i love the idea of soldering the board myself... i think it's something i should be able to do... sooner or later... and i have a vague idea of the concept... but it's the practical steps that i'm still missing... i'm guessing i'll need duplicates of all components that are currently attached to my arduino... which includes another chip - should i stick with ATMega328P? - that needs to be programmed... do i just follow any one of the million tutorials for bootloader etc and then just emulate the arduino layout on a protoboard and solder it?.. what am i missing?..
slow down..... you can buy a shield that plugs into your UNO and then you solder in your parts. for the cost of a clone, I believe that someone just starting out would be best to buy the complete and working board and only add their circuit. especially if it is just a few buttons.
the arduino is just a concept, a platform on a microprocessor. but it needs quite a few parts. the crystal is just the beginning. you need to feed it some power, so either a wall wart, or you start adding a power circuit. then you need a programmer or you need to add a USB circuit.
or, you can spend abotu $20 and get a complete unit ready to run. another $20 and you can get either a set of buttons or a prototpe shield.
as a beginner, you have to figure out where the problems are. if you have a working Arduino, the problems are either in your circuit or your software. if you build your own board, you add another source of potential problems.
check the costs on e-bay for a mini or micro,
there are quite a few buttonhttp://www.robotshop.com/en/itead-joystick-shield.html
is just one.
I still suggest you get a soldering iron , resistors, transistors, boards, led's and such.
make the circuit you want, get it working, then duplicate only the parts you need.