Soldering is the perfect hobby for anyone who wants to make their own electrical equipment – you’ll learn how it operates, teach yourself to diagnose faults and even save money on buying completed products!
This is the core skill in assembling your own electronics. It requires a slowly-paced, methodical approach which becomes equally relaxing as it is engrossing. You’ll love the feeling of plugging in a device you’ve just put together from intriguing and seemingly magical components – one of the great little pleasures of soldering, especially when it works first time!
Even the most long-standing electrician was once in a position of not knowing what was required or involved in soldering, so don’t fret if it’s new to you. We’re going to look at what’s needed to get started in soldering and what each item does, so you’ll know exactly what to put on your soldering workbench and get started in making exciting electrical gadgets!
First off we’ll look at the essentials:
First of all, the place you solder in should be well ventilated. This will save your lungs from the fumes which will invariably emanate from your metallic experimentation. They do make “fume extractors” for this purpose, but this is a larger concern for professionals who solder every day at work, and beginners can start with a fan and an open window.
It’s also important to have a clear surface to work on, giving you adequate room to organize your equipment and lay the components out so you can see/access them. A clear work surface is good for the mind, and makes it less likely you’ll lose bits or break anything.
This is your most important element, which is used to heat the components and solder them in place. It’s worth investing as much as you can on a good quality iron, as buying the cheapest one will more often than not end up with you having to buy another one shortly after!
There are irons available with variable temperature settings as well as detachable grips, sponges and sturdy stands. It’s worth noting that these get exceptionally hot, so should always be used with care!
This is the substance which is melted to fix your components in place. It’s often a combination of Tin and Lead with the ratio dictating how the solder will behave – it will also contain a flux core to increase adhesion of the solder. A 60/40 combination of Tin/Lead is good for starting out, as it offers a low melting point, a nice flow and a lovely shiny finish.
You can buy lead-free solder, but it requires a much higher temperature to melt, gives off some horrific fumes and is more likely to end up with dry (unconnected) joints – best to steer clear of it until you’re a professional.
The tip at the end of your iron, is the contact point for your solder to melt components into place. These are available in different shapes and are often detachable, enabling you to replace old ones or change them to a more suitable point. A chisel type tip is good for starting out as it is thin but with a relatively large surface area to heat your components – eventually you’ll find your own preferences.
Now you have the bare minimum to get started, we’ll have a look at these additional items which will be very useful too.
Putting a mat down to protect your mother’s prized Victorian oak table will save you a lot of hassle! Even if its your own desk, you will end up marking it, denting it and making burn marks at some point. Invest in a small (A4) or large (A2) mat regardless of how careful and organized you think you are!
This is an obvious one, which you’d probably work out for yourself – but it’s worth knowing beforehand so you’re ready. Electrical components are often small and the text written on them even smaller!
Seeing these in broad daylight may even be difficult, so a light is useful to illuminate them, helping you identify all important details, colors and values.
Solder Braid (also known as Wick or Mop)
So many names for such a simple thing! This interwoven strip soaks up melted solder like a sponge – essential when a component has been soldered in the wrong place, or you need to remove solder for any other reason. 1.5mm x 1.5mm will be enough to cover most of your early experiments, and is one of the most satisfying things to watch as it slurps ups the sludge!
So you made it this far, lets look at what else you may need to really bolster your bench:
Having an octopus friend over would be really useful when you’re soldering, because you’ll often find you need a spare pair of… tentacles… or… hands! Alternatively, you can buy a stand which will be fitted with all manner of grips, clips and magnifying glasses to aid your soldering experience.
This is very useful when you need to hold an iron, a PCB and a component in place, reducing the chance of you making a mistake or burning your contorted hands.
These handy and sometimes adjustable scissors allow you to peel off the outer plastic of a cable, leaving the core conductive metal to solder.
You can survive without these but you may find you end up cutting the metal core, or not all of the plastic.
Flux comes from the Latin word for flow. It’s an acidic fluid which cleans the metals being soldered together, and helps transfer heat, allowing solder to melt and adhere to objects much more easily. This additional fluid comes as a paste, in a pen or small bottle to place over any solder joint before applying heat. We all make mistakes and while removing components can harm the PCB – anything to speed up the removal process will increase the chance it’ll be replaced successfully.
This is a very useful device for testing components to find out if they’re working properly and what values they have.
Multi-meters are relatively cheap and are most useful in the beginning to see whether you have made a nice working contact while soldering – they’re also handy for identifying resistor values.
You may find protective glasses come in handy while soldering as you will invariably ping tiny bits of metal towards yourself at some point.
These will save your vision, protect your eyes and make you look like more of a scientist – so people will take you more seriously.
You Can Do It!
There we have it! That’s all you need to take great strides into the world of soldering! There is more to explore, but hopefully now you know the objects you need to get started in soldering – which will be the beginning of a beautiful and glittering career in electrical adventure. Check back to the Tindie blog soon for more tips!