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August 21, 2017 AT 12:30 am

#BackToSchool Accessories to Get You in the Groove for Going Back to School

It’s nearly time to go back to school! Whether it’s in your backpack or on your maker-bench, below are my top choices for #BackToSchool accessories – and yes, I consider a book an accessory. (Frankly I consider books a necessity, especially the first one listed below!) Leave a comment below if you know an accessory you highly recommend!


For the second year in a row this book graces the top of my #BackToSchool necessities list. This book is an absolute essential. From knots to airport codes to glues & solvents to volcanic explosive indexes (VEIs, because hey, when you need to know VEIs you need to know VEIs!), this ‘pocket reference’ book has a little bit of everything. And I guarantee given the wealth and depth of information contained in this pocket-sized book that what you don’t already know you will be intrigued by!

Have you ever wanted comprehensive information on a diverse amount of subjects in a pocket sized, well-organized format…and not had a cell phone signal or internet connection?

Look no further! This pocket reference book is actually incredibly cool – even if you have a smart phone, wear a pair of Google glass, have read all of Wikipedia, etc. It’s 864 pages of comprehensive tables, maps, formulas, constants, conversions, everything! There are knot tying diagrams, pictures of airplane signals, the dictionary of American sign language, spice scales for hot peppers – the list goes on and on and on.

Open to a random page and learn something new. Or use its comprehensive index to find exactly what you’re looking for. The book’s been around since 1989 and has gone through numerous printings and refinements – to the point now where this edition contains just about the best, and most concise, amount of information.

Best of all, it weighs about a half a pound, fits in your shirt pocket, and has a sturdy black cover. It’s kind of the perfect addition to your everyday outfit.

Get it here.


In stock since earlier this year, Encyclopedia of Electronic Components Volume 3 is, as the name suggest, volume 3 in the series – volumes 1 & 2 are here and here respectively. Volume 3 focuses on all-things-sensors and is as good as they come from Charles Platt, with fantastic pictures and illustrations, and easy-to-read (and understand!) text.

Want to know how to use an electronic component? The Encyclopedia of Electronic Components Vol. 3 by Charles Platt and Fredrik Jansson includes key information on electronics parts for your projects–complete with photographs, schematics, and diagrams. You’ll learn what each one does, how it works, why it’s useful, and what variants exist. No matter how much you know about electronics, you’ll find fascinating details you’ve never come across before.

Check it out here.


The 6″ version 2 Adafruit PCB ruler looks and feels great – fabricated on FR-4 PCB. It’ll definitely catch the eyes of your peers, and it’s functional too – note the inches are spaced in 1/10th sections.

The first time you soldered up a surface mount component you may have been surprised “these are really small parts!” and there’s dozens of different names too! QFN, TDFN, SOIC, SOP, J-Lead, what do they mean and how can you tell how big they are? Now you can have a reference board at your fingertips, with this snazzy PCB reference ruler.

Measuring approx 1″ x 6″, this standard-thickness FR4, gold plate ruler has the most common component packages you’ll encounter. It also has font size guide, trace-width diagram, and a set of AWG-sized drills so you can gauge your wire thicknesses.

New! As of Sept 15, 2014 we’re now shipping v2 which is basically the same thing as the original but Inches are marked with 1/10″ rather than the more common 1/8″. The centimeter side is still 0.1cm marks.

Check it out here.


We sell a straight-tip version of this hand tool as well, but I absolutely adore these curved ESD-safe tweezers. You can use them to pick up all types of teeny tiny components with relative ease.

When soldering small surface-mount (SMD/SMT) components, one thing you’ll need is a good pair of tweezers. These are a great pair of every-day tweezers. They’re anti-static, anti-magnetic and made of hard stainless steel. The tips are fine and pointy to pick up any size component. This particular model is 120mm long with a 9mm / 0.35″ gap at the tips while open, this allows it to pick up components with better precision for placement and steadying during soldering.

Check it out here.


This ‘Pana Hand’ add-on will revolutionize your Panavise-based assembly. It attaches to the multi-purpose work center or junior with ease, and will make you into a Hecatoncheires of making with more arms and hands than you can count!

We’ve really gotta HAND it to them, the Third Hand Pana Workstation brings the benefits of the Super Fancy Third Hand Kit to the PanaVise line of work holding vises. This is the most luxurious desktop work-holding solution we’ve laid our hands on.

Check it out here.


If you don’t have a Panavise work center or junior but do have a metal top (or side) on your workbench, consider this helping hand with a magnetic base – it’ll securely attach to any ferrous surface and quickly gives you an extra pair of hands to work with.

This Mag Helper features a neodymium magnetic base and a Y-connector to support two arms to help you in the tightest of situations. The clips can swivel 360 degrees and are covered in heat resistant silicone to prevent melting or marring while you work.

Check it out here.


OK now for some fun stuff: components! (aka toys!) For starters I’m plugging the discreet and incredibly useful photoresistor. I cannot exclaim this component enough. Whether it’s integrated with a digital microcontroller or part of an entirely analog circuit design, you’ll have so much fun experimenting with and tinkering with this component – check out our Learn Guide on them for some inspiration.

CdS cells are little light sensors. As the squiggly face is exposed to more light, the resistance goes down. When its light, the resistance is about 5-10KΩ, when dark it goes up to 200KΩ.

To use, connect one side of the photo cell (either one, its symmetric) to power (for example 5V) and the other side to your microcontroller’s analog input pin. Then connect a 10K pull-down resistor from that analog pin to ground. The voltage on the pin will be 2.5V or higher when its light out and near ground when its dark.

Check it out here.


Another under-rated component that’s incredibly useful once you tinker and experiment with it is the PIR sensor – these components also come with a fantastic Learn Guide for … learning about them.

PIR sensors are used to detect motion from pets/humanoids from about 20 feet away (possibly works on zombies, not guaranteed). This one has an adjustable delay before firing (approx 2-4 seconds), adjustable sensitivity and we include a 1 foot (30 cm) cable with a socket so you can easily reposition the sensor or mount it using the two drills on either side

Check it out here.


Another fun component to learn with is the TMP36, an analog temperature sensor – also with a great Learn Guide here. Housed in a TO-92 package, these resemble your more common NPN or PNP transistors, but have ‘TMP’ for temperature stamped on them. Temperature correlates to output voltage, and the operating Celsius temperature range is from -50 to 125, so they’re useful for a wide range of applications.

Wide range, low power temperature sensor outputs an analog voltage that is proportional to the ambient temperature. To use, connect pin 1 (left) to power (between 2.7 and 5.5V), pin 3 (right) to ground, and pin 2 to analog in on your microcontroller. The voltage out is 0V at -50°C and 1.75V at 125°C. You can easily calculate the temperature from the voltage in millivolts: Temp °C = 100*(reading in V) – 50

Check it out here.


Thinking ahead to projects on your horizon, if you want to do anything that moves you’ll likely want a servo motor. As the name implies these are small, but that makes them able to fit in tight places, with the unit being not much bigger than an American quarter coin! So if you need motor control in a face mask, costume prop, or small robot you’ll want to check these out.

Tiny little servo can rotate approximately 180 degrees (90 in each direction), and works just like the standard kinds you’re used to but smaller. You can use any servo code, hardware or library to control these servos. Good for beginners who want to make stuff move without building a motor controller with feedback & gear box, especially since it will fit in small places. Of course, its not nearly as strong as a standard servo. Works great with the Motor Shield for Arduino or by just wiring up with the Servo library. Comes with a few horns and hardware.

Check it out here.


I’m gonna finish with perhaps the best underdog of them all: the perma-proto boards. Once you build on perma-proto you’ll be hooked. We sell all kinds of boards, from 1/4 to 1/2 to full-size proto-boards, from flexible ones to ones that fit in mint tins. Perma-protos solve the issue of transplanting your prototyping circuit off the breadboard by essentially replicating the layout of the breadboard with a through-hole perfboard solution.

Customers have asked us to carry basic perf-board, but we never liked the look of most basic perf: its always crummy quality, with pads that flake off and no labeling. Then we thought about how people actually prototype – usually starting with a solderless breadboard and then transferring the parts to a more permanent PCB. That’s when we realized what people would really like is a proto board that makes it easy!

Check them out here.



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August is Back to School Month here at Adafruit! Each week we’ll be bringing you a two #BackToSchool posts on the blog! Stay tuned for product and gift guides, tutorials from the Adafruit Learning System, and inspiration from around the web! Get started by checking out Adafruit’s educational resources, such as our kits and project packs, suggested products for young engineers, blog posts for educators and an extensive selection of books to help you learn!


Check out all the Circuit Playground Episodes! Our new kid’s show and subscribe!

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