Introduction: PCB + CNC = OMG
Turn an old game or almost any aesthetically pleasing PCB (Printed Circuit Board) into art. You'll need a few supplies and tools to make this happen.
- PCB from an older game, Atari works great.
- Double sided tape
- CNC machine
- Soldering iron or hot air gun
- Basic tools, screw driver, pliers, side cutters
Let's get started!
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Step 1: Acquire PCB and Remove Chips
Atari 2600 cartridges are great for this project, they are sturdy boards and usually have just one chip or "EPROM" to remove. "Newer" systems such as NES and even later Atari cartridges have more to remove and make it more difficult.
To harvest the PCBs you'll need to open up the cartridge. I've found that the Atari cartridge usually has a cross screw or three under the label. Once you get your board free from it's plastic shell we'll go to work on removing the chips that are soldered to it.
We want a nice, fairly smooth surface for the CNC machine so we will need to remove the chips, resistors or other doohickeys from the board. Essentially you'll heat up the solder holding the chips with the soldering iron or hot air and gently pull at them to remove them while they it's still hot. I also used a solder sucker, or desoldering pump to vacuum up the solder once it's nice and melty to remove extra solder. If you need more in-depth information on desoldering there is a good tutorial on Instructables.
Step 2: Preparing the Artwork
Once the PCB is ready to go we will need to do some measurin'. Measure and note each dimension of the board, digital calipers will be essential here. We want to know the size of our board so we can plan our artwork accordingly. The software we use is a web-based software from Inventables called Easel. You can use the design tools available in the software to create your shape or import vector artwork created elsewhere. If you use Easel I'd recommend looking at this page. The 8-bit heart I created in Illustrator and then imported the SVG artwork into Easel.
Step 3: Cutting the PCB
Because it would be tough to clamp down the tiny PCB I cut a pocket in a scrap piece of plywood to help hold the PCB. Always be sure to accurately measure the material you are cutting, the label might say 1/2 inch but using calipers you'll find it to be .469 inches. Using Easel I cut the depth of the pocket the exact height of the PCB and used some double sided tape to make sure the PCB wouldn't budge in the pocket.
Next be sure make the appropriate cut settings and the correct milling bit. When cutting this Atari PCB I used the cut settings for aluminum and a 1/16 in fishtail bit.
Step 4: Finish and Wear!
Once you remove your piece from the CNC it will take a bit of cleanup. On my piece I had to remove the sticky residue from the double-sided tape and remove some of the burrs from the edges. I used old-fashioned soap and water and elbow grease to clean it up. Depending on the edges you have you might be able to file them down.
Another option after everything is cleaned up is to seal the PCB. You can use something simple like a clear coat nail polish or a clear gloss spray paint or resin.