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I’ve been considering making an LC metre for a while because I don’t have a multimeter that can measure inductance, and while my multimeters can measure capacitance, they can’t give good readings for small capacitance in the range of a few pFs.

Although there are many decent articles on how to make LC metres with PIC MCUs (such as these: 1, 2, and 3), instructions on how to build one with an ATmega MCU are few and far between, despite the fact that the underlying premise is virtually the same. As a result, I decided to write an essay about how to make an LC metre with an ATmega328p processor and Arduino libraries.

A standard LC metre is nothing more than an LC oscillator with a large range. The extra inductance or capacitance modifies the oscillator’s output frequency when measuring an inductor or capacitor. And, depending on the measurement, we can calculate the inductance or capacitance by computing the frequency change.

The comparator-based LC oscillator I utilised in the LC metre is shown in the diagram below. The oscillator section is rather straightforward. The LM311 comparator is used in the majority of the other systems I’ve seen. However, for this application, any comparator capable of oscillating at up to 50kHz should suffice. I had a few spare LM339s on hand, so I put them in the oscillator circuit.

LC Meter

On pin 1, a 3K pull-up resistor should be used, and the feedback resistor should be 100K rather than 10K.

Because we’re really measuring the oscillator’s frequency, we can make a frequency metre out of the same circuit for essentially no extra money. A reed relay is used to switch the measurement from LC to frequency mode, as shown in the circuit above. The second comparator in the schematics above acts as a Schmitt trigger, conditioning the input waveform to improve the accuracy of the frequency measurement. The frequency output from the first comparator is simply fed via the Schmitt trigger when in LC mode. The frequency of the output is determined by


\[L=L_0 + L_{measured}\] and
\[C=C_0 + C_{measured}\]

Choosing a high-precision L0 and C0 improves the meter’s accuracy.

The MCU side of the schematics is as follows:

LC Meter

This circuit can measure inductance across a wide range of values, from a few NH to a few Henrys. I’ve found that it works best for capacitance measurements ranging from a few pF to tens of nF. If the capacitors have a high ESR rating, you may be able to measure significantly bigger capacitors. However, the range limit in capacitance measurement should not be a concern because the precision in the pF range is what matters most.

For the frequency measurement, I used this frequency library. The display is updated every second by default. This setting yields the most precise results. You can easily reduce the update interval, but the measurement precision will suffer.

This project’s Arduino code may be found here ( If you are using the Arduino IDE instead of the NetBeans IDE, you may need to change the included header files. Please review my prior article on this subject for more information.

In capacitance measurement mode, the non-load reading is utilised to calculate stray inductance (if C0 is accurate), which is then used to compensate for capacitance measurements. In the inductance measurement mode, we assume L0 is accurate, and we utilise the non-load reading (by shorting the test leads) to calculate stray capacitance, which is then used to compensate for inductance measurements.

When using this metre to measure a known 2.22nF capacitor, the capacitance reading looks like this:Capacitance Measurement

The LC metre is seen in inductance mode, measuring a small inductor in this image:

Inductance Measurement






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