Introduction - Optical Breadboard and Optical Tables Tutorial

When securing optical components in research, manufacturing and field environments, optical tables and optical breadboards are the critical components. Typically tables and breadboards provide a rigid platform tapped with 1/4-20 or M6 tapped holes on 1″ or 25 mm spacing. The first decision that must be made when purchasing an optical breadboard or table is what kind of rigidity/isolation from vibration is needed. In many cases, the incredibly versatile solid aluminum optical breadboard will do the job. In other cases a larger, more rigid structure of a honeycomb optical table or breadboard is needed. Base Lab Tools offers both.

Honeycomb or Solid?

How do I choose whether I need a solid aluminum or honeycomb core optical breadboard? It all has to do with rigidity. The rule of thumb is that the thicker the breadboard, the more ridged (less deflection for a given downward force). As an example, here is a sided by side test of a 1/2″ (13mm) aluminum breadboard (SAB2424) compared to a 3/4″ (19mm) solid aluminum breadboard (SAB2424-T) compared to a 2″ (50mm) aluminum honeycomb core breadboard with aluminum skins (BB2424-A-2).

RULE OF THUMB – The thicker the breadboard, the more ridged (less deflection)

While the units in this graph are arbitrary and relate to only the particular setup, the trend is important to note that the honeycomb deflects less 1/3 as much as the same sized 1/2 in solid aluminum breadboard. The trend gets only better when the thickness is increased to 4″ or 8″ or more. Likewise, there is a rigidity gain going up to a 3/4″ solid aluminum breadboard from a 1/2″ solid aluminum breadboard

Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards

The Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards, (SAB-Series) is a nonmagnetic, general purpose Mount Surface that is used in a wide variety of applications. Other names for Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards are Breadboard, Bench Plate, Optical Table, Tool Plate, Baseplate, Table Top and Optical Platform. Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards come in a variety of standard off the shelf shapes and are a convenient and cost-effective platform for prototyping optical assemblies, conducting experiments, mounting small subsystems, and stacking instrumentation. This type of breadboard is often used to increase work-space by allowing an optical setup to expand vertically over several levels.

Base Lab Tools offers standard Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard made from precision machined aluminum plates with a regular tapped hole-pattern and a low reflectivity matte black anodized finish. The hole pattern is tapped ¼”-20 with a 1” spacing or M6 with a 25 mm spacing to accommodate for easy mounting of component on the surface.

Even more, Base Lab Tools builds more sizes of standard aluminum breadboards than any other manufacturers with stock size as big as 48″ x 48″ and can do even larger ones on request. More over, many labs opt for custom solid aluminum breadboards which Base Lab Tools typically produces completely anodized in 2 weeks (compared to industry standard 8 week lead-times) and typically less than 2X the price of a standard allowing the savvy lab to build in exactly what they need rather than build around a stock product. CLICK HERE for our custom aluminum breadboard request form.


6061-T6 is the preferred aluminum for Solid Aluminum Breadboards for most applications. It is characterized by high tensile strength (42,000 psi (300 MPa)), high durability (HRB 60) and moderate difficulty of machining. It should be noted that the good mechanical properties of 6061-T6 have been achieved by tempering the aluminum in accordance with the T6 process of solution heat-treated and then artificially aging. For high temperature application other aluminum alloys should be considered e.g 2219. Also, in high temperature applications the choice of surface treatment should be reconsidered since the organic dye used in the anodize process will change color and typically fade away.

In vacuum application not only the material and the surface treatment should be consider but also the cleanness and the total surface area of the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard. Therefore, we recommend custom made Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard to ensure that it fits your vacuum application. The Breadboard requirements for 25C and 1E-3 torr and 400C and 1E-6 torr vacuum applications are quite different. Note that all breadboards need to go through a final cleaning on site before being put into a vacuum chamber/system.

Sizes, Is Bigger Better?

The rule of thumb is to use as small Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard as possible for maximum rigidity assuming fixed thickness for all sizes. Base Lab Tools offer ½” thick Breadboards in sizes ranging from 6”x6” to 24”x24” in both rectangular and square shapes. If more space is required than initially anticipated it is easy to stack and join the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard from Base Lab Tools since the threaded mounting holes have an offset of ½” form the edge allowing for a continuation of the hole pattern to the additional breadboard.


Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard is designed to mount on tables or other platforms. Base Lab Tools offer 5 counter-bore clearance holes on ALL breadboards for easy mounting and to enable one post mounting. One post mounting prevents the transferring torsion to the Solid Aluminum Breadboard from the mounting surface. The one post mounting is recommended for smaller, lower weight set ups. On larger setup the use of all 5 mounting holes is highly recommended to increase stability and to minimize the deformation of the Solid Aluminum Breadboard due to the load. A distinguishing characteristic of Base Lab Tools breadboards is the 5th mounting hole. Most of our competitors neglect adding the fifth hole to the smaller breadboards where it is actually most convenient to have it.

Breadboard holes are threaded completely through, thus, components can be mounted on both sides at once. To elevate the Breadboard off the work surface a set of Standoff Posts are used to mount at various heights above the surface of a table (or Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard) for a multi-level set-up. When choosing the posts, make sure that the plane that the posts are forming is flat to avoid bending the Breadboard during the mounting procedure.

The generic hole pattern of the breadboards make them easy to adopt and retrofit into existing work station environments.

Hole patterns

Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards typically have a four mounting holes located at each corner of the surface. This geometry has a significant drawback when the load on the breadboard is uneven since bowing and deformation may occur. To mitigate the problem with bowing Base Lab Tools has added a fifth mounting hole in the center on ALL its Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard. The fifth mounting hole also allows for single post mounting. To efficiently mount a Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard counter bored mounting holes should be used allowing the user to place components over the full surface without interference for the head of the mounting screws. To further improve the usability, offset mounting holes in combination with first row of holes with less than ½” (or 12.5mm) offset from the edge allows for joining of Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards while maintaining a full, uninterrupted, threaded hole matrix.

Metric Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard are normally tapped M6 with a 25 mm hole spacing while Imperial versions are tapped ¼”-20 with a 1” spacing as shown in this article.

The mounting holes may be used to attach the breadboards to optical tables, other breadboards, mounting posts, brackets, and a variety of other mounts.

Vibration Control

Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard has no built in vibration damping besides the material properties of the aluminum plate. Therefore external vibration damping may be needed, e.g. by using vibration damping mounting feet. Note that the choice of damping feet heavily depends on the load thus you will need to estimate the load prior to building your set up. By mounting the breadboard on a vibration damped optical table additional damping may not be necessary.

Note that there is no single vibration damping system that is best for all applications.

Mechanical Properties

The Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards is a nonmagnetic general purpose mounting surface that is used in a wide variety of applications. The Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard comes in a variety of standard off the shelf shapes and is a convenient and cost-effective platform for assembling prototype optical assemblies, conducting experiments, mounting small subsystems, and stacking instrumentation.

The key mechanical property besides material properties is the flatness of the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards. The flatness requirement depends on the mounting technique and the size of the mounting surface. In general term flatter the surface is the better and easier to use.

Flatness of a good Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboard is typically better than ±0.005″/ft

Optical Properties

The optical properties of the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards are normally not important. Still, the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards have a matte black finish to minimize unwanted reflection in the visible spectrum. Note that parts that look black in the visible spectrum do not automatically appear “black” in the UV or the Infrared. Also, the angle of incidence of the light will have an effect of the reflectivity. It is not recommended to use Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards as beam dumps even though they look black to the eye. Exposure to UV-light may change the color of the Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards but does not generally change the performance.


The Solid Aluminum Optical Breadboards are compatible with a large set of accessories that includes

Enclosures, light and/or dust tight
Acoustic protection
Vibration Dampers
Lab jacks for height adjustment
Custom designs

Base Lab Tools provides custom configurations and accessories to meet special application needs including custom shape, custom hole patterns e.g. double-hole density and alternative materials e.g. Steel.