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Before you start to mess with a computer there are basic guidelines to be aware of, such as turn the power off and watch out for static electricity. What guidelines should I be aware of when I work with an Arduino board if I don't want to harm neither myself nor the board. The three kind of activity that requires touching the Arduino and what I'm asking about:

  • Setting up wire, component layout or breadboard.
  • Debugging a running setup.
  • Moving, mounting up the board somewhere.
  • Before you do anything to your board, as with most electronics, turn them off before you start tinkering with them. Do this as well when you are setting up wire and adding components, you don't want to accidentally short anything. With Arduinos it is like any other electronics device, keep away from water, protect it from falling/hard collisions, make sure you have been grounded before touching components or wires, etc. Try not to let the magic smoke out – Jesse Laning Feb 13 '14 at 3:31
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    One quick tip that I saw someone mention before: don't turn on your Arduino when it's resting on a conductive surface: the soldered pieces on the back of the circuit board could short out. ;) – apnorton Feb 13 '14 at 3:38
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    @anorton Actually one of the first things I do with an Arduino is attaching some stick-on feet or couple screw feet under them to protect my desk from being scratched and prevent the Arduino from touching anything metal on my desk. Apart from being safe, it also looks good. – jippie Feb 13 '14 at 6:01
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    First step is read the manual! – Butzke Feb 13 '14 at 9:23
  • If the board is mounted on a metal frame, perhaps on a robot, and you're drilling new holes into the frame, then make sure the board and all electronics are covered with a cloth, to prevent getting metal chips in places they should never go. – Chris O Feb 13 '14 at 17:37
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Turning the power off and taking proper static precautions also applies to Arduinos. Anorton's tip about not resting it on a conductive surface is also useful. Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Double check the polarities of any connections you make.
  • Keep a consistent wiring color code. Use red for power and black for ground.
  • Calculate the expected current through all components before you apply power. Check the datasheet to make sure it's within safe limits.
  • Calculate the heat dissipation for higher power components like power supplies and motor drivers.
  • Connect and test one small part at a time, instead of in one big bang.
  • Make sure the parts you buy expect the same voltage, or perform the appropriate conversion.

For keeping people safe:

  • Know where the fire extinguisher is.
  • Don't put cords where people can trip on them.
  • Use a proper stand to hold your soldering iron, and keep pets and small children away.
  • If your project has a propeller or something physically dangerous, build failsafes and kill switches into the system.
  • Be careful to charge any batteries properly, and not let them overheat.
  • Be careful what you touch while troubleshooting. Arduinos usually don't deal with very high voltages, but inductors and capacitors can build up higher charges than you expect, and hold it after power is removed.
  • Know where the fire extinguisher is. Wow... I don't know that I would go that far. – Anonymous Penguin Feb 25 '14 at 1:33
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    Depends what you're doing @AnnonomusPerson. If you're just writing code to blink an LED, and you're powering off of USB, a fire is unlikely. Working with soldering irons, rechargeable batteries, or high-current bench supplies makes fire a real danger. – Karl Bielefeldt Feb 25 '14 at 15:45
  • @AnonymousPenguin "Knowing where the fire extinguisher is" is pretty recommended even if you don't work with Arduinos. – totymedli Mar 6 '17 at 19:55
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One of the most common bad things I have seen is connecting LEDs directly to addition pins without a current limiting resistor.

Basically, in electronics there are a few main sources of problems. Too much current, too much voltage, overheating, and physical damage.

Too much current usually comes from shorting things, too much voltage(or reversed polarity) usually comes from not paying attention to what is being connected, overheating comes from too much current or not using a heatsink when you should be.

Basically, just think before you connect things and you'll be fine. Learn some basic circuit theory if you haven't already, get in the habit of knowing the ratings of the parts you want to use, and double check stuff before turning it on.

I like this list here of things not to do: http://ruggedcircuits.com/html/ancp01.html

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