Cutting islands into copper-clad PCBs with a drill

copper-islands

If you’re looking to build some small radio circuits, or if you are simply seeking a new look for your PCBs, you might want to check out what YouTube user [AndyDaviesByTheSea] has been working on lately. He has been building RF circuits as of late and was searching for a better way to create islands or “lands” on copper-clad PCBs.

He says that these sorts of islands are traditionally cut into the PCB with a scalpel or file – hardly an efficient process. [Andy] did a little experimenting and found a great way to quickly and precisely cut lands with a drill. Borrowing a bit of metal from an old VHS tape, he crafted a circular land cutter with a metal file. When mounted as a drill bit, his cutter produces clean, shallow cuts which create perfect lands on which to solder his components.

The only drawback to this method is that [Andy] found his bits were being dulled by the fiberglass boards pretty quickly. His solution was to carefully grind a broken heavy duty drill bit to do the task, which he says works even better than his original cutter.

Comments

  1. svofski says:

    Very clever! Nice!

  2. Miroslav says:

    Smart. Thumbs up.

  3. ino says:

    excellent idea !

  4. ohmeadhbh says:

    cool idea! i like how what would normally be a trace is now an island. also, i did a google search for ”small hole saw” and got several hits, including some reasonably priced diamond tip’d 5/32” and 1/4” hole saw bits. so making your own is not the only option.

  5. Contraindicated says:

    Spot weld cutters should get the job done too. Many different sizes available and they are tool steel, just use them without the pilot tip. I used quite a few of those to replace panels when I was restoring my old Turbo TA.

  6. DougR says:

    @ohmeadhbh – Damn, you posted first. I was thinking the exact same thing. A diamond encrusted Glass Hole Bit would work perfectly for this. Don’t worry, they aren’t as expensive as they sound. The following link is an example of what to look for, but you can find the same thing at most major hardware stores in the drill bit section.

    http://www.drillglass.com/1dihosaw.html

  7. jayemel says:

    I think a “plug cutter” could be used to good effect. They come in 1/4″, which is similar to the size of his cutter.

  8. vvenesect says:

    This type of tool is called an island cutter, and the style of PCB board construction has been around a while in ham radio. Some good info here, as well as a source for commercial bits of this type: http://www.cliftonlaboratories.com/Prototyping.htm#Manhattan_Construction_for_RF

  9. James Newton says:

    Another way of doing this is by hole punching or nibbling or just cutting tiny squares from thin PCB material and then soldering or simply gluing those little “pads” to a surface and then soldering to the top of each pad. It’s called Manhattan, ’cause it ends up looking sort of like a little city. Pictures, guides, and examples at:

    http://techref.massmind.org/techref/pcb/manhattan.htm

  10. n0lkk says:

    Fist I like it that Andy posts his stuff on youtube so it’s out their for everyone, and wish more hams would. I suspect stuff submitted accepted to the the amateur radio journals, and magazines are forever lock out of sight.

    Bring oil patch; kutrite carbide hardfacing came to mind came to mind almost immediately. really don’t know if a product with fine enough carbide is available for applications as small as this though. Perhaps one could tike the carbide of a circular saw blade to make longer lasting tool if ever needed.

  11. Montaray Jack says:

    If using carbide, a single tooth cutter like on a flycutter would be easier to work with and sharpen.

    There are of course commercially available hole saws, even in small sizes like this, Diamond Core Drill Bits, http://www.diamond-drill-bit-and-tool.com/Diamond-Drill/DD2.shtml
    looks like their sizes start at .02″ / 0.5mm Interior Diameter and .08″ / 2.0mm OD

    Diamond tools are pretty easy to make yourself too. One of the company owners was an expert jig grinder, he made his own burrs all the time. You need a shank to the size(on the minus side) braze the end then roll in diamond powder of the grit you need. This would probably work with silicon carbide and carborundum abrasives too. There might be a trick, he might have put the diamond in the heated liquid braze and dipped the tool in, and rolled in diamond powder afterward for additional abrasive. These won’t last very long if the runout is too much.

    I think Andy is running the drill too fast, a slower speed might give his too more life.
    A little more refinement of the holesaw teeth on Andy’s tool would help too. Proper geometry sharpened with some small slipstones after roughing in with the files would stop some of the tearing, burnishing and rollover I can see on Andy’s PCB’s. I’m thinking something along the lines of the geometry of a engraver’s graver point,

    http://www.engravingschool.com/private/Lindsay%20Sharpener.htm

    or perhaps something more like a lathe/shaper tool profile.

    http://www.sherline.com/grinding.htm

    Stainless steel doesn’t harden easily, it does work harden though. It’s difficult stuff to work with.
    Too bad that O1 tool steel isn’t readily available in small tubes, it is easy to harden it glass hard and draw it back down to about RC 54, when it’s blue.

    I’m just trying to offer improvements, not criticizing Andy’d videos. His stuff is awesome, I enjoyed his capacitor video series, very useful info. (BTW I love that Marconi capacitance meter he has, solid piece of engineering)

  12. Threeck says:

    I got a better idea. Why not buy a copper foil, use a puncher to make “islands” and glue it to a wooden board or something. it’d be much easier to do it that way than milling them on a veroboard.

  13. Burt Weiner says:

    I’ve been building circuit board this way for years. A few years ago I discovered spot weld drills at Harbor Freight. They are excellent for cutting small isolated pads on copper circuit board. These drills have a spring loaded center pin that keeps the boards from wandering while you drill them. In some cases I’ve drilled a very small pilot hole through the board so that I can make a matching pads on the opposite side of the board for feed through connections. The cutters hold up real well even on glass epoxy boards.

    Take a look at:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/3-8-eighth-inch-double-sided-rotary-spot-weld-cutter-95343.html

    Burt, K6OQK

  14. Analog says:

    A 1/8 inch router bit on a Dremel tool works pretty well to remove the copper from around a through-hole.

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