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Do it yourself PCB experience

My question is for all the people who have etched their own circuit boards (BOA, JIP, Fritsl?, Others?).
I would like to know:
1. how many times you have made your own circuit boards.
2. how long does it take. Is it faster than wire-wrap or "free-form" soldering?
3. how many boards have you made in a run?
4. have you ever tried commercial sites? how would you compare vs doing it all yourself?
5. what is the start-up costs?
6. what do you do with the spent chemicals?
7. is it worth it? If not why, if so, in what context would it be worthwhile?

When I was growing up we had a couple of pigs we needed to get in a horse trailer. Doesn't matter what we would do they would not go in. Some pretty bright people were around, and they knew all kinds of knots. We tried tying ropes around them using bowlines, slip knots, clinch knots, and even a hangmans noose. But every single one wouldn't work, the pigs would fight and slip out. Until, finally an old timer came by and said, "Stick a little vaseline in their noses". Stunned, we tried it, and sure enough.. they calmly walked into the horse trailer...

My point is, "How much of making your own circuit boards comes from doing it, vs reading about it?" - It doesn't matter how much we read about different knots, knowing pigs hate the smell of horses in confined places came from experience instead of knot knowledge.

8. would you recommend it?


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Seriously..? Did you think that I made my own print? With omponents and stuff?

Dude, I know no electronics!!

And dude, change that title, it is not good web - think of the next person wanting to ask the same questions, he would not look under"Old timers pig secrets" - MISLEADIGN TITLES ARE AS BAD KARMA AS SHOUTING!!

isn't the content searchable?


how bout "Do it yourself PCB experience" - is that boring enough?

and don't mess with me Frits!, I know you know about the magic smoke, what more do you need to know?... maybe how to print where the smoke should be :) 

I haven't done any PCBs either - besides those I did in school a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Any current opinions or past experiences worth noting while warping through memory lane?

I can't really say I got any real experience from school. It was just drilling the holes, drawing the PCB layout with waterproof marker pens and dumping the whole thing into the wad of circulated FeCl. After 15-20 minutes the board was ready for populating. Oh yeah well I guess that using circulated FeCl is kind of an experience. The copper will etch much quicker if the FeCl is being circulated - you can use an aquarium pump like I think BOA's done if I remember correctly... and do wear some clothes you won't mind being ruined. FeCl is messy!

I've only done a couple, long ago. A lab partner and I first generated the artwork for a double sided board. This was to be printed only on certain laser printers on these blue sheets called press-n-peel. We did both sides on one sheet since the stuff was a little expensive. These sheets with toner traces were then ironed on to the copper clad board. We had thought ahead to make alignment holes in a couple corners, so the back side would be consistent with the component side. The first side was ironed on, then a couple holes drilled, then the back side aligned and ironed on. Even with that, we had to do a second board since the first was a bit off. The FeCl was pored into a a plastic sandwich container, the board placed in, and kind of swirled about. Stunk up the place pretty bad. Once it appeared to be pretty well etched, seeing more of the PCB plastic, it was dryed for a bit. Then the joy of drilling component holes and vias. Lots of them. Used a Dremel press and tiny bits that broke periodically. but finally got it. Still some slight mis-alignment, but usable. The vias had to be "wired" through, and there were no plated through holes, though that stap can be done too. This process probably burned several hours, and others in the group had similar times, as first time PCB etching went. Seems like the copper-clad was $5, press-n-peel $3 a sheet, can't remember the etchant, maybe $10, the Dremel I had, the press for it was $35 or so, bought 5 drill bits for $10.

 Since that time I've heard that newsprint or other light paper can be used to have the laser toner art transfered on to the the copper clad board. Once the art is ironed on the PCB, the light paper is gently washed away with water. And also heard that photo-etching boards can have more sharp edges, but is a little more costly process. I've also heard of re-generating the FeCl after a series of etchings, by placing an iron nail as an electrode into it, and passing a current through it. Kind of an electrolysis process, where you wind up with a copper coated nail. 

For other methods, I believe that wire-wrapping was much faster, though there was an extra expense of the long-tailed sockets. Point to point soldering on protoboards was fastest of all, just taping/glueing components and go. Trying to dead-bug some simple component circuits was a little weird, but can work.

To me, etching can only be worth it as an art-form, as something you enjoy only for the sake of doing it. There are so much better results to be had by sending artwork in to a PDB house, and deals like $99 for 3 boards isn't so bad. Production runs of a PCB can get you $1 each for a 3"x4" PCB. Even an 8 layer 1x3 can be around $6 each. That is for a few hundred though. 

I'm gonna try electrolysing the copper out of my FeCl.

1. 30 or 40.

2. Spend as long as you want designing it. You have to design it even for wire wrap or free form. Having designed it (eg in Eagle) the software creates your tracks. 20 minutes to etch. 10 minutes to drill. 10 minutes to solder.

3. I once made four boards the same. No biggie. Why do you ask?

4. No, but I'd quite like to. I can't do double-sided very well and some of my boards are getting heavily populated. 

5. Under $50. See also.

6. Well, 1L of ferric chloride has lasted me about 18 months and isn't showing any signs of weakening yet. If you keep the tracks thick and don't leave big gaps, you don't really use much chemical. I can't remember how I disposed of my last litre. (Ahem.)

7. I believe so. I think the end result is cleaner, more compact and easier to debug than stripboard. Put it this way: I'm STILL doing it.

Thanks for all the your great feedback.