Custom PCB Revives a Vintage Tree Stand

After 56 years, [Jeff Cotten]’s rotating Christmas tree stand had decided enough was enough. While its sturdy cast aluminum frame was ready for another half-century of merriment, the internal mechanism that sent power up through the rotating base had failed and started tripping the circuit breaker. The problem itself seemed easy enough to fix, but the nearly 60 year old failed component was naturally unobtanium.

But with the help of his local makerspace, he was able to manufacture a replacement. It’s not exactly the same as the original part, and he may not get another 56 years out of it, but it worked for this season at least so that’s a win in our books.

The mechanism inside the stand is fairly simple: two metal “wipes” make contact with concentric circle traces on a round PCB. Unfortunately, over the years the stand warped a bit and the wipe made contact with the PCB where it wasn’t intended do. This caused an arc, destroying the PCB.

The first step in recreating the PCB was measuring the wipes and the distance between them. This allowed [Jeff] to determine how thick the traces needed to be, and how much space should be between them. He was then able to take that data and plug it into Inkscape to come up with a design for his replacement board.

To make the PCB itself, he first coated a piece of copper clad board with black spray paint. Using the laser cutter at the makerspace, he was then able to blast away the paint, leaving behind the two concentric circles. A quick dip in acid, a bit of polishing with toothpaste, and he had a replacement board that was close enough to bolt up in place of the original hardware.

If you’d like to see the kind of hacks that take place above the stand, we’ve got plenty to get you inspired before next Christmas.

Wearable Foxhunt Transmitter for Conventions

Amateur radio operator [KE4FOX] wanted to build his own 2M fox hunt transmitter for use at conventions. It would be contained in a 1020 Pelican micro case and attached to a person who would walk around transmitting a signal, leaving the hams to track down the fox. The project uses a DRA818 VHF/UHF transceiver plugged into a low-pass filter combined with a hardware DTMF decoder, all controlled by an ATmega328P and powered by a 11.2 mAh battery.

[KE4FOX] also etched his own PCB, using the PCB toner transfer method, folding a sheet of transfer paper around the board to align both layers. Then he etched the board using cupric chloride. When assembling the board he realized he had made a terrible error, assuming the transceiver module’s pins went in the top layer when in fact they should have gone in the bottom layer. He solved this by soldering in the module in upside down.

He dropped the project into the 1020 and installed an SMA antenna. After he assembled the project he found out that the level shifter he used on the Arduino’s 5 V data didn’t work as expected and it was stuck at a single frequency. Something to work on for V2!

We publish a large number of amateur radio posts here on Hackaday, including fox hunting with Raspberry Pi and how to make a TDOA directional antenna.

[thanks, that Kat!]

Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Etchant?

Although the typical cliché for a mad scientist usually involves Bunsen burners, beakers, and retorts, most of us (with some exceptions, of course) aren’t really chemists. However, there are some electronic endeavors that require a bit of knowledge about chemistry or related fields like metallurgy. No place is this more apparent than producing your own PCBs. Unless you use a mill, you are probably using a chemical bath of some sort to strip copper from your boards.

The standard go-to solution is ferric chloride. It isn’t too tricky to use, but it does work better hot and with aeration, although neither are absolutely necessary. However, it does tend to stain just about everything it touches. In liquid form, it is more expensive to ship, although you can get it in dry form. Another common etchant is ammonium or sodium persulphate.

pcbyThere’s also a variety of homemade etchants using things like muriatic acid and vinegar. Most of these use peroxide as an oxidizer. There’s lots of information about things like this on the Internet. However, like everything on the Internet, you can find good information and bad information.

When [w_k_fay] ran out of PCB etchant, he decided to make his own to replace it and wrote a great guide on how this is done. He found a lot of vague and conflicting information on the Internet. He read that the vinegar solution was too slow and the cupric acid needs a heated tank, a way to oxygenate the solution, and strict pH controls. However, he did have successful experiments with the hydrochloric acid and peroxide. He also used the same materials (along with some others) to make ferric chloride successfully.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Etchant?”

Vacuum Exposure Unit Gives Better PCB Etching Results

PCB etching seems to be a subject that sharply divides our community into those who are experts in it and etch themselves every PCB they use, and those who have significant quantities of ferric chloride stained clothing in their past and for whom the advent of cheap commercial PCB manufacture and CNC milled PCB prototyping have been the best thing since sliced bread.

Your likely success when etching your own boards is most dependent on the quality of your preparation and your equipment. If you began your PCB career with etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker with a Tupperware tub of etchant, then later progressed to laser toner or photographic masking and a bubble etcher, you’ll understand this.

[Jan Henrik] has drawn our attention to his very nicely built PCB etching suite (Translation, German original) at the Warpzone hackerspace (Translation, German original) in Münster, Germany. The foil pattern is printed on transparency and exposed to UV light over a photoresist coated board with a vacuum pump arrangement to ensure as good a contact as possible to the board for the sharpest result. They have two exposers, one for single sided and the other for double-sided boards, both are very well-built from what looks like plywood.

The attention to detail continues with a home-made magnetic stirrer and heated bubble etching tank Their etchant of choice is sodium persulphate, so there are none of those brown ferric chloride stains.

PCB etching is nothing new, indeed we have covered the subject extensively over the years. But we think you’ll agree, if you’re going to etch your own PCBs you should have as good a set-up as you can, and Warpzone’s PCB suite is rather well put together. Those of us in spaces with lesser facilities should be getting ideas from it.

Etching PCBs With A 3D Printer

With the coming of very cheap blue laser diodes, PCB fabrication has become increasingly interesting. Instead of making a photoresist, placing it over a piece of pre-sensitized copper clad board, and putting the whole assemblage under a blacklight, it’s possible to put a photomask on a board with a tiny bit of very blue light. All you need is a CNC machine. A 3D printer can be a very precise CNC machine, and when you combine these two ideas together, you can make printed circuit boards with an Ultimaker.

[Geggo] had the idea of attaching a blue laser diode to his Ultimaker to burn a few traces into presensitized copper board. With a 3D printed adapter, he was able to mount the diode and associated electronics right on the extruder body. With a small ring to tighten up the aperture, [geggo] was able to put a 50 micrometer wide dot of light on a piece of copper. The laser is powered directly from the PWM fan output on the printer controller board, allowing this entire mish-mash of cheap electronics to be controlled via G-code.

A few experiments were necessary to determine the correct speeds and power settings, with the best results being 1000 mm per minute at 40 mA. The finished board looks fantastic, and a few minutes after [geggo] was done etching a board, he started using his 3D printer as a printer. It’s a result that is so good, so easy to accomplish, and requires so little effort it makes us wonder why we don’t see more of this.

Even Easier Toner Transfer PCBs

One of the most popular methods of homebrew PCB fabrication is the toner transfer process. Compared to UV-sensitive films and CNC mills, the toner transfer process is fantastically simple and only requires a laser printer. Being simple doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and successful toner transfer depends on melting the toner to transfer it from a piece of paper to a copper clad board.

This is heatless toner transfer for PCB fabrication. Instead of using a clothes iron or laminator to transfer toner from a paper to board, [simpletronic] is doing it chemically using acetone and alcohol.

Acetone usually dissolves laser printer toner, and while this is useful for transferring a PCB from paper to board, it alone is insufficient. By using a mixture of eight parts alcohol to three parts acetone, [simpletronic] can make the toner on a piece of paper stick, but not enough to dissolve the toner or make it blur.

From there, it’s a simple matter of putting a piece of paper down on copper clad board. After waiting a few minutes, the paper peels off revealing perfectly transferred board art. All the usual etching techniques can be used to remove copper and fabricate a PCB.

This is an entirely novel method of PCB fabrication, but it’s not exactly original. A few days ago, we saw a very similar method of transferring laser printed graphics to cloth, wood, and metal. While these are probably independent discoveries, it is great evidence there are still new techniques and new ways of doing things left to be discovered.

Thanks [fridgefire] for the tip.

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.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Tool For Homebrew PCB Manufacturing”