A Beginner’s Guide to Good Soldering
Soldering is a process adopted by many DIY hobbyists, jewelry makers, electronic service personnel, mechanics, engineers and professionals for joining connections, creating metal items, fixing electronics, etc. While some are already familiar with the basics of soldering and know how to solder, others are still trying to figure out where to start.
For a beginner, to complete successful soldering is just like a dream come true. At starting, soldering can be a bit messy, especially if you are not fully prepared. But once you get used to it, you can solder like an expert. To make it easier for novices I have penned down the basics of starting the soldering in a few steps.
Prepare the Essential Accessories
Cleaner a vital accessory required in soldering. Generally a wet sponge or wire cleaner is used for removing the dirt and debris from the soldering iron tip. With a cleaner ready on your workbench it will be much easier and convenient.
While most of the soldering irons come with a sponge or wire cleaner or sometimes both, other low-end units may not include cleaner. You can easily a sponge or coil cleaner from the local hardware store or some online stores. However I would also like to recommend two of the best selling tip cleaners.
Hakko 599B-02 Wire Cleaner
The Hakko 599B-02 is a remarkable soldering iron tip cleaning wire sponge. This wire sponge is hard enough to remove debris and corrosion from the iron tips, while being soft enough not to harm the tip. It’ll help in removing excess solder and oxides to enable precisely clean soldering and preserve tip life.
Thermaltronics SPG-5 sponge
It includes a pack of five yellow sponges that are sulfide free and ROHS Compliant. The sponge is specially designed for soldering irons. It works great in removing dirt, debris and rust on the iron tip. It can also be a good replacement for your existing cleaning sponge.
Choose a Solder
Solder is a fusible metal alloy used in soldering. Soldering can’t be done without a solder. It’s very important to have a good solder for precise outcomes. Basically there are three types of solders:
Lead based solder is made of tin and lead mixture, in the ratio of 60/40 respectively. This type of solder melts at around 180°C to 190°C. Solder based on lead was generally used in the past, but because lead has some harmful effects to our health, now this type of solder is less used. Lead based solder works better in high heat.
Lead-free solder is a solder that doesn’t contain any lead. It’s available in wide variety of metal mixtures except lead. Many of the commercial soldering irons are now designed for using with lead-free solder. However, this type of solder requires higher melting temperature, making it a bit hard to work with, but not a big problem.
Solder with Rosin or Acid Flux Core
This type of solder wire usually has flux in its core. Flux helps in enhancing mechanical strength and electrical conductivity in the soldering joints. There are primarily two types of flux core. One is rosin flux core, which is used for soldering electronics. The other one is Acid flux core that is used for plumbing. Solder with acid core must never be used for electronics.
Solder with rosin flux is best for learners, and then you can move on to lead-free solder. In case you are working with lead based solder, make sure that your work place has good ventilation. Also you can install air purifier that can remove lead fumes.
Anyways, I also have my own personal recommendation of solder wire, which is a top selling one:
Alpha Fry AT-31604 Solder
This spool of solder with rosin flux core is made of 60% tin and 40% lead. With 376°F melting point, this solder is perfect for jobs such as fine electrical soldering that require lower melting temperatures.
Select the Right Tip
Choosing the right tip for your job is a crucial part because the type of tip you pick must be compatible. You can choose between these five basic tips:
- Bevel: This tip has large surface-area, useful for pre-loaded soldering. It’s ideal for drag soldering or soldering smaller gauge wires.
- Chisel: Recommended for soldering components with large surface-mounts, wires, and through-hole components and also for desoldering. It’s ideal for stained glass.
- Conical: With the shape of a cone and point tip, it’s mostly used in precise electronic jobs. Conical tip is ideal for starters.
- Blade: This tip has sharp edge like a knife. It’s good for soldering at narrow pitches, fixing bridging and drag-soldering.
- Pyramid: It has the shape of a pyramid and pointed tip, which works great for soldering large ground planes.
Indispensable Soldering Steps:
Now that you are ready with all the essential accessories necessary for soldering, you are ready to go. Given below are the four most important steps to successfully complete a soldering task:
Set the Temperature
First of all, heat up the solder tip. You can adjust the heat of the iron according to your components. If you are working with small electronics or through-hole components, you would want to set the temperature between 315°C to 370°C. For larger connections you must set the temperature slightly higher. If you have a thermostatically controlled soldering iron then it can be set to a temperature just a little above the melting point of solder.
Tin the Tip
Make sure the tip is clean, and tin the tip by applying a small amount of solder on the tip of the soldering iron. Tinning the tip will maximize the surface space and the connectivity, allowing more heat to be transferred to the component. After a few solder connections clean and re-tin the tip. Never leave the tip without tinning as this will affect the performance and cause oxidation on the tip. Your tip will most probably be ruined if you solder without tinning it.
Once you have tinned, make your solder connection as fast as possible, because the longer you take the more difficult it will be to solder.
After tinning, touch the tip to the component you are trying to solder, and add the solder until you see some of it accumulate on the component. Now add the solder faster until you see a precise amount solder and the connection is done.
Once the connection is made, first remove the soldering iron, and keep the connection stable until the solder has hardened. Removing the connection early will either cause the joints to fall apart or result in a cold solder joint, which is a bad connection.
Cleaning is a necessary step in soldering. Only if the tip is clean and free from debris, appropriate amount of heat will transfer through it. This not only improves performance but also plays an important role in extending tip life. The soldering Tip must be cleaned both before and after soldering. Never scrape it with knife, sand paper or other rough tools. Scraping will take off the outer layer of the tip and cause accumulation of dirt, hence affecting its performance. Use only the recommended accessories:
Get your cleaning sponge wet and rub the soldering tip on both sides over the sponge to remove any solder debris or dirt. Repeat this until the tip looks fully cleaned.
Stick the soldering tip in cleaning wire and move it back and forth a few times until the debris and dirt are gone.
After you have completed the cleaning process, turn off the soldering tool and place the iron in the holder. Don’t leave the iron unattended until its tip has cooled.
For beginners, a set of helping hands will work great. Also, I would suggest a pair of safety goggles. Soldering can be a little difficult for beginners, but if you follow these simple steps, you won’t need much time to become a pro.