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How to Build a Circuit Board- Key Steps to Making DIY Circuit Boards

A printed circuit board (PCB) is the basis of all electronic components. A PCB ensures an excellent electrical connection by featuring pre-designed layers of copper tracks. This article will explicitly explore how to build a circuit board from scratch.

What are the Different Ways to Make a Circuit Board?

Many Circuit Boards

Fig 1: Many Circuit Boards

Most circuit board makers use either of the following three methods.

  1. Applying iron on the glossy paper technique.
  2. Also, you can create the circuit by hand on a printed circuit board (PCB).
  3. Lastly, you can use the Laser cutting edge etching design process. 

The latter laser etching process is synonymous with industrial PCB manufacturers.

PCB Design

PCB Design in an Electronics Factory

Fig 2: PCB Design in an Electronics Factory

The PCB design procedure involves taking the schematic diagram of the circuit and imprinting it on a PCB layout. PCB layout software such as Autodesk Eagle or PCBWizard is handy for this procedure.

Below is a stepwise illustration of how to make a circuit board.

Step 1: Assemble the Tools and Materials

A DIY PCB

Fig 3: A DIY PCB

Tools required

  • Flat iron
  • Photocopying machine or laser printer
  • Mini drill
  • Eye Goggles
  • Latex Gloves

Necessary Materials

  • A PCB board
  • An etching solution, preferably Ferric Chloride (FeCl3)
  • A marker- fine tip
  • A piece of cloth
  • Glossy paper
  • Sandpaper
  • Plastic straws/ plastic tweezers

Step 2: Design A Circuit Diagram

This step is essential if you don’t have a PCB layout. Alternatively, you may opt to write the simple circuit design on the board if you’re not planning to explore the printing method.

Besides, you’ll need good PCB board design software for an excellent PCB layout design. The Eagle Layout Editor will come in handy in this step. But if you’re not conversant with this software or looking for a simpler one, go for Microsoft PowerPoint.

Step 3: Draw Your Schematics 

We’ll use KiCad for this procedure since it is free software that is easy to use, even for complex designs. You’ll need to install the software and select ‘Create New Project.’

Next, make the circuit diagram schematic and activate the Electrical Rules Checker (ERC). It’s handy in checking if there are errors in your schematic.

Step 4: Printing Your PCB Layout

PCB Layout

Fig 4: PCB Layout

A laser Laser Printer/ photocopying machine will be handy rather than an Inkjet printer. Primarily, this is because the latter’s ink is water soluble. Hence, it will not transfer its imprint ink on the PCB board.

Again, for this step, use magazine paper or any glossy paper.

Step 5: Cut the Copper Plate for the Circuit Board

A DIY Printed Circuit Board on Tweezers

Fig 5: A DIY Printed Circuit Board on Tweezers

Here, cutting the copper board per your layout’s size would be best. You may use a hacksaw or a cutter for this task. Next, gently scrub the PCBs copper side using an abrasive sponge or steel wool to clean the photoresist layer and the oxide covering.

Besides, roughening the surface enables easy attachment of the image from the glossy paper.

Step 6: Transfer the PCB Print onto the Copper Plate

Fig 6: Unused Copper Plates for making Circuit Boards

You may use either of the following two techniques.

Iron on Glossy Paper technique

The method is best suited to complex circuits. Primarily it involves imposing the laser printer’s image on the board. Besides, ensure that you flip the paper’s top layer horizontally.

Next, place the circuit board’s copper surface on your printed board layout. Also, ensure the board perfectly aligns with the printed layout borders. A tape will be handy in providing the board and paper remain in the correct position.

Circuit by Hand on PC

Unlike the former method, this best suits simple circuits. In this case, the course will be the reference point from which you’ll make a tracing sketch on the copper plate via a pencil.

Then, after making a clear sketch, use a permanent marker to create a more precise board outline trace.

Step 7: Etch the Plate

Etching in FeCl3

Fig 7: Etching in FeCl3

It is a sensitive step; thus, you must be highly cautious. Here are the key steps and the respective precautions to undertake:

  1. Primarily, you should don rubber gloves and have a newspaper on the surface to prevent floor staining by the etching solution.
  2. Next, put three spoonfuls of ferric chloride power into a plastic box with water to make the FeCl3 etching solution.
  3. Now immerse the PCB into the ferric chloride solution to allow the etching process. The process will prompt the reaction between unmasked copper and FeCl3 to expel unwanted copper from the board. It should take about 30 minutes.
  4. Using pliers, remove the PCB from the solution and confirm that the unmasked area has undergone complete etching. If not, initiate further etching by dipping it into the solution until the process is entire.

Step 8: Cleaning, Disposal, and the Final Touches for the Circuit Board

The etching solution harms biodiversity; thus, you must discard it cautiously. For instance, don’t pour it into water sources as it’s toxic to water animals like fish. Also, spewing it into the sink is equally harmful as it could cause drain pipe damage.

Hence, dilute it first with water before discarding it. Also, soak cotton wool with nail polish remover to clean the toner from the plate. It will aid in exposing the copper surface, and after cleaning, rinse and dry the surface with a clean piece of clothing. Next, trim the board to your desired final size, and using sandpaper, sand the edges to smoothen it.

Step 9: Drilling the Holes

Soldering Components on PCB

Fig 8: Green PCB

Next, using a hole component, drill holes onto the PCB and solder the respective components to create integrated circuits. While drilling, ensure you start from the copper side, as it’ll guide you on the specific parts to drill.

Note that you can also make a green PCB that is common in most electronics. All you need is to smear your board with green solder-resistant paint.

Step 10: How to use a Soldering Iron on a Circuit Board?

Soldering Components on PCB

Fig 9: Soldering Components on PCB

Here are the critical steps of soldering components onto the circuit board:

How to Build a Circuit Board: Mount the Electronic Component

First, place the component you want to solder by inserting its leads into the circuit board’s holes. Next, flip the circuit board and bend the tips to make a firm connection. This step is handy in preventing the component from falling off during soldering. 

How to Build a Circuit Board: Heat the Solder

Switch on the soldering iron and tune it to a temperature of 400-degree Celsius. Next, simultaneously place the solder tip onto the copper pad and component lead for about 4 seconds. This step is handy in heating the pad and melting the information. 

How to Build a Circuit Board: Apply Solder

While firmly pressing the soldering iron on the lead and copper pad, place the solder onto the joint. Ensure you don’t directly touch the solder with the soldering iron tip. When the common you’re making is hot enough, the solder will melt, and a strong connection will form. 

Remove the Leads

After soldering:

  1. Allow the joint to cool naturally.
  2. Don’t hasten the cooling process by blowing air into the joint.
  3. Once it’s appropriately cooled, snip the excess lead to remain with a smooth joint. 

Noteworthy, don’t apply too much solder to form a large ball connecting to the other joint.

Step 11: Test

Fig 10: Industrial PCB Testing

Connect the circuit board parts to a multimeter to detect connectivity issues. If present, a desoldering gun will be handy in rectifying the problems. 

Conclusion

Now you’re fully enlightened about how to build a circuit board from scratch. Write to us in case you have a query, and we’ll promptly reach back to you.

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Hommer Zhao
Hi, I am Hommer, the founder of WellPCB. So far, we have more than 4,000 customers worldwide. If you have any questions, you can feel free to contact me. I really appreciate any help you can provide.

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