# RESISTOR TYPES
For a piece of conducting material to be made into a practical resistor, a pair of
electrodes and leads are attached so that current can flow. The resistor is coated with
an insulating material to protect the conducting material from the surrounding
environment and vice versa. There are several different resistor construction methods
and body styles or packages that are designed for a certain range of applied voltage,
power dissipation, or other considerations.
Composition means that the resistive material is a mix of carbon and stabilizing
compounds. The amount of carbon in the mix determines the resistance of the
material. A small cylinder, like a pencil lead, is held between the two electrodes and
coated with resin or phenolic, making a non-inductive resistor with low LS that is often
used in RF circuits.
Carbon comp resistors are available with power ratings of 1/4 to 2 watts. They can
also handle temporary overloads much better than film resistors because the heat is
distributed evenly throughout the cylinder of resistive material. That makes them a
good choice for circuits that protect against and absorb pulses and transients, for
Unfortunately, these resistors are also strongly influenced by temperature and
humidity and so are not good for circuits that depend on precise, stable resistance
In a film resistor, the resistive material is a very thin coating of carbon or metal on an
insulating substrate, such as ceramic or glass. The value of the resistance is
determined by the thickness of the film and the amount of carbon or metal in it. These
resistors are available with very accurate and stable values.
A drawback of film resistors is that they are unable to handle large amounts of power
because the film is so thin. Overloads can also damage the film by
creating hot spots inside the resistor, changing its value permanently. The value of
film resistors is sometimes adjusted before sealing by cutting away some of the film
with a laser, a process called trimming.
If the film is deposited on the inside of a tube, the trimming process creates a coil-like
current path that raises the LS of the resistor. If your circuit operates at high
frequencies, be sure the resistors you select have a low value of LS.
Surface-mount resistors are almost always film resistors. These resistors have no leads
at all, so LS is very low. The film is deposited on a ceramic sheet. Because of their
extremely small size, surface-mount resistors have very low power ratings from
1/10 to 1/4 watt.
Common in power supplies and other equipment where lots of power is dissipated, a
wirewound resistor is made just as you might expect. A high-resistance wire is wound
on an insulating form usually a ceramic tube and attached to electrodes at each
end. These are made to dissipate a lot of power in sizes from one-watt to hundreds of
Wirewound resistors are usually intended to be air cooled, but some styles have a
metal case that can be attached to a heatsink or metal chassis to get rid of undesired
Because the resistive material in these resistors is wound on a form, they have very
high LS. For this reason, wirewound resistors are not used in audio and RF circuits. Be
careful when using a resistor from your junk box or a grab bag in such a circuit!
Small wirewound resistors look an awful lot like film or carbon comp resistors. There
is usually a wide color band on wirewound resistors, but not always. If youre in doubt,
test the resistor at the frequencies you expect to encounter. There are special versions
with windings that cancel most of the inductance, but have a much higher CP that also
affects the resistors performance above 50 kHz.
Ceramic and Metal Oxide
If you need a high-power non-inductive resistor, you can use cermet (ceramic-metal
mix) or metal oxide resistors. These are constructed much like a carbon comp resistor,
substituting the cermet or metal oxide for the carbon composition material.
There are many different types of adjustable resistors. The simplest are wirewound
resistors with some of the wire exposed so that a movable electrode can be attached.
The most common are adjusted with a rotary shaft as shown in Figure 3. The element
provides a fixed resistance between terminals 1 and 3. The wiper moves to contact the
element at different positions, changing the resistance between either end of the
element and terminal 2.
If an adjustable resistor has only two terminals (1 and 2 in the figure), then it is called a
rheostat and acts as an adjustable resistance. Most rheostats are intended for use in
high-power circuits with power ratings from several watts to several tens of watts.
If the adjustable resistor has three terminals, it is called a potentiometer or pot for
short. Most pots are intended to act as voltage dividers and can be made into a
rheostat by leaving terminal 1 or 3 unconnected. Miniature versions called trimmers
mount on a circuit board and are used to make small adjustments or calibrate a circuit.
They are available in single-turn or multi-turn versions.
Larger pots with 1/8 or 1/4 diameter shafts are intended for use as a user control.
Pots are available with resistance values from a few ohms to several megohms and
with power ratings up to five watts.
Like fixed-value resistors, the construction of the pot is important. Higher-power pots
may have a wirewound element that has enough inductance to be unsuitable for audio
or RF signals. Smaller pots, particularly trimpots, are not designed to be strong
enough for use as a frequently-adjusted control. Most pots have relatively high values
of CP, as well.
Pots are also available with elements that have a non-linear taper or change of
resistance with wiper position. For example, a log taper pot has a resistance that
changes logarithmically with shaft rotation. This is useful in attenuator circuits, for
An audio taper pot is used to create a voltage divider that mimics the loudness
response of the human ear so that volume appears to change linearly with control