Monthly Archives: June 2013

  • Soldering: Tips, Tricks, Techniques & Tools To Make Life Easier - Part 3: Tricks


    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.


  • Lead free solders versus traditional solders

    Traditional solders made from a mixture of tin and lead were once a common staple in working with electronics. Lead free solders have arisen in recent years as alternative to the lead and tin compound.

    A gradual shift to lead free solders has meant a change in design and manufacturing of some electronic components. New designs compensate for the differences in soldering and help lead free solders last longer.

    One appeal of lead based solders is their low melting temperature. A lead and tin alloy has a melting point of 183 degrees Celsius. Lead free alloys are typically a mix of tin and copper or silver. Many of these alloys must reach 220 degrees Celsius or higher to hit their melting point.

    Soldering is important because it is used in designing and constructing internal electronic circuit boards in radios, TVs, computers and other electronic equipment. It is required to be durable so that electronic equipment lasts longer.

    This is an area where lead free solders offer a major advantage over traditional ones. A traditional solder has a tensile strength of 6,140 psi (pounds per square inch). Lead free solders, on the other hand, can boast a tensile strength of more than 9,000 psi.

    The biggest advantage for a lead free solder is that it presents less of a health risk. Lead can be toxic if enough of it builds up inside the human body. It can enter a person's body through skin contact or inhalation. That's one reason why lead was removed from gasoline and paint years ago.

    Lead exposure poses the greatest risk to young children because their immune systems are not as equipped to deal with it. Anyone who works regularly with solders should be aware of the health risks lead can pose.

  • Soldering: Tips, Tricks, Techniques & Tools To Make Life Easier - Part 2: Techniques


    Working in the electronics industry means you'll have to solder something at one point in time or another. If you work on car stereos, televisions, home electronics such as DVD players, computers, or even do cell phone repair, the odds are you'll have to learn to solder. Whether you're rebuilding an old radio for a hobby, repair the battery leads on a handheld radio or replace the power supply in a television, knowing how to solder, even knowing just a few basic techniques means you'll be able to take care of the job.

    Here are some techniques you'll appreciate knowing whether you're a novice with an iron or an old hand:

    - Use a HOT iron. Having a soldering station such as an Weller Digital Soldering Station or a Hakko Dual Port Station lets you know when you're iron is at the right temperature. Trying to use an iron that's too cool is the perfect way to make a real mess.

    - When working with virtually anything, tin your leads. This especially applies to stranded wire since strands can come loose and make a bad connection to another part. Tinning leads on capacitors, resistors, transistors and even chips means they'll make a fast connection when placed.

    - Clip your leads to the right length before soldering. Most leads on caps and resistors are much longer than necessary and clipping them to the right length before soldering makes a much neater, more stable connection. Also, a long lead can reach something metal like a case and create a shorted connection.

    - Use enough solder (but not too much!) If you've not used enough solder, a component may look like it has a good connection but it's actually a cold connection that can cost you hours of troubleshooting time. Too much solder can create jumped connections between components, can actually create a cold solder because it cools before it flows and (simply for aesthetics) looks unprofessional.

    - Keep your soldering iron tip clean. After virtually every connection you solder, wipe the tip on a wet sponge pad or brass wire sponge to remove flux and excess solder.

    - Use a board cleaner such as Tech-Spray degreasers and flux removers before and after a soldering job. Having a clean board makes for better connections and after you're through, cleaning off the excess flux makes for a neater appearance and could prevent shorted connections.

    - If you're working with a board with any low voltage chips on it, you'll want to make sure you're using either an ESD mat or pad or have a grounded wrist strap in place. Not only is it frustrating enough to solder in several chips but they're almost impossible to find if one gets damaged from electro-static discharge.

    One way to get better at soldering is to practice. That may sound like one of those trite sayings, but it is definitely true. Take time on an old board to remove and replace components so you can get the feel of how things should go. If you haven't soldered in a while, also sit down with an old board and practice a bit to get your technique back.


  • Soldering: Tips, Tricks, Techniques & Tools To Make Life Easier - Part 1:Tools


    As with any job, having the right tools, including the know-how to use them and to take advantage of things you may not consider to be tools for the job certainly makes life easier. Also, learning the tips, tricks and techniques to not only do the job right but to do it in ways that are faster and easier is well worth the effort you'll make to figure them out. With soldering, there are tools you'll need, tools you'll want and tips and tricks that not only make life easier but will help you do your job faster.

    In this first article, we'll go over the tools you'll want to have on hand:

    - First, you'll want a very good temperature controlled soldering iron. For instance, a Hakko ESD-Safe Dual port station with at least one iron is a good choice. If you fix electronics for a living, this will be your bread and butter so don't skimp.

    - Another tool you'll want to have is a desoldering pump. Desoldering wick is fine but can be tricky to use. A desoldering pump makes life much easier when it comes to parts removal and cleaning up messes.

    - You'll also want to have crimpers, cutters, wire strippers, screwdrivers (both flat and Phillips as well as Torx), pliers, knives for opening cases, removing main boards, etc.

    - One set of tools you'll definitely appreciate is a set of flat heat resistant plastic or ceramic flat blades, These are good when you need to apply a little bit of torque when desoldering components such as blown resistors or capacitors. Slim, thin blades like these are also great for leveraging chips such as 74LS series which can be stubborn to remove.

    - If you work on a lot of high tech gear, one indispensable item will be ESD pads, mats such as a 3M Static Dissipative workstation mat and wrist straps. ESD stands for Electro-Static Discharge which is the electro-static buildup on your body and on surfaces. A low voltage electronic device such as a microprocessor can be easily damaged by ESD and having a strap on your wrist to ground or grounded pads will help prevent this. It may be a bit of a hassle but having one can save a $300 processor from getting smoked.

    - Another tool that's great to have is what's known as a set of "helping hands". This is a board holding vice with an adjustable set of arms on the ends on a heavy base that's designed to hold up a board so you can have your hands free to control the solder and your iron.

    There are several other things you'll want to have such as a sponge pad station or brass wire sponge to keep your iron's tip clean, plenty of solder such as Kester Rosin-Core or Kester Lead-Free, desoldering wick, solder flux and cleaners such as degreasers and flux removal chemicals. This gives you a quick overview of some tools you'll need and some you'll definitely want when it comes to working on electronics on a daily basis, or if you just work on electronics as a hobby.


  • Dissection of a Circuit Board - Simple guide that defines the makeup of a PCB .


    PCB Image


    To fully understand how a circuit board works, a little circuit board dissection can help. Once the different parts are understood, it’s much easier to see how they all come together to form a vital part of every computer system.


    Capacitor - component that stores and regulates the flow of electrical charge through the circuit board.


    Circuit board - the thin, laminated sheet of epoxy resin sandwiched between two layers of copper onto which all other components are attached.


    Component - any device attached to a PCB to create an electronic circuit that produces a specific function, such as radio receiver or amplifier.


    Magnetic devices - inductive devices that use the power of magnetism.


    Motherboard - the main circuit board to which all peripheral circuit boards are connected.


    Node - the pin that connects two components.


    Pad (also land) - the blank board before layout or component attachment.


    Printed circuit board (PCB) - a circuit board that has the design of the board etched into it, much like a blueprint for a building.


    Resist - coating material that protects selected PCB areas during etching, plating, or soldering.


    Resistor - Component used to regulate the flow of electrical current and/or diffuse heat build-up.


    Route (also track) - wiring layout for electrical connections.


    Surface mount - point of attachment for components connected to PCB surface.


    Transistor - component that amplifies and/or switches electronic signals or power supply.


    Via hole - channel used to connect conductors to different layers or sides of a PCB.


    The addition and configuration of these elements on a circuit board determine what type of electronic system will be used. These devices are used to design circuit boards to operate everything from personal computers to space ships.


  • Hand Soldering Tips That Make Sense

    Whether you're a hobbyist playing with electronics projects for fun or a professional who does repairs every day, you know that hand soldering is a skill that takes time, effort and consistency to master. From the simplest repair such as fixing the lead on a nine-volt battery connector to replacing chips in a circuit board, there is a technique and style that makes life a lot easier. Here are some tips that work consistently and will make sure your connections are solid so your project or repair will be perfect.

    1. Use the right tool for the job. You don't use a cannon to kill a mosquito so having an iron with the right tip makes a huge difference.

    2. Using a temperature controlled iron such as one from Hakko means you'll have consistent beads every time.

    3. Keep It Clean! Before you start, use a cleaning spray on the board to remove dirt and gunk with TechSpray or an equivilant. After every bead (or every couple of beads), wipe the tip on a wet sponge or solder tip cleaning wire sponge.

    4. Don't "cook" your connection. Overheating can damage the circuit board or your components and sensitive chips can be expensive to replace.

    5. If you aren't comfortable soldering chips, use a socket and always work with electrostatic discharging mats or straps like those from Desco in place.

    6. Use quality solder such as Kester lead free solders for solid connections and safe soldering.

    7. "Tin" your wires. Not only does this make soldering a much faster process but it provides a much more consistent connection.

    If you don't solder every day, when you sit down to do some, work with a junk board and components to revive your skills. Much like riding a bicycle, after a few efforts, you'll be as sharp as you ever were. Also make sure you have good ventilation so the fumes from the soldering process disperse. These are just a few tips that anyone who hand solders can use and even the pros need to be reminded of on occasion!

  • What are the Benefits of Lead-Free Soldering?


    Lead-free solder has several advantages over lead-based solder. Many companies in the microelectronics manufacturing and repair industries have transitioned to lead-free solder because of these benefits. Not only is lead-free solder a green option, but it also has benefits in manufacturing.

    Since lead-free solder does not have lead, it is a more environmentally friendly option than lead-based solder. Following precautionary procedures may protect employees from lead poisoning, but the environmental benefits of lead-free solder extend well beyond the assembly plant. Components that are made with lead-free solder are recyclable, unlike electronics manufactured with lead-based solder. As environmental regulations continue to increase, some companies are being forced to build recyclable electronics. For instance, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) requires 85 percent of the electronics a company sells to be recyclable. Using lead-free solder, such as Kester’s Ultrapure Lead-Free Bar Solder from Kimco Distributing, is almost the only way to comply with regulations such as this.

    Ronald C. Lasky, who teaches at Dartmouth College, notes that lead-free solder is easier to use than lead-based solder when working with tight pitches. He explains why: “Lead-free solder doesn’t wet well, so you can get better lead spacing.” A study conducted by Motorola confirmed this. It found that when identical boards were soldered with lead-free and lead-based solder, the lead-based solder flowed more and led to the leads shorting. Because it makes soldering high-density semiconductors in small form factors easier, lead-free solder will continue to become even more common as the demand for mobile devices continues to increase.

    Because it is the environmentally friendly choice and the practical choice, more and more businesses are opting to work with lead-free solder. Kimco Distributing has a variety of lead-free solders to choose from.

    Kester Lead Free Bar Solder

  • Does Lead-Free Soldering Require Special Desoldering Tools?


    Hakko FM2040

    Because lead-free soldering is done at a slightly higher temperature (423 – 439 °F, 217 – 226 °C) than lead-based soldering (361 – 374 °F, 183 – 191 °C), specific fluxes and desoldering tools should be used when working with lead-free solder. The fluxes are easy to transition to, though, and many companies have already purchased Hakko’s lead-free desoldering handpiece from Kimco Distributing Corp. For most businesses, the transition will not a significant investment in equipment, even though specific tools are needed.

    The Hakko FM-2024 Desoldering Tool is designed for use with lead-free solder. The N1-series nozzles that are used with the FM-2024 are shorter than standard nozzles, and the N1 nozzles have a wider throat. This reduces clogging and makes it easier to work at the higher temperatures that lead-free solder requires. Businesses that already have an F-series Hakko Station can convert use the Hakko FM2024-21 Conversion Kit that is available from Kimco Distributing, instead of purchasing an entire new station.

    Many fluxes used with lead-based solders will not perform well at lead-free solder’s higher temperature range. More active (and more corrosive) fluxes that are designed for lead-free soldering should be used instead. Kimco Distributing carries a full line of fluxes for both lead-based and lead-free soldering.

    Since lead-free solder is becoming more common and has several advantages over lead-based solder, businesses that are purchasing new soldering equipment should consider tools that are compatible with lead-free soldering. Companies that are considering transferring to lead-free solder and already have tools, though, should be able to make the transition with a minimal investment in tools and equipment.

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