I'm back. This is the second article in my Soldering Series. In my last Article I covered:
Terms - need to know
Gear - ID'n that whatcha call it?
Safety - Which end is the hot end?
Soldering 83, The Basics
Now we get to move on to some of the fun stuff. In this article we will cover:
Tool selection – Whatcha' got there?
Tool maintenance – You gota take care of it.
Learning temperature control – Are ya feeln' the heat?
Basic Soldering tips – Going with the flow. Finally, we gunna melt sumthin.
So lets get to it!
So there are a ton of different videos out there on the 'Tube going over this and they are all mostly right. Good for them. Now the real question is how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to jump?
So what DO you need to start? Okay, well bare bones you will need:
Safe place – we already discussed what this entails in the topic Safety.
Iron – To start, like I covered before, just a simple iron.
Iron stand – Simply some where safe to put a hot iron.
Solder – You can choose which you prefer.
Flux – Honestly just a flux pen will do wonders for the beginner.
Something to clean the iron – Okay a sponge.
Now you will have all you need to start.
So what do you need if you are getting serious? Well then the sky is the limit really. Some things to consider if you are going to start getting in to sensitive electronics such as PCBs would I would add:
temperature controlled iron of some fashion. But this is where the real money kicks in.
(We will cover soldering PCBs in a future article in great detail)
If you are considering lager gauge wire you could continue adding:
a can of flux
Possibly a solder gun or a high wattage iron to get up to the right temperature.
Flite Test did a great quick tips tutorial on soldering big wires.
Learning Temperature Control
This topic requires a lot of time. Proper temperature control is important with soldering because with electronics, heat is the enemy. I'm sure most among us have at least one time have smelt the aroma of melting plastics and electronics. That scary sight, seeing the spark and the magic smoke that follows will burn in to your memories the first time it happens to you.
So what is proper temperature control?
Being able to set a proper solder joint with out over heating the sensitive electronics. The best way to accomplish that is to get in and get out fast, but not too fast.
How long should it take to get a good solder joint?
2 seconds, that's how long it should take to get a good solder join. Any more than that you could damage sensitive electronics. So this should be the target time limit. So next you can figure out what the proper iron tip and heat that is appropriate. Just realize all of this really just comes with a lot of practice.
To start figuring out the proper iron tip and heat needed to need to take in account the thermal mass of the components you are trying to join. The larger the combined mass the the joint you are trying to join makes a big difference.
Explaining Thermal Mass:
To get a better picture, think of a small thimble of water; that's the joint we are trying to heat. Now picture a small lit candle; that's is the hot iron set at a proper temperature. How long is it going to take to boil that water in the thimble full of water? It will not take too long. Now picture the same lit candle and (we'll go big here) we will try to heat a pot full of water. Same temperature, same size heat source, but a lot more mass to heat. So what should we do? We need to boil the water on the stove right? Much bigger heat source but at we'll say the same temperature, it will take less time.
So the short answer is, the smaller the mass the less time it takes to heat. Likewise the larger the mass the longer the time to heat or just increase surface heat (not the temperature) and it shortens the time.
Now to confuse you even further we need to bring up the thermal mass of the iron itself.
To start to picture this you can think of the iron at temperature as a full glass of water, the larger the iron mass the bigger the glass of water. When you touch the iron to your work, it transfers heat from the iron to the join you are working. Much like when you pour from one glass of water to the next glass of water. So the less water to colder the iron until you refill the glass, that is the heater (30watts small water source/100watts bigger water source). So picture the joint as a smaller glass. Now to transfer heat you start pouring in to the glass. There was heat loss from your heat source to your joint. Not much but if you keep moving from one joint to the next, to the next, your glass empties much faster and it will needed to be refilled. The (iron) glass will automatically start to refill itself as the temperature drops. But if you keep moving at a fast pace the iron will not be able to keep up and the temperature will drop too low.
If the thermal mass of the iron is too small it will not properly heat the mass of the work. Also if you are moving through multiple joins at a time the iron will lose heat and will likely have a hard time keeping the proper temperature.
So choosing the proper tip can help:
So there are many different types of tips out there but these are just a few common types:
B-series Tip is a basic round tip that comes to a point. This tips comes on most basic irons because it is pretty universal. The round shape gives you the ability to solder at any angle and most basic jobs are easy to accomplish with this tip. The fine tip is useful to get a small target heat area.
D-series Tip or chisel tip is another widely used general tip. It is so named because of course it's chisel shape. This is useful to get a larger target heat area.
C-series Tip or hoof tips is tip cut in a 45 degree angel with a very slightly curved face. This is mainly used for drag soldering.
I-series Tip or needle tip is I'm sure you guessed it, is used for very fine detail work. Not the easiest to work with because the very fine tip will not heat the area well. So use for the tiny jobs.
K-series K for knife is pretty useful since it has a fine tip for like the B series, an edge like a D series and can be used like a C series. Unfortunately it is a wide tip so it can be hard to use in small spaces.
So we have covered how it is very important to keep a safe and clean work area. It is also equally important to keep your tools working as well. I have seen many problems where improperly maintained tools being the root of most bad soldering jobs. I have also explained how oxidation can reek havoc on everything.
How do we keep everything working as it should? Well controlling oxidation will be the key.
The soldering iron tip will be the main offender here. So it is very good practice to put fresh solder on the iron tip before anything really. So before you put your soldering iron back in to the holster add fresh solder. Before you start soldering add some fresh solder. It's really that simple to keep oxidation at bay for the most part.
So what happens if you don't? This blacken oxidation builds up on the surface and eventually pitting will occur on the tip and it will need to be replaced. But there are ways to repair some damage if pitting hasn't occurred yet. All you need to do is re-tin the tip.
Re-tinning Tip Tips (say that five times fast)
One easy method is to use a tinning compound in a can. It is very simple just by touching the hot iron to the paste and spinning it while it is in the paste it quickly re-tins it well. Remember, use as directed.
There is one more method, if you don't have a this can around, you can use to bring your tip back to life. It may not be approved by some but in a pinch you can get your iron running pretty fast. I have not tested it on pistol irons but it will work on pencil irons.
If you do not have the can and have a copper core tip, you have take a few more steps:
Let your iron cool because you will be handling the tip.
To repair the iron tip you will need to first remove the oxidation from it. For most copper core tip just using some mid grade sand papers some where around 600 grit until to see a shiny copper color all around the tip. Don't forget to sand it in a container the can hold the old solder.
Now the bare copper will oxidize if you leave it like this. So now's not the time to get bored and walk away. After you get a clean shiny color you and add flux as a barrier all over the shiny surface. I just dip it in to a can of flux paste.
Then get your solder out and rap the clean flux covered tip in new solder. Just by twisting the solder on tightly, like coiling a hose on a hose reel.
Place the iron on it's side over a heat resistant bowl like the one on most soldering stands. This will safely catch the hot solder.
Now simply turn the iron on and watch the solder melt as it wets to the tip.
Pickup the iron and clean the tip on a sponge and your good to go again.
Basic Soldering Tips
The first thing one should learn is how to properly tin the end of a wire. I may watch this video show you the common mistakes with tinning and how to properly solder.
Now for your enjoyment, I have compiled a list of Flite Test videos with soldering tips:
Yet again, if you are unable to wait for me to finish my series, I have found a video series that has done the best job teaching. Copy Right 1980! Yes, it's old but there is nearly no change in the soldering techniques today. It covers in great detail the basics so 90% can understand.