How to read electrical schematics

Written by kim lewis
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Electrical schematics represent circuits by drawings. Circuits are composed of electrical components that are connected by conductors. The components manipulate currents in various ways. They may be powered by AC or DC voltage sources. Components in an electrical schematic are represented by symbols. To learn how to read a schematic, you must understand what these symbols represent, what the components are used for, and how they are placed inside of a circuit.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • An electrical schematic
  • An introductory physics or electricity text
  • A handbook or data sheets on electrical components

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  1. 1

    Learn the symbols for common electrical components. Components that are found in most circuits include resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors, op-amps, and diodes.

  2. 2

    Study the rules that are used in wiring these components together. Straight lines denote connections between components. The rules for connecting resistors are different from those for capacitors or inductors. Components may be wired in series or parallel. Points connected by the same wire are at the same potential and are electrically equivalent.

  3. 3

    Identify the symbols for voltage sources. These may be symbolised in more than one way on a schematic. The source may be polarised, in which case the way it is placed into a schematic is important. Batteries are polarised, with a positive terminal and a negative terminal.

  4. 4

    Recognise the difference between polarised and non-polarised components. For example, some capacitors are polarised and others are not. The ones that are polarised may have have minus or plus sign symbols on their casing.

  5. 5

    Memorise the most common fundamental circuit combinations. Certain electrical components that are always built and wired together the same way function as mini-circuits. They are used to perform certain tasks for a larger circuit, and may be viewed as building blocks. Examples are voltage dividers, diode clamps and filters. Once you have mastered the basic circuits, then you may proceed to more advanced ones.

Tips and warnings

  • Educational electronics kits are useful in learning to read electrical diagrams of simple circuits. They are inexpensive, and typically include data sheets on the components used and a schematic of the project you are to build. They offer detailed explanations on how the circuit works.
  • After you are comfortable with educational kits, you may then purchase educational project labs or electrical trainers. These may cover digital and advanced analogue circuits.
  • Always exercise caution when building electrical circuits to avoid burning yourself or damaging your equipment.

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