A query I hear from time to time about using copper-plated boards for Manhattan construction is what they look like after a few months or years. “How do they age?” is the question. My first such project, the WBR, was housed in an enclosure made from double-sided PCB material, and I could see that the outer surface had developed a bit of oxidation; a certain patina, if you will. My later projects weren’t made from this double-sided PCB – just single-sided, so I was going to have to open them up to see how they’d fared. Comparing how they looked, and remembering how I’d applied the lacquer to each did help in coming to some conclusions.
First of all, this is how the outside of the WBR looked shortly after I finished building it just over 4 years ago. It was already showing a few early signs of oxidation. However, it did fit together very well, and made quite a handsome enclosure –
I made 2 mistakes with this enclosure. Firstly, although the initial cleaning of the boards was done with Scotch-Brite scouring pads, the final cleaning was with Tarn-X. I later found that copper boards cleaned with Tarn-X develop streaking and oxidation. The streaking on this WBR enclosure was not anywhere as near as bad as I have seen with other boards, but it is definitely there. You can see it on the side panel in the next shot. The other mistake was to spray the lacquer too lightly. I was cautious about spraying it too thickly and causing it too pool, so I erred in the other direction instead. This is what it looks like from the outside today. Not bad, but definitely aged. You can see the areas on top where my fingers press against the case when I pick it up –
Here are a few more.
Before (July 2011) –
and today (Oct 2015) –
If I were making the WBR again today, I’d stay away from the Tarn-X, and apply slightly thicker coats of lacquer.
Next, I decided to open up The Rugster. It was a little direct conversion receiver I had made by teaming up a standard NE602-type DC receiver front end with NM0S’ Hi-Per-Mite filter, set for maximum gain, so as to provide both 50dB of gain and narrow filtering. I built it into an enclosure made of single-sided copper-clad board on a red laminate. It had a really cool and compact look –
It still looks the same from the outside today, but I was curious to know what the interior looked like. This was what it looked like when freshly-built 3 years ago, in Aug 2012. The treatment of the VFO toroid was my first ever attempt at using a hot glue gun, by the way. I am more skilled at it now. This particular toroid looked a bit of a mess –
The same view today (Oct 2015), looking remarkably good. You can see that I added a high-pass filter on the back panel set to block signals from the AM broadcast band –
I do remember that I sprayed slightly thicker coats of lacquer than on the WBR, leaving each coat for about an hour before spraying the next coat. Here are some more “after” shots –
In the next one, the brighter patch on the red front panel is a splash of morning sun, and not a discoloration of the laminate –
The 3rd project to be given a second look was the VK3YE Micro 40 DSB transceiver, which I built 2 years ago, in Oct 2013. Back then, the innards looked like this –
A couple of days ago (Oct 2015), it looked like this –
I used to clean my boards with Scotch-Brite pads but now find that fine steel wool scouring pads work even better. Then, when they’re clean, I dry them with clean bathroom tissue, making sure to blow any loose fibers off afterwards. Then I spray the first coat of lacquer. To this day, I still don’t always judge it correctly, and end up with boards that don’t age too well, but IMO, it is best to spray until it is just beginning to pool, ever so slightly. At this point, the lacquer is quite thick, but will smooth out before it dries. An hour later, you can spray the second coat. I’ll leave it up to your judgement as to whether you apply a 3rd coat (I usually do). From my experience, this way works quite well. I’ll be interested to hear details of anyone else’s experience with lacquering.
In the next post, I’ll talk a little about the methods I use when constructing Manhattan boards.