How to Use a Three-Leg Potentiometer

Written by kim lewis
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A potentiometer is a circuit component that is a special type of resistor. A regular resistor has a fixed resistance that never changes, but a potentiometer has a resistance that varies. The most popular kind of potentiometer has three legs. The leg in the middle is referred to as the wiper, and the ones on the left and right are called ends. The wiper moves, while the two ends remain fixed. To use a three-leg potentiometer as a variable resistor, always attach the wiper and either one of the two ends to the circuit that is being used. The remaining end does not have to be connected. Begin practicing by first building a piezo buzzer circuit.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Potentiometer
  • Jumper wires
  • Solderless breadboard
  • Battery
  • Battery holder
  • Piezo buzzer

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  1. 1

    Connect the battery holder to the breadboard. Do this by attaching the red lead to one column, and the black lead to a different column.

  2. 2

    Attach the left end of the potentiometer to the red lead of the battery holder. Do this by placing the potentiometer's wire into the same column that the red lead is in. Alternatively, insert a jumper wire into the column of the red lead, attach the wire's other end to a separate column in the breadboard, then connect the left end of the potentiometer to the second column.

  3. 3

    Choose a new column on the breadboard. Connect the lead of the wiper leg of the potentiometer to this column.

  4. 4

    Insert the positive end of the buzzer into the same column that the wiper is in. This is the side marked with a "+" sign. Make sure that the negative side of the buzzer is in a different column.

  5. 5

    Place one end of a jumper wire into the same column that the negative lead of the piezo buzzer is in. Connect the other end of the jumper wire to the black lead of the battery.

  6. 6

    Place the battery inside the battery holder. The buzzer will begin to sound. Adjust the volume by turning the wiper first in one direction, then the other.

Tips and warnings

  • Substitute a hobby motor or LED in place of the buzzer.
  • The buzzer may get very loud; adjust the potentiometer very slowly.

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