March 1972 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Before the ready availability of
inexpensive, accurate multimeters, obtaining a highly precise measurement of resistance required
something like a Wheatstone bridge. According to Wikipedia, "The Wheatstone bridge was invented
by Samuel Hunter
Christie in 1833 and improved and popularized by Sir
in 1843. One of the Wheatstone bridge's initial uses was for the purpose of soils analysis
and comparison." This article in a 1972 issue of Popular Electronics discusses the operation
of the Wheatstone bridge and includes a construction project for anyone interested.
100 Milliohms to 10 Megohms with 0.5 % Accuracy
By Robert P. West, Jr.
Fig. 1. The bridge can measure from 0.1 ohm to 10 megohms with 0.5% accuracy.
When it comes to measuring resistances, the Wheatstone bridge is superior to any voltohmmeter
(except for some very expensive electronic types); but few experimenters can afford even a
resistance bridge. So they usually fall back on the always-available VOM.
In today's circuits, such things as RC time constants (for instance) must be measured very
accurately; and the precision of a voltage divider can make or break a circuit design. In
such cases, the VOM can't always be counted on to do the proper job - primarily because of
the readout system employed. You may be trying to read the resistance of a component that
has an accuracy of 0.5% but as long as you have to interpolate the values on a meter scale,
your efforts are in vain.
The resistance bridge described here is simple to construct and, since most of the parts
can be obtained from a surplus store, it shouldn't cost more than $15.00. What's more, it
has an accuracy of 0.5% with a range of 100 milliohms to 10 megohms.
Short heavy leads reduce internal resistance. Note novel battery layout.
Construction. The circuit, shown in Fig. 1, is wired point-to-point, with
#18 connecting wire. (This size wire is necessary to avoid inaccuracies in the lowest range.)
The bridge can be assembled in a wooden or metal box about 2 1/4" x 7" x 7" or larger. All
components are mounted on the front panel except the 4 "D" cells, which are secured to the
case by a holder, and the 67 1/2-volt battery which may be held by a clamp.
Calibration. Set R1 to its maximum resistance and rotate selector switch
S3 to the R7 (10,000-ohm) range. Connect a 10,000-ohm resistor between test jacks J1 and J2;
depress test switch S1; and adjust calibration potentiometer R2 for a null (zero center) on
meter M1. As the null is approached, depress meter sensitivity switch S2 to make the final
adjustment. When this operation is complete, the total resistance of R2 and R3 is equal to
that of R1.
Remove the 10,000-ohm resistor from the test jacks. Once again depress the test switch
and note which way the meter deflects. Mark that side of the meter with a plus sign and the
other side with a minus. The bridge is now balanced and ready for use.
Operation. To determine the value of an unknown resistance, connect the
unknown across the test jacks. Always start with S4 in the Below 100K position. In the Above
100K position, a potential of 73.5 volts is placed across the bridge; and if the resistance
being tested were of low value, or if the range selector were in the low range, destruction
of one or both could result. Now depress test switch S1. If the meter indicates on the plus
side, the unknown resistance is larger than R1. If R1 is already at the maximum value (10),
switch to the next higher range on S3. Continue until the meter is in the minus range. Now
rotate the calibrated dial of R1 until the meter approaches a null. While holding clown the
test switch, depress sensitivity switch and adjust R1 for perfect null. After releasing the
test and sensitivity switches, read the value of your unknown directly from the calibrated
dial. For instance, if the dial reads 8.59 and the switch is on 10K, the unknown is 8.59K.
Although the prototype was built in a wood case, any type of construction
may be used. Note the 10-turn dial.
How It Works. Essentially, the resistance bridge is a ratio detecting
network. When the value of R1 is in the same ratio to the unknown resistance as R2 + R3 is
to the range select resistor (through S3), no current flows through the meter leg, producing
a null on the meter. When the meter is nulled by adjusting R1, we are balancing the ratio
of the corresponding resistance in the legs of the bridge. This ratio is mechanically coupled
to the calibrated dial of R1 and direct readings are obtained.
Actually, R1 could be any value of ten-turn potentiometer as long as R2 + R.3 is equal
to it in resistance. The fact that most ten-turn pots, such as the one recommended in the
Parts List, have 5% tolerance of the total value doesn't affect the bridge operation because
of the built-in compensation with R2. What does concern us is the linearity of R1. In this
case, it is 0.5%.
The range select resistors remain the same. For example: if R1 were a 5000-ohm potentiometer;
R2 + R3 must also be 5000 ohms. Then if the unknown resistor were 5000 ohms, the range selector
would be in the 10K range. The ratio of R2 + R.3 to the range select is 2:1 and the meter
would null when R1 was in a 2:1 ratio with the unknown. Then R1 must be 2500 ohms to null
the meter and the resistance of R1 is one half of its full range. The dial would read 5.00.
In this bridge, R1 was chosen to be 10,000 ohms because this value is not so low that it
will allow high current to flow when a 10-megohm resistance is being checked. Nor is it so
high that it causes inaccurate measurements in the low ranges.
Posted November 2, 2017