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DIY Resistor Substitution Decade Box


 Now available for sale on Tindie!


Here’s a handy guild on how to build your own DIY Resistor Substitution Decade Box.

I had seen several people online building their own, but instructions weren’t very clear.  Hopefully these 50 or so pictures will help.

First step – hop onto ebay, and pick up some switches.  You can find them by searching for “decimal thumbwheel switch”  – I think I only paid $5 for 10 of them including shipping (from china).  Order up some extras – they can be used for all sorts of things – and a fun part to keep around.

NOTE:  You’ll want the KS1 type switch – not the KS2 if you want to fit in the radio shack case.



Here’s what they look like.


They “stack” and kinda snap together.  Very Nice.


The back of them have some soldering points.

You’ll need 9 resistors for each “decade” – So 9 of each:  1Ω, 10Ω, 100Ω, 1kΩ, 10kΩ, 100kΩ, 1MΩ, 10MΩ, 100MΩ.  You can choose how high you want to go.  You can even exclude lower values if you wish.   I choose to use 5% resistors cause that’s what I had on had.  You can get a bit more accuracy with 1%.  But I find that it doesn’t really matter that much, most likely you’ll be picking a resistor that has a standard value anyways.  Such as 470Ω.

So pick 9 resistors – all the same value for that decade.  In other words – each switch will be using all the same value of resistors.


The spacing on the switches is a bit less than what a 1/4 watt resistor will fit.  You might be able to fit a 1/8 watt resistor in there, but in this case – you’re better off with 1/4 watt.  Remember – there nothing keeping you from passing too much current through a resistor.  Bend 8 of them into this shape.  The 9th one, keep it straight.


Now lets start – here the pattern for the first set of 8 resistors




Keep going…



Solder them up.

And trim the leads.

The 9th resistor needs to span from “pin” 5 to 4.

There’s room for it to ride on top.

We’ll need a “jumper” from 9 to C – note that this how it looks from the bottom.





I know the solder joints look a little mess – but there’s no solder mask on the PCB – so solder likes to flow.  It’s kinda a tightly packed board.

Mark the board with it’s resistor values.

 Lather, rinse, repeat….

Now – stack the boards in the order as shown.  Lowest value resistors are on the right.

Stack ‘em up!

Next we need to wire each board to the next.  Grab some of the resistors leads you cut.  There will be two remaining holes in the board.  Wire from one to another like so:




I had this case laying around from Radio Shack.  I think it’s a standard hammond case.

Radio shack part number 270-1802

I measured the thickness of the switches – then use the other side of the calipers to scribe a line onto the case.  I set the case down (open side down) on a smooth table edge, and use the sharp points of the calipers to scribe a line.

It just fits!

Follow the like with a razor to make a line that you’ll cut up to.

I removed most of the material with a dremel – then used wood files to get right up to the lines I made.


There is one stand up in the way – it needs to be removed.

The lip of the lid also needs to be trimmed.


Almost there – keep trimming until it fits nicely.

I also had some radio shack banana jacks laying around (I really never buy parts from RS – but I happen to have them on hand)

Remove the metal tab and give it a bend to fit the case.


Solder some wires.

And solder the wires to the top and bottom of the stack.  there will only be two “holes” left to solder to.

Scred the lid on – and  – your done.  You can see the top unit I didn’t include a 1 ohm resistor in the chain.  So I removed the buttons from one, and set the dial to “0″ to make it easy to read!





As seen on show and tell!  (Starts at 4:45)

36 Responses to “DIY Resistor Substitution Decade Box”

  1. mianchen says:

    Very good tutorial to follow. Unfortunately I’ve bought the wrong type of switches – BCD instead of decade ones…Have to wait for new ones to arrive. I suppose I can use them for a capacitance box.

    • Kaz says:

      Actually, BCD switches just mean fewer resistors are needed… as I understand it, you’d just need a 1, 2, 4 and 8 to get all of the values (and the switch will combine them as appropriate).

      • Nails says:

        I accidentally purchased the BCD push wheels too. However, I am trying to make them work but am having problems wiring them up (its been over 10 years since I did any electronics). Unfortunately i cannot find anything easily on the net to assist.

        Anyone have any ideas to help?

  2. Doug G says:

    Very cool project idea. I just bought the switches, binding posts and resistors on ebay (still need to buy the enclosure). I figure the total cost should be around $20.

    I bought the resistors in packs of 50 or 100 so I should be able to hand pick the best ones in and put them in order (most accurate to least).

    I can’t see ever going up to 99,999,999 M ohms, but if I did need to…

    Now what to do with the other two switches???

  3. Terry says:

    Why do you need the jumper from ‘p’(Did you mean 9?) to ‘C’?

    If your external contact points are ‘C’ and ’0′ I’d have thought ’9′ would be un-terminated.

    • admin says:

      Yes Terry – that was a typo. It’s form 9 to C as shown in the picture.

      • Ricardo says:

        Why do you need the 9 to C jumper at all?
        I’ve done one box without it and it works perfectly fine.
        The only difference is that when the contact is moving from on position to another, you get an open circuit and not a 9

  4. David Galloway says:

    Hey, saw your project on adafruit show and tell.
    Very cool. I think it’s interesting to see the relationship between this and a ladder style digital to analog converter where instead of the switches being set by hand they are set quickly by a microcontroller to generate a waveform.

  5. [...] built an incredibly tidy resistor substitution decade box. These devices feature a pair of connections and a way to select the resistance between the two of [...]

  6. [...] built an incredibly tidy resistor substitution decade box. These devices feature a pair of connections and a way to select the resistance between the two of [...]

  7. Ziga says:

    Cool project, (Hackaday referenced). Definitely doing this! :)
    You should add a comma for kilo and mega.

  8. [...] built an incredibly tidy resistor substitution decade box. These devices feature a pair of connections and a way to select the resistance between the two of [...]

  9. Wehrdo says:

    That is slick! If I did more electronics work, I would definitely make this. Very easy to follow, too.

  10. Mihail says:

    Shut up and take my money :)

  11. dfhfdsghsfdg says:

    It would be nice if you explained why you made the specific resistor connection you did and showed the math.

    Nice build otherwise, though.

  12. In your notes you say “Lowest value resistors are on the left” but it looks like the lowest value are on the right.

  13. e5frog says:

    Very nice build, I’d like to make one of them right now!

  14. jondaddio says:

    The price on eBay has doubled on the pushwheel switches. The specific eBay picture above was the price shown yesterday (6 Jan) at $16.93, but today (7 Jan) the price for the same KSA-2 item (same picture ad and label) is $33.86.

    They noticed the articles and interest in the switches and jacked up the price.

  15. Greg says:

    Thanks for the clear instructions.

    I just finished all the tedious soldering, and this works great. Most pro looking thing I’ve ever made!

  16. RS says:

    I went to build one of these, and went off the picture you have above from ebay, for the KSA-2. Sadly, those are significantly bigger than the KM1, and more expensive. Sadly, I bought the KSA-2, and they’re just too darn big.

    May be something to update on your page. Or maybe it’s just the one seller on eBay mis-advertising them.

  17. Razorblade says:

    Crap, I’ve bought KSA-2 switches because of the eBay picture shown above too, RS.
    I didn’t realise the different sizes, just was worried about Decimal or BCD, and that’s what I checked. :(

    Now I know:
    KM1: 40 x 8 x 23 mm -> this is the one
    KM3: 48 x 10 x 31 mm
    KSA2: 55 x 10 x 30 mm

  18. stryker says:

    Are the KSA2 too large to be usable or is it just a matter of the case? I only just noticed these posts but ordered mine on the 14th. Hopefully it won’t be too much of an issue, the resistors will reach, and another common case will suit.

  19. admin says:

    Looks like they will work fine. But they won’t fit into the case listed. Radio Shack has a case that is one larger – I bit it would bit into that.

  20. stryker says:

    Hi, KSA-2 just received here. They’re not only physically larger, but the connections on the back are binary not decimal. The marked terminals are C, 1, 2, 4 & 8 and there are 4 other terminals. I’m still going to have a crack at this, but rather than 9 individual 1, 10, 100 etc Ohm will need to make this up in multiples. Still think it will be okay…will shout out if not.

    I have found an inexpensive case that suits so that aspect is sorted at least.

    • stryker says:

      Looking at this closer I don’t think these can be used. Because more than one connection needs to be recognised simultaneously the resistors can’t appear in series…and that’s how they need to be to have their values summed.

      Has anyone else solved the BCD puzzle yet?

  21. gmaranda says:

    Good day,

    I have bought the KSA-2 decimal 10 positions etc. and after doing the first three sets I realized that the numbers on the soldering parts are not in the same place as yours. I mean that mine are sequencial 0-9 and not broken into 5-6-7-8-9-C-0-1-2-3-4 but like this 9-8-7-6-5-c-4-3-2-1-0.

    I was unsure if it means anything but I think it does since when I try to measure a unit it does not give the right answer. Am I missing something here?

    tks for you help and nice work by the way!

  22. admin says:

    If they look like the one in the link you posted, then those are the BCD (binary coded decimal) version of the switch. The picture doesn’t match the description on that auction.

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