Veroboard advantages and disadvantages tend to be looked at quite differently depending on the type of electronic hobbyist you are.When I first got into electronics I used to build my circuits on stripboard. After a while I progressed onto making my own printed circuit boards. I think it may have been some form of electronic snobbery that I turned my back on the humble stripboard but now after several years I have had a rethink. Maybe I was too quick to write them off because now they are back to being my number one preferred method of electronic construction.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that PCB’s are a bad thing and everyone should steer clear of them as I have built many things on them, it’s just that after reconsidering what I was doing I’ve had a change of mind that I’ll explain.
I’ll go through the points and tell you why I’ve changed my mind. Getting hold of an electronics kit that contains a professional quality PCB certainly makes the kit easier, faster and less likely to contain errors. With the white screen printed labelling on the front it’s easy to get the right components in the right places and with the right orientation. With the screen resist on the back it’s easy to solder without creating bridges and shorts. It’s easy to see if you’ve made any mistakes. For beginners this all makes a great deal of difference in getting a finished project to work and I happily concede that all this is correct. It just when you get beyond the beginners stage and start building and experimenting with circuits the veroboard advantages start to add up.
After having a break from electronics for a few years I was amazed to find out some of the things that had changed. Some of my favourite ICs were no longer manufactured, SMD devices were commonly available for the hobbyist and PCB’s were now easier to make at home than at any time before.
Now with laser printers and heat transfer techniques you could cheaply get repeatable results. Then there was the world of PCB design that had been revolutionised by cheap and in some case free software for drawing circuits and PCB layouts. This was something I looked forward to getting back into.
I already had a reasonably fast PC and a laser printer and it wasn’t long before I had the excellent Design Spark software installed and running. What can be achieved with this is pretty mind blowing. Especially when you consider I came from a time when designing a PCB layout was done with graph paper and a pencil and erasure. Creating the artwork wasn’t exactly high tech either as you taped a sheet of acetate over your graph paper and used dots and tapes and transfers to make it. It’s not that we were low tech at the university. There just wasn’t that much or it about in those days! We’d only just got the BBC micro. There were some PCB design packages about that ran on a Z80 rack mounted machine but you did literally need a degree to operate them. We spent about £3,000 on one of the first. So back to the original story and you can probably guess why I’m so impressed with the Design Spark software.
The problem with it all for me is time. It took me several nights to get the circuit to a PCB design that I could print out to make a board. Then several more for getting it on the board etching and drilling. I was pleased with the results but looking at all the hours involved in getting that far seemed, well, loads to be honest. Especially when it only took a few hours to go from idea to building to working circuit on veroboard.
Having come from a commercial mass manufacturing background of electronic construction where the ladies in the factory sat at desks inserting components in PCB’s ready to be flow soldered, I know how fast that type of construction can be but for my hobbyist needs I may have been blinded by the need to use PCB’s.
Looking at some of the problems associated with building circuits on stripboards and veroboards I reckoned I could get rid of some of the veroboard disadvantages.
Although it’s much quicker to build a circuit on a PCB than it is on a veroboard, it’s not that simple in terms of comparison. If you take the time into consideration that it takes to design and manufacture the board yourself. After all that’s what you’re doing when you build a circuit on veroboard so you have to if you want a proper comparison. I think on the whole I can design and build a circuit on veroboard as quick as I can design and build a circuit on a PCB.
For me that’s a huge veroboard advantage because there are no chemicals, no irons, no mess and no drilling. It’s cheaper for me because veroboard is not that much more expensive than bare circuit board. Then you don’t need the other equipment, and chemicals or drills (I hate drilling PCB’s).
You are much more likely to make mistakes building on veroboard than a on a PCB. I totally agree with this veroboard disadvantage. A PCB only has holes for where components go and you solder all the pads on the back. If you’re carful and check it’s hard to make mistakes. When building on veroboard it’s easy to make mistakes. There are just rows and rows of holes and tracks. It’s not immediately obvious if somethings in the wrong place. There is no wrong place just loads of holes!
This is where my idea of eradicating building errors came in. I wanted to build some large circuits on veroboard with eight or more IC’s so I was going to have to come up with something if I didn’t want to be wasting my evenings picking through circuits and test meters.
One thing that I did find more convenient, tidy and time saving was drawing circuits and layouts using a PC and decent software. Once you’ve got used to how it works it’s great to be able to move components, add and delete without having to resort to a pencil eraser. That also got rid of one of my other problems. My handwriting is poor at best and indecipherable at worst. I’ve made many a mistake over the years by misreading or being unable to read back what I had previously written! Being able to print out and keep diagrams is also fantastic compared to my piles of grubby corrected drawings on scraps of paper.
I tried various software for designing veroboard layouts. I would start with one but then by using it practically to build a circuit I would find it wouldn’t do a particular thing that I wanted it to so I fell out of love with it and moved on to the next application. The one I eventually settled with was Lochmaster.
I was able to take the circuit from design to finished layout doing all the things along the way that I wanted it to do.
Once I had the finished design I printed it out to a sheet or paper the actual size of the veroboard. By altering a few parameters and testing you get get it spot on. Cut it out then put it on the board and poke component lead cut offs through the corners and bend them over and you have a component overlay for your design fixed in place.
The track cuts are printed so you can make sure you do them in the right places. I next premake the wire links of two holes, three holes and four and pre bend them around formers. Insert them by pushing them through the paper then solder the back. Again these are all clearly printed on the layout sheet so it’s easy to see where they go and if you’ve missed any. I next put the resistors in and then the IC sockets. As you put more components in its easy to see where they go and if you’ve forgotten any.
All the problems I have ever encountered with building circuits on veroboard are building errors. Cutting a track in the wrong place or putting a component in the wrong holes. They all look identical it’s easy to do. Like miscounting the IC pin numbers and putting a resistor or link in pin three instead of four. It’s easy to do when there’s hundreds. You’re bound to get it wrong, counting and comparing. That’s what this print out on the board makes it so much easier. You can see if you’ve got anything wrong in the building stage which let’s face it is where nearly all the problems are. Solder carefully and you will find circuits will work first time. I’m amazed at how simple this is and what a massive difference it has made to my electronic constructing.
Basically it’s just having a component overlay. Let’s face it they have component overlays screen printed on circuit boards where you can almost see where components go without one, just think how much more useful on is on veroboard where every hole looks the same.
It’s also very repeatable. I got an oscillator circuit built using this method and it worked perfectly. I built three more just by printing off three more copies, which were identical and I knew they would work just by following the same simple procedure.
I built a sequencer about twenty years ago on veroboard and its still works today. If a circuit is built properly and with longevity in mind there’s no reason why it won’t last if it’s built in veroboard.
For me now, this is a huge veroboard advantage. This overlay technique has eradicated the biggest veroboard disadvantage for me and that was making mistakes in the constructing phase. By printing the design component overlay you can see all the track cuts, components and links without having to do check from one sheet to the board. It’s all there on the board leaving you to concentrate on the soldering.