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DIY PCB Etch Tank - Introduction

This tutorial series introduces one of the two perfect accompaniments to the PCB SMT Reflow (Toaster) Oven project that is also documented on this website.  The ability to create cheap Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) in the home allows the design hobbyist the ability to experiment with multiple variants of an electronic project without worrying about the associated cost of the PCBs. 



Figure 1: Hobbyist PCB Etch Tank: (1) Mini aquarium air pump. (2) Aquarium heater: For this construction I used a 50W, 6 inch heater. (3) Aquarium thermometer: I choose an externally mounted one after an internal one, selected previously,  stopped working possibly due to condensation. (4) The cover is still under construction so food wrap has to suffice for now: A hole still  needs to be drilled in the lid for the heater cable to pass through (5) Airline with needle sized holes to help agitate the fluid and aid in heat distribution. (6) Tissue for leakage detection!

The method works by warming the etchant, to an appropriate temperature, by using an aquarium heater (2).  It works also by  agitating the etching solution  using the pump (1), and airline (5). Warming the solution and agitating it accelerates the chemical reaction that removes copper (or other metals e.g brass) from the parts of the PCB that have not been protected by an etch resist. 


Figure 2: Aquarium Sealant: One of the most valuable items used in the PCB Etch Tank project is an aquarium sealant. Without this item the construction would have been almost impossible. Its use is almost mandatory to help seal leaks that can take an embarrassingly long time to find!