In this communication, we present what may be the simplest method yet devised for removing surface layers from brittle substrates. The process is called controlled spalling technology (CST) and works by depositing a tensile stressor layer on the surface of a substrate, introducing a crack near the edge of the substrate, and mechanically guiding the crack as a single fracture front across the surface. The entire process is performed at room-temperature using only common laboratory equipment. We present here, for the first time, the specific process conditions required for controlled spalling of Ge 0 0 1 substrates using Ni as the stressor layer. We also illustrate the versatility of CST by removing completed CMOS circuits from a Si wafer and demonstrate functionality of the flexible circuits. Raman spectroscopy of spalled circuits with the Ni stressor intact indicates a residual compressive Si strain of 0.0029, in good agreement with the calculated value of 0.0022. Therefore, CST also permits new opportunities for strain engineering of nanoscale devices. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.