An Ugly Construction Workbench
2. What is 'Ugly Construction'?
3. Component Placement
4. Further Information
5. Feedback from other constructors
I stopped making printed circuit boards (PCBs) a long time ago. Apart from being
messy to produce, the 'printed' wiring made it difficult to substitute component types, or
modify the basic design. Rather than making it easy to build projects and try
different circuits, I found that PCBs hampered experimentation. Eventually, 'ugly
construction' became my preferred method for rapidly transferring suggested circuits into
Although ugly construction is most often used for prototyping, it is also possible to
use these same construction techniques to produce the final version; such that projects
are assembled quickly; are reliable in use; look good; are easy to maintain; and easy to
modify. With care, the finished item really can look very presentable - so good, in fact,
that the very term 'ugly construction' becomes a misnomer!
What is 'Ugly Construction'?
Typically, ugly construction involves building circuits just above the copper surface
of a piece of copper clad board. (Copper clad board is the material used for making
PCBs, prior to etching away the unwanted areas of copper foil). If using
double-sided copper clad board, components are often mounted on both sides. Of
course, whether using single or double-sided board, components can still be mounted on
both sides of the board to increase the component density. Interconnecting leads and
wires may be passed through small holes that have been drilled through the board - but be
sure to de-burr the hole on both sides with a few turns from a much larger drill bit.
Small components will be held in place adequately using only the soldered connections.
For some components, such as wire-ended crystals and large ferrite cores, I use
double-sided sticky pads, or hot-melt glue to ensure that they remain firmly anchored to
the board. Inductors in metal cans (e.g. Toko coils) can be mounted on their side,
and its earth tag soldered directly to the copper foil. ICs may be placed upside-down
('dead bug' fashion) on the foil side.
Also, 'walls' of copper clad board are often used to screen one part of the circuit
The positioning of the components on the board usually follows the layout implied by
the suggested circuit diagram, with all earth connections being made directly to the
copper foil. It couldn't be easier! Once a few of the components needing an earth
connection have been soldered in place, the other interconnecting components are simply
soldered 'lead-to-lead' to their neighbours.
When you're building the final version of a project, you may wish to crop the leads
quite short to reduce the chance of short circuits, and to save space.
Standoff insulators can be used as anchor points for interconnections with other
boards; front panel controls; and equipment sockets. I ran out of standoff
insulators many years ago; so, these days, I solder one end of a high value resistor to
the foil, and use the other end as a 'poor man's standoff insulator'. I also use
high value resistors to provide additional component support by soldering them between the
foil and a lead of the component.
The illustration above depicts my ugly construction workbench. The base consists
of a piece of white 'melamine' faced chipboard, measuring 300 x 150 mm. To the left, I
have mounted an old three-gang variable capacitor (500pF per gang). A pre-drilled
aluminium front panel is mounted on the front edge of the base, which allows for the
fitting of potentiometers; variable capacitors; switches; and other controls.
Similarly, a back panel is fitted to the rear edge of the base, and fitted with sockets
and power connectors. A piece of copper clad board is then polished (using brass
polish) before being fitted to the base, foil side uppermost.
This construction aid will be large enough for most small projects. For larger
projects, simply connect more sheets of copper clad board around the basic workbench.
When prototyping my 80 m transceiver, I ended up with about
3000 cm2 (3 sq ft) of ugly construction. And yet the final version of the rig was
eventually built into a case measuring only
17 x 12 x 7 cm.
For examples of the author's projects built using ugly construction techniques, click the
136 kHz QRP TX - includes
pictures at both at the prototype stage, and the final version.
60 m QRP TX - includes a picture of this 5 MHz rig at the
For more excellent
photographs of ugly construction, see: