Making circuits now versus making them in 1980.

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by jlnance, Mar 7, 2016.

  1. jlnance

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 31, 2015
    When I was a high school student in the 80s, I constructed circuits as a hobby. It's what I intended to do as a career, but I ended up in software development instead. I haven't constructed anything of significance in 30 years. I miss it, and I'd like to get back into it. Things have changed a bit over the years, and I have a few questions.

    There were no surface mount components when I was building stuff. Now it appears that it is difficult to find components which are not surface mount. How are you all working with that? Can you solder them using a soldering iron? Does using them require a printed circuit board to be made?

    As to circuit boards, I gather that there are many options for both the software to design them, and places to have them made. Given that one of my desires is to be able to share designs with anyone who might be interested in duplicating or enhancing them, what would be a good choice for design software, and where should I have them made? Ideally it would be nice to be able to do this in a Linux environment, but I could use Windows as well.


  2. MaxHeadRoom


    Jul 18, 2013
    I use free Kicad for schematic capture and PCB layout.
    I have had boards made at Itead and am just waiting on an order from Dirty Boards PCB, qty 10 10cm x 10cm for $25.00 P/P.
    I think the guys that run the site get the lowest bid, both come from Hong Kong.
    Itead were fairly good, I am just waiting for comparison.
    I have had not problem so far with using just SIP/DIP components.
    When I started I used wire wrap!;)
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  3. ScottWang


    Aug 23, 2012
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  4. crutschow


    Mar 14, 2008
    When I started it was still point-to-point wire and solder. I worked on the MK46 torpedo and it had a rudimentary digital processor that used 2N404 Ge transistors and resistors connected between solder posts on a phenolic platter the diameter of the torpedo to form the gates and FFs for the logic functions. It processed the detected sonar return signals to control the fins and guide the torpedo towards its target.
    Now that was primitive. :eek:
  5. atferrari

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 6, 2004
    When was that, Carl? Had you part in the design?

    I forgot what was triggering the compressed air to propel the torpedo (and maybe make the toroid to start spinning (prior?) the launch, as well)? :confused::confused::confused: ) My memory really fails. Whitehead, maybe?
  6. SLK001

    Senior Member

    Nov 29, 2011
    Working with SMD packages is not hard - up to a point. Some of the finer pitch devices can be challenging. Some of the devices can be soldered with soldering irons (I sometimes use two to solder down SMD resistors, inductors and caps). Some devices only have pads on the bottom, so I use a heat gun to solder these. Since the PCB pads required for surface mounted devices can be "smallish", I only use professionally made PCBs. However, with Chinese PCB sites being extremely competitive (see MAX's comment in #2, above), I don't see that as an issue.

    When I started, it was red and blue tape on mylar at 10X and then photo reduced to the proper size.

    As for software, I use Eagle from Cadsoft, and I have been an Eagle user since the DOS days.
  7. MaxHeadRoom


    Jul 18, 2013
    Actually it was the same for me in reality as I transitioned from Valves to Transistors.;)
    No IC's to speak of.:eek:
    My very first 'electronic' circuit was a cats whisker (galena crystal) radio.!!
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2016
  8. jlnance

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 31, 2015
  9. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    Many common parts are readily available in through hole packages. For any that are only available in surface mount, through hole adapters are available. I find them to be surprisingly expensive and have been making my own. When I'm in a hurry, I use a Dremel tool with an engraving bit to make them.

    You can solder with a soldering iron and wire solder but rework is much easier with a hot air tool.
  10. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    EBay and China are your friends here. Say what you want about China but they do make great quality PC boards at dirt cheap prices.

    I keep a stock of SMD adapter boards on hand of many many sizes so I have the one I need, and got it cheap since I used the free but 3 week shipping option.

    I also have a large selection of perf boards from China. These are good FR4 base material with plated thru holes on 0.1" centers.

    I've found it simple to drop 0805 (that's a common size) resistors and caps between two holes in these boards. You can put SMD transistors down too if you put them at an angle.

    Most every part used on this breadboard was an SMD:

    sm board.jpg
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  11. MrSoftware

    Senior Member

    Oct 29, 2013
    I am in a very similar situation to you. I was a computer engineering major (half hardware, half software) but my career followed the software path. Now almost 20 years later the software company I work for partnered with an electronics company to venture into robotics, and that allowed me to get my hands dirty again with a little bit of electronics and it was so much fun I'm trying to get back into it at the hobby level now.

    Anyway here's what I've learned, I hope it helps:

    For SMD soldering, there are some great HowTo videos on youtube, for example:

    "Breakout board" is the term for small PCB's that more or less convert your SMD to something through-hole friendly, for example:

    For software it seems that Eagle is really popular. I've only used it a couple of times and it's not what I would call user friendly, but it's free and there seems to be a lot of help online for it.

    Hot air soldering stations and small reflow ovens are relatively inexpensive, and if you have the budget a milling machine for cutting your own proto PCBs is really handy. There are many options, but we have an "Other Mill" at work and its' fantastic for creating a proto board "now".

    What I found to be extremely helpful is to splurge and get some good equipment. If you have the budget, drop a couple thousand on some nice tools and then when you want to tackle something you will be the limitation, not your tools. For me this meant building a workbench then adding good lighting, a good multi meter, soldering station with hot air, a DEsoldering station (worth its weight in gold!), oscilloscope and good bench power supply, breadboard, tweezers, PCB holder, helping hands, parts bins, various blank project PCB's, kits with common resistors, diodes, etc..
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  12. MaxHeadRoom


    Jul 18, 2013
    I believe the free version still has a board size limit and also max two sheets?