Brilliant Brick Prototyping

Have a rusty collection of protoboards wired together that would benefit from mechanical support? Working on putting together a robot and need to attach PCBAs without drilling holes, zipping a cable tie, or globing hot glue? Add some stud holes with [James Munns]’ Brick Mount! This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an interface between everyone’s favorite Nordic building system and circuitboards, but this implementation has the elegance we’ve come to expect from [James]’ software work.

4×8 Feather Medium protoboard

The project repository contains two things: a KiCad library with components for holes in standard patterns and sizes (1×1, 1×2, etc) and a series of protoboards made with those hole components. The protoboards feature a couple common elements; QUIIC connectors for easy chaining between them and holes in the middle or edges for easy mounting on studs. Some are intended to be carriers for Feather-format PCBAs (very convenient!) and others are primarily undifferentiated prototyping space. Of particular note is the “medium” Feather breakout seen to the left, which incorporates clever cutouts to make it easy to wires down under the board so it can be mounted flush against another board.

The thesis here is that getting custom PCBs fabricated is easier and less expensive than ever before. So easy and inexpensive that fabricating customized protoboard to use in one-off projects is cost-efficient enough to be worthwhile. Waste concerns aside this does seem like a great way to level up those temporary projects which find a more permanent home.

Don’t Scrape Magnet Wire, Do This Instead

[Tom] doesn’t much like breadboarding. He prefers to wire up prototypes with perfboard and solder point-to-point with enameled magnet wire. That may sound troublesome to some of you, but [Tom] has come up with a few tips to make prototyping with perfboard and magnet wire easier and more effective, and the biggest tip is about how to manage stripping all that magnet wire.

Push the tip of the magnet wire a small distance into the molten solder and hold it there for a few moments. The solder will bubble away the enamel and tin the copper underneath in the process.

Magnet wire is a thin, solid-core conductor that has a clear coating of enamel. This enamel acts as an electrical insulator. The usual way to strip away the enamel and reveal the shiny copper underneath is to scrape it off, but that would get tiresome when working with a lot of connections. [Tom] prefers to “boil it away” with a blob of molten solder on an iron’s tip.

Begin by melting a small amount of solder on the iron, then push the tip of the magnet wire a small distance into the molten solder and hold it there for a few moments. The enamel will bubble away and the solder will tin the copper underneath in the process. The trick is to use fresh solder, and to clean the tip in between applications. You can see him demonstrate this around the 1:00 mark in the video embedded below.

Once the tip of the magnet wire is tinned, it can be soldered as needed. Magnet wire bends well and holds its shape nicely, so routing it and cutting to size isn’t too difficult. [Tom] also suggests a good hands-free PCB holder, and points out that 0603 sized SMT resistors fit nicely between a perfboard’s 0.1″ pads.

Perfboard (and veroboard) have been standbys of prototyping for a long time, but there are still attempts at improving them, usually by allowing one to combine through-hole and surface-mount devices on the same board, but you can see [Tom] demonstrate using magnet wire on plain old perfboard in the video below.

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High Voltage Measurement Is Shockingly Safe

With the right equipment and training, it’s possible to safely work on energized power lines in the 500 kV range with bare hands. Most of us, though, don’t have the right equipment or training, and should take great care when working with any appreciable amount of voltage. If you want to safely measure even the voltages of the wiring in your house there’s still substantial danger, and you’ll want to take some precautions like using isolated amplifiers.

While there are other safe methods for measuring line voltage or protecting your oscilloscope, [Jason]’s isolated amplifier method uses high voltage capacitors to achieve isolation. The input is then digitized, sent across the capacitors, and then converted back to an analog signal on the other side. This project makes use of a chip from TI to provide the isolation, and [Jason] was able to build it on a perfboard while making many design considerations to ensure it’s as safe as possible, like encasing high voltage sections in epoxy and properly fusing the circuit.

[Jason] also discusses the limitations of this method of isolation on his site, and goes into a lot of technical details about the circuit as well. It probably wouldn’t get a UL certification, but the circuit performs well and even caught a local voltage sag while he was measuring the local power grid. If this method doesn’t meet all of your isolation needs, though, there are a lot of other ways to go about solving the problem.

Improved Perfboard For Surface Mount Parts

Look through the last two decades of electronics project built on perfboard, and you’ll notice a trend. Perfboard is designed for through-hole parts, but ever more frequently, the parts we need are only available as surface mount devices. What does this mean for the future of all those protoboard, veroboard, and tagboard designs? It’s not good, but fortunately, there may be an answer. It’s perfboard designed for mounting SOICs, SOTs, and other surface mount devices.

Perfboard is an extremely simple concept. Most through-hole electronic components are built around 0.1″ or 2.54 mm spacing between pins. Yes, there are exceptions, but you can always bend the middle pin of a transistor and put it in a hole. SMT devices are different. You can’t really bend the pins, and the pin pitch is too small for the 0.1″ holes in traditional perfboard.

[electronic_eel] is changing that game up with his own design for perfboard. This perfboard has the traditional 0.1″ holes, but there are SMD pads sprinkled about between these holes. The result is being able to solder SOIC, SOT23-6, SOT23 and SOT363 devices directly to a board alongside 0603 and 0805 devices. Connect everything with a few beads of solder and you have a functional circuit made out of surface mount devices on something that’s still compatible with the old protoboard designs.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a new type of protoboard make it into production. A few years ago, Perf+, a bizarre ‘bus-based’ protoboard solution came onto the scene, although that wasn’t really designed for SMD parts. While [electronic_eel] doesn’t have any plans to sell his protoboard, the files are available, and you can easily design your own small piece of perfboard.

Evaluating The Unusual And Innovative Perf+ Protoboard

Back in 2015 [Ben Wang] attempted to re-invent the protoboard with the Perf+. Not long afterward, some improvements (more convenient hole size and better solder mask among others) yielded an updated version which I purchased. It’s an interesting concept and after making my first board with it here are my thoughts on what it does well, what it’s like to use, and what place it might have in a workshop.

Perf+ Overview

One side of a Perf+ 2 board. Each hole can selectively connect to bus next to it with a solder bridge. The bus strips are horizontal on the back side.
One side of a Perf+ board. Each hole can selectively connect to the bus next to it with a solder bridge. These bus strips are vertical. The ones on the back are horizontal.

The Perf+ is two-sided perfboard with a twist. In the image to the left, each column of individual holes has a bus running alongside. Each hole can selectively connect to its adjacent bus via a solder bridge. These bus traces are independent of each other and run vertically on the side shown, and horizontally on the back.

Each individual hole is therefore isolated by default but can be connected to one, both, or neither of the bus traces on either side of the board. Since these traces run vertically on one side and horizontally on the other, any hole on the board can be connected to any other hole on the board with as few as two solder bridges and without a single jumper wire.

It’s an innovative idea, but is it a reasonable replacement for perfboard or busboard? I found out by using it to assemble a simple prototype.

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Homebrew Multimode Digital Voice Modem

There’s an old saying that the nice thing about standards is there are so many of them. For digital voice modes, hams have choices of D-Star, DMR, System Fusion, and others. An open source project, the Multimode Digital Voice Modem (MMDVM), allows you to use multiple modes with one set of hardware.

There are some kits available, but [flo_0_] couldn’t wait for his order to arrive. So he built his own version without using a PCB. Since it is a relatively complex circuit for perf board, [flo_0_] used Blackboard to plan the build before heating up a soldering iron. You can see the MMDVM in action below.

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Hackaday Links: Leap Eve, 2016

The current Mac Pro is a masterpiece of design that looks like a trash can. We’ve been waiting for someone to take one of these computers and stuff a MiniITX board in there, but seeing as how the Mac Pro costs $3000, that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Here’s the solution. It’s a trash can computer case that is also too expensive for what it is. Now all we need is someone to put a big fan inside one and turn this computer into a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

[Mike Harrison] recently got his hands on a $20,000 SPARC CPU module. This is an enormously thick board that must be dozens of layers thick. How many layers was an open question until he put the board in a CNC milling machine. The setup is pretty much what you would expect with a few lines of g-code repeated over and over. The real trick comes from using one of the outputs for lubricant to trigger the shutter release on a camera. How many layers were in the CPU module? About 30, or something like that.

Almost a year ago, we saw the latest advances in perfboard. It was a perfboard with each hole connected to rows and columns on a selectively solderable orthogonal busses. Something like that. Actually, we still can’t wrap our head around it. Now, it’s a crowdfunding campaign with a few new and useful features. There’s also a layout tool that will show you where to place your components and where to make solder bridges.

[Ray Wilson] started Music From Outer Spacethe place to learn about DIY analog synthesizers. Ray now has cancer, and as you can imagine, being a self-employed engineer specializing in analog synthesizers doesn’t provide great health coverage. [Ray]’s family set up a GoFundMe page to pay for the medical expenses.

We haven’t seen much in the land of 3D scanners, and we’re betting most of that is because they’re so expensive. The guys from CowTech have a kickstarter up for a 3D scanner that’s just $99. It’s based on the Ciclop scanner but designed around a custom Arduino shield and remains fully open source.

Remember the screen printed electroluminescent displays that were printed directly onto t-shirts from a few months ago? Now that company is working on a much cooler design: the Hackaday Jolly Wrencher. It works, but there are still a few problems: they’re setting the shirt on fire a little. Don’t worry, if these are ever reasonably safe and somewhat affordable, an EL Jolly Wrencher shirt will be in the Hackaday Store.

Need a rechargeable multimeter? It’s actually pretty easy. With an 18650 Lithium Ion cell and a 9V boost converter, this circuit will fit in most devices that need a 9V battery. To do this right, you’ll also need a USB charging port, to be used once every couple of years when the battery needs charging.