Files for PCB Jigs

Here are some files I’ve used to make PCB’s.

One is the Jig I’m using to make blanks as well as scratch mill PCB’s (same jig). I was originally just fastening the boards with tape for cutting blanks, but I now screw in some wide topped screws around the edges where the mill doesn’t come near. I use rivet nuts from the back end to fasten the prepared boards for scratch milling. These will need to be adjusted to fit your raw boards and preferred sizes. It’s probably easier to just make your own after taking a glance at these – they are particularly complicated or well crafted :).

The second is a 30 degree jig for sharpening bits for scratch milling – specifically PCB drill bits. I use diamond lapping plates for this, and the jig is just made with MDF and a bolt through it. Also pretty simple and I’m sure most people could come up with a better design, but it does work.

Download here (from Github)

4×6 PCB jig: Fusion 360 file for PCB scratch milling jig
diamondFileHolder_60degrees: Fusion 360 file for diamond sharpening prism.

Making Videos

I’ve noticed over the last ten years I’ve moved from learning by reading, to learning by listening or watching. I like listening to books because I can multitask, and I like watching experts because of all the little things you see they’d never bother to write down. This doesn’t work for everything – reading is still the best way when you go deep into the nuts and bolts – but you can cover a lot of ground quickly with video and audio.

So I decided to try a video. The first one isn’t very good, I’ve worked enough with animation and graphics to know that, but it was VERY interesting diving into this world from the other side of the camera. It reminded me a lot of the Flash days, plus your final export is even more universally viewable. Here it is:

Like most things in tech, the tools have gotten much better since I last looked, as well as cheaper. Also computers can keep up without melting. I used DaVinci Resolve (free version) which is super easy to pick up for a professional tool. I love how the video, audio, effects and export are all fully integrated in there. It is very easy to add little effects and transitions (and yes I tried too many of them — but hey, learn by doing etc).

I have an OK camera, but used a webcam. I have no way of looking at the camera monitor while filming, and a poor setup. The picture quality is terrible, but given this was the first video that wasn’t going to be the most noticeably bad thing. I will set things up better for the next one though – apparently post processing is much easier when you don’t start with flaming garbage.

I have a lot of subjects I want to cover, but I do still find it all a little embarrassing. Less than when I started, but there is something a bit pathetic about dragging my sad face into the frame and droning on about some tech thing. Tech is pretty dry, but it gives you superpowers once you understand it – not sure how best to present that. I edited it down a lot, which was good, and tried talking faster which wasn’t. If you happen to watch it, criticisms and advice most welcome :).

Lastly, YouTube. I guess there isn’t another obvious outlet for this kind of thing yet (though it isn’t too hard to self host these days either). It is very straightforward to upload and prep a video, your main task is to choose a thumbnail. What if I told you I had spent a lot of time at Google trying to come up with a thumbnail creation assistant – that I spent countless hours with YouTube domain experts, and collected hundreds of advice points from world class designers? Well looking at the thumbnail you made Robin, that is obviously a lie.

But yes. I spent about 20 minutes on it, right at the end, it’s cheesy and corny (nachos?), and against all advice, it doesn’t even relate to the style of the video. I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s different when it’s your video, you have no defined style, no content, no talent, no feedback, and there are just so many other things going on. It’s weird how you just let it go. Eeek, I hope none of them see this. I’m still distilling all your advices, promise!

I want to get better at this.

We all have things of our own to say. We should say them.

Scratch Milling PCB’s at Home

Making Circuit Boards
KiCad and Scratch Milling
Through Hole SMDs
Scratch Milling Jigs
FlatCam and bCNC for Scratch Milling
Scratch-and-Peel Milling
Scratch Milling on the Nomad 883
Etching and Tinning
Soldering and Board Assembly
Programming DIY PCB’s

It’s amazing how good online printed circuit boards (PCB) services have become, but the one thing that still will kill the prototyping buzz is long turnaround times. Prototyping works best with many quick iterations, and this is where DIY boards can really help. I’ve been experimenting a lot trying to find the fastest, easiest and most consistent process for idea-to-blinking-board. I’ve tried photo-lithography, toner transfer and milling, as well as various etching, soldering and assembly processes. While it’s all very much a work in progress, I’ve written out what works best for me so far.

I have a Nomad 338 milling machine, which is fantastic, but I don’t have a laser cutter yet. Therefore this process relies mostly on milling. It’s definitely a plus to do everything on the same machine, but I will probably adjust things somewhat once the laser cutter arrives.

The TL’DR is:

  • KiCad
  • FlatCam
  • Autolevel in bCNC
  • Cover the PCB in Magnum Sharpie ink and scratch the patterns with a scriber (using the milling machine, but not spinning the bit)
  • Scratch the bottom layer
  • Etch with Muratic acid and Hydrogen Peroxide (1:2)
  • Test connectivity
  • Clean with Acetone and alcohol
  • Reattach the board and drill on the back layer
  • Soak in liquid tin
  • Solder components
  • Test and program

I am also experimenting with using SMD’s as through hole components making them much easier to place and solder. I think it works really well, but YMMV!

I will be updating these pages as I go, but they should always be visible from the drop down menu of this blog. If you have ideas or tips I’d love to hear them, thanks!

Begin: Making Circuit Boards