How to Improve Your Raspberry Pi Prototyping with Additional Headers

How To Improve Your Raspberry Pi Prototyping With Additional HeadersThe Pi was outnumbered...
Most Raspberry Pi prototyping breakout boards come ‘Ikea style’ and require some form of assembly, with only a few around that are delivered pre-assembled. Usually this involves soldering headers and other supporting parts.

But what about adding your own headers to these boards? Or even to to breadboards? Adding your own headers can make prototyping a lot easier – and some companies even provide PCB sections specifically for this purpose.

If you’ve ever wondered why you might want a ‘Stacking header‘ or a ‘40-pin strip‘, read on…

 4Tronix Header Grab Bag

The only problem with adding more headers is that it can be quite expensive to buy individual pieces every time you undertake a new project. Luckily 4Tronix have put together a handy grab bag of mixed headers for you to get creative with, and should cover you for every situation.

The grab bag comes with the following headers:

  • 3 x GPIO 26-way female headers
  • 3 x 40-way male headers (standard)
  • 3 x 40-way male headers (extra long for stacking)
  • 3 x 40-way female headers
  • 6 x 6-way female headers
  • 6 x 8-way female headers


Header grab bag

An army of headers from 4Tronix!

Now that’s a lot of headers, and should cover you for a good while. Considering some eBay auctions want £1 for just one of these 40-pin headers, I reckon it’s worth getting a bag of these for your maker box.

Cutting Headers

Whilst the grab bag comes with a lot of specific size headers, the larger 40-pin strips are intended to be cut down, giving you the flexibility to create your own custom size headers. There are 2 types of these in the bag:

Female 40-pin Headers

These can be easily cut down to size to meet your requirements:

Pull out a pin where you want to cut:
Header remove pin 
With a Stanley knife, make a groove where you want to cut, and then apply pressure:
Cut a groove in the header
The cut off section will fly across the room at pace!
Header cut off

Male 40-pin Headers

The method to cut these is similar to the female headers, but with less effort and waste:

With a Stanley knife, simply apply pressure to break the header:
Cutting a male header
Again – it’ll go for a flight across the room:
Male header cut off piece

Examples of Using Extra Headers

Here are 5 examples that I came up with using the various boards I had at home. There are loads more ways you can use these depending on what your project needs – get creative!1. Hop-up your Humble Pi

The Humble Pi from Ciseco is a great breakout board, offering handy ‘lanes’ of 0.1″ connections for prototyping, as well as breaking out the GPIO. There are loads of options here:

Use the 40-pin male header to breakout the power lanes:
Adding headers to the Humble Pi board 
Use the pre-cut female headers to create lane headers for jumper wires:
Humble Pi headers 
Chop female headers to breakout further GPIO pins:
Humble Pi tx rx header
Cut down the male 40-pin header to give easy access to the GPIO:
Humble Pi GPIO header
 2. Pump Up Your ProtoLab

The ProtoLab from AlienSpec is one of the few boards that offers the user the option to add additional header connectors of their choice – giving specific breakout lanes of 0.1″ PCB holes to add them. 

Cutting down one of the 40-pin female headers allowed me to really improve this board:

AlienSpec ProtoLab add-on board
After…I’ve added 7 headers here, all made out of a single 40-pin female header strip from the grab bag. You could also use male headers:
AlienSpec ProtoLab headers

3. Add Pins to an LCD Module

I’ve used LCD modules in the past (with my PiRadio) and getting the wires in the right place can be challenging – I had to re-solder wires a number of times.

Adding a header to the module makes things a lot easier as you can use jumper wires instead of soldering, or you can push it straight into a breadboard:

Count the number of holes… 
20x2 LCD
 …then chop the male 40-pin header to size, and solder with the long legs to the rear: Header on 20x2 LCD

4. Pin-out a Pi Crust

The Pi Crust from Pi-Supply is a great little breakout board, thanks mostly to it’s low-profile header. If you’ve run out of male jumper wires, you can add male headers to convert it:

Cut the 40-pin header to size…
 PiCrust Board
…and push in to position: (mine is a bit too long)
PiCrust Header

5. Boost a Breadboard

Breakout boards are fine, but almost all of us will initially start our projects on a breadboard. Once again, this little trick can be handy if you’re running low on female jumper wires:

Chop down a male 40-pin stacking header, and slide the plastic down so the legs are evenly spaced either side.
This will give you enough to push into the breadboard, and enough on top to attack a female jumper wire:
Header in a breadboard
Great for chips such as this MCP23017:
Header in breadboard with IC


Over to you

Hopefully that’s given you some inspiration for your next project, whether you’re using a breakout board or just a regular breadboard. I’ve certainly found it makes things a lot clearer, especially with chips in a breadboard when jumper wires can get a bit confusing.

Want one? Get a grab bag from 4Tronix on eBay.

Average Man

1 Comment on "How to Improve Your Raspberry Pi Prototyping with Additional Headers"

  1. Another ‘trick’ that I’ve done with male headers is to solder them to each end of some ribbon cable to make up custom multi-pin jumper leads. Much tidier than separate jumper wires sprawling all over the place 😉

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