With the low-cost PCB fabrication services available to hackers and makers these days, we’ll admit that making your own boards at home doesn’t hold quite the appeal that it did in the past. But even if getting your boards professionally made is cheaper and easier than it ever has been before, at-home production still can’t be beat when you absolutely must have a usable board before the end of the day.
If you find yourself in such a situation, this new method of DIY PCB production detailed by [Adalbert] might be just what you need. This unique approach uses a desktop fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer throughout all of its phases, from creating a stencil based on the exported board design, to warming the UV soldermask to accelerate the curing process. It may not be an ideal choice for densely packed boards with fine-pitch components, but could definitely see it being useful for many prototypes.
Sometimes it might seem as if your electronics are just jinxed. For [Niva_v_kopirce] it was the control board of his nephew’s RC car that kept frying the transistors. In situations like this, you can either throw it in the bin, invest your time in troubleshooting, hoping to find the error and try to fix it then, or get creative. He chose the latter, and designed and etched a replacement board.
Of course, etching your own PCB isn’t that noteworthy for the average Hackaday reader, although [Niva_v_kopirce] did go the extra mile and added purple solder mask to it, turning the stylishness definitely up to 11. This is also where it gets interesting, when you think of the solder mask as complementary layer for a solder paste stencil. Growing tired of manually applying solder paste, he thought to give a DIY stencil a try this time — using a beer can.
After cutting the can open and flattening it, along with some sanding, he transferred the cutouts from the solder mask onto it, and started etching holes in it. While the result may not be exactly precise, it did the job, especially for a homemade built.
Despite their convenience, stencils are still a rather exotic addition for hobbyists as they rarely pay off for a one-off project with limited SMD component usage. But maybe this was a new inspiration for you now. And if etching metal is outside your comfort zone, cutting plastic can be an alternative, as well as 3d printing.
While using a stencil should make solder paste application onto PCBs a simple affair, there are a number of “gotchas” that make it more art than science. Luckily, there are tools you can build, like this 3D-printed vacuum-assist stencil jig, that take a little of the finesse out of the process.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, solder paste stencils are often used to make the job of applying just the right amount of solder paste onto the pads of a PCB, and only on the pads. The problem is that once the solder paste has been squeegeed through the holes in the stencil, it’s not easy to remove the stencil without smearing. [Marius Heier]’s stencil box is essentially a chamber that attaches to a shop vac, along with a two-piece perforated work surface. The center part of the top platform is fixed, while the outer section moves up and down on 3D-printed springs.
In use, the PCB is placed on the center fixed platform, while the stencil sits atop it. Suction pulls the stencil firmly down onto the PCB and holds it there while the solder paste is applied. Releasing the suction causes the outer section of the platform to spring up vertically, resulting in nice, neat solder-covered pads. [Marius] demonstrates the box in the video below, and shows a number of adapters that would make it work with different sized PCBs.
Your brand-new PCBs just showed up, and this time you even remembered to order a stencil. You lay the stencil on one of the boards, hold it down with one hand, and use the other to wipe some solder paste across…. and the stencil shifts, making a mess and smearing paste across the board. Wash, rinse (with some IPA, of course), repeat, and hope it’ll work better on the next try.
Maybe it’s time to try Stencilframer, a 3D-printable jig generator created by [Igor]. This incredibly useful tool takes either a set of gerbers or a KiCad PCB file and generates 3D models of a jig and a frame to securely hold the board and associated stencil. The tool itself is a Python script that uses OpenSCAD for all 3D geometry generation. From there, it’s a simple matter to throw the jig and frame models on a 3D printer and voilà!– perfectly-aligned stencils, every time.
This is a seriously brilliant script. Anyone whose gone through the frustration of trying to align a stencil by hand should be jumping at the opportunity to try this out on their next build. It could even be paired with an Open Reflow hot plate for a fully open-source PCB assembly workflow.
So how does one create a solder stencil from household waste? In the video we’ve put below the break, she starts with her packaging, and cuts from it a square of PET sheet. It’s 0.24mm thick, which is ideal for the purpose. She then lays it over the PCB and marks all the pads with a marker pen, before cutting or drilling the holes for the pads. The underside is then sanded to remove protruding swarf, and the stencil can then be used in the normal way. She proves it by stenciling the solder paste, hand placing the parts, and reflowing the solder on a hotplate.
It’s clear that this is best suited to smaller numbers of larger components, and we’ll never use it to replace a laser-cut stencil for a thousand tiny 0201 discretes. But that’s not the point here, it’s an interesting technique for those less complex boards, and it’s something that can be tried by anyone who is curious to give stenciling and reflowing a go and who doesn’t have a project with a ready-cut stencil. And for that we like it.
Making your own stencils doesn’t have to include this rather basic method. They can be etched, or even 3D printed.
We around the Hackaday shop never get tired of seeing new ways to mark the passage of time. Hackers come up with all manner of interesting timekeeping modalities using every imaginable material and method of moving the mechanism once per whatever minimum time unit the hacker chooses to mark.
But honestly, there are only so many ways to make a clock, and while we’re bound to see some repeats, it’s still nice to go over old ground with a fresh approach. Take this linear sliding stencil clock for instance. [Luuk Esselbrugge] has included some cool design elements that bear a closer look. The video below shows that the display is made up of four separate stepper motors, each driving a vertical stencil via a rack-and-pinion mechanism. There a simple microswitch for homing the display, and a Neopixel for lighting things up.
The video below shows that the stencils move very, very slowly; [Luuk] says that this is to keep the steppers as quiet as possible. Still, this means that some time changes take more than a minute to accomplish, which is a minor problem. The Neopixel also doesn’t quite light up just one digit, which should be a pretty easy fix for version 2. Still, even with these issues, we like the stately movements of this clock, and appreciate [Luuk]’s attempts to make it easier to live with.
Don’t let the number of clocks you see on these pages dissuade you from trying something new, or from putting your twist on an old design. Start with fridge magnets, an old oscilloscope, or even a bevy of steel balls, and let your imagination run wild. Just make sure to tell us all about it when you’re done.
Here at Hackaday we love all kinds of builds, and we celebrate anytime anyone puts parts together into something else. And while we love the quick and dirty builds, there’s just something about the fit and finish of this four-axis SMD stencil printer that really pushes our buttons.
This build comes to us from [Phillip], who like many surface-mount users was sick of the various tape-and-PCB methods that are commonly used to align the solder stencil with the PCB traces. His solution is this fully adjustable stencil holder made from aluminum extrusions joined by 3D-printed parts. The flip-up frame of the device has a pair of clamps for securely holding the stainless steel stencil. Springs on the clamp guide rods provide some preload to keep the stencil taut as well as protection from overtensioning.
The stencil can move in the X-, Y-, and Z-axes to line up with a PCB held with 3D-printed standoffs on a bed below the top frame. The bed itself rotates slightly to overcome any skew in alignment of the PCB. [Phillip] was aghast at the price of an off-the-shelf slew-ring bearing for that axis, but luckily was able to print up some parts and just use simple roller bearing to do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. The frame is shown in use below; the moment when the pads line up perfectly through the stencil holds is oddly satisfying.
This puts us in mind of a recent, similar stencil printer we covered. That one was far simpler, but either one of these beats the expedient alignment methods hands down.