Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Creating a PCB for Mounting the Keyboard Controller

The one of the goals of this keyboard project is to house all the components in a ZX81 inspired case. To help achieve that end, I'll need to mount the LeoStick and keyboard circuit onto something a little more permanent than a breadboard and I decided to make a relatively diminutive PCB to do this job.

This leads to the question: With the advent of easy to access PCB fabrication houses, is there any point in fabricating your own board? I was initially tempted to outsource the manufacturing but in the end decided to roll my own PCB for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the PCB I need is not particularly complicated. It's a one sided board simply used to hold some resistors and header pins, an easy candidate for home fabrication. Note you could just as easily used some strip board to achieve a similar (if only slightly larger) result.

Secondly and most importantly, this journey is about having fun, not about saving time or always doing something the most convenient way. There are some simple pleasures derived from designing, creating and building something from start to finish. Though I concede that I am being a little selective in what I'm counting as DIY, in the context of the project as a whole.

Etched and Drilled PCB for Mounting the Controller Parts.
I hadn't made a PCB for a number of years but it's not a particularly daunting process. Even if you've never made a PCB before, despite what you may have read, it's not difficult and you don't require much in the way of specialised equipment. This is especially true if you're fabricating a basic one sided PCB. I made mine with the following minimal equipment.


The process is straight forward. Just follow the instructions that come with the Press N Peel and the PCB making kit and you can't go wrong.

  • Design your your PCB in Fritzing, Eagle Cad or similar.
  • Print out onto the Press N Peel PCB Film.
  • Use the Hacksaw to cut your PCB to size.
  • Apply the Press N Peel to the PCB.
  • Etch the PCB using all the tools in the PCB making kit.
  • Place the drill bit in the flexible shaft of the Rotary tool for easy control, then with a steady hand drill the holes.
  • The PCB is now ready to populate.

Check out this Indestructible for a more fully fleshed out description of the above.