Homemade EDM Can Cut Through Difficult Materials Like Magnets With Ease

Many years ago [ScorchWorks] built an electrical-discharge machining tool (EDM) and recently decided to write about it. And there’s a video embedded after the break.

The build is based on the designs described in the book “Build an EDM” by Robert Langolois. An EDM works by creating lots of little electrical discharges between an electrode in the desired shape and a material underneath a dielectric solvent bath. This dissolves the material exactly where the operator would like it dissolved. It is one of the most precise and gentle machining operations possible.

His EDM is built mostly out of found parts. The power supply is a microwave oven transformer rewired with 18 gauge wire to drop the voltage to sixty volts instead of the oven’s original boost to 1.5kV.  The power resistor comes from a dryer element robbed from a unit sitting beside the road. The control board was etched using a hand traced schematic on the copper with a Sharpie.

The linear motion element are two square brass tubes, one sliding inside the other. A stepper motor slowly drives the electrode into the part. Coolant is pumped through the electrode which is held by a little 3D printed part.

The EDM works well, and he has a few example parts showing its ability to perform difficult cuts. Things such as a hole through a razor blade., a small hole through a very small piece of thick steel, and even a hole through a magnet.

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Hack a Bike Electroetching

[Melka] wanted a track bike, but never quite got around to buying a nice one. Then he found an inexpensive abandoned project bike for 10 Euro. He had to do a lot of work to make it serviceable and he detailed it all in a forum post. What caught our eye, though, was his technique for electroetching.

The process is simple, but [Melka] says the procedure caused hydrochloric acid fumes as a byproduct. Your lungs don’t like HCl fumes. Apart from the danger, you probably have everything you need. He used electrical tape to create a stencil on the metal (although he mentioned that Kapton tape might come off better afterward) and a saturated solution of common table salt as the electrolyte.

Power comes from a bench power supply set to about 24V. The positive lead was connected to the metal and the ground to the sponge. From the photos, it looks like the particular piece and solution caused about 600mA to flow. After 10 minutes, the metal etched out to about 0.2 mm. After the etching, [Melka] brazed some brass into the etched area to make an interesting looking logo.

If you have a laser cutter, you can skip the chemicals. We’ve even seen laser etching combine with a 3D printer to produce PCBs. [Melka’s] method is a little messier and probably would not do fine lines readily, but if you need to etch steel and you don’t mind the fumes, it should be simple to try.

Brass Clock Face Etched With PCB Techniques

Over the last few months, [Chris] has been machining a timepiece out of brass and documenting the entire process on his YouTube channel. This week, he completed the clock face. The clock he’s replicating comes from a time before CNC, and according to [Chris], the work of engraving roman numerals on a piece of brass would have been sent out to an engraver. Instead of doing things the traditional way, he’s etching brass with ferric chloride. It’s truly artisan work, and also provides a great tutorial for etching PCBs.

[Chris] is using a photoresist process for engraving his clock dial, and just like making PCBs, this task begins by thoroughly scrubbing and cleaning some brass with acetone. The photoresist is placed on the brass, a transparency sheet printed off, and the entire thing exposed to four blacklights. After that, the unexposed photoresist is dissolved with a sodium carbonate solution, and it’s time for etching.

The clock face was etched in ferric chloride far longer than any PCB would; [Chris] is filling these etchings with shellac wax for a nice contrast between the silvered brass and needs deep, well-defined voids.

You can check out the video below, but that would do [Chris]’ channel a disservice. When we first noticed his work, the comments were actually more positive than not. That’s high praise around here.

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The Ultimate Tool For Homebrew PCB Manufacturing

While OSHPark, Seeed Studio, and DirtyPCB have taken most of the fun and urgency out of making your own circuit boards at home, there are still a few niche cases and weird people who like to go it alone. For them, [Jarzębski] has created the ultimate homebrew PCB manufacturing solution (.pl, here’s the Google translatrix).

[Jarzębski] is using UV-sensitive photomasks for his PCBs, but he’s not doing something simple like a blacklight to develop his boards. He’s using a 30 Watt UV LED for exposing his boards. This, of course, generates a lot of heat and to mitigate that he’s added a Peltier cooler, temperature sensor, and a fan to cool off this retina-burning LED. 30 Watts will get the job done, considering [Jarzębski] was using a quartet of 4.5W LEDs before this build.

Developing a PCB is only one part of the equation; you need to etch it, too. For this, [Jarzębski] is using a small 1.6 Liter aquarium and four aquarium heaters for dunking 120mm x 120mm PCBs in the tank. There’s no mention of what chemistry [Jarzębski] is using – ferric chloride, cupric chloride, or otherwise – but the heaters and aerator should make etching go very smoothly.

There’s a video (English) going over the rest of the project below.

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A Stack Of Boards For An Edison Breadboard Adapter

The Intel Edison is a neat piece of hardware, but the connector for the Edison is extremely intimidating and the Mini breakout board is incompatible with breadboards. What’s [Federico], a builder of Internet of Things to do? Etch their own breakout board.

The Mini Breakout board for the Intel Edison is the official ‘minimal’ offering for getting the Edison up and running with a mess of jumper wires and LEDs. While this breakout board handles the USB to UART bridge, power regulation, and exposes all the pins on the Edison connector, it is terrible for prototyping. It’s a 4×14 array of holes on a 0.1″ grid that are hidden underneath the Edison.

[Federico] handled this problem with a copper clad board and a little bit of ferric chloride. He jumped into Eagle and created a breakout board to turn the 4×14 pin grid into a more sensible breadboard-friendly layout.

The breadboard-friendly adapter doesn’t have level shifters, but by using the mini-breakout board between the Edison and the breadboard adapter [Federico] still has the UART to USB hardware and a battery charging circuit. Still, there’s room for improvement and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Meet The Machines That Build Complex PCBs

You can etch a simple PCB at home with a few chemicals and some patience. However, once you get to multilayer boards, you’re going to want to pay someone to do the dirty work.

The folks behind the USB Armory project visited the factories that build their 6 layer PCB and assemble their final product. Then they posted a full walkthrough of the machines used in the manufacturing process.

The boards start out as layers of copper laminates. Each one is etched by applying a film, using a laser to print the design from a Gerber file, and etching away the unwanted copper in a solution. Then the copper and fibreglass prepreg sandwich is bonded together with epoxy and a big press.

Bonded boards then get drilled for vias, run through plating and solder mask processes and finally plated using an Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) process to give them that shiny gold finish. These completed boards are shipped off to another company, where a pick and place followed by reflow soldering mounts all the components to the board. An X-Ray is used to verify that the BGA parts are soldered correctly.

The walkthrough gives a detailed explanation of the process. It shows us the machines that create products we rely on daily, but never get to see.

Toner Transfer And Packing Tape

The toner transfer process of producing PCBs has evolved tremendously over the last few years. It started out by printing PCB layouts onto magazines with a laser printer, then some clever people figured out that glossy inkjet photo paper would work just as well. Now there’s a new substrate for you – packing tape – and it seems to work pretty well.

[David] was designing a cheap board for a robot kit for a workshop and needed 100 tiny PCBs. They were simple boards, and perfectly suited for home PCB manufacturing. He started off by printing directly onto glossy magazine paper, but this wasn’t an ideal solution. During one run, some of the toner landed on the packaging tape he was using to secure the boards. A bit of serendipity came into play and [David] discovered packaging tape is usable in the toner transfer process.

The technique is simple enough: put some packaging tape on a piece of paper, print a board layout (reversed!) on a laser printer, and go through the usual clothes iron/laminator/etching process. [David] is actually using a hair straightener for transferring the toner over to the copper clad board – interesting, and in a pinch you can use the same tool for reflowing SMD components.