When dealing with electronics for either a living or as a hobby, using a soldering iron is almost second nature. It seems like every time you turn around, you're reaching for an iron to replace a resistor or capacitor, to fix a battery lead or to install a chip. Whether you're a professional technician or the weekend hobbyist, knowing some tips and tricks to make life easier is always appreciated.
Here are some tips and tricks that work great for either the pro or the novice:
- Make sure your solder gauge ( diameter ) matches the connections you're trying to make. Trying to deal with a large gauge solder when soldering in a chip is a recipe for disaster. Gauges are available from 0.015 , .020" , .025" , .031" (most popular) and all the way through 0.062" which means even large gauge plugs and gang-holes can be handled properly. Kester Tin/lead Rosin Core or Lead Free is available in most gauges.
- Keep your tip clean! This can't be stressed enough and even though it was mentioned in the last article, a clean tip keeps you in control of your bead. (And no, wiping the tip on your jeans doesn't count!). I personally recommend the brass wire sponge because it provides better tip cleaning promotes longer tip life that can be caused from thermal expansion and contraction when using a wet sponge. Having said that, the wet sponge technique has been used for years and works perfectly fine.
- Some people will suggest using a metal file to reshape the soldering tip or remove heavy oxides from the tip. I HIGHLY recommend that you DO NOT do this. A file will quickly where down the protective metal plating and once you get to the base metal, the tip is DEAD. If heavy oxides are an issue, clean you tip more often and use a tip refurbisher for extreme cases. Also, having extra tips on hand can be a lifesaver.
- Here's another tip that can't get stressed enough. Clean boards make clean connections so before sitting down to work on a project or a repair, use something like TechSpray cleaners and degreasers to ensure your board is ready for you to work on it.
- When soldering, one way to make sure you get a solid connection is to; the solder across the connection by putting the tip of your soldering iron on one side of the lead and, once it's been there for a few seconds to heat it, put the tip of the solder wire on the other side. You should see the solder flow into the hole and dimple as the hole fills. Once the solder flows into the hole, draw your iron and solder up and away to create a clean finish. If you're having and issue transferring enough heat to the connection, a small amount of solder can help in transferring the needed heat. I've seen where a ground plain is really soaking up the needed heat to make the connection. When this occurs, I'll add just a little solder to make a connection between the tip and the pad. This will assist in transfering the heat. If you have a very large ground plan, I would consider a small bottom side preheater like the Hakko FR830 or one of these other options.
- Don't work in an air flow such as in front of a fan or an air conditioner. These will chill an iron faster than you could possibly believe and even if you're using the fan for fume extraction, the air flow can cause cold solder joints and can lead to real messes on a project or a job. If you need fume extraction, which I would agree in using, look at either an economical option or a high efficiency Hakko FA430-16 ( Hakko FA430 ).
Keep in mind that your soldering iron, whether you own a full-blown Hakko FM206 soldering station or a basic Weller GT7A soldering iron, is your key to solid connections and great projects. Taking care of it will be your first priority.