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Archive for February, 2017

10
Feb

Soldering Gear

Soldering

A word that can strike mind numbing fear into first timers. I kind of remember learning how to do it, from a ham radio operator no less. Frustration for me, laughter for him. When I was 10 years old.

Now admittedly most parents wouldn’t dream of letting their 10 year old grab hold of a hot soldering iron because, well, they’re kids. And you never know what could happen.

Fortunately I was born in an era that believed if you grabbed something hot and burned yourself, you instantly gained the experience to never do that again. My parents bought me a wood burning kit for Xmas when I was 10, and with it came the responsibility that I wasn’t going to “burn the house down”. To their delight, I’m sure, it was never an issue.

Soldering came to me because I was a model train nut in my pre-teens. Running wires and switches for tracks, sidings, lights and so on with nothing more than electrical tape was, really, more of a hazard than my wood burning set.

This blog won’t teach you how to solder. Neither will too many of the online videos or “instruction” pages I’ve seen. You want to learn to solder, find someone who can do it well, beg or bribe them to teach you. One on one. Makerspaces are a fabulous resource for this.

The dead giveaway for someone who lacks soldering skills? They use the gun or iron as a “paint brush” to “flow” the solder around the connection. You don’t wipe a solder joint with an iron to flow the solder. Unless you’re sculpting.

Guns, Irons, Stations, Torches

When you’ve got soldering under control, and don’t expect instant miracles, you may want to actually buy some soldering gear of your own.

If you’re under the impression that you can buy a 25W soldering iron and you’re good to go, my best advice would be save your money. Go see a movie. Why? Because the pleasant experience of the movie will last a heck of a lot longer than a 25W soldering iron experience will.

So let’s start with the cheapest thing that will melt solder..and the thing to avoid buying if you can…

Wellar

First, Weller makes some truly great products. A pencil styled soldering iron isn’t one of them. Think of these more as a fabulous wood burning tool and you won’t go wrong. True, they will solder, in some cases, but as you get better with soldering, you’ll toss this thing. Main drawback? No temperature control adjustment.

Next up we have soldering guns. Like this one:

Weller 8200n

Runs 100 to 140 watts, easy tip to replace. You can use it for almost any gauge of wires from 14 to 26. You won’t use it to solder any components on a printed circuit board. The tip is too large. If you’re building a 3D printer, the one place you need this gun?

IMG 1218

That’s right. When you soldering the wires on to the bed heater. The bed heater is a big chunk of aluminum with a copper pattern on it. The metal dissipates the heat so fast from a soldering iron, only a gun will work. Plus the gun has to match the area. That’s a 220mm plate with a 100/140 watt gun. If you have a large metal plate, like 300mm, you need a 220/260 watt gun.

These old Weller guns last, well, at this point…here’s a snap of me at 15 when I was fixing my guitar amp (yeah on the kitchen table)…that is the SAME gun in the heated bed photo above. It is 50 years old and it still works just fine and the only repair was I put a new plug on the end of the power cord.

Mel Soldering

Plus in a pinch when I didn’t have a replacement tip (they do wear out), I’ve grabbed a piece of house wiring, 14/2 (NMD7), stripped the insulation off it, bent it in the shape of the original tip and it works, just fine until I can get a replacement tip. Which they still make…

As to why I am fixing my amp, I couldn’t afford to take it to a tech so I learned enough electronics that I could do my own repairs.

On the list next are soldering stations. To me, even a lousy one of these is better than a pencil iron.

Stations vary in quality. A lot. Typically a Hakko (genuine) is the cream of the crop, everything else is a wannabe. However, if you don’t do a lot of soldering, you don’t need a top of line station either. Again, match what you want to do with the gear to do it.

What you want in a station is first, replacement tips, with a chisel tip of 1.2mm or 1.4mm being the standard tip for component use. There are scads of tips to pick from if you have special requirements. Order a few extra when you buy the station. If they stop making tips for your iron, the iron is a conversation piece.

Second, you want temperature control. And not some analog gauge that looks like the black/green/red one from an old battery tester either. A digital read out one that has a knob to control not push buttons.

Below is an example of a relatively inexpensive station that will do a decent enough job and not put you in the poor house. Notice the place that holds the iron? It has both a sponge and a wire shavings area to keep the tip of the iron nice and clean. Oh, and don’t forget to wet the sponge before you use it. It’ll last a lot longer…:-)

Station

Last on the list is a torch. And again it depends what you’re doing. Like plumbing. Torches are great! Working on a printed circuit? Not so great. Pay attention to what the pros use, get something along that line.

Solder

Of course, having the melting tool isn’t going to do anything unless we have something to melt. In this case, solder.

And all solder is created equally right? Nope. You need to match the solder to what you want to use it for. Unless it’s an emergency or some stop gap measure in which case, yeah, we’ll use whatever we can lay our hands on.

Lets start with the big stuff…as in plumbing…typically 60/40 or 50/50 (lead to tin mix). You’ll need some solder paste, clean joints and a spool of this stuff:

50 50

And a torch. This is big heavy stuff, takes a fair bit of heat to melt it.

Moving on, we get to electronic stuff. Printed circuit boards, wiring, finer detail stuff. And in a pinch, automotive as well.

Solder Type

Here things get a little complicated because there are two very different types of solder in use. One is the age old lead/tin and the other is lead free. There are pros and cons for both so pick a camp on your own choice. One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re repairing something that was made with lead free solder, you need to use the same.

Solder Diameter

Soldering diameter is also important. You want something with a .31 or .32mm diameter if you’re doing PCB work (or general smaller gauge wiring). Buying by the pound, Kester for example, is usually the best way to buy. But it’s not cheap and if you have to mail order it, keep in mind that it is a pound weight…

Quick Review

I recently got a tube of MG Chemicals solder, lead/tin, to try out. My normal brand is Kester 44 sn63/pb37 (tin/lead).

The first thing I asked myself is who in world decided to ship solder in a tube? So I thought about that for a minute and I think that they are saving on packaging. Normally solder comes on a plastic spool, inside a cardboard box. By shipping it in a tube, for a small quantity, they move away from that problem. Cost effective, don’t know about the plastic tube in landfill though…

Course the day I buy a small quantity of solder isn’t going to happen any time soon.. So the first thing I did:

IMG 2360

Yep, pull it out of the tube and coil it up. And I have to say it does make a nice sized coil. But it got me to thinking… MG sells solder wick, and I readily admit I have used wick about 3 times in fifty years), in a “spool”. I’d suggest the plastic tube would be better served with a simple spool like the wick. But I’m not a marketing guy so…just what I’d prefer.

IMG 2361

As I mentioned before, I’ve used Kester solder for a long, long, long, oh heck, since I started.

When using the MG, I found that it doesn’t flow as easily or nicely as the Kester does. And really, 63/37 solder is 63/37 solder. Thus the difference has to be in flux.

MG Chemicals says, “RA-like flux core” and “It generally exceeds J-STD-004 and J-STD-006 specifications

Kester says, “The high mobility and fast-spreading action of this flux results in more reliable production line soldering. 44 is classified as ROM1 per J-STD-004

Whatever all the heck that means. Me? I’m just an end user and I like the flux wetting action of the Kester by far.

While I really like the new MG Chemicals PLA, the solder? True is does do the job, but …meh.