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Electronic Components - Potentiometers

Electronic Components - Potentiometers

pots knob cut awayPotentiometers are used in the construction of a wide range of electronics, but what are they exactly? A potentiometer is an adjustable resistor with 3 terminals and the amount of resistance is changeable via an attached knob, and this adjustment affects the output of whatever device it is. The volume control on a radio is a longstanding example of this. The name potentiometer (pots or pots knob for short) comes from the fact that it measures and adjusts the electric potential via the amount of resistance in an electrical circuit. This change in resistance, raises or lowers volume (or other output) as more or less electricity is allowed into the circuit. Potentiometers most frequently come as knobs, however they come in other forms such as a slider, a thumbwheel and trimmers, trimmers are not typically adjustable. Given how useful pots are for electronics builds, you’ll see and use them a lot.

sliding pots knobEven amongst the multiple style variations (knobs, sliders, etc.) of a typical potentiometer, there are still subsets of each of those as well as some variation in materials used. Each potentiometer will typically be made of carbon, conductive plastic, and cermet, among other materials. These and other elements are put together, in the case of a knob, in a cylindrical shape. Two of the three terminals are on a sort of donut-shaped track and the middle terminal is connected to the track by a wiper that moves along the track with a turn of the knob. In a slider set up, the pots is setup so that the wiper is in a straight line instead of in a circle. This wiper makes contact with the track and allows for adjustment of the electricity entering the circuit allowing sound to be louder or softer or lights to brighten and dim.

how does a potentiometer workOnce you’ve identified the right style and make of potentiometer that you need for your circuit, the next thing to do is wire it into the circuit you’re building. You basically solder the first terminal to a wire, then ground that wire to your circuit, follow that up by soldering wires to the remaining terminals and then the circuit board. Once connected, it’s recommended that you check for proper wiring with a voltmeter. Once you do that, you should notice the voltage changing as you turn the knob. If it works, that’s basically it. Potentiometers are pretty easy to install!

Potentiometers come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and varieties so grabbing the one with the right capabilities will ensure your project is successful. Once you find the right one it’s a simple matter to install it. We’re here to help you order the right part and we carry several high quality brands of pots and other components made by manufacturers like NTE. Share some of your builds using pots with us on social media!

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