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Recently, we’ve been brainstorming ideas for a breadboarding workshop to put on at Maker Faire and other events. Hoping to save participants the tedium of cutting and stripping their own jumper wires (and the cost of providing readymade jumpers) we hit on the idea of using staples. I first read about this hack on Instructables, awhile back, and was excited to find a chance to put it to use.

Just one problem: it doesn’t work.

Or, I should say, it didn’t work. At first. Our prototype staple-wired circuit was DOA , and putting a multimeter across one of the staples quickly revealed why. Staples are glued together, at the factory, to make strips, and the glue insulates the metal and keeps them from making solid electrical contact with the breadboard tie points.  We tried several types and brands and had the same problem with each.

It was Michael Castor who first hit on the idea of pre-soaking the staples in acetone, which works great. This treatment not only removes the glue, but causes the strips to fall apart into pristine individual staples. This was an unexpected benefit, as we were expecting to have to keep staplers around so workshop participants could punch out their jumpers one at a time. Now we can just provide bowls full of acetone-washed staples at every station.

Make: Projects — Using Staples as Breadboard Jumpers

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • http://facebook.com/blusquid Gil Johnson

    HOLY AWESOMENESS!

  • http://twitter.com/robcruickshank Rob Cruickshank (@robcruickshank)

    I’d worry that that the sharp steel staples would scrape off the plating off of the contacts, and lead to flaky connections eventually. Plus, acetone is kinda nasty. I’m going to be the cranky old guy and say that people should learn to do it the right way from the start. I’ve taught hundreds of people to breadboard, and most of them got the hang of making jumpers pretty quickly.

    • Sean Ragan

      Do not fear change, Rob! A) the staples aren’t that sharp and B) you can also use rubbing alcohol, if acetone alarms you. =]

      • http://twitter.com/robcruickshank Rob Cruickshank (@robcruickshank)

        Not fearing change, but rather fearing people will pick up bad habits. I wonder, though, if you could source some copper staples? It’s the hardness of the steel rather than the sharpness that will damage the breadboard. Maybe I just have a thing against staples, because I, too once learned about that protective coating when I decided to use a staple to discharge a capacitor before connecting it to a very expensive capacitance meter that require the cap be discharged. Imagine my surprise when the meter emitted a loud “pop!” and a puff of smoke. :)

        • Sean Ragan

          Well, the staples are galvanized, too, under the glue. So there’s a layer of zinc there that would have to wear away before it’ll be bare steel on…whatever the breadboard clips are usually made of….(sound of Googling in BG)…”tin-plated phosphor bronze.”

          • http://twitter.com/robcruickshank Rob Cruickshank (@robcruickshank)

            Hmm, I just picked up an LED that had a rare-earth magnet stuck to it (no, not a throwie, just clutter) and it reminded me that a lot of component leads are not copper. LED leads seem to be made out of something similar to what staples, are made of, so maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.

      • Sean Ragan

        Correction: 91% rubbing alcohol does *not* seem to work; I’m an hour into a soak, anyway, with no visible signs of the glue dissolving, whereas acetone takes like 20 minutes.

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  • Jeremy

    Steel is a rather poor electrical conductor. Above a few hundred mA staples may get hot enough to melt into your breadboard.

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  • http://gravatar.com/engineerzero engineerzero

    I program ATMega328’s on the Arduino, then put them on seventeen-row mini breadboards as shown. The microcontroller takes up fourteen rows, and the remaining three are for the 7805 voltage regulator that connects to a 9v battery. But many sensors, LEDs, etc, require connections to 5V and ground and it gets crowded down there fast.

    Bottom line is that I need to jumper the voltage regulator rows with the rows on the other side and this looks like the least-cluttered way to go. It probably would have taken me a long time to figure out to use acetone to get the glue off the staples, so thanks very much for that tip!

  • Rik

    The Light in the second pic, with the regular jumpers, is a lot brighter. The breadboard with the staples makes a dimmer light.

    • Sean Ragan

      No, you’re comparing apples to oranges, and the conclusion you’ve drawn is not a safe one:

      A) it’s a flashing light, so the two photos may have captured it at a different points in its flashing cycle B) the photos were taken under different lighting conditions, in slightly different locations, at different times of day C) the photos were cropped and brightness-, contrast-, and color-corrected in PhotoShop for overall appearance of each photo by itself; no effort was made to “work them up” in the same way, as would be necessary for anything like a scientific comparison of brightness levels.

      None of that means, of course, that there is NOT an observable brightness effect due to the use of staples versus jumper wires, but I would be surprised if it can be observed with the naked eye. Yes, zinc-plated steel is slightly more resistive than copper or aluminum, but you’re talking about differences that are so small they cannot be measured on a nice digital multimeter, at least not across a single jumper or staple.

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  • CoolCMo

    Here is the solution for all the concerns about the conductivity of the steel staples, their hardness, their sharpness, the zinc plating, etc. : http://stationery.auspost.com.au/office-supplies/stationery/staplers-hole-punches/staples/rexel-no-56-26-6-copper-staples-5000-staples.html

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  • Kompass India

    Dear Sean Michael Ragan Thanks for sharing this post with us its a really useful for all of us. I also write a post on
    http://goarticles.com/article/Steel-Wire-Stapling-and-Stitching/9242167/