Translator

Switches

Selecting a Switch

There are three important features to consider when selecting a switch:
  • Contacts (e.g. single pole, double throw)
  • Ratings (maximum voltage and current)
  • Method of Operation (toggle, slide, key etc.)

Switch Contacts

Several terms are used to describe switch contacts:
  • Pole - number of switch contact sets.
  • Throw - number of conducting positions, single or double.
  • Way - number of conducting positions, three or more.
  • Momentary - switch returns to its normal position when released.
  • Open - off position, contacts not conducting.
  • Closed - on position, contacts conducting, there may be several on positions.
For example: the simplest on-off switch has one set of contacts (single pole) and one switching position which conducts (single throw). The switch mechanism has two positions: open (off) and closed (on), but it is called 'single throw' because only one position conducts.

Switch Contact Ratings

Switch contacts are rated with a maximum voltage and current, and there may be different ratings for AC and DC. The AC values are higher because the current falls to zero many times each second and an arc is less likely to form across the switch contacts.
For low voltage electronics projects the voltage rating will not matter, but you may need to check the current rating. The maximum current is less for inductive loads (coils and motors) because they cause more sparking at the contacts when switched off.

Standard Switches

Type of SwitchCircuit SymbolExample
ON-OFF
Single Pole, Single Throw = SPSTA simple on-off switch. This type can be used to switch the power supply to a circuit.
When used with mains electricity this type of switch must be in the live wire, but it is better to use a DPST switch to isolate both live and neutral.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
SPST on-off switch symbolSPST toggle switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
SPST toggle switch
(ON)-OFF
Push-to-make = SPST MomentaryA push-to-make switch returns to its normally open (off) position when you release the button, this is shown by the brackets around ON. This is the standard doorbell switch.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
push-to-make switch symbolPush-to-make switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Push-to-make switch
ON-(OFF)
Push-to-break = SPST MomentaryA push-to-break switch returns to its normally closed (on) position when you release the button.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
push-to-break switch symbolPush-to-break switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Push-to-break switch
ON-ON
Single Pole, Double Throw = SPDTThis switch can be on in both positions, switching on a separate device in each case. It is often called a changeover switch. For example, a SPDT switch can be used to switch on a red lamp in one position and a green lamp in the other position.
A SPDT toggle switch may be used as a simple on-off switch by connecting to COM and one of the A or B terminals shown in the diagram. A and B are interchangeable so switches are usually not labelled.
ON-OFF-ON
SPDT Centre Off
A special version of the standard SPDT switch. It has a third switching position in the centre which is off. Momentary (ON)-OFF-(ON) versions are also available where the switch returns to the central off position when released.
Photographs © Rapid Electronics
SPDT switch symbolSPDT toggle switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
SPDT toggle switchSPDT slide switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
SPDT slide switch
(PCB mounting)

SPDT rocker switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
SPDT rocker switch
Dual ON-OFF
Double Pole, Single Throw = DPSTA pair of on-off switches which operate together (shown by the dotted line in the circuit symbol).
A DPST switch is often used to switch mains electricity because it can isolate both the live and neutral connections.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
DPST switch symbolDPST rocker switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
DPST rocker switch
Dual ON-ON
Double Pole, Double Throw = DPDTA pair of on-on switches which operate together (shown by the dotted line in the circuit symbol).
A DPDT switch can be wired up as a reversing switch for a motor as shown in the diagram.
ON-OFF-ON
DPDT Centre Off
A special version of the standard SPDT switch. It has a third switching position in the centre which is off. This can be very useful for motor control because you have forward, off and reverse positions. Momentary (ON)-OFF-(ON) versions are also available where the switch returns to the central off position when released.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
DPDT switch symbolDPDT slide switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
DPDT slide switch
Reversing switch
Wiring for Reversing Switch
Click here for Rapid ElectronicsRapid Electronics stock a wide range of switches and they have kindly allowed me to use their photographs on this page. The photographs are from their Image Gallery CD-ROM.

Special Switches

Type of SwitchExample
Push-Push Switch (e.g. SPST = ON-OFF)This looks like a momentary action push switch but it is a standard on-off switch: push once to switch on, push again to switch off. This is called a latching action.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Push-push switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Microswitch (usually SPDT = ON-ON)Microswitches are designed to switch fully open or closed in response to small movements. They are available with levers and rollers attached.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Microswitch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
KeyswitchA key operated switch. The example shown is SPST.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Keyswitch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Tilt Switch (SPST)Tilt switches contain a conductive liquid and when tilted this bridges the contacts inside, closing the switch. They can be used as a sensor to detect the position of an object. Some tilt switches contain mercury which is poisonous.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Tilt switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Reed Switch (usually SPST)The contacts of a reed switch are closed by bringing a small magnet near the switch. They are used in security circuits, for example to check that doors are closed. Standard reed switches are SPST (simple on-off) but SPDT (changeover) versions are also available.
Warning: reed switches have a glass body which is easily broken! For advice on handling please see the Electronics in Meccano website.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Reed switches photograph © Rapid Electronics
DIP Switch (DIP = Dual In-line Parallel)This is a set of miniature SPST on-off switches, the example shown has 8 switches. The package is the same size as a standard DIL (Dual In-Line) integrated circuit.
This type of switch is used to set up circuits, e.g. setting the code of a remote control.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
DIP switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Multi-pole SwitchThe picture shows a 6-pole double throw switch, also known as a 6-pole changeover switch. It can be set to have momentary or latching action. Latching action means it behaves as a push-push switch, push once for the first position, push again for the second position etc.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Multi-pole switch, photograph © Rapid Electronics
Multi-way SwitchMulti-way switches have 3 or more conducting positions. They may have several poles (contact sets). A popular type has a rotary action and it is available with a range of contact arrangements from 1-pole 12-way to 4-pole 3 way.
The number of ways (switch positions) may be reduced by adjusting a stop under the fixing nut. For example if you need a 2-pole 5-way switch you can buy the 2-pole 6-way version and adjust the stop.
Contrast this multi-way switch (many switch positions) with the multi-pole switch (many contact sets) described above.
Photograph © Rapid Electronics
Multi-way rotary switch, photograph © Rapid ElectronicsMulti-way rotary switch
Multi-way switch symbol
1-pole 4-way switch symbol

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