Guide: Why Etch a PCB When You Can Mill?

I recall the point I started taking electronics seriously, although excited, a sense of dread followed upon the thought of facing the two main obstacles faced by hobbyists and even professionals: Fabricating you own PCB’s and fiddling with the ever decreasing surface mount footprints. Any resistance to the latter proves futile, expensive, and frankly a bit silly in retrospect. Cheap SMD tools have made it extremely easy to store, place, and solder all things SMD.

Once you’ve restricted all your hobbyist designs/experiments to SMD, how do you go about producing the PCBs needed for prototyping? Personally, I dread the thought of etching my own boards. The process is laborious and involves messy chemicals and specially sensitized PCB’s — none of which interest me. I’ve only ever done it a few times, and have promised myself never to do it again. Professional but cheap PCB manufacturing is more like it board pooling services such as OSH park have made this both easy and affordable — if you can wait for the turnaround.

So what are the alternatives? If you are really serious about swift prototyping from your own Lab, I put forth the case of milling your own PCB’s. Read on as I take you through the typical workflow from design to prototype and convince you to put up with the relatively high start up cost of purchasing a PCB mill.

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How to Upgrade a Chinese CNC Machine

Looking to add a small CNC machine to your garage or hackerspace’s arsenal of tools? Like any tools — China has you covered for the cheap options — but the question is, is it worth it? Typically it depends on the tool, but when you can upgrade your 3040 CNC router to use USB instead of a parallel port with the TinyG motion controller… most definitely!

The 3040 or 3020 CNC router is a popular Chinese machine used by many hobbyists — and for good reason. A rigid all-aluminum frame, decent stepper motors and pretty good resolution? It’s not a bad deal for around $1000USD. We’ve covered it many times before. Problem is, the electronics are a bit out-dated. Particularly in the fact that it uses Mach3 with a parallel port… Come on, who has a parallel port these days?

[John Lauer] set out to fix this. The TinyG is a motor controller we’ve covered a few times before as well — it was just waiting to be fitted into a 3040 CNC in order to run a better control system, like ChiliPeppr!

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