Ralph S Bacon

MicroControllers, Electronics and IOT

If all else fails, read the instructions!

As many of you will know from my YouTube channel, I’ve recently taken the challenge to design and create a PCB. It seemed the next logical step after stripboard and, as I was being sponsored by a couple of PCB fabs in China, it was as though fate has stepped in.

My First PCB – least said the better

My first attempt was dire. Although the resultant PCB worked (after two small corrections) it was typical of someone who had dived in, not read how to do things and had produced a lemon.

Yet, as they say, if life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. So I studied long and hard, tried two different PCB CAD tools, hated one, loved the other and produced my second PCB. Whilst not a masterpiece in design it at least looked like a PCB, worked first time and gave me great encouragement that “Hey, I can do this!”

My latest (modified) PCB

Fast forward a month or two and here I am, making two-sided, SMD PCBs that actually look quite passable. Moreover, I’ve designed custom footprints that worked and have tweaked the work of others to make the PCB work the way I want it to.

All this because I did actually (eventually) read the instructions, in this case “KiCAD like a Pro” from Dr Peter Dalmaris. It was not a cheap buy, in the order of £30-35 but in the end it was worth every penny. But, like building a house from scratch, when you have dug the ditches for water, electricity and sewage, and have even put in the foundations it doesn’t look like much progress. There’s still no house!

There’s just no getting round the fact that you do have to put in the (not inconsiderable) effort up front to get the eventual benefits and I’m glad I did. I will even go over those first exercises from the book again just to drive all the points home – I’m not smart enough to take it all in first time round!

Today, this very afternoon, I’m the proud owner of a hot air rework station (hobbyist standard), some flux in a syringe and a huge bottle of isopropyl alcohol to clean off all the “no clean” flux (confused face). I’ve soldered a single 0805 resistor with flux, solder paste my hot air gun and all is well. More of all this in a future video, no doubt!

If I can do this, anyone can. I’m hoping to encourage others to join this PCB design movement. It’s never been easier or cheaper (the only barrier now is the disproportionate, albeit very fast shipping costs).

Now, is anyone going to support my proposal for a 35-hour day so I can fit everything I need to into my day?

If anyone is interested I’ve signed up to become an Amazon affiliate. This means that sales via my links might benefit my YouTube channel. It’s totally transparent and with no additional cost to you.

Nearly bare shelves

Here’s the link to my new Amazon store front, a little sparse right now but will fill up in time.

Have a look!

See you in the next video!


16 replies

  1. Hello from Serbia! I was just looking at the YOCTOSUN Hands Free Headband Magnifier with LED Light -1X to 3.5X Zoom….. but…. I noticed Amazon doe snot ship to Serbia…. Too bad….
    Anyways, great blog & youtube channel! Keep up the great work….


  2. One of the areas where a PCB could come in handy ( as I’ve seen for the Raspberry Pi) is a small circuit board that would plug into maybe the first two rows of pins on a breadboard parallel to the center groove that would extend to another small breadboard for the same pins. Why you ask! I’ve run into a LOT of development boards that only give you one pin position on each side of the board for dupont cables. Some don’t have any left over spaces. Very aggravating. I’ve had to remove the power rails from two boards and use them to give me the extra spaces I need for circuitry. Or is it just me?


    • If I understand you correctly, William, you’re suggesting a PCB bridge for a small breadboard, between the single pin remaining (after inserting a module or wide chip – row j) and another breadboard (row a). This means it would either cover the power rails or that the power rails on both breadboards should be removed as they no longer have a purpose (they are covered by the PCB).

      This would result in a thin, long PCB with just two rows of 30 pins. Easy enough to insert, pretty difficult to remove without snapping the PCB. But it could be left permanently connected.

      This could also be achieved with strip board (although that is even more fragile) with those header pins. Perhaps do that first as a proof of concept.


      • I didn’t explain myself very well. The extender board would go between rows e and f in the center of the board. The problematic development board would then sit above the breadboard on extender pins. This would allow for various size development boards even ones that went the full distance between rows a and j. I do think it would take maybe a 2 or 3 layer PCB to accomplish. I have development boards that are 20 columns long so I think this would need to 25 or even 30 columns long allowing for a dev board with a total of 60 pins. Similar to this concept ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sintron-Extension-Rainbow-Ribbon-Raspberry/dp/B00NWA2AS0 ) but straight across no perpendicular. Or maybe better, do you know of any breadboards with more than 5 ( a to e ) rows wide per side?


        • It’s been a while, William, but I’ve been having (yet more) trouble with my eyes. Using my computer at all is quite taxing at the moment! But, the good news is that I have re-read your posts and looked at the picture and what you really need is a plug-in PCB to join two breadboards together lengthwise, so that the module is on one breadboard whilst all the components go on the other (where this is room). The PCB would use the centre two rows of pins (on both boards).

          This way row 10, for example, would be joined on both breadboards.

          The problem is foresee is that my breadboard is 30 columns long. so we need to make 30 connections. On a two-sided PCB that might be too challenging (too thin and the tracks will get easily damaged, either by physical force or electrical current). Moving to a 4-layer PCB means MUCH higher cost but would be easier to route that many lines. The cable you show in that link could be used to route 20 columns though, at minimal cost because the PCBs would just be header connections.

          I guess, because no-one has done it, that is is tricky or pricey (or both) with no return on investment. AS it’s been so long already I will think about this some more. If you hear nothing, do give me a nudge.


          • Ralph, Thanks for the reply. What I ended up doing was to take two small breadboards (BBs) and broke off the power rail on one of the boards. They still hook together, side to side.. I then plug the ESP– development board between the two BBs ( leaving me 2 or three rows of pins available on each BB, over top of the power rail Ditch. I can adjust the spacing needed between the BBs by taking off the power rail on the second breadboard or by leaving all power rails attached for very wide ESP– development boards. If I need more layout room I can just use a small and large BB joined side to side. In effect this gives me a variable size “DITCH” between columns while still using Standard, readily available components. No new PCB needed. This still leaves the standard ditch for DIP type modules or components. Lots of available PINS on an ESP32 to attach to a lot of sensors or modules.


  3. I have the same exact hot air station, the best thing I can recommend is practice, practice, practice..lol and pre heat your boards or they will de-laminate.. I found out the hard way.. If you have time and the patience watch some of Louis Rossmann videos on hot air reworking. he is kind of a god of smd repair..


  4. PCB design is an area of interest for me and particularly KiCad so I’m interested in your future projects using it. At the moment I’m trying to get to grips with Fusion 360 for 3D printing. KiCad is a future project. So many things to do, and so little time for an old pensioner like me!
    I currently don’t have a Hot Air Rework station (but will be ordering one soon). I have held off buying one as I have considered them more as repair tools (and the ‘rework’ title suggests that) – removing components . I’m sure they’re good for construction to though.


    • aargh! – ‘construction TOO though’


    • I’ve found, in my rather limited exposure to SMD soldering, that whilst a hot air and paste will solder a component, it’s actually easier to use a standard soldering iron and solder.

      I suppose if you place quite a few components down first (on solder paste) then a hot air gun will be quicker than a soldering iron.

      Would you believe that the Hot Air Gun I bought from Amazon has been reduced in price by nearly £10! Could be a good time to get one!


      • I think that when many SMD components are invoved and multiple PCBs are to be manufactured, stencils are used to strategically apply the solder paste, and ovens with controlled heat up, rest, and cool down timings are the method used. Youtuber “MickMake” did a good video on this topic. Way too complex for me and a soldering iron is adequate.
        I’m still mulling a hot-air rework station. Do you have any recommendations?


  5. Keep up the good work. Nice to see you are expanding your electronic capability horizons. You are always keeping things interesting. I am assuming that Benny has approved.


  6. Hi Ralph
    Check out Louis Rossmann on youtube. He solders SMD in a jiffy with hot air solder wick and tubes of flux.


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