General Bending tips:
-Choose your instruments carefully.
When getting started, you should only work on battery powered devices. This is for your own safety AND the safety of the device. It is easier to fry a wall powered device than a battery powered one. And it must be stated, wall power (120volts AC) CAN KILL YOU!.
-Choose inexpensive devices to work on. Start with more than one. I think it’s good to ASSUME that you will break a handful of devices in the beginning.
-Avoid large capacitors and power supplies when poking around. This will help you reduce the chance of circuit burn out.
-Look for sound roms and large ICs that store audio data. In many smaller toys this will be a little black blob, like a little drop of black goo on the circuit board.
-On circuits with standard DIP ICs (black rectangles with 8-16 little legs sticking off) it can be very helpful to look up the numbers printed on the top of them. It’s not often easy to find the spec sheet for many ICs but in some cases you can find helpful info that will tell you what the IC does and how you may be able to use it. For instance, if you identify an IC as an amplifier and you find the input pin, you can connect a wire to the input and poke around the board to possibly find and amplify interesting sounds.
-Try to maintain a clean workspace and keep all housing screws in a container!! I’ve opened SOOO many toys and lost the screws. Even if I come up with some good bends, I can’t put it back together.
If you plan on working with electronics on a regular basis, buy a decent quality soldering iron!!! Radio Shack irons will only last for a few months, are low quality, the tips become worn out and do not heat evenly and they make an already confusing and sometimes difficult task MUCH more difficult. Spend $100 or so and get a decent weller brand soldering station.
One of the misconceptions of circuit bending is that it deals primarily with electronics. In my experience it is 50% electronics at most. The other 50% is plastic and metal working. Don’t forget that once you find a good “bend”, you need to mount control hardware (such as switches or potentiometers) on the housing. Most of the work I put into building a circuit bent instrument goes into cutting plastic, drilling holes and mounting hardware. Therefore I have drastically more hand tools in my studio than electronics tools.
Here is some info on the tools I use in my shop.
Variety of switches. Toggle, pushbutton, rocker, slider, etc…
Variety of potentiometers. 1k 10k 100k is a good basic assortment
Basic array of components. Resistors, capacitors, diodes and LEDs Many distributors sell variety packs, these will do for the beginner.
Its good to have a variety of materials. Because this is an experimental medium, you never really know what you will come up with and what materials will be needed.
Where do you get your materials?
Stores- Radio shack sells some decent quality hand tools. Most hardware stores sell tools rated for bigger jobs and are usually too large and clunky OR they sell small tools that are over priced.
Online is your best bet- MOUSER, Digikey, maplin, McMaster and ofcourse EBAY!!!!!
A lot of the online electronics stores are mind numbingly dense and complex. It is a VERY good idea to get familiar with how they are laid out and how to find what you want. Mouser is one of the largest distributors, their catalogue is over 1000 pages and they have, in my experience, the best prices on almost everything I’ve needed, but they don’t have everything so look around. Some distributors sell the same parts for very different prices too, so it’s worth comparing prices from different sources before making a purchase. Buying parts and tools can be pretty time consuming. If you go into it expecting a long process it may not be as exasperating.
Tag sales, thrift shops, swap meets- I’ve found a LOT of good tools this way. Good tools cost a fortune new, but are most often almost free used.
Tag Sales- By far the cheapest source of toys and weird electronics. Unfortunately most often seasonal and not so predictable.
Thrift stores – Barring tag sales, this is the #1 way to go. Make a routine of visiting local thrift stores, the inventory rotates often.
Stores- Usually not worth it unless they are going out of business or doing major clearance.
EBAY- Only if you know what you are looking for and know that it will be a good bend. Ebay items are almost ALWAYS more expensive than “real world” sources and the shipping expenses are a bitch.