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Since I've started electronics I'm using this kind of board for permanent projects:

enter image description here

But sometimes it's a bit annoying, especially when I need a line going from the top to bottom of the board. I've seen this kind of board:

enter image description here

My question is, how can I cut the strips?

By cutting the strip I don't mean cutting the board itself, just the copper strip. I've tried with a precision knife but I'm not sure about the method, the blade gets damaged really quickly and it's really hard to cut the copper.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the easiest method is with a cutting wheel using a Dremel (and a light touch). Another option is by using a file but it will take some effort. \$\endgroup\$ – alexan_e Dec 26 '13 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are types of knifes that can do that. In my country, they're called scalpels. They have a cartridge with several blade tips stacked serially, so you just remove the tip one it dulls. Here's an image of such a blade. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Dec 26 '13 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @alexan_e : I've try with the dremel before but even at low speed and with a lot of effort to be precise the other strips get cutted too :'( Will try with the file :) \$\endgroup\$ – Emmanuel Istace Dec 26 '13 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AndrejaKo : That's +/- what I've used but the issue is that the blade get damaged really quickly when cutting copper so I'm looking if there's a kind of dedicated tool. Have already heard about special screw driver but can't find any name for these specific tools of reference. \$\endgroup\$ – Emmanuel Istace Dec 26 '13 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, there are 3-track boards with readily available long tracks alongside for GND and Vcc. \$\endgroup\$ – Roman Susi Dec 26 '13 at 18:57

11 Answers 11

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There are specific tools that are designed to cut holes in this material, which is either called "stripboard" or "veroboard". These tools are basically a drill bit in a moulded handle made of plastic or wood and look something like this:

Stripboard track cutter

(photo from here)

Because it is basically a drill bit you could use any high speed steel drill bit. There are some good instruction at Instructables that show how to cut neat holes. However if you plan on using stripboard often then it is worth buying a tool with a handle, they are quite inexpensive.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't find a reseller here in belgium, anyway, with a "chignole" (don't know the english name and can't translate, ex : conrad.fr/ce/fr/product/815167/…) and a set of precision drill it should work too. \$\endgroup\$ – Emmanuel Istace Dec 26 '13 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ A hand drill or pin vise is what its called in english. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Feb 1 '16 at 21:33
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I use a variant of the knife blade approach that others have described. Rather than using the sharp edge of the blade, though, I reform it into a chisel, which very cleanly cuts through the copper cladding leaving a channel the width of the blade.

Taking a disposable knife (X-Acto in the USA; not sure how global they are) of this general form:

X-Acto Blade

With a small pair of pliers I snap the tip off a few millimeters from the end (protect your eyes!). Then with a small whetstone I grind the broken face so that the metal forms a slightly less than 90-deg angle with the top edge of the blade. I also hone the top edge, so that there is a very clean edge where the new face and the top meet. You could also do this on a power grinder or sander with a very fine grit wheel, but it only takes a couple of minutes to do it by hand. You may also want to round off the remaining sharp edge of the blade for improved safety, or keep it for other modes of use.

Chisel

Now, turning the blade "upside down", so that what was the top edge is now held almost parallel to the surface to be cut, you chisel through the copper just as an engraver would do when making a printing plate. In fact, if you have access to real engraver's chisels, that might be even better. I find it easy to make very clean cuts. The copper just peels up in a nice curl with smooth edges. You might want to experiment with the angles of the cutting edge, both the angle in the plane of the blade and tilting the new face a few degrees from perpendicular to the plane of the blade. Don't make the new angle too acute or the tool will tend to dig into the work too much. Just a little less than 90-deg should be fine. If it doesn't work just right the first time, modify it a little and try again. Also try holding it at slightly different angles to the circuit board. If the edge gets dull, just a few strokes on the whetstone will fix it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A video of this would be nice. And there are chisel blades for x-acto knives as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Feb 2 '16 at 3:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ A video is a great idea, but I don't know when I might get enough time and inspiration to make one. I'll keep it in mind. I know there are wood carving chisel blades for X-Acto knives, but I'm not sure how well they would work in this application. Modifying regular blades is really quite easy (and cheap), though. \$\endgroup\$ – Entropivore Feb 2 '16 at 6:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Seems like this could also be a useful tool for cutting PCB traces to make circuit modifications. \$\endgroup\$ – pericynthion Apr 12 at 5:43
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Summary: Use of an appropriately selected drill bit (see below) with a custom made tape handle works very well. Use of the same size drill each time and establishing a standardised technique (turns, pressure, ...) will allow a good reliability method to be established. This will be far quicker and more easily reliable than using any sort of knife, at the cost of slightly less compactness in extreme cases. Inspection of the finished cut is always wise to ensure that small whiskers of track do not extend along the hole edges to form a bridge - but consistent method will mean there will be very few bridges.

Detail: I used to do this often and my favourite method and tool is based on the experiences.
I found (as others have noted) that a properly sized hand held drill-bit worked well.
There is an optimum size range that gives best results - too small and you need too much depth into the board before you get a guaranteed cut across the whole track width, too large and it does not centre well and also tends to damage adjacent tracks. Actual size "somewhat to taste" depending on your style, but somewhat wider than track width. Try a few sizes and see what works best for you. AFAIR the best size was wider than the "proper" strip-board cutting tools.

I found that the "proper" tools tended to break off near the bottom of the handle because the metal shaft was not continued far enough up inside the handle and sideways forces would cause the plastic to shear. One may well ask why there should be sideways forces:-). Regardless of why, there were, and breakage was not uncommon.

When using a drill-bit, adding a handle at the held end can greatly improve usability and comfort. I found that a number of turns of masking tape worked well. This is the paper tape used by painters to allow production of accurate paint edges. It moulds and shapes well and can be squashed somewhat into shape as a handle.Normal operation is to rotate the bit against the board using thumb and index-finger while perhaps applying pressure against the bit end with the hand if needed. You can work out a standard number of turns and pressure which will reliably provide complete cutting but minimise board erosion. You can easily drill right through phenolic based board material if "over enthusiastic".

The use of a "spot face cutter" or drill bit has the disadvantage (seldom important in practice) of removing a complete soldering point from availability. Cutting between holes with a knife allows the extremely keen to use the immediately adjacent holes for soldering a component leg BUT if you need layout that tight you are going to need extreme care overall to avoid solder bridges.

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Cutting between two holes can be done with a lot of care and a sharp knife (x-acto?).

Curring the copper around one hole is easy: take a large-diameter (about 8mm) drill (in your hand, no drill machine needed) and turn it round once or twice in the hole.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean "approximately" by your use of "+/-"? Even so, 8mm seems rather big, I use 4 or 5mm myself \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Thompson Dec 26 '13 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I use rather large drills for this purpose. Maybe because those are seldom used by me for other purposes, so they are still sharp :) \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen Dec 26 '13 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also use a larger drill bit because it seems to scrape the copper off more quickly without disturbing the fibreglass below and weakening it. \$\endgroup\$ – David Dec 26 '13 at 20:14
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I've often found it to be easier to use the FIRST type of perfboard shown, and run a longish (uninsulated) jumper wire ABOVE the board (along the non-copper surface) to make the remote connection. No need to cut traces, and if you're careful, the results can actually look pretty decent.

If you need to cross two such jumpers, one could duck back to the trace side for the crossing, or you could slip some tubing over one where it crosses the other. Heat-shrink tubing works well for that.

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I actually found cutting just by drilling the (continuous) stripboards rather iffy if you want to use (for leads) the holes adjacent to the one being cut out to interrupt a strip. Using a 2.5mm drill leaves the adjacent holes intact, but sometimes leaves a sliver of copper on one side when the hole is not well centered from the factory. Simply using a 3mm drill avoid this issue but makes it rather easy to ruin part of the copper of the adjacent holes on the same strip. So what I end up doing is to first scratch with a cheap cutter two lines to separate the hole I'm going to drill, and then then drill it with the 3mm drill. It turns out you hardly need a handle (let alone machine power) if do it like this because the scratch/cut marks make the copper around the target hole strip much easier and—more importantly—in a predictable manner, without stripping parts of copper surrounding the adjacent holes.

Of course, what I said above matter only if you care about the density of the stuff on your stripboard; if you're willing to design for losing/skipping 3 holes in a row, then you can be much more expedient with your drilling. The photo of the board from the instructables in the howto linked in the accepted answer looks to be of this latter kind of slack design.

And I suspect you mileage may vary based on the relative strengths of the board's material. I've only used FR2 stripboards insofar and on these when you drill the copper essentially doesn't come off the substrate but rather the substrate flakes off with bits of copper still attached, which probably explains why cutting the copper first matters in what shape it comes off. I see that there are FR4 stripboards for sale, but I personally don't see a good reason to buy a more expensive board that you're going to make mess of anyway... unlike in the case of protoboards that don't require you to make disconnects. YMMV on this aspect too, I guess.

Addendum. After wrting the above, I found a guy who even uses/saves every hole by cutting two scratches between the same pair of holes (instead of bracketing one with cuts like I do) and then he uses a knife to slide underneath and lift the bit of copper in between the cuts. On my first attempt to replicate this technique it took me four tries to make the bit in between the cuts to peel off. So it seems to me less straightforward than drilling that in-between chunk out, but with a bit of practice it's probably reasonably easy to become proficient at this knife-only technique. Perhaps using an appropriately sized chisel might make this scooping technique even faster.

Later edit: Well, after purchasing a higher-quality board of this stripped type (UL 94V-0 certified, cost approximately 4 times as the el cheapo stuff), much of what I wrote above turns to be a poor-man's tradeoff of time for money. On a quality board the holes are all well-centered and the substrate doesn't flake so a quick touch with 2.5mm drill mounted on a ~300rpm electric screwdriver works as expected and takes only a fraction of the time.

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I generally use an X-acto or similar cutter. When the tip gets dull a few mm off the end of the blade can be broken off using pliers (and closed eyes or other eye protection) to make a new cutting edge available. Cut 2 close parallel lines in the copper, using multiple passes, then use the tip of the knife to peel out the line of copper. A single cut will not guarantee an open but removing the strip guarantees one. With some board material the heat of a soldering iron helps to loosen the narrow strip that is to be removed so one hand holds the iron and the other holds the knife.

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You could always etch the board, just as you would a normal copper-clad pcb. A Stripboard or Veroboard is no different than solid copper-clad FR4. You would apply a resist (sharpie) and etch it in the same solutions. It kind of defeats the purpose of strip board (quick point to point prototyping without needing to etch), but it is an option.

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As others have said, the correct intended method is to use a drill and either partly drill the hole to break the copper trace or just drill right through with your cordless drill etc, if you can't get a neato handle for your drill.

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Use a Dremel but with a tungsten carbide end mill about 1/16 inch diameter. It has a small diameter compared to the abrasive wheel. Safety Glasses!

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I use 3mm diameter brad point drill bits (quite cheap on Ebay or Amazon). The sort of specialised woodworking drills with a tiny spike sticking out of the cutting end (a standard V ground drill bit tends to wander across the wood surface before it bites and starts to drill in but with these you push the spike in where you want your hole and the bit is held in place (in theory).

The brad point on a 3mm drill is tiny and fits neatly into the stripboard hole and again it stops the drill wandering around and damaging anything else. The 3mm cut is just a fraction wider than the copper trace so its quite efficient but I always check the trace is cut clean through with a multimeter set to check continuity.

I also made a rough carved softwood handle and used the 3mm drill to make its own hole about an inch deep into the handle end then pushed the drill into the hole against a piece of scrapwood, it grips the drill surprisingly tightly. Once it gets blunt just pull it out with pliers and push in a fresh drill.

What I struggle with is cutting the boards, they are sometimes very brittle. I've tried scoring and snapping them but the break is never clean and a corner shears off destroying a few traces. A junior hacksaw the seems best option so far.

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