The Ultimate Guide to Cutting PCB Boards: Techniques and Tools

There’s always a demand for custom-sized printed circuit boards if the default sizes don’t fit your expectations when working on a project. It can be possible to procure custom-sized PCBs from your manufacturer who can cut PCBs easily with specialized CNC milling machines, but that may require additional steps and negotiations to take place. Thus, the matter of cutting PCBs might sometimes fall into your hands.

In this article, we’ll get to the steps on how to cut a PCB board on your own. We’ll also explore the techniques and tools that you’ll need to successfully create custom-sized PCBs that your devices or electronic systems can use.

Why does cutting down a PCB to size matter?

There are a multitude of reasons why cutting PCB board is a must. One of the common reasons is that certain projects you’re working on will require circuit board sizes that aren’t easy to procure unless you are willing to invest more and negotiate with your manufacturer. As a result, it might leave you with no choice but to cut a larger PCB into smaller but customized sizes.

However, the practice of organizations and professionals purchasing large PCBs before cutting them into custom sizes is a practice seen nowadays. This approach turns out to also be more cost-effective, making you save money even though you’ll have to cut the printed circuit boards to size.

Cut PCBs and Separate PCBs

The tools you’ll need to cut a PCB

Before talking about how to cut PCB circuit board, let’s get to know the tools you’ll typically need in cutting PCB board. Through these tools, you will make the process of cutting circuit boards easier than before. Here are some of the tools that you’ll need for the job.

  • Heavy-duty shears, blades, or precision knives. Either one of these two can be utilized in cutting a PCB without the use of a large cutting machine. Heavy-duty shears resemble regular scissors but are tougher and heavier and are made to cut thicker objects, such as printed circuit boards, whereas precision knives are special knives that can cut PCBs by hand. If precision knives aren’t available to you, you can use a ]abletop paper cutter or a table saw as a substitute.
  • Sandpaper. Typically, sandpaper isn’t needed in the procedure of cutting PCB board. However, there are rare instances where the cuts on the circuit board might leave rough edges that need smoothing to give it a polished and finished appearance after cutting.
  • Grids or rulers. The purpose of grids and rulers in cutting printed circuit boards is to measure the PCB, but this is used in tandem with a marker to place a point where you want to cut the PCB.
  • Markers. Markers will be useful in helping you cut a PCB because they are used to indicate the size of the printed circuit board. It is also used in creating a guiding line that shows the pathway of the blade you’ll use. Ideally, you’d want to use an easy-to-remove marker for this project.
  • Safety gloves. Take note that cutting PCB board means you might end up getting cuts or dirt on your hands. Wearing safety gloves will ensure that your hands will be clean and safe from cuts.

Techniques and approaches to cutting PCBs

In this section, we will talk about how to cut PCB boards in detail. We’ll get to know the techniques and practices that you’ll need to take note of when properly cutting PCB board. Each step needs to be done properly to ensure that the custom-sized printed circuit boards meet your desired size for your projects.

Cut Flex PCBs

1. Clean before you cut

Before cutting PCB board, you would want to clean up the circuit board that you intend to cut down to size. Use a clean cloth to clean the circuit boards so that any debris or dust present on the PCB will be removed and give way to a clean board surface to work with.

2. Measure and mark

Use your ruler and pen to measure the PCB that you will cut down to size. Use the marker to indicate the “cut-off” spots and the pathways on the circuit board. The pathways indicate the lines that your blade will follow, and the cut-off point is where the corners are found. Both indicators will give you an idea of how big your custom-cut circuit board is. You can then use the utility knife to carve in grooves along the pathways you’ve marked.

3. Slide a piece of paper under the PCB in your work area

Before you proceed to cut the PCB into the size you want it to be, slide paper underneath the PCB. The goal of this step is to prevent one side of the printed circuit from getting abrasions and scrapes while you cut it down to size.

4. Slowly and steadily cut the board down to size

Use the knife or heavy-duty shears to cut down the board to size in a slow but steady manner. Try to be gentle as you cut along the marked or grooved areas since circuit boards are made out of very delicate materials. You do not want to cause damage due to excess pressure as you cut down the circuit board to the desired size.

Carefully snip the endpoints of the circuit board to finish sizing it down. Inspect the edges of the printed circuit board to see if the cuts are almost consistent or if they have any rough edges.

5. Smoothen the edges and give it one more wipe

If the cuts leave any rough edges after cutting, it is advised that you use sandpaper on them. Smoothen the rough edges until they exhibit a consistent look so that your circuit board, after cutting, has a finished appearance.

Once you are done smoothing the edges, or if the edges are already smooth after cutting, give the PCB one more wipe to clean it up after cutting it down to the desired size.

Cut down your boards to size with the right techniques and tools

The task of cutting PCB boards may be daunting and intimidating at first glance; however, some techniques and tools can help you work around those issues. All you need to do is carefully cut down the PCB with the right equipment to ensure that the scaled-down boards meet your size requirements.

With the right tools and techniques about how to cut a PCB board, you can be assured that you’ll obtain the right size of PCBs to use in your projects.

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