Yesterday I finished assembling the Sparkfun Arduino Protoshield (v2) (if you’re wondering what a ‘Protoshield’ is, be sure to read the footer of this post for a quick explanation). I chose to purchase the Protoshield kit so that I could deploy my Gas Meter-reading gadgetry in a relatively small, neat package.
I previously purchased the Nuelectronics Protoshield kit – which is basically a variation on the Sparkfun model. Although there wasn’t anything wrong with the Nuelectronics version, in my experience working with Nuelectronics gear, you have to be a bit more proficient in the field of electronics etc., i.e. a higher level of competance is assumed. Whereas the Sparkfun gear, although used by both novices and professionals, is just that bit more refined and – in my humble opinion – higher quality. I actually broke the Nuelectronics protoshield on my first attempt, and it was at that point I decided to go with the flow and buy the Sparkfun model.
Although the board is made by Sparkfun, I didn’t actually buy mine from them directly as the shipping costs to the UK are quite high (at least the cost of the board!). Instead, I sourced the official board from SK Pang Electronics (a UK-based firm I hadn’t used before), for a very reasonable £14.84 plus shipping. I will certainly order from SK Pang again, by the way, since the item arrived next day via Recorded Delivery – perfect for the tinkerer with a weekend on the way!
Being a novice in the field of electronics, I wasn’t too confident that I’d be able to assemble it – soldering components onto a PCB is a tad intimidating if you’ve never really soldered before (I’d had only limited experience soldering and that wasn’t particularly successful!)! That said though, after reading a few basic tips on how to solder, I gave it a shot and about 30 minutes later the entire PCB was assembled. What a fantastic kit.
Although the kit ships disassembled, SparkFun do not give you assembly instructions. Instead, I referred to Bob Gallop’s excellent tutorial. Bob’s instructions are based on the V1 protoshield, which differs only very slightly from the newer V2 that I’d purchased. His tutorial also offers some great tips on how to keep components in place while you’re trying to solder them – so it was well worth the read, and the photography makes it all the more easier to follow along.
The finished board
Here’s a photo of the Protoshield without the breadboard attached. You could of course leave the breadboard out entirely if you wanted to, and solder directly onto the shield. As I want to retain the flexibility of the shield though, I’ll add the breadboard on in a moment. In this picture, I’ve yet to solder on the single male pins JC1, JC2 and JC3 and also the BlueSMIiRF female headers:
And when mounted on top of the Arduino, with a mini-breadboard, the remaining pins and BlueSMiRF headers added:
All in all, thoroughly pleased with myself
Not only did I have fun while assembling the board, I learned a few new skills and have boosted my confidence in the world of tinkering. Still, a long way to go yet! But at least now I have a better way of continuing my Gas Meter project.
What is a Protoshield?
If you’re new to the world of Arduino – as I am – then you might be wondering what a ‘protoshield’ is and what they do. ‘Shields’ are essentially printed circuit boards that are designed to slot on top of your Arduino board, and provide some extra capabilities. There are all kinds of shields that you can buy: some offer radio transmission/reception capabilities and others, like my Protoshield, simply offer you the flexibility to affix a tiny breadboard to the top of your Arduino to make protoyping that much easier.