Making a Circuit Board From Scratch

Making a circuit board from scratch the easy way. You can use heat transfer foil, or simply draw it with a permanent marker in the old school style.
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Making a circuit board from scratch, ready in less than 20 minutes. A few quick steps I’m following to make my own PCB boards. If I’m just building test circuits I don’t use the heat transfer foil, so I’m mostly drawing everything with a permanent marker. If I want to build a circuit that it’s either a final design or it’s too complicated to draw, then I use the heat transfer foil.

TRANSFERING THE DRAWING TO THE PCB BOARD

To transfer the circuit diagram to the PCB board, you have two choices. The modern method that is easy to use, is with the heat transfer foil. If you are not in a rush and you don’t want your circuit to look perfect, then drawing everything with a permanent marker will do. I prefer the hand drawing method most of the time. Lately I only make homemade PCB boards to test a particular circuit. I prefer to order the final version of a PCB design from PCBWay. You can have a look at the DX Explorer Projects page on PCBWay, to order any boards that I am posting. Most of the projects presented here on the blog, will have a PCB board design on the projects page.

No matter what method you are using to make a circuit board from scratch, before drawing or transferring the toner, wash the PCB board really well with water and soap. I like using the green kitchen pad to scrub the PCB board with lots of soap. Make sure there is no grease left on the surface. Then dry it with a clean kitchen towel ( not paper towel ).

DRAWING THE BOARD

This is my favorite method so far. In the past I had to use melted pitch. That was not easy to draw with. Later on I tried nail polish. It was easier, but still too messy and complicated. These days we have permanent markers, making the drawing process a lot easier.

HEAT TRANSFER FOIL

There are many types of heat transfer foil available on the market. Some work amazing, some not so much. I will not put any links in here, as they may not be the same in your place. Use whatever you find and you think it will do the job, making your life easier. Most of the time they are really cheap and easy to find in online stores that sell components.

After you printed your transfer foil using the laser printer, cut the foil to the appropriate shape and dimensions. It must be as close as possible to the dimensions of the final PCB board. Place the PCB piece on a book with a hard cover, or a piece of straight wood. On top of the wood place two layers of paper towels, then your PCB board. Carefully place the printed transfer foil on top. Some people like using tape to fix it to the PCB board.

Use an iron having the temperature fixed at the highest setting. Place two more layers of kitchen paper towels on top of the PCB. Then carefully place the iron on top and press really hard. The time you have to keep the iron on top, depends on the particular foil you are using. Some require a longer time, some only around 15 seconds. It’s important to remove the iron, then place it again and press to make sure you covered the entire surface of the PCB. This way all the printed drawing will stick properly to the PCB board.

After you finished with the iron, let the PCB board cool down. Slowly and carefully peel the transfer foil from the printed board. Usually this is also the time when you will realize how well the transfer was made. Sometimes you will notice a lot of imperfections. Especially if you didn’t clean the PCB properly before, or you didn’t kept the iron pressed long enough.

PREPARING THE CIRCUIT BOARD TO BE CORRODED

If you decided to draw everything by hand with a permanent marker, just double check everything it’s correct. If using the toner transfer method, after removing the foil, fix all the imperfections that may appear in the drawing using a permanent marker.

CORRODING THE CIRCUIT BOARD

For this step you should use latex gloves, eye protection and a mask. If you do this very often you may not need them. For safety if it’s the first time using chemicals, is good practice to wear them. The ferric chloride it’s dangerous if you breath it, so you will need a well ventilated space. Be careful not to splash the solution into your eyes, or on your skin.

Get a plastic container big enough for the PCB board you are trying to corrode. Place the ferric chloride in the container, then the PCB board. Usually if you have a layer of 3 – 4 millimeters of solution on top of the PCB it’s more than enough. Depending on the size of your board, the PCB should be finished from 5 to 15 minutes. Try to check from time to time and also move the plastic container.

FINISHING THE PCB BOARD

After you finished corroding the PCB board, carefully take it out of the container and wash it with a lot of water to remove the chemicals. Don’t forget to place the chemicals back into the storage container. Usually I like using acetone to remove any trace of toner or marker from the PCB. Wash the board again with soap and water scrubbing it with the green kitchen pad. Now your board is ready to be drilled.

A you can tell is not so hard to make a PCB board at home. If I only want to make a one time project or a prototype, this is what I use. If I need to replicate the project, then PCBWay is the way. Homemade PCB boards may not look perfect, but well made they will do the job good enough. Keep in mind that in the past this was the only way homebrew equipment was made. Many times that equipment had better performance than the commercially made radio equipment. I have as an example an A412 transceiver to restore, made the same way in the 80’s.

73 DE YO6DXE

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