I recently started to learn SMD soldering so I picked up a couple of practice kits. The first training montage went well, but it turns out I need practice on even smaller components (0.64mm pitch). I was having trouble finding a practice board that met my needs so I tried my hand at designing one! This way I get to practice PCB layout in addition to soldering.
It was a little tricky to find components that were the shape & size I wanted to practice on but also cheap. Thankfully, I found some tiny NAND gates that fit the bill, and since you can build any digital logic out of enough NAND gates I set out to design a 4 bit counter. My PCB design skills also need some practice, so it isn’t surprising that I made some obvious newb mistakes in my layout (nothing an embarrassing number of vias couldn’t fix though), but I still have something to solder that’s the right size so I’m calling it a victory.
The boards were ordered through JLCPCB which normally delivers pretty quickly, but my order collided with a holiday break so it took a couple weeks to arrive (thus building much anticipation).
My first attempt at soldering up the board went well, I thought, but I had to go back and fix up a few truly terrible solder joints. In the end my 4-bit counter is happily 4-bit counting, so yay for that! As frustrating as it is (every damn time) to have to go back and fix up joints when I thought I had done a good job the first time around, this is literally the entire point of the process. I designed this board to challenge my skills and help me to improve my small scale hand soldering and the practice is definitely helping.
Another way I can tell that the practice is helping: after working on the SOT-353 nand gates (those are the really tiny chips and that size is specifically what I wanted to practice) the remaining 0805 parts needed to make the circuit go (resistors & capacitors, mostly) all felt comically huge. When I went to grab a grain of rice for one of my previous update photos (for scale) I actually thought to myself “I don’t remember rice being this big”. So I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.