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Is it possible to make PTH (Plated Thorugh Hole) at home?

Can somebody explain the procedure?

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As Majenko says, a few folk have tried the conductive liquid route. From what I have read it seems to work okay but requires fine tuning and experimentation (but then so do the rest of the home brew PCB techniques if you want the best possible results) I like the idea of conductive liquid/vacuum followed by copper electroplating to make them more reliable.
In general I agree with Mike - if you are doing this at all seriously etching your own is simply not worth it given the speed/price/ease of obtaining great quality boards. However if you need a quick hack or are in a rush to try something out though I find it certainly can come in handy to have a little etch tank sitting there.

Anyway, another suggestion is to use through hole rivets. I have used these (the 0.6mm and 1.0mm ones) with great success on my etched boards. I didn't bother getting the press as it was too expensive to use for something I only do occasionally when in a hurry, but it works fine without if you can cope with a little bit sticking out on one end (~0.4mm) and having to solder them. If you are planning to do this a lot grabbing the press would probably be worth it (or hacking one together yourself with e.g. a hole punch and pin)

Here is a picture of them in use (e.g. there are 2 next to the light brown capacitors pads just below the top IC)
Resistors are 0603, traces from ~0.25mm to ~0.8mm, rivets 0.4mm hole, 0.6mm diameter.

Through Hole rivets

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I will summarize. If the complexity of the PCB is small enough and you have enough room and no chips over the PTH you can use rivets. If the board has to many thin paths and chips I think is better to try electroplating technique. On the other hand I think that professionals are using copper electroplating to achieve the best durability, mechanical and electrical properties. The disadvantage is achievement of the right mix of chemicals. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrik Nov 9 '11 at 8:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I'd say that's a good summary. Note that you can use the rivets underneath ICs if you have the bit that sticks out on the other side (in the pic shown the rivets are flat on the other side) or of course buy the punch tool. I corrected the rivet sizes, they are actually 0.4mm hole ones, but you can get up 1.5mm in 0.2mm steps (last step is 0.3mm) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Nov 9 '11 at 19:24
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The main problem with trying to emulate the commercial plating process is that boards are plated before etching, so you need a CNC drill. It's so cheap to get boards done commercially these days that it isn't really worth the effort.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ On the CNC end of this discussion - I can say that having gone down the byo cnc path for this very purpose - while I've learned a helluva lot - it is MUCH simpler to just have your boards sent out commercially instead. The biggest advantage is turn-around time, so if that's important to you - it's a viable option. If you're interested, check out zentoolworks.com pcbgcode.org or read this over brusselsprout.org/PCB-Routing \$\endgroup\$ – ejoso Nov 9 '11 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, the commercial route gives better tolerances than DIY can within a reasonable budget. CNC drilling can go to 10 mil holes or smaller, hole-to-hole position tolerance is usually +/- 2 mils, diameter tolerance is around +/- 3 mils (+/- 2 mils for holes smaller than 20 mils), and plated hole wall thickness is typically 0.8-1.2 mils. Also, their process will be calibrated for etchback, so you don't have to worry about over-etching of fine lines, and most don't have problems with acid traps. You will spend far more time and money on DIY to get anywhere near this level of accuracy. \$\endgroup\$ – Mike DeSimone Nov 9 '11 at 3:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know that for more or less small series is simpler and cheaper to buy boards from the specialized companies but if you build only one or two of this PCB or you are living on the other side of the planet is better to try do it yourself. I think it is worth an effort to build an inhouse solution for small quantities. On the other you are richer for a new knowledge and you never know when an in house (or in garage) solution can be turned in a business. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrik Nov 9 '11 at 8:29
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It is possible - kind of.

See this nice blog where someone has already tried it with varying levels of success:

http://www.colinmackenzie.net/electronics/14-pcb/25-thru-hole-plating-diy-printed-circuit-boards

Basically it involves using a vacuum pump (vacuum cleaner) to suck conducting paint (like car demister repair paint) through the holes to plate them.

For my first attempt, after etching both sides of the pcb, but before drilling, I placed a large sticky label over the pcb (mine were transparent like scotch tape). I then setup my cnc machine and drilled all the holes. Using the conductive liquid from the defroster repair kit and an old glossy business card I squeegeed the liquid across the PCB over all the drill holes. I then used a vacuum on the pcb bottom side to suck the liquid through the holes.

For my second attempt I built a vacuum table out of a 4$ cutting board. With my CNC machine I milled a graph pattern deep (75%) into the board. This allowed the PCB to sit on any part of the cut-out and still have lots of air circulate underneath. The graph cut-out was about 4x5 inches, I would tape over any part of the vacuum table not covered by the PCB to get a good seal so air would only be sucked through the holes in the PCB.

He has had some mixed results though:

I've had a problem with the Silver conductive fluid recently. I used a few vias to tie the ground of my regulator to the ground plane on the bottom of the PCB. In operation, this regulator's ground pin had a tendancy to float on occasion. Perhaps it had to do with current output, I am not sure. The resistance of these vias would intermittently change upwards to 50ohms! Perhaps this plating is sufficient for small signal traces, but I am hesitent to depend on them on vias for power distribution.

One comment on the site has a possible solution to the problem though:

Why don't you try copper-plating the through holes after you've activated them with your silver ink? Doing this will result in much more robust and reliable vias, and it's not all that complicated to do. This site gives a good overview of the process:

http://www.thinktink.com/stack/volumes/VOLVI/copplate.htm

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    \$\begingroup\$ right now you have the reference without the answer. Links die, blogs the most often. If you explain how to do it here and then give a link to the original source people can still use this answer when the link dies. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 9 '11 at 0:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - the contents of a web page cannot fit in an answer here. Really it's better to just reference the original work than to paraphrase it and leave out much of the key information and attribution. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Nov 9 '11 at 5:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. So basically it can be done with lot of time consumed to find and setup the right chemicals. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrik Nov 9 '11 at 8:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton, the links die though. A single link does not count as an answer, it counts as a comment. Full details should be given and references to further information also given. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 9 '11 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kortuk You wanna convert this answer into a comment? Fine by me... \$\endgroup\$ – Majenko Nov 9 '11 at 22:52
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If anyone still has interest, this video shows how to plating through hole at home using pyrolysis of copper hypophosphite to activate the holes.

Look this: http://youtu.be/fY0AjzKLA-8

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 May 14 '13 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, may be this is a link-only answer. Perhaps, it's worth flagging as such. But I don't see real reasons to downvote. It would work well as a comment, but the author doesn't have commenting privilege. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Alexeev May 14 '13 at 20:58
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The other answers are very good and they are the standard way (or so I've heard) for the hobbyist to do plated through hole at home.

Another way, though, that I've recently seen uses a type of silver or solder paste that has a higher melting point than the standard solder paste. The idea is to mask the top layer with some type of removable sheet, drill the holes through the sheet and your PCB, coat the top layer with the silver paste, suck it through using a vacuum table, then bake it. After removing the film, you now have a PCB with plated through hole.

Here is LPKF's page on it and a video demonstration of it.

Please note that I don't work for LPKF and I've never actually used this myself, I've only seen it online.

To me, the real genius is using a paste with a higher melting point than that of the solder paste. This makes it immune to the reflow step that will happen after the plating is done. I would be very interested in knowing a formula for making this paste yourself, or, at the very least, a cheap and readily available source for the paste so that the average hobbyist could do this themselves.

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