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Hobbyists looking to create a new electronic gadget should think about the benefits of creating their own custom-made printed circuit boards. Printed circuit boards are easy to make and keep the circuit design easy to follow and logical, a definite positive when it comes to troubleshooting. The following technique works reliably to produce tracks down to 10mm in thickness, and uses materials that are widely available. The resulting circuit boards are suitable for use with most surface-mounted parts and will allow you to create custom gadgets.

Instructions Design your board

Before you go to the trouble of making a printed circuit board be sure that your circuit design works as required if you are creating a novel gadget. It is easy to overlook or make errors in circuitry design. This step can be performed in two ways. The first is the most pain free and utilizes a “breadboard.” This is a commonly used board consisting of many holes, into which insulated copper wires can be slotted and connected. The “legs” of your components can be pushed in to make your circuit. This method requires no soldering and so components can be rearranged at will. This ease of use makes this application very popular. Alternatively, you can use a strip-board which has parallel strips of conductive copper track on one side. This method will require your components to be soldered, however, no wire is required as the copper strips conduct current between the components. Once your circuit functions as required, the printed circuit board design can be finalized. If you are confident that your design is functional, on the other hand, you may skip this step.

When you are confident your circuit construction will function as required (perhaps by construction of a prototype as described above for more complex designs, or through prior knowledge of component functions and how to construct simple circuits), design your circuit board tracks as it should appear on the printed circuit board. This should be done on your computer using any imaging software, even something as simple as paint. If you are designing your circuit to fit within a box or case, you should consider the positioning of any switches or components on your circuit design, so that when finished, these align with any “holes” in your case. This will ensure that your device functions as required.

Print the design onto paper. The print out will need to be the size of the circuit board you desire to create. If you are designing a circuit board to fit into a box or casing, now is the time to manually ensure that any components, lights or switches to be attached to your circuit board will sit in the correct places.

Flip the image over so that you have a mirror image. The toner will be transferred onto your circuit board eventually, so failing to flip the image will result in a mirror image on the circuit board. This may have an impact on its functionality.

Print your board

Select suitable paper. The most important thing about the paper you use is that the surface layer is soluble. Cheap magazines or cheap brochures that absorb water quickly, or photo paper that undergoes “surface swell’ when exposed to a drop of water are perfect.

Print your design using a laser printer that uses toner and not ink. Print it onto the glossy paper. Remember, if you are using a magazine page, be careful not to feed crinkled paper into your machine or it will clog. It’s also best to hand feed the paper rather than loading it into the paper tray.

Cut down the copper clad laminate to the size of your circuit board, which can be done using a hacksaw.

Clean the copper using a kitchen scrub pad until it becomes shiny, and wipe away any dust with a clean cloth.

Cut out the circuit board design from the glossy paper and lay it face down onto the copper side of the board. Tape one side of the paper to the board. Tape it such that you can flip your design up for the next step.

Heat up the clothes iron and press it against the clean copper circuit board to heat it up, being careful not to touch the paper as you do. Flip the paper down onto the hot copper and press the iron onto the back of the paper for 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will melt the toner (which is made of plastic, not ink) onto the copper.

Finish the board

Put the circuit board, once cooled and with paper still attached, into a bowl of water and leave it until the paper is soft.

Peel off the paper or remove it by rubbing it off. The board should be copper with a black circuit board out-line.

Immerse the board in etching solution for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a highly corrosive acid. Do not touch it. Stir the solution every few minutes by using a plastic spoon, before removing the board. Be careful to make sure there is no copper visible on the board.

Rinse the board thoroughly, and then leave it to soak in water for 15 minutes. Let it sit in the water to make sure all traces of the acid are gone. Stir the water occasionally.

Use nail polish remover on tissue to remove the toner, and then rinse the board and leave it to dry

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