Examples:

LDR converts brightness (of light) to resistance.


Thermistor converts temperature to resistance.
Microphone converts sound to voltage.
Variable resistor converts position (angle) to resistance.
LDR
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Output Transducers

Output Transducers convert an electrical signal to another quantity.


Examples:

Lamp converts electricity to light.


LED converts electricity to light.
Loudspeaker converts electricity to sound.
Motor converts electricity to motion.
Heater converts electricity to heat.
Loudspeaker
Photograph Rapid Electronics

Using input transducers (sensors)


Most input transducers (sensors) vary their resistance and this
can be used directly in some circuits but it is usually converted to
an electrical signal in the form of a voltage.
The voltage signal can be fed to other parts of the circuit, such as
the input to an IC or a transistor switch.
The conversion of varying resistance to varying voltage is
performed by a simple circuit called a voltage divider.
Please see the next page for more information about
voltage dividers.

Voltage divider circuit

Simple Component and Continuity Tester


A kit for this project is available from RSH Electronics.
Download PDF version of this page

This simple project may be used for testing components, as well as checking circuit board tracks,
wires and connections for continuity (conduction). It tries to pass a small current through the
item being tested and the LED will light brightly, dimly or not at all according to the resistance
of the item:

LED bright means the resistance is low, less than about 1k


LED dim means the resistance is medium, a few k
LED off means the resistance is high, more than about 10k

When not in use the 9V PP3 battery should be unclipped or the crocodile clips attached to a piece
of card or plastic to prevent them touching. You could add an on-off switch in the red wire from
the battery clip and this may be the best option if you mount the simple tester in a box.

Parts Required

resistor: 390
red LED 5mm diameter, standard type
battery clip for 9V PP3
crocodile clips: miniature red and black
stripboard: 5 rows 7 holes

If you think this project is too simple to


be useful, please see the table of
components which it can be used to
test and think again!

Stripboard Layout

Testing stripboard, PCB tracks, wires and


connections
Connect a crocodile clip on each side of the
suspected fault:

LED bright means there is a connection.


LED off means there is no connection.

If you are testing a stripboard or PCB which has


components soldered in place, beware of possible
connections via the components and allow for this
when interpreting the results.
Stripboard circuits can suffer from two common
problems: solder bridging between adjacent tracks
making a connection where there should be none,

Circuit diagram

and tracks broken with a track cutter which have an almost invisible thread of copper conducting
across the break.
If a PCB has etched poorly the tracks may be very thin in places or there may be traces of copper
bridging between adjacent tracks.
Wires and connections may be checked for continuity (conduction).

Testing components
Connect a crocodile clip on each side
of the component. They can be connected either way round unless stated otherwise in the table
below.

Component
Resistor

Variable Resistor

Diode

Test results for a component in good condition


LED bright for low resistance, less than about 1k .
LED dim for medium resistance, a few k .
LED off for high resistance, more than about 10k .
Across the two ends of the track the LED brightness will
depend on the resistance value (see above).
Between one end of the track and the wiper you should
see the LED brightness vary as you adjust the variable
resistor. However, for high resistances (>10k ) the LED
will only light near one end of the track.
LED bright with red lead to anode and black lead to
cathode (stripe).
LED off with black lead to anode and red lead to cathode
(stripe).
a = anode, k = cathode (the end with a stripe)

Zener Diode

LED bright with red lead to anode and black lead to


cathode (stripe).
LED dim with black lead to anode and red lead to cathode
(stripe) if the zener diode voltage is less than about 7V.
LED off with black lead to anode and red lead to cathode
(stripe) if the zener diode voltage is greater than about 7V.
a = anode, k = cathode (the end with a stripe)

LED
Light Emitting Diode

LED bright with red lead to anode and black lead to


cathode (short lead) - the LED being tested will also light.

LED off with black lead to anode and red lead to cathode
(short lead).
a = anode (long lead), k = cathode (short lead, flat on body)
For each pair of transistor leads connect the tester leads first
one way, then the other way.

Transistor

B = base, C = collector, E = emitter


Please refer to a supplier's
catalogue to identify the leads.

These are the results for an NPN transistor in good


condition:
CE pair: LED off both ways.
BC pair: LED bright with red lead on B, LED off the other
way.
BE pair: LED bright with red lead on B, LED off the other
way.
These are the results for a PNP transistor in good
condition:
CE pair: LED off both ways.
BC pair: LED bright with black lead on B, LED off the
other way.
BE pair: LED bright with black lead on B, LED off the
other way.
Note that you can use the tester to identify the B lead (the one which
always conducts one way) and to distinguish NPN and PNP transistors
(by the tester lead colour when B conducts). However, the tester cannot
distinguish the C and E leads.

Capacitor
less than 1F

Capacitor
1F and greater

LDR
Light Dependent Resistor

Thermistor

LED off.
Please bear in mind that a broken connection will give the same result.

If the capacitor is polarised (most will be) connect the red


lead to positive (+) and the black lead to negative (-).
The LED will flash briefly when first connected.
Reverse the connections: the LED will give another brief
flash.
With low values like 1F the flash will be almost too brief to see, but
larger values such as 100F will give longer flashes. Electrolytic
capacitors may leak a little when connected the wrong way round,
making the LED light dimly continuously.

LED bright when the LDR is in bright light.


LED dim when the LDR is in normal room light.
LED off when the LDR is in darkness.
LED dim when the thermistor is warm.
LED off when the thermistor is cold.
These are typical results, the exact results depend on the thermistor's
resistance.

LED bright.

Lamp

Switch
Fuse, Motor, Loudspeaker,
Inductor, Relay coil, Wire
INVERTERS

Note that the lamp itself will NOT light because the test current is too
small.

LED bright when switch contacts are closed (on).


LED off when switch contacts are open (off).
Note that you can use the tester to identify the switch contacts if
necessary.

LED bright.

Power Supply +50V 3A stabilized and regulated

Many times we needed a stabilized, together regulated power supply and high relatively

output voltage. These specifications him it cover our circuit. It 's a circuit that can give in his
exit + 40V until + 60V 3A, with simultaneous stabilization. The materials that use is very
simple and will not exist difficulties in the manufacture, is enough you are careful certain
points. 1 ] For output voltages smaller of + 50V until + 40V, the Q1 is hot enough, so that it
needs one big heatsink. 2]For output voltages bigger of + 50V up to + 70V, the stabilization
is not satisfactory. Conclusion: ideal output voltage is + 45V until + 60V. In the circuit
pontesometer RV1, is used in order to we change the output voltage between + 40V until +
70V, we can however and perhaps it should, him we replace with two constant resistors,
when finishe the regulation, in the desirable price. The reason is, that with time is presented
change of output voltage, up to 3V, with connected pontesometer. ATTENTION!!! The
positive exit correspond in point [ A ] and the exit of 0V in point [ B ], which should not be
connected in the ground.
Part List
R1=10Kohm

R8=1.8Kohm 0.5W

Q3=BC303 or BC461

R2=1 ohm 5W

R9=3.3Kohm 0.5W

D1....4=Bridge 15A

R3=3.9 ohms 1W

RV1=470 ohms pot.

D5=LED RED 5mm

R4=6.8Kohm 1W

C1-2-4=4700uF 100V

D6-7=10V 1W Zener

R5=390 ohms 1W

C3-5=100nF 250V MKT


Q1=2N3055 on heatsink

D8-9-10=1N4007

R6=100Kohm 0.5W
R7=1.2Kohm 1W

Q2=BD162 or BD243 or
BD543

T1=230Vac / 55V 3A