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.
- 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.