Make a Shunt Resistor
Make A Shunt Resistor
Make your own rough and ready shunt resistor
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electric circuit  education A
shunt resistor (pictured above) is a highprecision resistor of very low resistance used by an
ammeter to measure the current flowing through an electric circuit.
Shunts are available in a range of sizes from under one Amp to many hundreds and thousands of Amps, but they can be very expensive.
Fortunately it is possible to make your own
shunt resistor from nothing more than a length of copper wire. While it will only be accurate to
within 10%, and its accuracy will fall with changes in temperature much more so than would be the case with a
real shunt resistor  making your own shunts is very cheap and easy and can also be an interesting education project.
Example DIY Shunt Resistor
In this example we will look at making a 010 Amp shunt resistor with a voltage drop of 10mV at 10 Amps. This means that if 10 Amps of current are flowing through the
shunt resistor, the voltage measured between the two ends of it will be 10mV (0.010 Volts). Therefore using a standard
multimeter or 010 mV
voltmeter
it will be easy to read the numerical value of the current (and ignore the units displayed)  i.e. if the voltmeter reads 6 mV we know this corresponds to 6 Amps of current, 2.4 mV corresponds to 2.4 Amps and so on since the voltage across the shunt resistor is
directly proportional to the current flowing through it.
So, what do we need the resistance of our
shunt resistor to be for a 10mv voltage drop at 10 Amps? Using
Ohm's Law, the voltage drop (0.01V) divided by the current (10A) gives the restance of the
shunt which equals
0.001 Ohms. Therefore our
shunt resistor needs simply to be 0.001 Ohm resistor
.
Resistance of Copper Wire
Copper wire has a
resistance which depends upon its length and its diameter. The thicker the wire, the lower its resistance; the longer the wire, the greater its resistance. For example 24 AWG copper wire (see our
wire size converter for more information about
AWG) has a known resistance of 25.67 Ohms per 1000 feet of length at 25 degrees celcius.
Click here to view a comprehensive table of
bare copper wire resistance values for different diameters of wire.
Using Copper Wire to make a 0.001 Ohm Shunt Resistor
10 AWG copper wire (2.59mm diameter) for example has a resistance of 0.9989 Ohms per 1,000 feet. Therefore our 0.001 Ohm resisitor would require 1000 * 0.001/0.9989 = 1.001 feet of 10 AWG copper wire.
12 AWG copper wire (2.05mm diameter) has a resistance of 1.5883 Ohms per 1,000 feet and so 1000 * 0.001/1.5883 = 0.63 feet of 12 AWG wire would be required for the 0.001 Ohm resistor.
Wire Length (feet) =  1000 * Target Resistance (Ohms)
 Ohms per 1,000 feet 

Basic Shunt Resistor
In the simplest case copper wire of the calculated length is simply soldered in series into the circuit to be measured and the postitive and negative leads of the
voltmeter connected to those joints. Unfortunately this would not be a very accurate ammeter because the resistance of the soldered joints can affect the results.
Calibrated Shunt Resistor
The
shunt resistor will be much more accurate if it is calibrated by comparing the results it gives to those given by a precise
ammeter. An
ammeter should be connected into the circuit so the true value of the current flowing through it can be measured and this reading compared to that given by the
voltmeter and
copper wire shunt combination.
A length of copper wire a good 25% longer than calculated above should be joined in series with the circuit to be measured as shown in the above schematic. One of the leads of the
voltmeter should then be soldered near to one end of the copper wire. The remaining voltmeter lead can then be moved along the length of copper wire until the voltmeter reading is the same as that of the ammeter. The voltmeter lead can then be soldered into place leaving a calibrated relatively accurate
homemade shunt resistor.
Thick wire has lower resistance than thin wire therefore a more accurate
shunt can be made with thick wire, but it will be more expensive. However, remember that to measure large currents, thick wire
must be used as thin wire will overheat.
2014 Article Update  Buying Shunt Resistors
One of the major things which has changed since the article was first published in 2007 is the increasing availability of well priced
shunt resistors.
Pictured above for example is a
1000 Amp 75 mV shunt resistor priced at just £12 delivered to the UK from Hong Kong. Click here for a
wide selection of shunt resistors with prices starting at just £2 each delivered.
Article Last Modified: 20:55, 14th Jan 2014Comment on this Article
If you have any comments on this article, please email them to
neil@reuk.co.uk.
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