Inductance is the ability of a coil to stop an electrical current from flowing through it. An inductor coil can stop one current so a different one is able to flow. TVs and radios, for instance, use inductance to receive and tune into different channels. Inductance is usually measured in units called millihenrys or microhenrys. It is commonly measured by using a frequency generator and an oscilloscope or an LCM multimeter. It can also be calculated through a voltage-current slope measuring the change in the electrical current passing through the coil.

Method 1
Method 1 of 3:

Using a Resistor to Determine Inductance

  1. Resistors have colored bands that can help you tell them apart. A 100-ohm resistor will have a brown, black, and brown band. The final band at the far end will also be brown to represent 1% tolerance. If you have a bunch of resistors to choose from, pick one with a known resistance value.[1]
    • Resistors are labeled when they are new, but they can be easy to mistake once they are out of the packaging. Always test inductance using a resistor you are familiar with to ensure you get an accurate result.
  2. In series means the current passes through the coil one after the other. Start setting up a circuit by placing the coil and resistor next to each other. Make sure they have 1 terminal touching. To finish the circuit, you will also need to touch power wires to the exposed ends of the resistor and inductor.[2]
    • Purchase power wires online or at a hardware store. They will usually be red and black so you can easily tell them apart. Touch the red wire to the exposed end of the resistor and the black wire to the opposite end of the inductor.
    • If you don’t already have one, consider getting a breadboard. The holes in the board help a lot with connecting the wires and components.
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  3. Take the output leads from the function generator and plug them into the oscilloscope. Then, turn on both devices to make sure they are working. Once they are both on, take the function generator’s red output lead and connect it to the red power wire in your circuit. Connect the oscilloscope’s black input lead to the black wire in your circuit.[3]
    • A function generator is a piece of electrical testing equipment that sends electrical waves through the circuit. It allows you to control the signal moving through the coil so you can accurately calculate the inductance.
    • The oscilloscope is used to detect and display the signal voltage running through the circuit. You need it to visualize the signal you’re setting up with the function generator.
  4. The function generator simulates currents the inductor and resistor would receive if they were actually being used. Use the control knob on the device to start the current. Try setting the function generator to something like 100 or 50 ohms. Make sure the generator is set to sine waves so you see big, curving waves flowing steadily across the screen.[4]
    • Access the generator’s settings to change the wave type. Function generators can make square waves, triangular waves, and other varieties that aren’t useful for calculating inductance.
  5. Look to the oscilloscope screen for a pair of sine waves. One will be controllable through the function generator. The other, smaller wave comes from where the inductor and resistor meet. Adjust the function generator’s frequency so the junction voltage listed on the screen is half of the original input voltage.[5]
    • For example, set the generator frequency so the voltage between the peaks of both waves is listed as 1 V, which you will see on the oscilloscope. Then, change it until the voltage is 0.5 V.
    • The junction voltage is the difference between the sine waves on the oscilloscope. You need it to be half of the signal generator’s original voltage.
  6. This will be displayed on the oscilloscope. Check the numbers on the bottom of the readout to find one in kilohertz, or kHz. Note this number, since you will need to use it in a calculation to find the inductance.[6]
    • If you need to convert hertz (Hz) to kilohertz, remember that 1 kHz = 1,000 Hz. For instance, 1 Hz / (1,000 Hz/kHz) = 0.001 kHz.
  7. Use the formula L = R * sqrt(3) / (2 * pi * f). L is the inductance, so you need the resistance (R) and the frequency (f) you figured out earlier. Another option is to type your measurements into an inductance calculator, such as at https://daycounter.com/Articles/How-To-Measure-Inductance.phtml.[7]
    • Start by multiplying the resistance of the resistor by the square root of 3. For instance, 100 ohms x 1.73 = 173.
    • Next, multiply 2, pi, and the frequency. For example, if the resistance was 20 kHz: 2 * 3.14 * 20 = 125.6.
    • Finish by dividing the first number by the second number. In this case, 173 / 125.6 = 1.38 millihenries (mH).
    • To convert millihenries into microhenries (uH), multiply by 1,000: 1.38 x 1,000 = 1378 uH.
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Method 2
Method 2 of 3:

Measuring with an LCR Meter

  1. A basic LCR meter is very similar to a multimeter normally used to measure things like voltage and current. Most meters are handheld with a readout screen that will display 0 after you press the power button. If it doesn’t display 0, press the reset button to set the meter at 0.[8]
    • There are also larger electronic machines that make the testing process even easier than normal. They often have room for you to plug in the inductor coil for a more accurate result.
    • Multimeters cannot be used to measure inductance. They don’t have the ability, but fortunately, inexpensive handheld LCR meters are available online.
  2. An LCR meter can take several measurements, which will be listed on the dial. L means inductance, so it is the one you need. For handheld meters, turn the dial to point to the L. If you’re using an electronic device, press the buttons on the screen to set the machine to L.[9]
    • LCR meters have multiple settings, so make sure you’re using the correct one. The C setting is for capacitance and the R is for resistance.
  3. LCR meters generally offer several different test settings. The lowest inductance test is usually something like 200 uH. If you’re setting a tabletop meter, 100 kHz at 1 volt is perfect for most devices.[10]
    • Using the wrong setting makes the test more inaccurate. Most LCR meters are meant to test at a low current, but you should still avoid making the current stronger than what the inductor coil can handle.
  4. The meter will have a black and red lead just like a multimeter. The red lead fits in the plug marked as positive, while the black one fits in the plug marked as negative. Touch the leads to the terminal ends of the device you are testing to begin sending a current through it.[11]
    • Some LCR meters have a slot where you can plug in testing objects like capacitors and coils. Fit the device’s terminals into the sockets to test it.
  5. LCR devices perform inductance tests almost instantaneously. You should notice the readout on the screen change right away. It will show you a number in microhenries (uH). Once you have the number, you can shut off the meter and remove the device.
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Method 3
Method 3 of 3:

Calculating Inductance on a Voltage-Current Slope

  1. The easiest way to get a pulsed current is by purchasing a pulse generator. It works similar to a regular function generator and hooks up to a circuit the same way. Hook the output lead from the generator to a red power wire you will need to connect to a sense resistor.[12]
    • Another way to get a pulse is by building the circuit to make your own. It can damage nearby electronics, so be careful when using it.
    • Pulse generators give you more control over the current than a custom-built circuit, so rely on a generator if you have one available.
  2. You will need a current sense resistor to put into the circuit. Set it behind the inductor, making sure the terminals touch before connecting a red power wire to the opposite end. Add the oscilloscope next by connecting its black input lead to a black power wire attached to the end of the inductor.[13]
    • Test the monitors after wiring everything into place. If everything works, you will see movement on the oscillator screen when the pulsed current activates.
    • A current sense resistor is a special kind of resistor that takes up a minimal amount of power. It’s also called a shunt resistor and it’s necessary for getting an accurate voltage reading.
  3. Watch the pulse as it moves across the oscilloscope screen. The high points of the wave indicate when the pulse is active. Those high points need to be about the same length as the low points. The pulse cycle is the length of one complete wave on the oscilloscope.[14]
    • For example, the pulse could be active 1 second, then off 1 second. The wave pattern on the display would look very consistent since the pulse is only active for half the time.
  4. Check the oscilloscope for these measurements. The peak current is the crest of the tallest wave you see on the screen and will be measured in amperes. The time between these crests will be shown in microseconds. Once you have both measurements, you can calculate the inductance.[15]
    • There are 1,000,000 microseconds in a second. If you need to convert to seconds, divide the microseconds by 1,000,000.
  5. Use the formula L = V*Ton/Ipk to calculate the inductance. All of the numbers needed should be right there on the oscilloscope. V stands for the voltage delivered by the pulses, Ton stands for the time between each pulse, and lpk means the peak current you measured earlier.[16]
  6. Refer to the oscilloscope readout to determine the peak current. Plug it into the formula to successfully finish the calculation!
    • For example, 250 volt-microseconds / 5 amperes = 50 microhenries (mH).
    • Although the math seems pretty simple, setting up the measurement is more complex than other methods. Once you have everything working, figuring out the inductance is a snap!
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    How can method 1 be correct if Z=2*PI*f*L?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    He adjusts frequency so the voltage drop due to the impedance = V drop of resistance. This then becomes, Z = 2piFL = R so L = R/(2piF).
  • Question
    Can I measure inductance using an LCR meter?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Of course you can; that's what an LCR meter is for. Keep in mind that because the method for evaluating inductance and capacitance may vary from one meter to another, the results will be different. There is no need to spend a lot of money on a top quality one. If this is just for your hobby, then a low end one will be just fine as you won't need the extra precision a professional would.
  • Question
    Where does the formula of the second method (point n4) come from?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    It is based on the equation used to evaluate the gain at a given frequency vs. the cutoff frequency. The equation is 1/(sqrt(1+(R/(2*pi*f*L))^2)). By re-arranging the terms to find L when we have a gain of 1/2 as per the example above, you will end up with that equation. Don't forget that there is a note below the picture indicating that the formula isn't correct; the one below the picture, mentioned in a warning note, is the correct one. The picture and explanation underneath it will need to be updated to reflect the correct information.
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Warning

  • Quality inductance meters can be costly and uncommon. In addition, affordable LCR meters typically measure at a low current, so they aren’t useful for testing large inductors.

Things You'll Need

Using a Resistor to Determine Inductance

  • Pulsed voltage generator
  • Oscilloscope
  • Induction coil
  • Connecting wires
  • Calculator

Measuring with an LCR Meter

  • LCR meter
  • Inductor or another device
  • Black and red leads

Calculating Inductance on a Voltage Current Slope

  • Pulsed voltage generator
  • Oscilloscope
  • Current sense resistor
  • Induction coil
  • Connecting wires
  • Calculator

Expert Interview

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About This Article

Martin Hennum
Co-authored by:
Licensed Electrical Contractor
This article was co-authored by Martin Hennum. Martin Hennum is a Licensed Electrical Contractor and Owner of Peach Electric based in Sacramento, California. With over 10 years of experience, Martin and his team specialize in residential and commercial electrical work. They are knowledgeable about new technologies that help clients with future proofing so they save time and money. Martin is passionate about customer service, bringing the best information to clients, and prioritizing safety across projects. This article has been viewed 725,699 times.
8 votes - 48%
Co-authors: 27
Updated: December 29, 2023
Views: 725,699
Article SummaryX

To measure inductance on a voltage current slope, connect the inductor coil to a pulsed voltage source and keep the pulse below 50 percent. Then you can set up the current monitors and begin your measure. You'll need to read the peak current in amperes and the amount of time between voltage pulses in microseconds. To calculate the inductance, multiply the voltage delivered in each pulse by the length of each pulse, and divide that product by the peak To learn about how to measure inductance with resistor and capacitor, continue reading below!

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