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Electronic circuits use lots of resistors.

This isn't always obvious when you look at

modern circuits which appear to consists of a group of ‘silicon chips’ or Integrated
Circuits wired together. In fact, IC's (even digital ones) don't just contain transistors,
they also contain a lot of hidden resistors. Although resistors come in various forms
we can divide them up into just two basic types.
• ‘Fixed’ resistors
• Variable resistors (or ‘potentiometers’)

A fixed resistor is a component with two wires which obeys Ohm's Law — i.e. it's a
bit of material which behaves as we described in the last section. Electronic engineers
and manufacturers have adopted some standards for resistors. These are intended to
keep the cost down and make it easier for you to buy them from whichever supplier
you like without having to redesign the equipment you want to put them in.

The first standard concerns the resistor values you can buy. If you look through a
catalogue of electronic components you'll see that the resistance values offered nearly
always follow the same series:-

1·0 , 1·2 , 1·5 , 1·8 , 2·2 , 2·7 , 3·3 , 3·9 , 4·7 , 5·6 ,

6·8 , 8·2 , 10 , 12 , 15 , 18 , ... etc.

This is called the ‘E12’ series. The values are chosen to give twelve values in each
decade (tenfold change in value). Most of the time, engineers who want a particular
resistance value just pick the ‘nearest’ one from this list. You can buy other values.
You can even have them specially made to whatever value you like. But the E12
series are much cheaper because so many of them are made. If you take the logs of the
above series you'll find that they're roughly equally spaced. This ensure that the
fractional error of choosing the closest value to the one you really wanted stays about
the same for any size of resistor.
The second standard is the use of the resistor colour code. Modern resistors can be
very small & there might be hundreds of them on a circuit board, pointing in all sorts
of directions. Trying to find or read printed values in this situation would something
of a nightmare! To avoid this problem, resistors normally display their value as a
series of coloured bands or rings. These use colours as indicated in figure 2.3. These
are read starting with the band nearest an end. Most resistors have just four bands. The
first two give the significant figures. The third gives a power of ten which you
multiply the figures by to get the correct resistance. The fourth band (which isn't
always there!) gives the tolerance or accuracy of the value. Some resistors have extra
bands, but we won't worry about that in this course!

Variable resistors are usually a stubby cylindrical shape with a rod poking out one end
and with three metals ‘tags’. Figure 2.4 illustrates a typical example. Two of the tags
are connected to a horseshoe-shaped resistor fitted inside the cylinder. Hence the
resistance between these two tags has a fixed value. The third tag (usually the middle
one) is connected to a metal ‘finger’ or ‘wiper’ which is pressed against the side of the
curved resistor. When we twist the rod we can move this wiper along the resistor,
shifting it away from one end and towards the other. As a result, the resistance
between this tag and the ones at the ends goes up and down as we rotate the rod. In the
diagram shown below, the horseshoe shape of resistive material is coloured orange,
and the wiper is coloured blue.

As with fixed resistors, variable ones tend to come in standard end-to-end values in
the same E12 series. In this case the most ‘popular’ ones have end-to-end resistances

which are simply 1, 10, 100, 1000 (=1k), 10k, etc, Ohms. (25k and 50k pots also
turn up a lot in Hi-Fi's as volume/balance potentiometers even tho' they aren't E12

Oh, if you are wondering where “pots and pans” came from in the title of this page.
Pots is an abbreviation of potentiometer. ‘pan’ is a term used to mean setting the
stereo location of a sound by adjusting the relative volume levels it has from the
speakers in a stereo system! Thus pots can be used to pan the sound of something.

Content and pages maintained by: Jim Lesurf (

using HTMLEdit and TechWriter on a StrongARM powered RISCOS machine.
University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9SS, Scotland.

Resistor Types
The Precision Wirewound is a
highly accurate resistor with a
very low TCR and can be accurate within .005%. A temperature
coefficient of resistance (TCR) of as little a 3 part per million per
degree Celsius (3ppm/oC) can be achieved. However these
components are too expensive for general use and are normally used in highly accurate DC
applications. The frequency response of this type is not good. When used in an rf application all
Precision Wirewound Resistors will have a low Q resonant frequency. The power handling
capability is very small. These are generally used in highly accurate DC measuring equipment, and
reference resistors for voltage regulators and decoding networks.
The accuracy is maintained at 25oC(degrees Celsius) and will change with temperature. The
maximum value available is dependent upon physical size and is much lower than most other types
of resistor. Their power rating is approximately 1/10 of a similar physical size in a carbon
composition. They are rated for operation at +85oC or +125oC with maximum operating
temperature not to exceed +145oC. This means that full rated power can be applied at +85 ( 125)
oC with no degradation in performance. It may be operated above +125 (85) oC if the load is
reduced. The derating is linear, rated load at +125(85) oC and no load at +145oC. Life is generally
rated for 10,000 hours at rated temperature and rated load. The allowable change in resistance
under these conditions is 0.10%. Extended life can be achieved if operated at lower temperatures
and reduced power levels. End of life requirements are generally defined by the manufacturer or in
some case by user specification. Some degradation in performance can be expected. In some cases,
particularly if the tolerance is very low and the TC is low, the rated power is reduced to improve
resistor stability through life. Precision Resistors regardless of type, are designed for maximum
accuracy and not to carry power. The materials used in these resistors are highly stable heat treated
materials that do change under extended heat and mechanical stress. The manufacturing processes
are designed to remove any stresses induced during manufacture. There is little detectable noise in
this type of resistor. The stability and reliability of these resistors is very good and their accuracy
can be enhanced by matching the absolute value and the temperature coefficient over their
operating range to achieve very accurate voltage division.

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Standard can be as accurate as .
001% with roughly the same TCR as Precision Wirewound Resistors and are very stable. These
are used as a standard in verifying the accuracy of resistive measuring devices. They are normally
the Primary Standards of a company's test lab.
They are returned to the NIST for measurement and their accuracy is tracked through out the
standards life to determine the Standard's stability. Most companies will have two sets of standards
so that they can continue to measure while one set of standards are being measured by the NIST .
They will alternate returning these NIST Standards to the NIST , one set one year and the other set
the next year. For extremely accurate measurements, the Standard with the longest history and the
best stability will be used. If erratic readings are received from the NIST over a period of years,
the Standard is retired. Also, if the reading has significantly changed since the last NIST reading,
the standard is suspect and all measurements made using that standard must be checked. Normally,
a standard will take about 3 years to stabilize and becomes more stable with time unless it has had
excessive power applied or has been dropped. These standards are generally stored in an oil bath at
+25oC. During measurement, a thermometer is placed in a cavity in the top of the Standard, called
the oil well, and the temperature is recorded for each measurement so that the exact value can be
determined. That is the value at +25oC plus or minus the change in value caused by the
temperature coefficient. Each standard will have a temperature correction chart for exact values.
Being stored in the oil bath prevents the Standard from being stressed by changes in room
temperature. These are
highly precision devices
and are expensive to buy
and expensive to
maintain, but they are the primary resistor
reference for any test lab.
These resistors are furnished in a totally
enclosed metal case and for values above 1
ohm, this enclosure is filled with mineral oil
(other type of oil may contain additives that
can cause corrosion in later life). The values
below 1 ohm may be built in an enclosure
that is perforated and these must be
submersed in oil. If power is applied without it being submersed, the Standard will be ruined.
All NIST Type Standards are equipped with provisions for two, three, or four terminal
measurements. The applied power is calculated and the temperature of the Standard is monitored
during test. The lowest power level consistent with sufficient resolution to get the desired
measurement is used (in the area of 0.01 watts) and any appreciable rise in temperature will dictate
that the measurement should be suspended and the test set-up reviewed for ways to reduce the
power level. These Standards are rated for operation at room temperature only but their other
characteristics are the same as Precision Wirewound Resistors.


Power Wirewound Resistors are used when it is necessary to handle a lot of power. They will
handle more power per unit volume than any other resistor. Some of these resistors are free wound
similar to heater elements. These require some form of cooling in order to handle any appreciable
amount of power. Some are cooled by fans and others are immersed in various types of liquid
ranging from mineral oil to high density silicone liquids. Most are wound on some type of winding
form. These winding forms vary. Some examples are ceramic tubes, ceramic rods, heavily
anodized aluminium, fibreglass mandrels, etc.
To achieve the maximum power rating in the smallest package size, the core on which the
windings are made must have a material with high heat conductivity. It may be Steatite, Alumina,
Beryllium Oxide, or in some cases hard anodized Aluminium. Theoretically, the anodized
Aluminium core has a better heat conductivity than any other insulated material, with Beryllium
Oxide being very close. There are specific problems with the anodized aluminium cores such as
nicks in the coating, abrasion during capping and controlling the anodized thickness. There are
various shapes, oval, flat, cylindrical, and most shapes are designed to optimize heat dissipation.
The more heat that can be radiated from the resistor, the more power that can be safely applied.
There is a group of these called "Chassis Mounted Resistors". These are generally cylindrical
power resistors wound on a ceramic core moulded and pressed into an aluminium heat sink and
usually with heat radiating fins. These are designed to be mounted to metal plates or a chassis to
further conduct heat. This result in a rating approximately 5 times or more its normal rating.
These resistors come in a variety of accuracy's and TCRs. They can be custom made as a cross
breed between a Precision Resistor and a Power Resistor; capable of handling more power than the
standard Precision Wirewound but not as accurate. Practically speaking, tolerances of 1% and
temperature coefficients of 20 ppm can be achieved on all except the parts that are coated with
Vitreous Enamel and low values. The curing process for Vitreous (a type of glass) requires
extremely high heat and shrinks applying pressure to the winding. This particular group normally
will run tolerances of 10% with a TCR of 100ppm/oC. Power Resistors come in a variety of
ratings. Most are rated at +25oC and derated linearly to either +275oC or +350oC. Again if the
ambient temperature of operation is +275oC, no power can be applied and at +125ooC 1/2 rated
power can be applied.
These power rating are based on mounting the resistor in free air with the leads terminated at the
recommended point. On axial lead components, this is 3/8 of an inch from the body. If they can be
mounted closer, the resistor will run cooler or you can apply slightly more power and if mounted
further out, you must reduce the power. CAUTION, if mounted directly over and in contact with a
printed circuit board, the heat from the resistor can char the board if full power is applied. I don't
know of any PC Boards that are rated at
Other means of increasing the amount of power you can apply
(a) bond the resistor to the chassis or other metal parts
(b) mount vertically to get the chimney effect (this is very helpful when using those wound
ceramic tubes)
(c) terminate as close to the body as practical
(d) submerse in oil (CAUTION some types of resistor coating, particularly silicone based coatings
will disintegrate when immersed in oil and heated). This will increase the rating as much as 5
times. or reduce the temperature rise of the resistor due to self heating.
The small power resistor can serve a two fold purpose, that is to fulfil it's purpose as a resistor
and act as a heater in an enclosure. Some users have used them in crystal ovens to maintain the
crystal at the desired temperature. It makes a reasonably cheap off the shelf heater that comes in a
variety of wattage's , sizes and values.
One unique type of power resistor is the "Bathtub Boat Type". This consists of resistance wire
wound on a fibreglass cord.. This is a continuously wound strip, cut into strips of the appropriate
length with leads crimped. These resistive elements are placed in a ceramic shell (boat) and an
highly filled cement is used to fasten these in the boat. The filler often used in the cement is a
ceramic material with high heat conductivity. These are very inexpensive, no effort is made to
achieve tight tolerances, low TCRs, and the range of values is extremely limited. They are often
found as surge resistors in TVs and other electronic /electrical equipment. Their main selling point
is low cost. They are often sold with an enamel coating for a low power precision wirewound
resistor that is even lower in cost.
One more item to consider, Power Wirewounds are made using alloys with melt temperatures
ranging from +1200o C to +1500o C and may be operated cherry red without failure for short
periods of time, however the resistance value and TCR will change significantly and the insulating
material will severely degrade. The bathtub boat type can not be subjected to this type of overload,
the fibreglass winding form will disintegrate.

Fuse Resistors serve a dual purpose, a resistor and a fuse. They are designed so that they will
open with a large surge current. The fusing current is calculated based on the amount of energy
required to melt the resistive material (the melt temperature plus the amount of energy required to
vaporize the resistive material).
These resistors will normally run hotter than a normal precision or power resistor so that a
momentary surge will bring the resistive element up to fusing temperature. Some designs create a
hot spot inside the resistor to assist in this fusing. Calculations are made and samples are produced
to verify the calculations. The major unknown is the heat transfer of the materials, which can be
quite significant for pulse of long duration, and is very difficult to calculate. Mounting of these
devices is critical because it will effect the fusing current. These are quite often made to mount in
fuse clips for more accurate fusing characteristics.

Carbon composition resistors were once the most common resistor on the market. They still
have a very large market and prices are highly competitive. They are made from carbon rods cut in
the appropriate length then moulded with leads attached. The mix of the carbon can be varied to
change the resistivity for the desired values.
High values are much more readily available. Very low values are more difficult to achieve. A
5% tolerance is available. This is usually done by
measuring and selecting values. Normal tolerances
without measurement and selection is in the area
of 20%.
The temperature coefficient of resistance is in
the range of 1000 ppm/oC and is negative, that is
when the temperature goes up the resistance goes
down and when the temperature goes down, the
resistance goes up. This is due to the carbon
particles being relaxed (with increase in
temperature) and being compressed (with the reduction in temperature).
These resistors also has a voltage coefficient. That is the resistance will change with applied
voltage, the greater the voltage, the greater the change. In addition to a power rating, they also
have a voltage rating. (The wirewound voltage rating is determined by the value and the wattage
rating). The voltage rating of Carbon Composition Resistors is determined by physical size as well
as the value and wattage rating.
One more item to consider is that due to their construction, they generate noise and this noise
level varies with value and physical size. The power capability in relation to physical size is
greater than Precision Wirewounds but less than Power Wirewounds.


Carbon Film Resistors have many of the same characteristics as carbon composition resistors.
The material is similar therefore they have noise, a voltage coefficient, the TCR can be much
lower because the formula can be varied to achieve this, the tolerance is much tighter due to the
difference in manufacturing processes.
The Carbon Film Resistor is made by coating ceramic rods with a mixture of carbon materials.
This material is applied to these rods in a variety of means, the one most familiar to me are
dipping, rolling, printing , or spraying the rods in the appropriate solution. The thickness of the
coating can be determined by the viscosity of the solution. This as well as the material composition
will determine the ohms / square. Some of you may not be familiar with this term. It simply means
that if a material has a resistivity of 100 ohms / square, one square inch with have the same
resistance as 1 square mm, or 1 square foot or 1 square yard or 1 square mile all equalling 100
ohms but the power handling capability is proportional to the size.
One batch of material can produce resistors in a wide range of values. These rods are cut to the
length required for a specific size of resistor. These rods can then be spiral cut to a wide range of
values. The original method of spiralling these was done with grinding wheels on a machine
similar to a lathe. I am sure that later processes use lasers that are programmed to cut to specific
values. The maximum ohmic value of this group is the highest in the discrete resistor group.
Tolerance of 1% can be achieved with out measuring and selecting. Tolerance of less than 1%
can be achieved by measuring and selecting. You should use caution in getting tight tolerances in
this type because the temperature coefficient, voltage coefficient and stability may mean that it is
only good for that tolerance at the time it was installed. The TCR of carbon film resistors is in the
neighbourhood of 100 to 200 ppm and is generally negative. Measuring and selecting can yield
even tighter TCRs.
The frequency response of this type of resistor is among the best, far better than Wirewounds,
and much better that carbon composition. The wirewound resistors are inductive at lower
frequencies and values and somewhat capacitive at higher frequencies regardless of value. Also
wirewound resistors will have a resonant frequency. Carbon Composition Resistors will be
predominately capacitive .


Metal Film resistors are the best compromise of all resistors. They are not as accurate and have
a higher temperature coefficient of resistance and are not as stable as Precision Wirewounds. They
are more accurate, do not have a voltage coefficient, have a lower temperature coefficient than
Carbon Film. TCRs of 50 to 100 ppm can be achieved.
They have a very low noise level when properly manufactured. In fact some of the screening
processes measure the noise level to determine if there are problems in a particular batch of
Metal film resistors are manufactured by an evaporation/deposition process.
That is the base metal is vaporized in a vacuum and deposited on a ceramic rod or
wafer. Several attempts have been made to vaporize low TCR materials and
deposit on these substrates, but to my knowledge, these attempts have not been
successful. This is partially due to the different boiling points of the various base
metals in these alloys (I use the word alloy not entirely accurately, for these materials are not true
alloys but amalgamations --- they do not bond to form a molecule as does a true alloy). The very
low TCR resistive materials are heat treated to achieve the resistivity and low TCR. This is not
compatible with an evaporation process.
The frequency characteristics of this type are excellent and better than Carbon Films. The one
area that carbon films exceed metal films is the maximum values. Carbon films can achieve higher
maximum values than any other group.

Foil resistors are similar in characteristics as metal films. Their main advantages are better
stability than metal films and lower TCRs. They have excellent frequency response, low TCR,
good stability, and very accurate. They are manufactured by rolling the same wire materials as
used in precision wirewound resistors to make thin strips of foil. This foil is then bonded to a
ceramic substrate and etched to produce the value required. They can be trimmed further by
abrasive processes, chemical machining or heat treating to achieve the desired tolerance. Their
main disadvantage is the maximum value is less than Metal Film Resistors.
The accuracy is about the same as metal film resistors, the TCR and stability approaches
Precision Wirewounds but somewhat less because the rolling process and the packaging process
produce stresses in the foil. The resistive materials used in Precision Wirewound Resistors is very
sensitive to stresses which result in instability and higher TCRs. Any stresses on these material
will result in a change in the resistance value and TCR, the greater the stress, the larger the change.
This type can be used as strain gauges, strain being measured as a change in the resistance. When
used as a strain gauge, the foil is bonded to a flexible substrate that can be mounted on a part
where the stress is to be measured.

The Filament Resistors are similar to the Bathtub Boat Resistor except they are not packaged in
a ceramic shell (boat). The individual resistive element with the leads already crimped is coated
with an insulating material, generally a high temperature varnish. These are used in applications
where tolerance, TCR, and stability are not important but the cost is the governing consideration.
The cost on this type is slightly higher that carbon composition and the electrical characteristics
are better.


Power film resistors are similar in manufacture to their respective metal film or carbon film
resistors. They are manufactured and rated as power resistors, with the power rating being the most
important characteristic. Power Film Resistors are available in higher maximum values than the
Power Wirewound Resistors and have a very good frequency response. They are generally used in
applications requiring good frequency response and/or higher maximum values. Generally for
power applications, the tolerance is wider, the temperature rating is changed so that under full load
resistor will not exceed the maximum design temperature, and the physical sizes are larger, and in
some cases, the core may be made from a higher heat conductive material and other means to help
radiate heat.

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Resistor Construction
Resistors are components having a stated value of RESISTANCE. Many types of resistors are
used having different uses and construction. The most common types have a fixed value of
resistance so are often called fixed resistors. They are shown on circuit schematic diagrams
(theoretical diagrams that show how the circuit components are connected electrically, rather
than what a circuit looks like physically) using one of the following symbols.

Various types of fixed resistors are used in circuits, they are the most numerous of all electronic
components and their most common job is to reduce voltages and currents around a circuit so
that "active components", transistors and integrated circuits for example, that carry out tasks such
as producing or amplifying signals within the circuit are supplied with the correct voltages and
currents to work properly.
Resistors are also used in conjunction with other components such as inductors and capacitors to
process signals in many ways.
Because resistors are "passive components" they cannot amplify or increase voltages currents or
signals, they can only reduce them. Nevertheless they are a most essential part of any electronic
SMT (Surface Mount Technology)
Many modern circuits use SMT resistors. Their manufacture involves depositing a film of
resistive material such as tin oxide on a tiny ceramic chip. The edges of the resistor are then
accurately ground, or cut with a laser to give a precise resistance (which depends on the width of
the resistor film), across the ends of the device. Tolerances may be as low as ±0.02%. Contacts at
each end are soldered directly onto the conductive print on the circuit board, usually by
automatic assembly methods. SMT resistors normally have a very low power dissipation. Their
main advantage is that very high component density can be achieved.
Back to picture

Carbon Film Resistors

Similar construction to Metal film resistors but generally with wider tolerance (typically +/- 5%)
Shown here mounted on paper strips for machine insertion into printed circuit boards. Small
resistors are extremely inexpensive components and are also often sold in batches of 10s or 100s
in this form for easier handling.
Back to picture

Carbon Composition Resistor

Carbon composition is the oldest design and usually the cheapest of the resistors. Carbon
granules are mixed with a filler material and inserted into a tubular casing. In earlier types
vulcanised rubber was used but in modern designs the carbon is mixed with a ceramic filler. The
value of resistance is determined by the amount of carbon added to the filler mixture. Carbon
composition resistors do not have the close tolerances of either carbon or metal film types.
Typical tolerances are +/-10% or 20%. One advantage however is that they are better suited to
applications involving large voltage pulses than the more modern types.
Back to main picture

1Watt resistor
Carbon composition, carbon and metal film resistors are available in a range of power ratings. In
a resistor, the power that the resistor must dissipate (get rid of as heat) depends on the voltage
difference (V) across the resistor, and the current (I) flowing through it. These are multiplied
together to obtain the amount of power (P) that must be dissipated using the formula P = IV. For
any particular type or value of resistor, the greater the power rating, the larger the physical size
of the resistor.
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Wire-wound resistors

Wirewound resistors are very variable in construction and physical appearance. Their resistive
elements are commonly lengths of wire, usually an alloy such as Nickel/Chromium (Nichrome)
or Manganin (Copper/Nickel/Manganese) wrapped around a small ceramic or glass fibre rod and
coated in an insulating flameproof cement film. They are normally available in quite low values
of resistance (single ohms to a few Kilohms) but can dissipate large amounts of power. In use
they may get very hot.

For this reason high power wirewound resistors may be housed in a finned metal case that can be
bolted to a metal chassis to dissipate the heat generated as effectively as possible. With all types
of wirewound resistor, fire protection is important and flame proof cases or coatings are vital.
Lead-out wires are normally welded rather than soldered to the resistor.
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Metal film resistors.

These resistors are made from small rods of ceramic coated with metal (such as a nickel alloy) or
a metal oxide (such as tin oxide). The value of resistance is controlled firstly by the thickness of
the coating layer (the thicker the layer, the lower the value of resistance). Also by a fine spiral
groove cut along the rod using a laser or diamond cutter to cut the carbon or metal coating
effectively into a long (spiral) strip, which forms the resistor. Metal film resistors can be
obtained in a wide range of resistance values from a few Ohms to tens of millions of Ohms with
a very small TOLERANCE. For example a typical value might be 100KΩ ±1% or less i.e. for a
stated value of 100KΩ the actual value will be between 99KΩ and 101KΩ. Note that although
the body colour (the colour of the laquer coating) on metal film resistors is often grey, this is not
a reliable guide. Small carbon, metal and oxide resistors may be made in various body colours
such as dark red, brown, blue, green, grey, cream or white.
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5 Watt Wirewound Resistor

A wirewound resistor can have a smaller physical size for a given power rating than carbon
composition or film resistors, compare this 5W resistor with the 1W resistor at 3. Wirewound
resistors however, do not not have the close tolerance of composition or film types. This 4R7
resistor has a tolerance of ±10%.
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PCB Mounting Wirewound Resistor

Wirewound resistors usually have a resistance range from around 1Ω to about 50KΩ. Because
they use a coil of wire as their resistive element they tend to act as inductors to some degree.
This limits their use to low frequency circuits up to around a few tens of kiloHertz (kHz). This
example, available in power ratings up to 25W, is for mounting on a printed circuit board and to
prevent heat damage to the board, the specially shaped legs ensure an air gap between the
resistor and the board. The whole resistor is enclosed in a flameproof ceramic layer.
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High Power Metal Film

Metal film resistors are also available in high power types with power ratings less than
wirewound types (typically less than 5W) but having closer tolerances.
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Fusible Wirewound Resistor

In this fusible resistor, the current flowing through the resistor first flows through a spring loaded
connection that is positioned close to the body of the resistor. The heat generated by the
wirewound resistor under normal conditions would not be sufficient to melt the blob of solder
holding a spring wire in place. If too much current flows through the resistor it overheats, the
solder melts and the wire springs up, opening the connection and stopping the current. This then
requires a service technician to find the cause of the overcurrent before re−soldering the spring
connection to restore normal operation. It is important to use the correct type of solder (usually
stated in the service manual for the equipment) when re−soldering, since this will affect the
temperature at which the spring opens.
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