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Using a Dremel to cut prototype/copper clad boards

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Pavius

New Member
As an electronics noob, I found myself scratching my head over cutting prototype boards. Many people use hand saws for this, but I felt that using a Dremel can save a lot of manual labor. After a bit of experimentation, I settled on a method that does not require too many tools - only a clamp and a basic Dremel. I wrote a detailed post (with more pics) about it here, but you can see by the picture below what I mean.

I'd be happy to hear any tips and pointers. The goal is to find the easiest and most accurate way to cut a prototype board (or copper clad) using a Dremel tool.
 

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picbits

Well-Known Member
No no no !!! Wrong kind of thing for cutting boards.

At a push you can mill boards with a cutting bit in a Dremel - they are like a drill bit but have burrs on the outside. They make a nice job if you have a steady hand.

For the kind of board you're cutting (the one with the holes in), just score with a sharp knife, place a metal ruler or similar on the top and snap it.

For normal PCB, the best device I've found is a tilecutter with a diamond (or similar) cutting wheel. They are around £20-£30 here in the UK or around $30-$40 over the pond.

I also use an old paper guillotine with a very sturdy blade - makes a nice job but delaminates the edges of the board slighty. I've also got a bandsaw which is handy but make sure you get one with a nice deep blade as the skinny bladed ones snap very quickly.
 

Pavius

New Member
I really dislike scoring the board with a knife. Hard to explain why, but I prefer using some sort of motorized tool for it. I've heard of guillotines, but they need to be self sharpening and pretty heavy duty. I don't have access to that here.

The first thing that came to mind was using the drill bit you suggested (burrs on the outside), but you need a stand for that (or clamp the board and move the dremel, which i think would be less accurate).

Why is the above wrong? I've cut a few boards and had very good results with very little wear on the dremel disc bit.
 

picbits

Well-Known Member
Why is the above wrong? I've cut a few boards and had very good results with very little wear on the dremel disc bit.
Wait till it shatters ;)

I used to cut my PCBs with a similar type of disc in my Dremel but when they shatter they tend to pepper you with bits of disc so always make sure you wear goggles or similar (as you should with any power tool really).

The tile cutter seems to be the best all rounder for price vs cutting ability. Mine has done two bathrooms and a hundred or so PCBs and is still going strong.
 

Mr RB

Well-Known Member
I won't use a high speed grinding or cutting disc on PCBs, they create a lot of very fine particles AND put them into the air. Nothing worse than fine fibreglass dust in your eyes and lungs, and all over your stuff everytime you touch something.

For small PCBs I use a hand nibbler, these are great and make very large PCB particles that just fall down (not fly off out of control), so i do it over the top of a waste bin.

For larger PCBs I use a little tabletop scroll saw (about $50 USD new) these are fairly slow revving, use a coarse blade and the saw blade cuts downward so the particles fall harmlessly through and land below the machine. You can safely get your face close for fine cut control and even to cut out shapes etc.

For bigger jobs I have used my full-sized bandsaw out in the shed, but this does make some airborne fine particles. Mainly I avoid using that because blades are expensive and fibreglass PCB does tend to blunt blades.

But the hand nibbler rules! For PCB's up to 3" x 3" I just grab the nibbler and do it right at the workbench.
 

MrAl

Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
Hi,

Good point about the dust...have to be careful with maybe a mask.

I have thought about using a tile cutter too, but saw that the blade was
kinda thick so would waste a lot of PC material...well maybe not that much.

I used to use a razor too, and score and score and score...that got old fast.
I intend to use a dremel with the larger cutoff wheel too now, but better yet
is a larger diamond disk which lasts a long time and makes a thinner cut.
 

kpatz

New Member
I've got plenty of cutting discs and I cut my boards outdoors. No problems so far.

I wouldn't cut a large board that way, but for my little prototype boards it works great, and quick too.

Scoring works if you need to cut the board on a row of holes, but sometimes I need to just take an edge off to get a board to fit in the case/box. The Dremel works great for this.
 

Pavius

New Member
Dust is indeed an issue. That's why (as i mentioned in the article) I always work in a well ventilated area w/a fine mask and goggles. It's not 100% but it's close.

picbits, I've had many disc bits shatter on me. It took a while to find the right one and so far it's holding up. I know that it will explode at some point, but that's why I always make sure to wear safety goggles.

Tile cutter idea seems interesting and clean, though its hard to cut non rectangular boards. In any case I use the Dremel to cut veroboard connections and drill holes, so it's very convenient for me to use it as a saw.
 

DirtyLude

Well-Known Member
I use the dremel. I do it by hand. I'm not all that picky about super straight lines, but I've gotten pretty good at reasonable straight cuts.
 

HarveyH42

Banned
I use thin PCB and a $30 paper cutter from Office Depot. Been abusing it for about 6 years now, and it still cuts paper just fine. Must be self sharpening, as I use it for thin metal as well. Turned out to be a very useful tool, like the $44 drill press.

The paper thin PCB etches and drills faster too. I don't use large, heavy parts, high voltages, or really care if it looks professional. Just as long as it's functional, besides who is going to see it, once it's in a case?
 

RadioRon

Well-Known Member
Do hand held cutting devices (hand nibbler/metal snips) cut straight? I would image it is very hard to cut the boards in an acceptably straight line.
To the contrary, its quite easy to make a nice straight cut, and leave a clean edge too. Although it is quite easy to touch up the edge with a file if one is fussy.
 
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