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I have a LOT of junk, with all of these broken electronics and random components (transistors, resistors IC's, you name it)

It always seems like when I want to build something, I need a specific component and I need to go to radio shack and waste some more and more money component at a time.

How can I salvage these components and make cool things out of them without buying a fortune worth of stuff just to get started on something?

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  • One approach is to ignore the components and focus on all the IC's that exist on the board (i.e. encoder, decoder, adc, dac, eeprom, drivers, 555 timer)

Then look up their datasheets to see what kind of other application each individual can be used for. Many IC's datasheet do explain common applications that these components are used for, or google "[IC-Model] circuit applications" and see where that can take you

  • Other cases where these parts are sensor or motors/actuators, you just have to think about making other application that could use sensing or actuating abilities.

for example, you're taking parts from a lamp which uses an infrared sensor to detect when to turn the light on. So now you can take the infrared sensor, and reuse it as a trashcan opening sensor by having it detect nearby users. You can have a general purpose micro controller to test salvaged components

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Doing something from used parts has great educational value. In the process you can learn how things are done, improve your soldering/desoldering skills, testing components techniques, encounter ICs and components you usually do have not even known to exist. Identifying components is an art too.

If you lack a project, take something out of junk pile and take the most intriguing part (just do not take into account large surface-mounted ICs: they are hard to reuse) and try to think how it can be used.

In my experience, however, it's hard to do a project without new parts altogether. Also, it may be harder to assemble reused parts on breadboard, because they have much shorter "legs".

Unless you reuse the whole blocks (like power supply), design for the new project can be very hard if you restrict yourself to reused components only. Try to envision and implement a project with 2-3 interesting reused parts (for me those are usually LEDs, sensors, some rare precision resistors, potentiometers, battery holders, switches, boxes, standard connectors, ferrites, cables).

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