New Life for Old Printed Circuit Boards.




This intro tells why I did this. If you don't want to be bored by my story please skip to step 1

Hello, my name is Nic. I'm in grade 10 and I have an interest in electronics. But I have a lot of restrictions. I live in Canada in a town where there is no electronics shop other than "The Source" (Radioshack was bought out by The Source) which sells overpriced components that aren't the greatest quality, I'm far away from A1 Electronics which is a brilliant store in missisauga. And There is no Electronics course in my high school. But this hasn't stopped me.

I scavenge for parts from broken electronics I find around the house or that are given to me from friends, I am self taught thanks to books I've bought and Make:'s "Make: presents" series. But my biggest problem has been circuit boards,

The source does sell perf board (protoboard, or hole board, same thing) but it has a tendency to burn and it is a bit expensive compared to the A1 perf board, and the source doesn't sell copper clad board or etchin. So I was looking at the piles of PCBs I had acquired from Electronics I had taken apart and I thought "could I make them into my own circuits by taking advantage of the board somehow".

And so I figured out that I could help Reduce E-Waste and solve my circuit board problem at the same time.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

For recycling PCBs you will need

1) An old PCB
2) A soldering Iron
3) A desoldering pump, or desoldering iron
4) Rubbing Alcohol and a rag
5) A Dremel or rotary tool with a sanding disc
6) Some very small drill bits
7) Exacto knives and a utility knife
8) Solder to Tin your iron
9)A continuity tester
10) a Sharpie marker.

Step 2: Desolder the Board

Desolder all the components on board and do not put the components out with pliers because it will still leave behind excess solder. We want a clear board. Use a desoldering iron or a desoldering pump to remove the solder. Oh and don't forget to save the components.

Step 3: Clean the Board

After desoldering clean the board of gunk using the rubbing alcohol and rag. Rub the board with the rag until its clear of stuff like flux or glue or anything other than solder.

Step 4: Sanding the Board

Now get your dremel and attach the sanding disc bit and start to sand the board so the copper is revealed try to leave as little copper covered as possible. If you do not have a dremel sandpaper can be used to do the same thing but it may take a little longer. I also suggest you do this in a well ventilated area with a dust mask cause I don't think that green dust is terribly good for your lungs.

Once you're done clean the rest of the dust from the board with more rubbing alcohol

Step 5: The Two Methods of Using the Board

Once its clean we can use the board to solder parts to. But in order to make a circuit we need to plan it out and edit the board a bit.

But first I'll explain the two methods

The preset Method: The preset method is using the preset contacts and holes on the board that can be mixed and matched to make a circuit.

The slice Method: The slice method is where you use the exacto knives to cut the contacts and use the drill to drill part holes

You can mix these two methods to make your circuits effectively.

Step 6: The Preset Method

The test circuit I us is just a LED circuit with a nine volt battery, 1000 ohm resistor and a red LED. I started by looking at where the contacts led and finding close contacts where parts could be soldered. Use your sharpie to mark your circuit on the board. then simply solder the parts on. Use the continuity tester to search for solder bridges

-requires little work

-placing larger pieces with complex leads such as IC sockets can be troublesome and can be left up to luck with the board you choose.
-solder bridges can be common if two holes are close to each other

Step 7: The Slice Method

The slice method as I call it. Is where you use the drill and the knives to edit the board and build the circuit layout.

-The circuit is better designed and can be set to your preferences

-Time consuming

For my example I'll use a mix of both methods because its the most effective way to make your circuits.

Step 8: Building My Example

I started off by scoring the board with a utility knife so I could make the board smaller and more compact and less confusing.

Then I used the exacto knife to cut a contact into two parts. Whenever you cut a contact always use the continuity tester to check if you cut the contact successfully.

after cutting the contact I drew out the holes to be drilled with a sharpie.

I then set up my dremel with the smallest drill bit and drilled on the marks

Then for instruction sake I drew out how I would link the circuit so you can get the idea on how I do this.

Step 9: Use Your Old Boards and Reduce E-Waste

Now go out find some old PCBs and do some circuit reworking and help give them new life and reduce e-waste.
Although this may not be as good a copper clad boards and etchin it still works well for me so enjoy and I hope you enjoyed y first instructable.

Participated in the
What Can You Do with a Dremel Tool?



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    93 Discussions


    Question 3 months ago on Step 9

    Hey man, it's really cool. Will I have to insulate and if so how


    12 months ago

    Sanding all that crap off of old boards is probably not safe. Even if assuming there is no lead involved, there is toxic stuff here.


    8 years ago on Step 9

    wow do you have a laser printer? the toner method of making pcbs is actually super cheap. like 10 bucks for the acid which will last you years, and a few dollars for a package of a couple blank boards. Very inventive though. I tried to scavenge a lot of things when i was younger, but my parents hated technology and would always through out my stuff

    14 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You seem to have missed the author's comments about where he lives. In many places in Canada it is very close to impossible to find the supplies you need for electronics, without mail ordering parts from the states. Which would be difficult for a grade 10 student to do


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 9

    This is not 100% true.

    I live in Canada as well - same story as this guy; nothing good nearby.

    I order copper clad and toner transfer from:

    They are located in Canada and shipping is super fast and cheap. Copper clad is insanely cheap! Maybe $3 for an 8x10" board? Depends on the copper weight. I think that's even cheaper than most places in the states, and shipping is fast and cheap.

    A1parts is pretty bad. I tend not to order from them, as their website is terrible and their support/prices/shipping rates are awful.

    Even if you're in Grade 10, you have parents, right? Ask them to use their credit card to order things for you, and pay them the cash. If a parent won't do that for their kid who wants to learn electronics...well, then they shouldn't be parents.

    True enough. I'm not into electronics myself, but I have heard of the "internet", through you could pretty much order the Moon itself if you wanted. Maybe the issue is just that he doesn't have a credit card of his own yet :)

    Read the last paragraph of my comment :P Surely he has parents - he could ask 'em to order stuff for him if he pays for it (using their credit card).

    Also, Paypal does NOT require you to have a credit card to use it to pay for things. You're supposed to be 18, but there is no birth date verification.

    I was ordering things with Paypal from my bank account when I was the same age. Someone crafty enough for electronics should be crafty enough to figure out how to set up a bank account with Paypal for use!

    While the original idea is good - the amount of time invested surely is not worth it when copper clad and etching materials are so cheap. If you're smart enough to figure out electronics theory, you deserve more than minimum wage for your efforts, is how I see it :)

    Bad Maxxhexinverter

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm fairly sure you're trying to help and not just insisting your way is best? Let's assume you are trying to be helpful.

    First, the young man explained quite well why he is resourcing old parts. And stating he "surely has parents"? That my friend is quite a leap to make in this day and age. Many single parents around with not even enough money for food let alone a few bucks for bread boards or copper clad and etching materials. So we don't want to make any assumptions. I know I help out two local families and their kids flip when I let them have scrap wood and an old hammer and nails, string, rope wire etc.

    As far as setting up illicit Paypal accounts? Perhaps you are not aware but it isn't just a rule to be 18 to do so, it is the law. And perhaps he is not comfortable breaking the law. Paypal itself can get in huge trouble for allowing minors to set up accounts and make purchases. And so can you as well as anyone selling to you.

    But what I see best of all is re-use of old parts! Yes, it is time consuming, but when you have more time than money all the better! And by all means it is worth it! And keeping these used parts out of the trash is the biggest bonus of all! Plus learning to be resourceful is something that will stick with him the rest of his life!

    So although you also are resourceful, we tend to not encourage illegal activities as a way to build something, and personally it looks to me like a lot of us older folks are very happy to see the young man re-using old material..

    sstriBad Maxx

    Reply 4 years ago

    In Canada you have to be 18 to sign a contract, which is what a PayPal account is. So it would be illegal both for Nic, but especially for PayPal. If Nic could not pay, PayPal wouldn't be able to take any legal actions. I'm not saying that Nic is irresponsible at all, I don't know him from Adam.

    hexinverterBad Maxx

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't say "surely he has parents" with the implications that they would buy it FOR him. I was saying if he has money, they can ORDER stuff, and he can pay them cash. That solves the problem of him having no credit card :)

    Where does it say that it's against the law for a non minor to use Paypal with their LEGAL bank account? Why do they allow it then and not force an age check like many other 18 year old required internet services? I'm pretty sure it's just a preference on Paypal's part. I wouldn't suggest something that I thought could get someone in serious trouble. If that's truly the case, then don't do it. I still suggested a better method anyways...just find someone with a credit card that cares about you. If they're not willing to spend 30 seconds of their life ordering you a shopping cart you've constructed with your money, then they don't care about you very much.

    I think you're taking me the wrong way here. I'm trying to help Dipmicro out - a place that is competing with huge retailers like Digikey, and crappy commercial giants like Radio Shack and The Source. I had no clue they existed until I found them on eBay, so I'm spreading the love to fellow Canadians.

    I also really, really discourage buying stuff new. You seem to think I am against scavenging, and that's simply not the case at all. It's actually a HUGE part of my life, as I upcycle completely stripped circuit boards into new products for cash while I'm in school full time.

    I have probably close to 400 pounds of scrap electronics in my laboratory. I scavenge stuff like no tomorrow. I haven't bought wire in an eternity, and salvage many many IC's, capacitors and oodles of other components for projects.

    But, given the EXTREME DANGER of cutting fiberglass PCB without a respirator (which was done here - he just used a dust mask. Not safe at all!) I would HIGHLY suggest making boards yourself as a safer alternative.

    Time isn't really of concern if you're going to die from inhaling fiberglass anyways - I rest my case.

    Bad Maxxhexinverter

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, I am only going to give a minor reply here as I am in no way looking to argue with you. First and this will be the last time I say it, the author was quite clear about why he was re-using material. Parents with or without a credit card aside.
    Second, do not read anything into what I said. I by no means indicated you were for or against scavaging.

    You indeed indicated signing up for a Paypal account as a minor. I am not going to look up the rules for you, and I won't get into what Paypal does or does not require. The laws have been in place since I was a minor nearly 30 years ago. And Paypal's rules are quite clearly laid out when you sign up for the account. Unfortunately most people skip reading the fine print.

    And finally, As for the safety factor, I said nothing about it, and you already made your point in another post. Repeating it to me is of limited value as is your negative tone.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Wow. thanks this site looks pretty darned good. If I'd known about this earlier I'd have made quite a bit more than I have managed so far


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    no i didnt miss that part. i order cheap boards from china on ebay for my first few prototypes of a boarr before i move onto the good stuff. how expensive would it be to send a small package to canada? ive heard customs charges for canada are high but i dont know the details


    Reply 5 years ago on Step 9

    OMG, Same thing here. My stepdad would throw out my so called "junk" that I was messing around with. It was very annoying, but now that I moved to my father's house, I've got an accumulation of boards, and components. I also live in Canada, Also in high school, with no way to obtain protoboards, components, etc. Btw, Very nice :)


    4 years ago on Introduction


    By now, if you pursued your interest in electronics, you are probably in some sort electronics course. But for those that might see your article and be in the same position as you were, a great source for electronics parts and information will always be Amateur radio also known as Ham radio. I am a ham here in the US, and most of the hams I know are either in the electronics industry, or engineers of some sort. In fact our club recently decided that a phone line on our local repeater no longer needed( read that cheaper), so they have decided to build a device to keep control through a radio link.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is what I used to do when I was about the same age - before the internet existed! You seem to do it much better though. One tip I would like to give you from my own recent experience - since you have a dremel or similar, use it with a small milling bit to cut the copper traces - much easier, quicker and safer than doing it with a knife!