Ironclad Tips For Copper-Clad Prototyping

The idea of trying to prototype with SMD parts on the fly sounds like insanity, right? But then we watched [Leo Fernekes] walk calmly and carefully through his process (video, embedded below). Suddenly, SMD prototyping jumped onto our list of things to try soon.

[Leo] speaks from a lot of experience and tight client timelines, so this video is a fourteen-minute masterclass in using copper-clad board as a Manhattan-style scratch pad. He starts by making a renewable tool for scraping away copper by grinding down and shaping an old X-Acto blade into a kind of sharpened Swiss Army knife bottle opener shape. That alone is mind-blowing, but [Leo] keeps on going.

In these prototypes, he uses the through-hole version of whatever microcontroller is in the design. For everything else, he uses the exact SMT part that will end up on the PCB that someone else is busy designing in the meantime.

After laying the board out on paper, [Leo] carves out the islands of conductivity, beep-checks them for shorts, shines the whole thing with steel wool, and goes to town.

The tips and tricks keep coming as he makes jumps and joins ground planes with bare copper wire insulated with heat-proof Teflon tubing, and lays out the benefits of building up a stash of connectors and shelling out the money for a good crimp tool.

And why do you need a good crimp tool? Because when they’re done properly, crimped connections are stronger and more reliable than solder. There’s a lot more to them than you might think.

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Bring Up A PCB With Fewer Headaches

What’s the first thing you do when a new set of boards from the fab house hits the doorstep? Apply solder paste, populate the components, and stick it in the reflow oven? That’s one way to do it. But a lot of non-obvious things can go wrong at the fab house, like shorts and undrilled vias. One tiny mistake can mean hours of frustration and sanity questioning as you troubleshoot some problem that’s now buried under solder paste and 0603s.

Over on IO, [Bhavesh] tries to nip these problems in the bud with a comprehensive and explanatory guide to properly bringing up a PCB. Though it’s based on fab house boards, this soup-to-nuts plan is good for any project from kit building to custom stripboard circuits. When new boards arrive, [Bhavesh] does several continuity checks and visually inspects them with a microscope. In the case of a stripboard layout, it’s a good idea to verify there’s no continuity across cut traces. He goes on to cover solder paste, touching on proper handling and storage, application, and problem correction.

Our favorite part of this guide is the component sheets. Making these is a great preventive measure, like lining up all your ingredients on the counter before you bake a cake. If you know what you need, why not have it all ready?  [Bhavesh] uses a sheet for each component type, lists all the relevant values in ascending order, and lays out component reels next to them.

The guide covers solder paste, too—his stencils were late to arrive, so the guide deals with applying paste by hand. He suggests a plan for populating the board by starting in one corner and working in circle, placing small components first. Then it’s on to reflow and those all-important post-reflow checks for bridges and bad joints before letting the magic smoke out.

A great time to catch mistakes is before you send the order to the fab house. Hackaday’s own [Joshua Vasquez] has you more than covered there.