DIY solder stencils from soda cans

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Even if you’ve overcome your fear diddling about with tiny SMD components, applying solder paste – especially if you’re populating more than one board at a time – is still a chore. The pros use very expensive laser cut stainless steel solder paste stencils, something still a bit out of reach to the casual hobbyist. [Felix] solved this problem by making his own solder paste stencils very cheaply using empty soda cans.

The process begins just like any other home etching tutorial by lightly sanding the un-bent aluminum can and applying the etch resist via the toner transfer method. Etching is done with off-the-shelf HCl and hydrogen peroxide, resulting in an amazingly clean stencil comparable in quality with a professional stencil.

Sure, going through a dozen-step process to make a solder paste stencil may not be as convienent as [Cnlohr]‘s toothpick and tweezers method, but [Felix]‘ method is just about up to par with extraordinarily expensive laser cut stainless steel stencils. Not bad for something that came from the recycling bin.

Fast and easy solder paste stencils

If you’re making your own boards with SMD parts, you might want to get a solder paste stencil. Usually made of laser-cut mylar or extremely thin steel, these stencils allow you to squeegee solder paste onto your board’s pads and make assembly a whole lot easier. [Rochey] needed a stencil for a board he was working on, and lacking a laser cutter he turned to what he had available – a few bits of plastic and a CNC machine.

[Rochey] began making his stencils out of laminating pouches and an xacto knife. This worked well, but it was time-consuming, and a bit fiddly when cutting 1 mm square holes. To speed up the process, [Rochey] put one of these laminating pouches on his CNC machine, exported the ‘Top Cream’ layer in Eagle to the CNC software of his choice, and had his machine attack the plastic with a 1 mm drill bit.

To [Rochey]‘s surprise, everything went as planned; in five minutes, he had a stencil with perfectly accurate holes that masked off everything but the SMD pads.

Thanks [Fabien] for sending this one in.

How to etch your own solder paste stencils

We’re kind of surprised we haven’t covered this concept before since it only uses techniques that are commonly avaialable for home PCB fabrication. [Ray] made this solder paste stencil out of a sheet of copper using the same etching techniques you would for a circuit board. He designed and printed a resist pattern, with toner everywhere except the places where there should be holes in the stencil. He transferred the toner to the copper using an iron.

The difference here should be obvious; this a thin copper sheet with no substrate. Because of that, you must protect the copper surface before etching. he covered the entire thing, both sides, in packing tape. After that it’s into the Cupric Chloride bath to dissolve the exposed parts. Once the tape and toner has been removed you can scree a precise amount of solder paste onto your boards.

This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re assembling many boards it’s not a bad approach. If the stencil is no longer used it can be recycled, but we do wonder how corrosion on the copper will affect the stencil’s performance.

The idea for this technique came to [Ray] from a guide that’s been around for years.

One-man SMD assembly line shares a lot of tips about doing it right

Need to use that antiquated hardware that can only be connected via a parallel port? It might take you some time to find a computer that still has one of those, or you could try out this USB to Parallel port converter. It’s not limited to working with printers, as the driver builds a virtual parallel port that you should be able to use for any purpose. But what we’re really interested in here isn’t the converter itself, but the build process. [Henrik Haftmann] posted a three-part series of videos on the assembly process, which you can watch after the break.

The build is mostly surface mount soldering with just a handful of components that need to be hand soldered. The first of his videos shows him stenciling solder paste onto the boards. From what we can see it looks like he built a nice jig for this using scrap pieces of copper-clad which match the thickness of the PCB, and hold it and the stencil securely in place. There’s a bunch of other tips you can glean from the videos, like the image seen above. It’s a clamp that holds the PCB and USB jack together while they are soldered.

If you’re ever thinking of assembling a bunch of boards you should set aside thirty minutes to watch them all.

[Read more...]

Photographing stuff that’s not there by using stencils

This image was not made in post production, but captured during a long camera exposure. The method uses stencils to add components to a picture. [Alex] built a jig for his camera from a cardboard box. This jig positions a large frame in front of the camera lens where a printed stencil can be inserted. He printed two identical sheets of paper with black covering the area all around the 8-bit joggers. When properly aligned and inserted in the jig, the black parts of the stencil will act to mask the areas where he wants to capture the natural surroundings of the image. Once the camera shutter is triggered, he uses a flash to illuminated the stencil, then removes the the paper image from the jig and ambient light from the dark surrounding is captured during the remainder of the 20-30 second exposure time. The real trick is getting the light levels between the flash and the ambient light to balance and produce a result like the one seen above.

Is anyone else hearing the Punch Out cut-scene music in their heads right about now?

Laser cutting solder stencils

Do you have access to a laser cutter? If so, you can use [Riley Porter's] method to cut your own solder stencils. He starts with the Eagle files and exports the Dimension and tCream layers to a PDF. That file is then processed using Ghostwriter, Gview, and finally, Corel draw. The result is a 1200dpi file to feed to your Epilog laser. Now you’re ready to stencil on the solder paste and populate the PCB.

[Thanks Travis Goodspeed]