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I am ashamed to admit, that despite my many electrical (mis?)adventures.. I have no idea how to use a multimeter. I have installed automobile sound systems, central air air-conditioners, and every kind of lighting, computer, telephone, etc. blah blah blah that you can imagine… and well, have just sort of "avoided" ever REALLY needing to use one. I have one, there have been times I would have liked to use one, and I'm sure there have been things I have in reality, needed one for.. But I really don't get them.

Can anyone recommend a reliable, relatively concise (yet comprehensive) source of training on electrical testing, multimeters, basic wiring diagnostics, etc? (I'm hoping for suggestions that are freely available, and convenient. think YouTube videos, etc?)

even dumdums know more than this

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I think what would be of greater benefit is learning the basics of how electricity works. It's easy enough to learn how to select a function on a multimeter, but its more important to know the difference between resistance, voltage, and current, etc. –  whatsisname Jul 9 '12 at 2:50
    
protip: Whatever is going on in that picture, is probably incorrect. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 10 '12 at 17:09
    
@ChrisCudmore LOL. you got that right. i just plucked the image off of google in hopes of evoking the emotions i harbor toward the device.. not to depict an actual instance of attempting to utilize one. LOL. –  alex gray Jul 11 '12 at 2:24
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5 Answers

First of all, you need some SCIENCE!

A multimeter measures one of three things: Current, Voltage, Resistance.

Current (I) is the flow of electricity (how much water goes over the falls) In a one path circuit, the current is a constant throughout (i.e. ALL the water reaches the bottom)

Voltage (V) shows how much potential energy the current is carrying. (How high the waterfall is). In a single path circuit, the voltage drop is 100% (i.e. at the top of the waterfall, the water has a high gravitational potential. At the bottom, it has zero. -- All voltage is consumed throughout the circuit.)

Resistance (R) is the property that consumes the voltage. Think Rocks or shelves in the waterfall that stop the flow temporarily, reducing it's energy.

These three properties are related by Ohm's Law (V = IR) Although I prefer the rearranged form I = V/R, which lends itself to the idea that Current goes up with voltage, and down with resistance.

Now look at this: http://isaac.exploratorium.edu/~pauld/summer_institute/summer_day15current/ammeter.html

It's a quick experiment into the construction of an ammeter, which measures Amps (current). This is how the multimeter works.

In order to measure current, you need to set the probes into the AMP socket and the Common socket. Then you need to break the circuit, and connect the probes so that the electricity has only one path through the meter. Set the dial to your best guess at the range (usually there are ranges from microamps to about 10 amps). Power up the circuit and read.

In order to measure voltage you need to move the probe to the V/Omega connector. Then set the dial to the appropriate voltage range (20 volts for most DC electronics, 200 VAC for wall current and also note whether it's got a _ symbol or a ~ symbol (DC vs. AC). To probe a voltage drop across a circuit component, you need to put one probe before the component and one after. What's really happening inside is you are sticking a reasonable large resistor into the circuit, and measuring the current through that resistor and the ammeter. (We measure Current, we know the Resistance, and we calculate the voltage -- but the meter does this for you.) Since the resistor is so large, it usually won't affect the circuit, as we're only stealling a tiny bit of current.

To measure resistance, power off the circuit. Set the dial to the resistance settings (Omega) and put one probe on either side of the resistor. What's happening inside is that we've switched from passive mode to active mode. That is, the power for the circuit is now coming from the meter battery. We know this voltage, we measure the current and use R=V/I to calculate the resistance. (again the meter does this for us.)

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The first source of information is the manual that comes with the meter. Most have a section on applications that explain the use of the various functions (voltage, current, resistance) in everyday repair situations. Your local library will also have a selection of books on electricity for homeowners that will have chapters on using a multimeter.

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I would recommend looking at the tutorial from SparkFun: How To Use a Multimeter.

It is a bit specific to the multimeter that they sell.

Multimeter reading voltage

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Since you have a Radio Shack Meter try their "Make Electronics" book.

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You can only be so concise and still be comprehensive. The best "how do I use this stuff? what am I looking at?" book I've yet to see for wiring is David E. Shapiro's Your Old Wiring. His discussion of and advice on wiring safely hands-down beats everything I've ever seen in any other book.

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