For those of you still using breadboards or toiling over protoboards, circuit etching is the next step in your at-home fabrication. Etching circuit boards allows you to spend more time designing a project and less time assembling it. Etching boards cuts back on the amount of wired clutter on a board, provides easy reproduction, and allows you to work with surface mount components. Furthermore, learning to etch boards at home will save you time and money over professional fabrication.
Having etched a few circuit boards now, I feel I have the experience to pass on some of my knowledge. I was nervous the first time I etched a board so my goal to provide enough information for anyone reading this guide to create their own circuit boards- without having to second guess themselves throughout the process. This is an all-encompassing guide that describes the materials, prep-work, and final etching.
Step One: Materials
1. Copper clad board ~$15
The first thing you should buy is 1oz copper clad board. This is probably the only material you won’t be able to find locally so you should buy it a few days before you want to etch a board. This is cheap enough that you can buy it in bulk and have it available whenever you want to etch. I buy mine on Ebay and simply search for “copper clad board”. You can buy either double sided or single sided boards. I recommend buying both. Some projects may require two layers, but often you’ll only use one side. And using a two sided copper clad board for a project that only requires one is wasteful and will require much longer to etch.
2. Muriatic Acid – $5-10
This can be found at most major hardware stores. Home depot has 5M HCl muriatic acid for sale by the gallon. This is a strong acid and should be handled with care. Do not get this acid near ANYTHING metal. And do not breathe the fumes coming from the container, especially upon first opening it.
3. Hyrdogen peroxide (3%) – $1
Everyone knows about hydrogen peroxide. Most of us have some around the house already. If you don’t have any hydrogen peroxide you can pick it up at the grocery store. $1 will get you enough for a lifetime of etching.
4. Drill bits – $2-10
You’ll need small drill bits to drill holes for component leads. Specifically, you’ll need 1/32″ and 3/64″ bits. These are not sold separately at most hardware stores, but you can get them in a Dremel kit. If you want to order the drill bits individually, you can find them online.
5. Acetone – $5-10
Although this material is optional, it will help you to clean the toner off the board when you are finished. One bottle will last you a long time so I recommend you buy some to make your life easier.
6. Dremel or Drill press
A normal drill is not ideal for drilling holes in circuit boards. If that is all you have you can probably make it work, but the high speed of a dremel and stability of a drill press are much better suited for PCB work.
7. An Iron/Ironing board.
I assume you already have an iron. If not, go buy one.