June 2016 - Cross Clamp Vice

There was a time when creating PCB's seemed a bore - but I discovered the toner transfer method and things got easier. It takes me less than an hour to create a new board but there are times when I just want something quick and simple and I wished I had that quarter million dollar CNC machine that Pete N6QW has. (note this is somewhat of a running gag on Soldersmoke).

Here is an example of Pete's CNC boards.

They look very good. Perfectly uniform pads with precision straight lines.

Not being in that financial ballgame I wondered how I could make something like them a little cheaper.

My eye fell on one of Axminster Tools nice "Cross Clamp Vices".
Axminster in the UK sell good tools.

My cross clamp vice.

My vice mounted on my pillar drill.

I have a much battered pillar drill that I won on EBay a couple of years ago for 20 quid, and as this video may show, the bearings might sound a little knackered but there isn't any appreciable play in the chuck. Using a cutting bit, I was able to mill to a quite shallow depth, though I went a little deep in this first example. You don't really need to go quite as deep as I did (in places), as the copper isn't that thick. Proper deep milling with a pillar drill with lots of lateral stress will likely kill the drill.


Here is my first board. Not as pretty as Pete's work but quite functional and quick to make.

Although it worked, the saw bit was flexing a little. Which might account for the less than straight lines..

I now need to order some proper milling bits and try them.

This morning I made a jig to hold the board in place.

It is made from fairly thick aluminium and there are three tabs on the far side so that I only need to clamp nearer me - rather than have the clamps foul the drill stand. The far side pads were cut today with the closer pads an early effort that (to quote a Paul NA5N expression) "rather sucked swampwater".

Update: July 2016.

Having now obtained a 1mm end milling cutter I can say that this system works very well. Here is a zener diode noise generator built on a board that took a few minutes to produce. As you can see, the method supports both SMD and conventional components,

March 2017.
Keeping the board still while milling has proven to be a bit hit and miss so I've added some new clamps from Banggood.

The plate that I've attached them to has a few mounting holes drilled so I can move the clamps about.

February 2018 Update. I see that Banggood are now selling their own smaller version for half the price. I would love to hear from anyone who has tried one.

September 2018 Update. Now that I have a proper mill I tend not to use the pillar drill for milling but the cross clamp vice stays in situ because it is brilliant for postioning objects for drilling. I've since read some dire warnings about milling with a pillar drill. (see below that linked article for the many comments). It may be that shallow cutting of copper PCB is OK but you should make up your own mind having read those comments.


Articles (2016)

November 2016
A Bench Power Supply
More test gear.

September 2016
Return Loss Bridge
Simple to build.

July 2016
Faraday's Biscuit Tin
Screening a TV Dongle

June 2016
A super fun project.

June 2016
Milling PCB's
Cross Clamp Vice

May 2016
Etching PCB's
Using the Toner Transfer Method