Equipment/PCB etch station

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Revision as of 16:54, 12 August 2011 by (talk) (Instructions)
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Etch station

Important Warnings

  • Do not run any heater unless the tank is full of liquid. It should blow a thermal fuse before melting the tank, but that may involve replacing the heater. Keep unused heated tanks full of plain water or disable the heaters by unplugging the associated connector inside the cupboard door.
  • Do not etch anything except copper (other metals will pollute the etchant).
  • Do not drink the contents, even when there's no beer.
  • Do not allow children or drunken hackers to play with the tanks.
  • Check the power has been turned off after use.
  • Do not dip a basket soaked in one chemical into the tank of another chemical.
  • Read the instructions (pdf)

Less important warnings

  • You normally place boards to be etched in the plastic basket under a tank lid, then dip it into the tank. If the PCB is too close to the open end, it will fall out. You may have to drain the tank to retrieve it. You don't want to do this, so put the pcb well into the opening and don't tip it forwards as you remove the basket from the tank.
  • Very small PCBs may fall through the holes. A possible solution is to put them in fine-mesh envelopes before putting them in the basket. Finding a suitable envelope is left as an exercise for the user (hint - look on the Mega website).


Developer, FeCl3 etch and stripper tanks working.
Tinning tank has been drained and is being prepared for use as CuCl3 etchant. Do not use the tinner tank at present.


The CuCl3 is being prepared in the tinning tank using the slow method : leave some copper in acid, allow corrosion to occur generating some oxides, add further copper and acid as required. Water, acid, copper and hydrogen peroxide (if used) should be noted as it's easy to over-dilute if you just add stuff randomly. So far contains 170g copper, 1200ml 38% HCl, 1200ml water. This is fairly watery so any liquid other than conc HCl added later should be considered carefully.

The former tinning tank contents are in a 5l plastic can in the cupboard, but some sediment was lost and the chemicals were old - it probably isn't viable even if returned to the tank.

Usage configuration

  • Since it's already stained there's no problem in putting ferric chloride in it if we have some available (it needs 5 litres but 3 or 4 would do).
  • We can use a spare tank to start brewing the cupric chloride if we want to do that


  • It would be nice to have power without using the extension lead. The existing ring main might be extended fairly easily to put sockets on the wall near the sink.
    • Again, depending on when electrical stuff is needed, I could go out and get conduit/socket/back box/etc. on Fri/Sat. -- Elliot
    • I see there's a bit of conduit near #23 back door. Needs a socket plate and probably some more 2.5mm wire to link into the ring. Could be patched up but a better plan might be to look at fixing a couple of electrical jobs and buy the bits at the best price rather than in small pieces.



The leftmost button on the control panel is mains power. If you see it lit up when no-one is using the tank, please turn it off (but if someone _might_ be waiting for it to warm up, please check first!). Probably a good idea to switch off at the mains as well.

Each tank and rinser then has a control section. Working from left to right, these are:

  • Developer - Heat button and 'heater active' light. Set to about 28°C. Heating not normally required.
  • Developer rinse - Spray button activates spray bar.
  • Etch - Heat button and 'heater active' light. Set to about 48°C. Takes about 15-20 minutes to get hot.
    • Air bubbler button - only active when heating is also on.
  • Etch rinse - Spray button activates spray bar.
  • Photoresist stripper - Heat button and 'heater active' light. Set to about 50°C. Optional.
  • Stripper rinse - Spray button activates spray bar.
  • Tinning - Heat button and 'heater active' light. Set to about 50°C. Optional.

The spray bars work best if only one is on at a time (and unless you're making a lot of boards at once, you probably only need one).


The pump was replaced with a heavier duty medical unit mostly because it was cheap & available. The original was a fishtank pump and is still mounted on the front of the tank. It worked, but seemed not to have enough pressure available to overcome backpressure if the aeration tube had partly filled with etchant. Fitting it involved a few peculiarities, though.

  • There is a clamp on the tube near the pump, which can be used to restrict the airflow and hence the vigor of the bubbles.
  • The pump is no longer fitted to the tank, but instead rests in the cabinet
  • It is still possible to remove the tank for maintenance: the cable and pipe connecting to the pump are very long but if they need to be detached the cable can be unplugged from the back of the pump and the pipe unplugged from the silicon/pvc tubing joint.
  • There is now a one-way valve between the pump and the antisyphon trap to reduce the possibility of etchant flowing into the pump.
  • The power connection to the pump has no earth wire connected and apparently swaps black/white colour coding. This is not just carelessness : the original black/white wiring apparently had black as neutral, white as live to the fish tank pump. The IEC lead to the new pump uses conventional euro colours : black is live. So black and white swap at the join.
  • The earth pin in the cable to the pump is not connected at the pump end (it's a 2-pin connector) so there was no point connecting it at the tank end.


The tank was previously in a school and there is a laminated sheet with usage instructions. It may not be applicable to our use but is worth looking at.