The definitive guide to solder stencils

stencil

Yes, we’ve seen our share of tutorials for making solder paste stencils, but [Felix] hit it out of the park with this one. It’s the definitive guide to making solder stencils at home, with quality as good as you would find in any professionally made stencil.

The material for the stencils comes from the same source as so many other DIY solder stencils – aluminium cans. The interior plastic coating and the exterior paint job are both removed with heat, acetone, and patience. After laying out the cream layer of his board in a PDF file, [Felix] used a fairly interesting transfer medium to get the toner onto the aluminum; cheap vinyl shelving paper attached to a piece of paper apparently makes for an ideal surface to transfer toner.

After transfer, the board is etched with HCl and peroxide. [Felix] is getting some very good results with his method, including a few very fine pitch IC footprints. It’s just as good as a professionally made, laser cut stainless stencil, and you probably already have all the necessary ingredients lying around your house. That’s a win anytime.

Custom boards at home without etching

PCB

PC board houses are getting more accessable and less expensive all the time. Some of us are even getting very, very good at making our own circuit boards at home. There are times, though, when a project or prototype requires an extremely cheap custom board right now, something etching a custom board won’t allow. [KopfKopfKopfAffe] has a unique solution to this problem, able to create custom boards in under an hour without any nasty chemicals.

Instead of starting his build with copper-clad board, [KopfAffe] used every rapid prototyper’s friend, simple one-sided perf board. The shape of the board was milled out on a CNC machine, and both the top silk screen and bottom layer were marked off using the toner transfer method. After that, a custom circuit is just a matter of placing components and putting solder bridges between all the marked pads.

[KopfAffe] is only using this technique for single-sided boards, but we don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be employed for simple double-sided boards. This would still have the problem of making vias between the layers, but that’s still a problem with proper, home-etched double sided boards.

PCB production workshop means everyone gets an Arduino

nano

Over at the LVL1 hackerspace in Lousiville, [Brad] is putting together a workshop on etching PCBs at home. [Brad] wanted all the participants to take home something cool, so he settled on an Arduino clone as the workshop’s project.

The clone [Brad] used is the Nanino, a single-sided board we’ve seen before. Unfortunately, there aren’t any CAD files for the Nanino and doing a toner transfer with the existing PDFs was a pain. This led [Brad] to redraw the Nanino in Diptrace and put the files up for everyone to grab.

In his workshop, [Brad] is going to be using a laser printer, hydrogen peroxide, and HCl. one of the most common setups for home etching. If you’re in the Louisville area, you can make your own Nanino with a home etching workshop on March 16th. Be careful, though: those LVL1 guys are pretty weird; they have a moat and are building a homicidal AI.

10 ways to etch PCBs at home

There are a ton of benefits for etching your own circuit boards at home, chief among them the ability to design a circuit in the morning and have a prototype in your hand by lunch. There’s always the question of how to etch the board, but [NurdRage] over on Youtube has all the chemistry covered on ten different etchant solutions for DIY PCB manufacturing.

The peroxide-based methods use simple over-the-counter Hydrogen Peroxide to remove all the copper on a PCB. By combining H2O2 with either Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid or Sulfuric acid, you’ll get a relatively easy to acquire and somewhat safe etching solution.

Historically, the favorite etchant for the home PCB manufacturer has been Ferric Chloride and is still surprisingly available at a few Radio Shacks around the US. Another chloride etchant – Copper Chloride – is one of the most reusable etchants available, able to be regenerated by simply bubbling air through the solution. You can actually make Copper Chloride etchant by reducing down the products of an H2O2 + HCl etchant, making this a very good etchant for PCB pros.

In the ‘miscellaneous’ category, [NurdRage] goes over some alternative etchants such as Bleach and HCl, Nitric acid, and potassium nitrate and HCl; the potassium nitrate etchant is fairly similar to aqua regia, so if you’ve ever wanted a gold PCB, this is the way to go.

Balancing the ease of production and safety of all these etchants, we’ll stick with our Hydrogen Peroxide and HCl etchant for now, at least until we move up to CuCl for the best etching machine we’ve ever seen.

Continue reading “10 ways to etch PCBs at home”

Single sided Arduino is a great introduction to PCB etching

After you’ve taken the plunge and decided to learn how to etch your own circuit boards, you’ll quickly find even the simplest boards are still out of your grasp. This is due mostly to the two-layer nature of most PCBs, and turn making a homemade Arduino board an exercise in frustration and improving your vocabulary of four-letter words.

After looking around for an easy-to-manufacture single-sided Arduino board, [Johan] realized there weren’t many options for someone new to board etching. He created the Nanino, quite possibly the simplist Arduino compatible board that can be made in a kitchen sink.

Billing it as something between the Veroduino and the Diavolino, [Johan]’s board does away with all the complexities of true Arduinos by throwing out the USB interface and FTDI chip. A very small parts count makes the Nanino much less expensive to produce in quantity than even the official Arduino single sided board.

For an introduction to etching your own PCBs at home, we couldn’t think of a better first board. As an Arduino, you’re guaranteed to find some use for it and the ease of manufacture and low parts count makes it the perfect subject for your hackerspace’s next tutorial series.

Etching brass and copper with The Etchinator

If you’re in to making your own PCBs at home, you know the trials of etching copper clad boards. It’s slow, even if you’re gently rocking your etch tank or even using an aquarium pump to agitate your etching solution. [cunning_fellow] over on Instructables has the solution to your etching problems, and can even produce printmaking plates, jewelry, photochemically machine small parts, and make small brass logos of your second favorite website.

The Etchinator is a spray etcher, so instead of submerging a copper clad board into a vat of ferric or cupric chloride, etching solution is sprayed onto the board. We’ve seen this technique before, but previous builds use pumps to spray the etching solution and cost a bundle. [cunning_fellow]’s Etchinator doesn’t used pumps; it’s driven by two cordless drill motors sucking up etching solution through a hollow tube.

The basic idea behind the build is sticking a vertical PVC pipe in a box with etching solution. Mount an impeller in the bottom of the tube, drill many small holes in the side of the tube, and spin it with a motor up top. The solution is sucked up the tube, sprayed out the sides, and falls back down into the reservoir. Put a masked off copper board in the tank and Bob’s your uncle.

Not only did [cunning_fellow] come up with an awesome PCB etching solution, but the same machine can be used for etching brass plate for printmaking, and even photoetching brass sheets for model planes, trains, and automobiles. The quality is really amazing; the Instructables robot above was etched out of 0.7 mm thick brass, with an etch depth of 0.35 mm with only 0.05 mm of undercut. A very awesome build that is already on our ‘to build’ project list.

Etching your own PCBs at home

Etching your own PCBs from copper clad board is nothing new, but the ability to make your own circuit boards at home is so useful it should be part of every maker’s repertoire of skills. The folks over at Hub City Labs in Moncton, NB, Canada put together a workshop covering the basics of home PCB manufacturing, allowing any maker to put a circuit board in their hands in under an hour.

The process starts just like any PCB design – laying out traces, parts, and vias in a PCB designer such as Eagle. When making your own boards, it’s a good idea to make the traces and pads extra large; the folks at Hub City Labs follow the 50-50 rule: 50 mil wide traces with 50 mils of seperation.

The PCB design is printed out with a laser printer (in mirror mode) onto a piece of paper from a glossy magazine or inkjet photo paper. After the copper board is scrubbed to remove any oxidation or oils present, the design is laid face down on the copper and heated with a clothes iron or sent through a laminator.

After the laser printer toner is transferred to the copper, the recipe calls for etching the board with a solution consisting of a half cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and a quarter cup of muriatic acid.

The folks at Hub City Labs put together a great tutorial for one of the most useful skills the home electronics wizard can have, but etching your own PCBs is an art unto itself. There’s a lot of ways this process can be improved, from using Kapton tape to secure the printed art to the copper board, to getting high-strength peroxide from a beauty supply store.

If you’ve got any tips on making your own PCBs at home, drop a line in the comments below.

EDIT: Good job killing Hub City Lab’s web server, everybody. They’re working on getting something up.