Making Circuit Boards

A lot depends here on whether you are building something from a schematic that has no provided layout or you are trying to build a pre-existing layout, for instance from a magazine article that has an already laid out circuit pattern to follow. If you are doing the latter, you don't need to worry about how to make up your own layout. If you will be working from a schematic only, you will probably need to lay out your own board for the effect. You really ought to make a semi-formal layout or some sketches even if you intend to make only a perfboard or stripboard version.

There is much more complete information on making printed circuit boards available on the net. I have thrown in only some basics. If you're completely new to this, count on running down and reading some of these supporting information sites. In addition, GEO now has on line a more complete listing of the various ways to construct effects boards.

Laying out the board
Go to your local used book store and in the technical books section, find a book with a title something like "Printed Circuit Drafting and Layout". Read it, ignoring the things about how to lay pads and tape on mylar film, but paying attention to the sections on how to orient parts and run traces to and between them. You can, of course skip this if your effect is a copy of a magazine article which contains a printed circuit layout.
Lay out your board, keeping the board type you will make in mind. There are some tools which will make this easier. For general layout, get grid-ruled paper and tracing paper to draw sketches of layouts on, and a couple of colors of pencil, red and blue being traditional. In general, make your board from a set of postage-stamp circuit fragments, each of which is a tightly connected lump of stuff, usually about one IC and its immediately connected resistors and stuff. Most circuits are a set of such clumps, with signal and power supply lines going between them. make the fragments, then interconnect them. Make all the wires come off one side of the board, not all around it where you will have to knit the board into the box, and certainly not coming out of the middle of the board. Have the inputs on one side of the board, and let the signal progress through the board like on the schematic, in one direction to avoid having unwanted feedback paths. Do not forget to leave some way to mount the board in the box. Wrapping the whole board in plastic foam and leaving it loose in the box is evidence of such forgetfulness, although that is exactly what MXR did in all its early production.
Perf board and Strip board methods. Hack a chunk of circuit board big enough to implement your layout. Read Penfold for the full description of the stripboard method. For the perfboard method with pad-per-hole board, bend the component leads to insert them into the board, then use the excess lead length below the board to make "circuit traces" by bending them flush with the board and routing them from connection to connection. Use wire wrap wire to connect things that the leads can't easily. Solder the leads where they go through the board, and at connections. Solder as you go along, placing a few parts and soldering them. This method is remarkably easy to do, and is reasonably durable if your soldering technique is good. It is about as fast as doing a board layout, so if you have some experience, you can lay out the circuit from the schematic as you go. I would, however, never, ever make more than one of a kind this way. If I think I might EVER make another I would lay out a printed circuit board.
(under construction; Penfold uses stripboard exclusively)
True Printed Circuit Boards
It is NOT in general a good idea to do double sided boards at home, as this more than doubles your difficulty, and plated through holes are not generally possible at home.

R.G. Keen Back to GEO Entry Page