Tech Flashback: Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Vol. 2 and 3

Continuing on from the previous part, possible due to the generosity of an OCAU member, lets continue our nostalgic trip down memory lane by looking at Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Volume 2 and 3.

Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Volume 2

ds-funway2cover

The Funway 2 series of projects was one I was much more familiar with myself, having built numerous projects as part of a school course as well as on my own. The teal green was my favourite colour, although the book I owned was a much later print, featuring a very sedate image of a child and his parent helping him with the soldering (if memory serves me right).

This book itself was written by Dick Smith, with no obvious attributions for illustrations. This book was published and copyrighted in 1980, possibly a first printing by Altarama Kralco Pty Ltd in Flemington, NSW. Its ISBN is 0 9595080 1 5.

Again, the tri-tone character of the cover can be seen, maybe aiming for some sex appeal this time around. This book was developed as a follow-up to the Funway 1 series, but it has all the information required within this book so reference to the prior series is not necessary. As a result, new beginners can begin with Funway 2 if they want to leap straight into it.

The main difference with Funway 2 is that the projects now involve single sided non-silkscreened PCBs and thus require soldering. The book itself takes a whole chapter devoted to placing components, preparing them to be soldered, soldering and troubleshooting (identification of cold joints). As soldering irons are very hot, I can imagine some constructors received their first branding by soldering iron by constructing some kits. Despite this, it still retains the educational and safe moniker.

funway2-insidecover

Another difference with the previous series is that the kits are now individual meaning the PCB and components for one project are sold independently of those from another project. This makes sense as soldered components are very hard to re-use, but it does increase the cost. The prices in the inside cover remained fairly similar until the lines were discontinued from sale. Aside from the book, and purchasing the project kit itself, a soldering iron and basic tools are required, with optional enclosures (jiffy boxes) also available separately if one wishes to make their projects “look professional”. Drilling templates, cover designs and catalog numbers are provided to encourage constructors to “follow through”.

It seems wise to recommend new constructors start with Funway 1 as it introduced them to the theory behind the projects and basic circuit principles. With Funway 2, the potential for disaster increased, as poor soldering was often the cause of failures. Aside from that, even worse things happened with the over-heating of traces causing them to lift and damage the PCB, as well as solder bridges. Desoldering wick or a solder sucker would be good to have, but many hobbyists didn’t realize the need until it was too late. Overheating transistors, ICs and LEDs was a distinct possibility.

In order to save costs, the PCBs were not silkscreened or solder-resist coated. This increased the likelihood of solder bridging, which was one of the annoyances. It also forced back-and-forth checking with the illustrations in the book to be sure of component placement. Most beginners, myself included, started off with low-wattage, low-cost irons with fairly chunky tips, and “solder control” was a skill that rapidly developed out of necessity. After which, when soldering on boards with solder-resist, I would repeatedly remark to myself how easy it seemed in comparison. With the silk-screened component markings on standalone kits, I didn’t even need the instructions to build them!

funway2-foreword

Part of the book was the emphasis on troubleshooting skills, which necessitated the use of an analog multimeter. My first multimeter was an analog one, and by reading through, I learned about ranges, how to use the mirrored scale to avoid parallax error and to zero out the null for resistance measurements. Similar principles applied to digital multimeters as well in terms of connections for circuit testing.

The contents of the book is as follows:

  • Introduction
  • A place to work
  • The tools you need
  • The components we use
  • How to read component codes
  • How to read circuit diagrams
  • Basic circuit laws
  • Project assembly hints and tips
  • Learning to solder
  • Controlling other circuits with relays
  • The projects:
    1. The multi-purpose flashing LED
    2. Ding Dong Doorbell
    3. Morse Code Trainer
    4. Universal Timer
    5. Electronic Dice
    6. Monophonic Organ
    7. Pocket Transistor Radio
    8. Touch Switch
    9. Mosquito Repeller
    10. Simple Audio Amplifier
    11. FM Wireless Microphone
    12. Light Activated Switch
    13. Pipe and Metal Locator
    14. Sound Switch
    15. Home and Car Burglar Alarm
    16. Electronic Siren
    17. LED Audio Level Display
    18. Home Intercom
    19. LED Digital Counter Module
    20. IC Shortwave Receiver
  • Understanding Electronics
    • What if I have the wrong transistor?
    • Working with Ohm’s Law
    • The Binary System
    • How to use your multimeter
    • Understanding Radio
    • How to make Printed Circuit Boards
    • The technical terms we use
  • Milestones in Electronics
    • The birth of the transistor
    • The superheterodyne
    • The integrated circuit
    • What is a valve
    • The Phase-Locked-Loop
    • The Valve Oscillator
    • The Flip-Flop
    • Automatic Gain Control
    • Negative Feedback
  • Pioneers in Electronics
    • Samuel Morse
    • Michael Faraday
    • Thomas Edison
    • Guglielmo Marconi
    • Edwin Armstrong
    • Vladimir Zworykin
  • Cut-out front panel labels and templates

Aside from the similar chapter layouts, this book is much more meaty featuring a lot more instruction as well as history and theory as compared to Funway 1.

The flashing LED is basically an analog of the project in Funway 1, just with a PCB. Many of the projects in Funway 2 involve ICs, starting with the 555 timer which forms the core of the ding dong doorbell, universal timer, electronic dice, monophonic organ, home and car alarm, electronic siren.

Another favourite IC is the 4017 counter, which forms the heart of the electronic dice. A ZN414 is used in pocket transistor radio for amplification. An 7473 pair of J-K flip-flops is used in touch switch and sound switch project to provide a latched output. A 4001 quad NOR gate is used in the metal detector project. A 7490 decade counter, 7475 quad latch, 7447 7-segment decoder/driver is used for the LED counter module. A 4007 triple-inverter is used in IC short wave receiver. The rest of it is made up of familiar BJT’s and darlington pairs. Based on the IC’s alone, the design of some of the projects can be inferred.

The switch and timer projects have been carefully designed so as to use relays for output, which allows for them to be integrated with other projects to create more useful systems. Think of each project as a “building block” of the system. Unfortunately, as I found out, such relay coils do consume significant currents which results in the 9v-cells (that these projects mostly use) depleting very quickly. This does provide an opportunity for the projects to be more engaging, and provide motivation for a builder to “seek” to complete complementary projects (as each project is now “standalone”).

Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Volume 3

ds-funway3cover

The final installment in the Funway series is volume 3. This particular series was shorter than the others, with only 10 projects, all of which involving ICs. This particular book was the 10th printing, illustrating just how successful the Funway series was. In a departure from the previous, this book features a full colour front cover.

From the inside cover, the book was first published 1983, and reprinted March 1984, November 1984, June 1985, October 1985, October 1986, May 1987, July 1987, October 1987 and October 1988. The book’s ISBN is 0 949772 22 4, and was printed by The Book Printer in Maryborough Victoria.

funway3-insidecover

Short descriptions of the projects were provided, along with catalog numbers, in the rear of the front cover. Interestingly, telex and cables was still in use at the time.

funway3-foreword

Dick Smith has a change of callsign, at this time, from VK2ZIP to VK2DIK. In his last preface, he elaborates on the revolution that ICs are. Of course, ICs are very much a part of everyday life, but the DIP packages are now starting to evaporate in favour of surface mount technology. And hey, he makes references to Omega navigation, since mostly shut down in favour of satellite based navigation.

The table of contents is as follows:

  • Introduction
  • The tools you will need
  • Components you will use
  • CMOS handling precautions
  • Integrated circuit pin connections
  • Component marking codes
  • Reading circuit diagrams
  • How to use your multimeter
  • Assembly hints and tips
  • Learning to solder
  • Controlling other circuits with relays
  • How to make your own PC boards
  • Projects
    1. Light and Sound
    2. Two Up
    3. Cricket
    4. Mini Stereo Amplifier
    5. Minder
    6. Mini Colour Organ
    7. Combination Time Lock Switch
    8. Lil Pokey
    9. Binary Bingo
    10. Mini Synth
  • Technical Terms
  • About the Binary System
  • Notes
  • Project front panels

It seems that many of the chapters have been “recycled” from the previous series, allowing the book to stand alone as usual. A less graphic approach is taken, which doesn’t “hand-hold” the constructor as much as the previous series did. The components used in this series are much more varied than those before.

  • Light and Sound is based around an LM3909 LED Flasher/Oscillator.
  • Two Up is based around a 4009 Hex Buffer, 4011 Quad NAND, and a 4013 Dual D-Flip Flop.
  • Cricket uses a 4069 Hex Inverter (to generate the sound) and an LM741 Op-Amp.
  • Mini Stereo Amplifier uses a pair of LM741 Op-Amps and LM380 Audio Amplifiers. Minder is built around a 555 timer.
  • Mini Colour Organ is built around an LM324 Quad-Op-Amp.
  • Combination Time Lock Switch uses the 4002 Dual 4-input NOR, 4013 Dual D-Flip Flop and 555 timer.
  • Lil Pokey uses a 4001 Quad 2-input NOR, 4009 Hex Buffer, 4030 Quad XOR, 4071 Quad NOR, 4511 Quad NAND, 4518 Divide-by-n counter, and 555 timer.
  • Binary Bingo uses a 4009 Hex Buffer, 4013 Dual D-Flip Flop, 4030 Quad XOR, 4511 Quad NAND, 4518 Divide-by-n counter, LM741 Op-Amp and 555 timer.
  • Mini Synth uses the 4013 Dual D-Flip Flop, 4016 Quad Bi-lateral Switch, 4046 Phase Locked Loop and LM324 Quad Op-Amp.

The assortment of ICs predominantly feature linear ICs as well as CMOS based digital ICs, some of which are “cleverly” used to generate “analog” signals where you wouldn’t expect them. The 555 timer makes quite an appearance as usual.

Unfortunately, when I started my journey, I never noticed the existence of Funway Volume 3, and so I never got to build any of the projects. I suppose if I grab the components, I can always build it up on veroboard should I desire to do so.

Conclusion

Dick Smith’s Fun Way to Electronics, in itself, may have been responsible for providing the foundations and basic education for a generation of people interested in electronics. Thank you Dick Smith! It’s been a very important part of my past, and probably would have been for many even if they haven’t realized its full potential.

It was also very successful for the company itself, and for a brief moment, represented a “growth” in the electronics industry within Australia – now swamped out by low-cost imports from overseas. I enjoyed every moment of it, even if it was a little bit more expensive and even if it was because I didn’t know any better.

Part of the whole kit-building business centred about the premise of saving money, which is actually quite unlikely were it not for the fact that electronics were all marked up sky-high, creating room for them to be undercut. Of course, providing the labour and building a kit sometimes led to poor or less-than-professional results, but the pride and education along the way often made up for it.

Removing it, along with all the kits and components, from the shelves of Dick Smith was a big blow to hobbyists looking to have a “quick fix”. Now, instead, we have to go to other places, and sometimes, to greater lengths to build something that solves our problems.

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If you look at the modern marketing campaign for Dick Smith, above image taken from their Facebook page as of today, it seems they are appealing to the same thing as the early Dick Smith Electronics did. They seem to be appealing to us doing something to solve our own problems. The big difference, and one that I much lament, is that the new Dick Smith shop focuses on solving problems using consumer electronics/mass market goods, which are of limited educational value, unlike the former Dick Smith Electronics.

At least, not withstanding the evolution of Dick Smith as a shop, hobbyists will be able to continue their journey of self-education and unleashing their inner engineer by going elsewhere, and indulging in the world of low-cost microcontrollers and modules, right up to designing their own. Information has never been easier to come by, although, lacking the convenient guided nature of a “introductory” kit, it might become less appealing to the new generation.

It’s because of all of this that I’ve come to cherish these Funway project books. Despite being a little limited in relevance, now that I’m more advanced with my electronics and digital is now the “norm”, it still holds a place in my heart for a ‘simpler’ time where things were more obvious and understandable.

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6 Responses to Tech Flashback: Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Vol. 2 and 3

  1. Pingback: Tech Flashback: Dick Smith’s Fun Way into Electronics Vol. 1 | Gough's Tech Zone

  2. Brian says:

    Excellent site, you certainly keep busy!!
    I too grew up surrounded by these things, a bit further up the coast in Taree – got into electronics and ham radio when I was 15 back in the later 70’s, moved to Sydney for work and attended North Sydney TAFE (E&C Certificate) when you could pop down to Dick’s original store, or later the Jaycar store a few doors up…… I still keep my hand in and probably have a few ancient items of interest, including an old AvoMinor I picked up at a Gosford Field Day in the 70’s that still works and an old Minolta Fan Flash of my grandfathers (he passed away when I was young) that STILL has some charge left in the 10v battery…. they certainly don’t build them like they used too….

  3. Chris Madsen says:

    Good memories! I must have built just about every one of these kits as a kid. I still have my Mini Colour Organ sitting on top of my shelf and connected to the amplifier but it’s in need of a repair job. Is there any chance you could send me a scan of the article in Vol.3?

  4. Barrie Aarons says:

    Before the Dick Smith store closed in Hamilton I purchased a Fun Way kit which I intended to use to teach a grandson some electronics. When I opened the box recently I discovered there was no circuit diagram. I have worked out a circuit bit it doesn’t work the way it should. The kit is 2622 and is project 2 in the Fun Way book 2. Can anyone help me with this circuit please? Ps I am a great admirer of Dick Smith not only as a successful business man but as a pilot. I have given up flying now but still dabble in electronics.

  5. Paul Brown says:

    Hello there
    I have a memory of an illustration that I believe was in a sick smith book such as this and I would like to get a copy of it.
    I can vividly see it in my mind. It first depicts a scene of a roadway with a man leaning to put a small bag of treasure into a tree trunk there’s a tree either side of th road and in the distance behind him there is a medieval castle. In the next picture it’s the same scene but in modern times the castle is gone and is replaced by a sprawling metropolis with tall buildings.
    There is a man with a metal detector picking up a signal in the tree trunk of the tree where the man earlier in time placed the treasure.
    This image has always captured my imagination and I’m certain I saw it in a sick smith book such as the green one above because I had that book when I was younger , I could be wrong but I’m assuming that it was tied to the pipe locator project.
    Can you please help.
    Kind regards
    Paul

  6. Pejimmy says:

    I built the mini synth 32 years ago and still have the circuit board (repurposed the enclosure and switches and pots). It made a lot of fun sounds. Maybe I should resurrect it someday. Dick Smith projects were fun.

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