Making Fabric to PCB “SnapBricks”

On November 27, 2011, in Electronics, by Vlad Cazan

As I continue my exploration with e-textiles and fabric based inputs, I ran across a problem when trying to prototype some wearable buttons I had made. I needed a way to connect the conductive fabric to a prototyping board so that I could make it more rigid and “wearable”. I tried soldering the fabric to a small PCB but no matter how low I set my soldering iron the wire would melt in the solder and the connection would break. In the end I used alligator clips but they were too expensive and too short to be useful.

I set out to find a solution and went on Sparkfun’s website. When I was there I found these handy modules called “Snap Bricks“. Although they were $2 for the male and $2 for the female they seemed like perfect designs and solutions for my problem. I really didn’t want to wait for them to come from the US or to pay the shipping fees so I set out in the world to look for a solution. The PCB side of it was simple, I had tons at home and it was dirt cheap. I connectors where a different story…or so I thought. In fact the connectors where also very readily available. I found a pack of 10 (both male and female) with a tool to install them for $5.

Here are the steps I took to make my very own “SnapBricks”:

First I cut my PCB board to the right size and marks some holes equally spaced out.

Using a drill press, cut out holes for the fasteners to go through.

It was fairly easy to do since there was so many holes already on the PCB, but make sure you don’t make them too big.

Check to makes sure all the fasteners fit snuggly, don’t try and force them in as the PCB might crack.

Using the tool that came with the fasteners, hammer the inner pin so that it bends over the outer one. This will secure them in place.

When all three are done check and make sure they don’t move by trying to twist them. If they are secured in place you are good to go.

Next melt some solder in one area of the faster making sure you don’t get any on the inside.

From here you can either you wires to connect to the solder or you can run the solder down the PCB like so.

It does take a bit of practice but I noticed that if you remove the solder iron tip and leave the solder wire inside while it hardens it is much easier to make these connections. You could also you wire as jumpers if you’d like.

Next I cut the PCB leaving some room at the bottom for making connections.

For added touch I sanded down my corners so that it would not snag on any fabric. This part is optional.


And thats the finished product. The total cost for production is about $0.75 vs the $1.95 + shipping from spartfun. Their module is slightly smaller but I am going to look to see if I can find some smaller fasteners and in a larger quality to balance that out.

I will find a piece of fabric and make the female component tomorrow and upload it here. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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