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Ask Slashdot: How To Safely Saw Up Motherboards? 247

James-NSC writes "I like to do arts and crafts. I've been saving up motherboards for a while as a new medium and I started working on it last night. I wore the same gear I wear while painting – fine particulate respirator and safety goggles. I just cut some templates out of some motherboards and when I was done I used the shop-vac to clean myself & workspace up before removing my mask. Even after 5+ minutes, in a well ventilated area (not as well as it should have been apparently) my first breath was pins and needles. I'm looking into containment and exhaust solutions – ala baby's first iron lung, but seriously, am I nuts? Are these materials just too toxic to work with?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Safely Saw Up Motherboards?

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  • Motherboards are essentially epoxy bound fiberglass. If you are going to be sawing it up, you need gear that is designed for extremely fine stiff fibers. You need filtration equipment suitable for removing fiberglass, or better yet asbestos, particles from the air.

    Good luck. Try not to give yourself lung cancer.

    • by Hungus ( 585181 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:08PM (#36702126) Journal

      Better yet use a wet saw and keep water running over it the entire time. Then you can filter the water but particulates should never become airborne and so you will never inhale them. You should also be wearing thick non porous gloves what handling them and make certain any think you work with is lead free if you plan on making jewelry out of it.

      • by N3Bruce ( 154308 )

        An inexpensive wet tile saw with a with a blade that contains diamond abrasives can be found at most home centers for as little as $100.00

    • by Shadyman ( 939863 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:12PM (#36702140) Homepage
      Indeed. The Shop Vac doesn't have filtration anywhere near what is required for fiberglass particulate. All it likely did was fill the air with whatever the shop vac sucked up.
      • Very likely true. HEPA certified shop vacs can now be found for a "reasonable" cost because they are required for lead paint removal by the EPA now. I own one. It was 400 dollars. I would run a shroud around the blade that is hooked up to the HEPA vac. Try to process as much exhaust as possible through the vacuum. Also where a P100 mask ( HEPA rating used for masks, they are pink. ) and put a fan in a window or do it all outside.

    • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

      You can create a water filter for a shopvac relatively easily. 5 gallon bucket, a hose extension, and two appropriately-sized pieces of PVC pipe. One long intake pipe below the water line, a short exit pipe above the water line, and you have wet filtration.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      It is especially important to avoid the fine fibers if you are a smoker since the combination of asbestos (or similar fibers) and smoking is the real trigger for lung cancer. Smoking hampers the ability of the lungs to keep themselves clean, the cancerous smoke particles sticks to the fibers and then penetrates the tissue wall in the lung.

      But use a central vacuum cleaner that vents to outdoors and have it suck out the material at the point of work - that should cover for most of the problems. A normal indoo

    • Avoid sawing through the chips and capacitors too, they contain all sorts of nasty stuff.

    • Go to a auto paint store they will have the proper cartridge filters for fiberglass also wear a tyvex suit with a hood so none of the particles will be in your hair or clothes.
  • by jra ( 5600 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:42PM (#36701966)

    Or things even worse. You can do this, but you're going to need pretty hefty realtime dust collection; I suppose it's possible that a Rainbow water-curtain vac might be enough, but I'm not sure.

    I'll bet someone else will be sure. :-)

    And I'm not sure if you can finish off the cut edge of a board to a point where it won't unravel -- or at least, how you would do so.

    People *do* do this: I have a favorite notebook whose covers are circuit boards. But it's non-trivial.

    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      Or things even worse. You can do this, but you're going to need pretty hefty realtime dust collection; I suppose it's possible that a Rainbow water-curtain vac might be enough, but I'm not sure.

      No, those things are actually ineffective over-hyped pieces of shit. A HEPA filter is what is needed for filtration. I don't know what should be used for containment in order to make sure it all actually gets trapped by the filter...

      And for a respirator, what you need is kind of hard to find--you won't get it at Home Depot. But there's some place in every major city that sells supplies for asbestos abatement, and you can get the respirator you need there.

      • Re:Fiberglas (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:33PM (#36702228)

        My brother (maybe somewhat excessively) bought a military surplus compressor-based breathing system (on eBay) for use in his studio (they make rather large fiberglass sculptures/models [] for museums).

        Not only does it do a great job protecting from all of the fiberglass flying around, with i's 50's style military look and the 100' hoses connected to full face masks, it just looks damn cool :)

        • wow, those dinosaurs look awesome

      • I wouldn't saw up motherboards without a respirator that can handle metal vapors, which you WILL get at home despot.

    • And I'm not sure if you can finish off the cut edge of a board to a point where it won't unravel -- or at least, how you would do so.

      I'd imagine sealing edges with epoxy or equivalent would suffice.

    • And I'm not sure if you can finish off the cut edge of a board to a point where it won't unravel -- or at least, how you would do so.

      When PCBs are made they are cut out of a larger sheet with a router bit, the edges are not further finished, and they last this way for years. Where I work now we often cut portions of PCBs out while developing RF circuitry and we do so with a band saw with no extra ventilation. I've never noticed fiberglass particles in the air and I've never seen the edges unravel.

      The last place I worked we made PCB test boards that were placed in an oven at up to 250C for weeks or months on end for reliability testing of

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:43PM (#36701974) Journal
    You said

    Even after 5+ minutes, in a well ventilated area (not as well as it should have been apparently) my first breath was pins and needles.

    Your first breath? Try breathing more often?

  • I would consider getting a large sand blasting cabinet.

  • Careful... (Score:3, Funny)

    by mr_lizard13 ( 882373 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:52PM (#36702030)
    Don't breathe that stuff in. You might catch a virus.
  • Underwater (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrQuacker ( 1938262 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:52PM (#36702034)

    When cutting things that make lots of dust, its best (if possible) to cut them underwater, or submerged in a fluid. This way none of the particulates become airborne.

  • Negative pressure... (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:00PM (#36702074) Journal
    Once it gets into the air, fine fiberglass dust is going to remain there a good while. It's light enough that it will effectively never settle in any useful amount of time, and your typical house probably doesn't completely recycle its internal atmosphere nearly fast enough to solve the problem that way.

    If you are going to be doing much of this, you might want to consider building a negative-pressure work area large enough for your tools and workpiece to be comfortably manipulated:

    Basically, a reasonably adequately sealed box(doesn't need to, and won't, be airtight, because of the negative pressure) with a slot for you to stick your hands in, a plexiglass window to see what you are doing, and a shop vac or similar pulling air out of the box and through a HEPA filter. Because of the suction, air will continually be flowing into the box(preventing the egress of most dust, even though the box isn't fully sealed) and the dust-contaminated air will be filtered before it leaves to ruin your day. Still probably not a bad idea to have the outflow vent outdoors, rather than into the room; but the filter should scrub most of it.
    • OP has very good advice. Take it. Understanding what negative and positive pressure can be very important in circumstances like this.

      Ever wonder why dust collects so badly inside your PC? It's a negative pressure environment - the main power fan at the back blows hot air OUT of the computer, causing air to rush into every crack and orifice in your case, making your expensive electronics into a poor quality air filter. The dust collected is a byproduct of this fact.

      I once was called in to deal with a compute

  • Safety. (Score:5, Informative)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:04PM (#36702104)

    First off, you need the correct saw blade.

    Most motherboards (all? I've never seen one on phenolic), are G-10 fiberglass.

    G-10 Fiberglass is nasty stuff. While it will not give you cancer (this has been studied because people thought fiberglass seems similar to asbestos, but it isn't) it's definitely an irritant. Your lungs will expel the fibers.

    That said:

    Wear a dust mask. A full nose-and-mouth mask from the hardware store is fine. You don't need to go overboard.
    Use a vacuum pickup.
    Use the correct saw blade. A silicon carbide blade (particles bonded to a steel band saw blade) is ideal.

    You also might want to try using a tile cutter saw that uses an abrasive blade and flood water cooling.

    Don't try to cut with a steel blade.



    • Re:Safety. (Score:4, Informative)

      by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:45PM (#36702282)

      Replying to myself

      I had forgotten the OP had been using a shop vac to pick up particles.

      Shop Vacs are notorious for spitting out small particles back out into the air without the proper filter. There are different kinds. The default is an open cell foam filter. These do absolutely nothing for fine particles. Indeed, they guarantee that all you will have in the air after vacuuming are fine particles that will stay there for hours.

      You need the aftermarket filters. Google for "shop vac hepa" and you will find them.


    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      I used to make checking fixtures out of fibreglass for BMW.

      We used a 'windy-saw' for cutting. Oscillating, compressed air saw or knife might be a better name. The ones nurses use to remove plaster casts.

      Closes thing I can find online is this:

      You just want a slow tool.

      For PPE: Full paper suit, paper mask, rubber gloves, all taped up with masking tape. Overhead extraction in a small room too.

      I had lung function tests every 6 months for
      • by Inda ( 580031 )
        Yeah, sorry for replying to my own...

        Bandsaws were used too on a slow speed. Same small room. Small teeth, nothing special. The only problem is you can't wear gloves, so we rarely uses it.

        It was always the curing that was the problem. The resin gave off carcinogens in the vapour and full breathing respirators were needed. Nasty shit.
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:05PM (#36702110)
    You are using neither the proper tools nor proper containment nor proper suit nor respirator for machining fiberglass. It is dangerous, it can damage your lungs, eyes and other parts of your body, it can give you cancer.
    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:25PM (#36702194)

      >it can give you cancer.

      Hi. I'm a machinist. I used to machine boards and G10 fiberglass parts for circuit board testers (basically a big board with hundreds of probes on it that you plonked a circuit board onto and it QCed the board).

      This concerned me.

      So I looked it up. The only study I found that had a link to cancer was that they surgically implanted a chunk of fiberglass into rat lungs that the lungs were not able to expel. This chronic irritant did produce tumors. The rat population that only had inhaled fiberglass dust did not have a statistically significant increase in cancer over the control group of rats without exposure.

      The human lung cilia and mucus are able to expel fiberglass fibers. This is not the case with asbestos, which is why asbestos is a hazard and fiberglass (a much larger fiber) isn't.

      The IARC removed fiberglass from its list of "possibly carcinogenic materials" in 2001.

      This is not to say that fiberglass is not a hazard. It is. It can cause asthmatic reactions and difficulty in breathing because it's a strong irritant. Wear a good facemask. Try to keep the fibers from entering the air in the first place. Use vacuum pickup and if you can, try to cut under flood water-based coolant.


      • by Guppy ( 12314 )

        The human lung cilia and mucus are able to expel fiberglass fibers. This is not the case with asbestos

        Quite so. I had a professor (an MD) who did quite a bit of work relating to asbestos carcinogenicity. He had a story about a research group who cremated a deceased mesothelioma patient (or maybe just cremated his lungs, I don't remember exactly). The patient had been exposed to asbestos many decades ago.

        After sifting through the ashes, they extracted a tiny pile of perfectly intact asbestos fibers.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      I think what we have seen as research accumulates is that any small inorganic or mineral particle, when allowed to enter the lungs, will cause damage to lungs which increases over time. This damage may be as simple as scar tissue, in the case of silicosis, or more complex. As others have suggested, the link to cancer is weak, but in the context of scaring of lung tissue may be of the least concern. The predominant research is that exposure has to be routine and long term. If someone is going to make a c
  • Can you maybe score one or even both sides with a razor knife, then snap it ?
    • Nope, that's not feasible. The components will get in the way. They do score bare boards using special equipment, but once the board's been populated, it's no longer a simple task.
  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:22PM (#36702178)

    10cm carbide blade table saw: [] including vacuum attachment.

    Video here: []

  • Simple... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Jon Abbott ( 723 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:22PM (#36702182) Homepage

    Just hold your breath for the duration of the sawing + another five minutes just to be sure.

  • by SirTreveyan ( 9270 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:34PM (#36702236)

    don't use a saw. Use pressure.

    The way they cut the motherboard safely for notebook covers is by using multi-ton presses. The even use presses to punch out the rivet holes for attaching the hardware to the cut motherboards. There will be no particulates to speak of but the only drawback is that you can only cut straight lines. If he is wanting to cut out anything more than a straight edge he might have to experiment with nibbling away small sections until he gets the shape he wants.

    With a little thought he could probably design an adequate press using commonly available bottle stye hydraulic jacks. A few things he needs to be aware. Since the cutting time will be slower than a industrial press, it is possible he will splinter the board along the edge being cut. This can probably be avoided using a sharp cutting edge, or possibly a scissor type cutting action.

    After the piece is cut, a little urethane should be enough to seal the edges to keep them from unraveling.

    • by bmo ( 77928 )

      One thing I could think of is not using a press.


      Rent time on a waterjet machine and have them cut that way. Burr free, no airborne particles, and done quickly.

      At 300 bucks/hr, this sounds expensive, but not really when you consider how many pieces you can get in an hour and the time saved in not having to manually deburr and apply epoxy to the edges.


    • by Animats ( 122034 )

      The way they cut the motherboard safely for notebook covers is by using multi-ton presses. The even use presses to punch out the rivet holes for attaching the hardware to the cut motherboards.

      That's a good idea. If you have access to ordinary sheet metal shop tools like a sheet metal shear and a turret punch, you can cut PC boards into various shapes without generating dust.

    • The tool you're thinking of is a guillotine, or shear. These are made for sheet metal, and can be had from Harbor Freight. You'd need to spend a few hundred smackeroos to get a good one that will handle a thick material, esp. since the components will have to get sheared as well, and the ceramic capacitors will dull the blade quickly.
  • by andyring ( 100627 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:38PM (#36702258) Homepage

    Easy - just do it outside on a real windy day. The wind will carry all the nasty junk away.

  • by metalmaster ( 1005171 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:42PM (#36702272)
    Correct me if im wrong, but doesnt the velocity of the blade influence the debris cloud. You'd probably still have a few airborne particles, but it seems that using some industrial scissors would produce less dust-like debris; instead you might get chunks of on leftover mobo. It might be a poor analogy, but consider slicing through a wood plank with a table saw. Then cut that same piece of wood using a well placed swing from a heavy axe. The table saw would produce a pile of saw dust while the heady blade would cut straight or produce wood chips.
  • Asbestos abatement equipment will filter the particles out of the air for the fiberglass. A shop-vac or industrial vacuum with a HEPA filter for fine dust will usually work well enough if it were simply fiberglass (it is not). A local shower, eye-wash station, protective suit, safety glasses and respiratory equipment will also be required (not just suggested) because of the other products and even if it were just fiberglass, getting that stuff in your clothing or on your skin or around your house may be an

  • It is possibly the irritant you breathed in is fibreglass dust but it is also possible that it is fumes from cutting too fast. Blade speed has a big impact on the dispersal of dust and fumes. If the blade moves too fast one can actually burn the fibreglass and produce irritating fumes. My suggestion would be to use a scroll saw with a vacuum attachment and cut using the slowest speed possible. Make sure you use a water filter attachment or a drywall filter in the shopvac. Drywall filters are finer than regu

  • Many small hand help circular power saws come with a vacuum bag and system that sucks the debris into the bag. That should take care of most particulate matter, but if it's an out-gassing problem of some kind then you probably need better ventilation.
    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      This is about as good as advice from Dr. Bob. Stop it. Please. The "bag" will do nothing for fiberglass fibers. What it will do, though, is remove larger, easily visible particles, and give you a false sense of safety. The "vacuum bag" on circular power saws is designed for benign materials like wood and certain kinds of plywood (stuff that's not resin impregnated).

  • You are asking an IT forum about an industrial health and safety question?

    You are definately in trouble... :p

  • Oven ready (Score:5, Funny)

    by GerryHattrick ( 1037764 ) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @02:22AM (#36702732)
    In a 'shop making telephone boards in the '60s, we heated the sheets in ovens before the big presses hit them. Put our pies for lunch in those ovens too. Then, open drilling and open flow-solder. Citric acid for drinks came from the (gold) plating 'shop - "other bottle, boy, that one's the cyanide". Never did *me* any harm.
  • Do it outdoors in your backyard. And set up a big fan with some oomph behind you. Doing this kind of thing in an enclosed space (on a limited budget anyways) is asking for it.

    Probably be a good idea to use at least a disposable mask of some kind too, to pick up any stragglers.

  • Use a manual saw with a blade for iron. Saw slowly. This will avoid the really fine particles. Also make sure your vacuum has a HEPA 10 filter or the like. I have been using that for FR4 (standard mainboard material) for quite some time. My vacuum is an older Phillips type (T519) and the filter bags are Swirl PH84 with a HEPA 10 layer. Not expensive, but really good.

    The second thing to really, really avoid is sawing through components. There is all sorts of toxic stuff in electrolyte capacitors, for example

  • by drolli ( 522659 ) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @03:49AM (#36702948) Journal

    At least remove the electrolyte capacitors and the cmos buffer battery before cutting.....

    I understand that you use a complicated technological product, which is considered to be special waste, without having read the necessary documents on ho to process (if that is possible) this product.

  • by fhage ( 596871 ) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @04:41AM (#36703092)
    They are a pretty recent invention and not many people know about them. They are made to cut glass and can cut intricate curved shapes. They use water for cooling the blade and all the debris ends up in the tank. There is no airborne dust at all, and its relatively quiet for a saw. I have one and it's a fantastic tool. You can hold and cut tiny pieces by hand and even run your fingers into the blade without fear, yet it will easily cut cleanly through metal, glass and ceramic. I found a nice demo video of one at []. (I own a similar ring saw made by Taurus). They are the perfect tool for cleanly and safely cutting circuit boards into artistic forms.
  • If you are working only with circuit boards that contain no components, then you can use a sheet metal shear. I used to work in a custom circuit board manufacturing plant. This is what we used to cut the raw material. It produces almost no dust.

    For high-speed drilling and routing we used a CNC machine with a hood that sealed completely and vented the air to a special filter mounted on the roof. However, the operators still got some of the dust on their skin and it would cause skin irritations occasionall
  • I actually am a composites engineer - we work with the materials made out of fiberglass and epoxy all the time, and more exotic materials as well like aerospace grade carbon fiber and high temperature resins. These materials can be safely cut if you have the right tools, which I'll go through and then suggest what you may be able to do as a "do-it-yourself" option.
    1) For any fiber reinforced polymer, to cut through it you will have to have a high speed saw (which you have) but it will kick up two types of

  • Avoiding lung and eye damage I once cut various circuit boards motherboards by scoring a grove and snapping the board in a vice. Breaks along the scored grove weren't bad. It was surprising how strong mobos are and how far they'll bend before breaking. Had some luck with a hammer and chisel to snap clean through various electronic components. I hope your art turns out better than my halfwit attempt.
  • Cutting fiberglass PCB is a common task, there is plenty of detailed information on the web on how to do it. In a short way, you must keep the board wet (by continualy throwing water at it), and should use a respiratory filter.

    You shouldn't care too much about what kind of saw you'll use, unless you don't want to destroy it in the process.

  • You can cut shapes, punch holes, whatever...

  • I use G-10 to make circuit boards at home and the best way I have found to cut it is with good metal shears. This does not produce dust or particles in the air. You can even cut curves with a wide arc using an aircraft type left or right cut shear or use lots of short straight cuts to cut a pretty tight outside curve. I have also used a "Nibbling Tool" to nibble away small chunks. Most of what I have done is on single or two sided boards and mother boards are multilayer, but it should work. You could s
  • by grlgk ( 2359030 ) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @01:14PM (#36705582)

    As the owner / primary crafter of, where we make jewelry and accessories out of circuit boards, I have tried various methods. I'll start with the one I currently use.

    1) Ginormous guillotine paper cutter bought cheap off craig's list: cheapest, safest, fastest method I have found -- but with some significant limitations
    * Cheap, easy to find, easy to use
    * Chops straight through the boards with (almost) no fine particulates escaping into the air. Very little to clean up.
    * If you can hold the board steady (with pressure and sometimes with the aid of high-friction material between the circuit board and guillotine surface to help prevent slipping), you can cut very nice straight lines
    * You can only cut thin circuit boards -- well, unless you have a newer, sharper, larger guillotine than I have and/or are much stronger
    * You can only cut straight lines

    I also use a sander (in front of a powerful window fan that takes the particles out of the house) with fine grit paper to smooth the edges.

    NOTE: I use thin, component / solder-free circuit boards found at an electronics surplus store. Dealing with cutting lead solder and components, I have decided, is just a bad idea in many ways. I will sometimes pry the components off and make them into jewelry separately (see [] for examples), but I do not use circuit boards with solder on them. It is sad to see them go to waste (though, of course, you should always recycle them!), but there are simply too many toxic materials in them for me to feel comfortable cutting them up and giving / selling them to others. Most other crafters feel the same way, and use circuit boards without components.

    Having said that, some other crafters are more hardcore and *do* use recycled circuit boards (with, at least, the large components removed), solder and all:

    2) Scroll saw
    Upsides (second hand):
    * One of my fellow Etsy sellers uses one with "metal/plastic blades" and she creates very unique circuit board jewelry, sometimes in curved shapes like hearts (Clone Hardware)
    * She goes through many blades just for one circuit board
    * I tried one and, though I was probably not using the "right" kind of blade, it kept catching on every raised contact or bit of solder, making it impossible to smoothly run the board through
    * All of the above warnings about toxic particulates being thrown into the air

    I have also had several people suggest dremmels to me, but those also solve none of the problems mentioned above.

    3) High powered sander
    * With the right grit sizes and sander power, you can sand straight through a circuit board relatively quickly and then swap to a finer grit to take care of details and smooth off the edges
    * EVERYTHING is being turned into dust. I only tried this outside on a windy day with a mask on, but it was still just a very bad idea -- even with solderless circuit boards.

    I appreciate the ideas in the above posts and plan to try some of them. I am particularly interested in the ring saw. Does anyone have actual experience cutting circuit boards with these?

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