How to Solder
Effective soldering requires a combination of skill, patience and a sharp eye for detail.
Soldering is a relatively simple skill to learn. You will naturally progress in proficiency as you become intuitively familiar with the basic techniques of soldering and desoldering.
It will also bring any component it is used on to critical heat in several seconds. It should be used on actual components only after practicing on numerous non-critical wire joints.
Warning: Solder fumes are extremely toxic.
Important note: Avoid all types of acid core solder (i.e. Plumber’s solder). Acid core solder is highly corrosive. It will literally eat through standard electrical components, wiring and circuit boards.
This will be used for dipping your fingers into and moisturizing your sponge, as needed.
Tip: Avoid a wet sponge, as well as a dry sponge. Keeping your sponge lightly damp is just right.
Though it is not always the case, iron stands are often in the shape of a spiral mounted onto a base. The spiral is referred to as a “holster”. When not in use, you slide your iron into the holster.
Tip: If you do not already have an iron stand, then an old tuna can works very well.
You will want to install a bent-in crimp (as if it were going to be used as an ashtray) to actually rest the iron.
Avoid contacting the tip (and at least an inch below the tip), directly with metal when the iron is not in use.
Otherwise, you will be required to wait noticeably longer, before soldering.
This is because if too much of your iron (and especially the tip) is contacting metal when not in use, it will make your iron too cool for proper heat transfer to melt the solder.
Leftover flux can induce random circuit failure, especially at higher operating temperatures.
A thin-handled modeler’s “pencil” knife (with a flat chisel-style blade), works good for this purpose.
When using a thin-handled modeler’s “pencil” knife to remove the excess flux from your work, avoid scraping in an outwardly pushing manner.
You’ll want to use light, gentle inward “shaving” strokes, so as not to cut into the copper cladding or wire insulation. This also prevents damage to your components.
Tip: An old tooth brush works well.
Important Note: Avoid blowing air directly upon your work. The tip will not heat up to the proper working temperature. Also, your solder joints will cool down too fast.
This makes them become “cold” solder joints. They will appear a dull gray, or dull grayish white (as opposed to clean, shiny solder joint).
Cold solder joints impede current flow, and can cause undue over-heating and random circuit failure.
Tip: A commonly-available alligator clip works well. What also work well is to gently grip the end of the component lead with a pair of slim-line needle nose pliers.
Tinning removes all surface tarnish and dust. It also allows for maximum efficiency in the transfer of heat to your component or wire splice to be soldered.
If your iron makes the solder molten almost instantly, then it is at working heat temperature.
Important note: Your iron should always be ready at working heat temperature, before bringing the tip to your work and performing any actual soldering.
Bring the tip to one side of the joint to be soldered, along the tapered edge of the tip (not the point).
Especially take note of any solder splash that has made contact with surrounding junctions and components.
Tip: The solder splash can be also be gently scraped away with your modeler’s knife, and then knocked off with your brush. Be sure all residue is completely removed from the surrounding connection and board.
In many respects, desoldering is similar to soldering. This is especially true, when it comes to wearing eye protection, tinning your tip and removing all tarnish, dust, etc. from the component contacts (to be desoldered).
To desolder a component from a circuit in need of repair, you will need most of the above materials required for soldering, as well as the following:
Warning: Avoid using a bulb for electrostatically-sensitive circuits. If you must use a bulb, make certain that you are well grounded at all times while using it.
Optionally, you can also use a desoldering (vacuum) pump.
A desoldering pump is typically two to four times more expensive than a bulb.
However a desolder pump also tends to be much more efficient and requires less work.
The bulb is all you truly need to perform most standard desoldering tasks.
Important note: If you are primarily working with electrostatically-sensitive components and circuits, then you will definitely want to invest in a pump.
Most desolder pumps in the market are ESD safe.
Desoldering braid is also useful for awkward joints that would take several attempts with a bulb
It is very similar to the above technique for bringing your solder strand and iron at opposite off-set angles to your work (covered above).
The only real difference is the way you are holding each tool, considering that your are merely replacing a strand of solder with a bulb or pump tip.
It will typically take two to six seconds (depending on the wattage rating of your iron and the thickness of the braid being used) for your the braid to reach working temperature.
After the braid has reached working temperature, the iron will rapidly melt the solder, which continues to gets sucked into the braid.
Warning: Avoid allowing the solder to cool while the braid is making contact with your work.
Doing so greatly reduces the risk of causing excessive damage to the circuit traces (copper tracks) when you go to remove the braid from the joint.
If this happens, do not panic. Also, do not proceed any further until your work cools down completely.
Only then do you re-apply your iron tip to the braid. It will take several seconds to reach operating temperature.
In the event you inadvertently splash your skin with molten solder, and receive burns which require treatment, here’s is a simple set of instructions to be aware of at all times:
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