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How to Use a Soldering Iron

How to Use a Soldering Iron

How to Use a Soldering Iron

Maybe someone gifted you a soldering iron (or entire soldering station) over the holidays?! Hopefully it was on your wishlist and not completely random… Or maybe someone bequeathed it to you, or maybe you saw it at a consignment shop and thought it’d be cool to have. Or, maybe you want to buy a soldering iron, if so, you can find a great selection at GoKimco.com! Whatever the reason, you now have a soldering iron that you don’t know how to use. (If you do, please skip to the next blog.) We'll keep this simple and hopefully easily understandable.

First, what does a soldering iron do? Wikipedia says, “A soldering iron is a hand tool used in soldering.” Great. The better answer is that a soldering iron uses heat to form a permanent connection between two metal electronic components using a metal filler (the “solder”).

The Hakko FX888D Soldering Station

Next, what are the parts of a soldering iron? You may have a Hakko, Pace, JBC, or Weller branded iron, and you may have just the iron, or some other components with it (hopefully). And then these all range from super simple to fancy schmancy stations, but they all have the same basic parts:

  1. Cord: Uhm… you plug this into the wall.
  2. Base: This is the big heavy part and controls the current. Unless you just have the iron, which plugs directly to the wall, in which case you should also have a stand to hold it (the “holder”). 
  3. Holder: To hold the heating element.
  4. Heating element with handle: So you don’t burn yourself. This will have a separate cord to the base if you have one. Also, note that more wattage allows for a larger tip.
  5. Tip: On the end of the heating element; comes in a variety of shapes and sizes for different uses. Conical tips are for precision, chisel tips for larger areas.
  6. Sponge: Either brass or conventional kitchen-type (brass is better, just FYI, but lots of people use the kitchen type). The purpose of this is to keep the tip clean.
  7. Solder: Often comes in a roll, and there are different diameters and materials (that’s a whole different blog, just don’t use anything with the word “acid” in it). Smaller diameters are for precision, larger diameters are for- you guessed it- larger areas. Kester brand makes just about every possible size and material.

Okay, how to use the thing. 

Prepping instructions:

  1. Select your tip and make sure it’s screwed on tight.
  2. Turn it on. Should be obvious…remember, the tip of your iron will get HOT so use caution, don't burn yourself.
  3. Select your temperature if you have the option. 400C is a common temp.
  4. While it’s heating, wet your sponge and wring it out.
  5. Clean the tip on the sponge (this will drop the temperature slightly) and let sit for a few minutes to heat back up.
  6. Prep, or “tin” the tip by applying a bit of solder to the tip all around. (Supposedly you should do this before and after each session to extend the tip’s life.)

To solder circuit boards:

  1. Assuming you have prepped the items being soldered- meaning the “leads” are in the “copper pads” and bent to a 45 degree angle- touch the iron to the pad and the lead at the same time for three or four seconds. What you are doing here is heating up the lead and the pad because those are what will melt the solder.
  2. Touch the solder to the pad and lead and the solder should melt around the joint. 
  3. Once you use your common sense to determine there is enough, remove the iron and the solder. Don’t have common sense? Just make sure it’s shiny and in the shape of a volcano/ cone, and only enough to fill the joint. More is NOT better here.
  4. You’ll be tempted to act like a kid and blow on the joint but don’t- let it cool down naturally. Patience…
  5. Cut the excess leads with wire snippers.

To solder wires together:

  1. Find some clamps to hold the wires steady.
  2. Remove the insulation from the ends of the wires and twist them to look nice.
  3. Same principal as before- you’re going to heat the wire. Touch the tip to it for three to four seconds.
  4. Keep the iron on the wire while you touch the solder to the wire, coating it. (See why you need help?)
  5. Repeat on the other wire.
  6. Now place the wires on top of each other and touch the iron to them- melting and coating them all together.
  7. Let cool naturally, then cover with heat shrink (if you’re super geeky) or electrical tape (if you’d like to repeat this process within the next year). 

There! Now you can go show off your soldering skills!

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