I've been etching my own prototype boards for many years in a glass tray, using a griddle to heat the solution.  The large horizontal area of the solution resulted in lots of fumes that were hard to avoid breathing.  The boards etched unevenly (due to hotspots of the griddle) and required a lot of hand agitation (and breathing the awful acid fumes).

Etching Vertically

I decided to make a vertical etching tray with self-contained heating (aquarium heater) and agitation (aquarium aerator).  As I prefer using HCl/Peroxide solution for etching, the air bubbles replenish the solution in addition to agitating it while etching.  And the small surface area makes it easy to evacuate the air above it to outside.

- Small footprint, perfect for the hobbyist with a small workshop
- Fast, even etching due to better heating and agitation
- Less fumes due to smaller area during storage
- Easier to vent due to small opening on top
- Looks and sounds really cool


Working with toxic chemicals requires care.  Always use proper precautions.  Make sure the container cannot be tipped over by securing it to a wall or a properly built base.  Always use appropriate ventilation equipment and do not breathe fumes from the etching solution.  Use nitrile gloves rated for your chemistry.

Keep the work area dry, especially around electric outlets and extension cords.  Keep the air pump and tubing in a safe dry place, preferably above the water level to avoid any possibility of siphoning the caustic solution out of the tank!

Use common sense, and remember that accidents are painful, expensive and generally preventable.

Cost and complexity

This is an easy build.  It should cost well under $50 to procure the parts. It took me about an hour to put it together.

Step 1: Procure parts

Find a suitable container
I found a perfect glass container at the local Safeway flower area. It is a flower vase, about 11" by 2", deep enough for my small boards.  Look for a flat container to avoid having to fill it with gallons of etching solution.

Pet supplies
-Pick a glass aquarium heater that fits into your vase.  It should be immersed almost completely.
-Get a small air pump for aerating aquariums.  A really small one will do.
-Make sure you have enough transparent tubing for your setup.

Also, get some scrap plexy (1/8" -1/4") to make a lid.

nice one!<br><br>like it!
Thanks for this instructable. I already have the bubbler from a no longer used aquarium. Gives me a use for it. Perfect.
For the bubbles, look at your local pet store for something called a bubble wand. They are used in aquariums to make a curtain of very fine bubbles. They're made of plastic and do not dissolve in etchant. Get the bigger diamater ones for more, finer bubbles.<br><br>To keep it on the bottom of the tank, you can install a little ledge near the bottom of one side of the tank. Just a scrap of plexiglass affixed with silicone would do. Cut the bubble wand to exactly fit the length of the tank. Then you slip the free end of the bubble wand under the ledge. The air hose, itself, keeps the other end down. Actually, since your tank is glass, I suppose you could just use the suction cups that come with it. <br><br>FYI, I don't think your heater will work unless it is submerged much more. I gave up on heating my small tank. It takes longer, but it etches just as good.<br><br>Good find on the vase!

About This Instructable


54 favorites

More by Giant: Vertical Etching Tank for DIY PCB etching DIY Invisible Fence battery
Tags: pcb etching tank
Add instructable to: