Paper clip mania

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by chaos51, Jun 5, 2012.

  1. chaos51

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jun 18, 2011

    I am just curious on this one, but for me making pcb (especially doing the etching part), is quite inconvenient.

    I have no space to put the equipment, and the only place I could imagine putting it, is the garage, which has temperatures below 10C celcius for a good part of the year.

    Then ordering prototype pcb's by sending your designs over the net, and getting a pcb shipped home, would be ideal, apart for the fact of the several day turn around time and the costs. (I live in Sweden, I have not found anything quick, and that delivers there, for reasonable cost).

    So, I am sort of stuck with these experimental PCB boards, that have a number of isles on them, and you solder you components in them, like a regular PCB. Except that now you also need to connect the correct isles together. I started doing that with wires, but that became a big mess. Then I played (I was lazy) with paperclips, using them to connect the isles together. It worked like magic. It did not look messy, and you could figure out which was connected where quite easily. And as an added bonus you do not need to strip them, like wires.

    Anyway, I was wondering, did anyone else found out this way of putting together circuits? And am I missing obviously much better technique (not only quality, but also when it comes to time-from-changes-to-circuit)

  2. kubeek


    Sep 20, 2005
    This just depends on complexity of the board. Last time i was designing for protoboards I created the schematic in Eagle and then placed everything in a 2.54mm grid, and optimized it for best routing. I recently bought 10m pack of tinned copper wire, which is perfect for this kind of work.

    Depending on what you´re doing you might also try usign stripboard instead, this might make your life easier. Also if you have lots of ICs, there might be another different pattern better for you.

    But for general kludging I use solderless breadboard for the prototypes, then I move it to stripboard. The stripboard usually involves lots of cutting traces, but for small circuits it is manageable.

    Also, I used to make my own boards by drawing the outlines with sharpie and then etching, I even managed double sided, but it is a lot of work with not very certaing outcomes, today I just go to a manufacturer that can do double sided non-plated through boards for about 5 euro per dm2.
    chaos51 likes this.
  3. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
    Try Wire-wrap.. But some IC sockets with wire wrap tails and a cheap wire wrap tool and some 30 AWG kynar wire and have fun. Beats ugly stripboard soldering any day..
    chaos51 and Bernard like this.
  4. MrChips


    Oct 2, 2009
    You can use a special type of enameled copper wire that needs no stripping.
    You solder the ends of the wire to your solder islands and the heat burns off the enamel.

    Vector used to make a P173 wiring pencil (I still have mine).

    Roadrunner Electronics makes the wiring pencil and wire:

    Also available at Farnell in the UK:
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2012
    chaos51 likes this.
  5. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    I like some of the tools from wire wrap but not the technique in general. I use the wire and the hand stripper to get the lengths I need but don't use wire wrap sockets, just normal thru hole sockets, or occasionally just direct to DIP pins, though I count myself lucky to actually have a DIP package these days: many modern ICs don't come in DIPs anymore.

    Using paper clips probably works well if the solder can adhere to it, though my fingers would get tired bending them to the shapes I want.
  6. DerStrom8

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2011
    I've used paperclips in the past, but I always had problems with shorts.

    As for a good PCB manufacturing company, I've always had good luck with these guys:

    I've ordered a couple of batches of boards from them, and was very pleased with their service and quality. Even though they're in China, they don't cut corners when making the boards. Also, their prices are extremely competitive, and when I ordered my boards I had them within three days. Might be worth giving them a try. If you don't like them, I would agree with kubeek--stripboard would make things a lot easier for you.

    P.S. Sorry for sounding like an advertisement. That wasn't my intention :eek:
    chaos51 likes this.
  7. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
    Use solid wire instead of stranded. Insert the wire from the component side of the proto board, and make them just long enough to go from point to point. Don't push them flat on the board, but allow them a little space from the board ( easier to work with ) It's easy to make clean proto board circuits with a little patience and practice.
  8. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
    Most paper clips are zinc plated I believe.. This does NOT solder well at all. You need powerful flux to get a decent/long lasting joint.

    Wire wrap creates a very solid gas tight connection and has been relied upon for 50+ years and is still used today by the telecommunication industry and others. Do 5 turns of the modified wrap style and know it will be there for the life of your circuit.
  9. davebee

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 22, 2008
    As wired circuits get more complicated you might reach a point where you can't avoid having it look like a rats nest of tangled wires.

    I also would suggest moving to wire-wrap.

    What has helped me in cases like that is to make two drawings - one of the circuit itself, arranged neatly and cleanly, and another drawing of the physical layout, with pins labeled by number and function. If you are wire-wrapping IC sockets, you might want to make a drawing of the bottom of the physical layout, as that is where the wires will attach.

    Then wire the board.

    Be really careful when connecting each wire to check that it is connected exactly right. But then, once each wire is correctly connected, you can forget about it, no matter how messy the tangle of wires appears.

    I like to use black insulation for ground, red for power, and other colors for signal; that helps a little also.

    Keep your drawings in a notebook. Like you said, sometimes you'll want to change the circuit, and having a drawing of the physical sockets and pin usages is very helpful in that case. Wire-wrap is excellent for making changes because it unwraps pretty easily. Sometimes you'll have to unwrap the lower wrapping where there are several wraps on a pin, but that's the worst issue you should encounter.
  10. chaos51

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jun 18, 2011
    Hi all,

    Thanks for the wealth of information in all the feedback ;o)

    I'm not sure on wire wrap. To start with, I looked at my local electronics supplier (who claims to have everything btw ;o) and could not find much on wire wrapping tools, or anything else to do with wire wrapping. Where do you start with wire wrapping, if I would decide to try that out?. Can you buy ready made boards with lots of pins to wrap the wires around? Or do you have to solder all the pins yourself? (I guess not, as then you might as well solder the wires themselves). Also, people state they are mechanically sound. What about a mobile experimental platform, which constantly undergoes vibrations? Does it hold up in those conditions? Also, it looks to me quite messy. But if I get enough tips on how to get started, I probably give it a try. It's always good to learn something new.

    That was something I was wondering about. Thanks for pointing out for me the obvious, which is you need to cut traces *dough, why did I not think of that*

    Paper clips>
    I did not encounter the issues you (all) describe. The solder is quite easy, and my flux is not that aggressive (I hope, I should check). They look like they are either gold or copper plated. Also, they bend nicely, and you get nice angled corners, making the result look tidy. Sure there is short circuit risk if you come close with live wires. But this comes with a bonus as well. It's very easy to attach crocodile clamps to them, so you can easily measure the signal anywhere on the board. The only real negative I found so far is that longer distance paperclip connections tend to put some stress on the solder joints when you touch the connection. This sometimes tears the copper strip it is attached to off the pcb. Which is a bit of a hassle to repair. I am not sure on the conductivity of these paperclips though... That might actually be an issue.>
    I check them out as well. At some point I have to start looking at PCBs instead of experimental boards anyway. They seem to focus on volume production it says on their main website. Any ideas what they cost for a single pcb? (10x10 cm or so)

    Solid Wire >
    I shall try that. I used stranded until now. Before pushing it through the whole it needs both stripping and twisting.

    Enameled copper>
    I'll try that as well, but I am not happy with the fumes they seem to produce that I read about it on some webpage. I "work" in a home, with open windows after work. So some fumes ok. Many toxic fumes, not ok.

    Thanks again, now I have some new ideas to "play" with for my next project ;o)
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2012
  11. DerStrom8

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2011
    Generally they do a minimum of 10 boards per order, but the guys there are really good--you can email them directly and they'll help you out if you have any questions.

    As for the cost of a single board, there is a feature right on their main page for getting a quote. You just need to select which options you want (size, solder mask, etc) and it will generate an estimate for you.
  12. THE_RB

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 11, 2008
    Sorry to argue but paper clips are tin plated, the same as tin cans (food cans). They solder very easily and I've made a number of mechanisms and doodads out of tin plate from tin cans and from paperclips as both can be easily cut with some snips and solder and bend and file very easily.

    It can be an easy way to make something small and framelike, like a slot-car chassis.