If you opened an electronic device, you will notice several joints on a circuit board. These joints allow the transmission of signals so your device can serve its purpose. Soldering creates these joints. It is the process of joining two items together by heating the items and placing a connecting metal on the heated items to create a joint.
The connecting metal, referred to as solder, has a lower melting point than the pieces being connected. Once melted on the pieces, the solder creates the connecting joint.
As with many other jobs, soldering entails mastery which comes with consistent practice until one becomes an expert at the skill. But a good soldering job is not just about the skill, it is also about using the right tools. So, to talk about soldering for beginners, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the soldering tools before talking about acquiring and refining the soldering skill.
Basic soldering tools
There are 6 basic tools used in soldering.
A hand tool that plugs into an AC outlet and which supplies the heat on transistor leads, wires, or pads on a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) to melt the solder and create a joint between two workpieces. A soldering iron may come in a gun or pen shape and may carry between 15-30Watts, implying that it can allow the control of heat when used in a variety of applications.
High voltage irons are also used on stronger wires like those used in plumbing jobs. They, however, should not be used on PCBs to avoid ruining sensitive electronics.
Some soldering irons may have interchangeable tips that can be swapped depending on the application. Because the soldering iron can heat up to a high temperature around 8960F, caution should always be applied when using them to avoid burning the user or causing fires.
The solder is an alloy material that is melted to create a permanent joint between two electrical parts. In the past, solder was made of tin and lead at the ratio of 60:40 but contemporary health and safety rules advocate for lead-free rosin core solder. If lead solder should be used, it is crucial to ensure that the working space is well ventilated.
Some solder may contain small amounts of silver. This lowers the melting point even though it gives a stronger joint.
A soldering station
A soldering station is a working tool with a built-in thermometer, a soldering iron, and an external constant power supply. Apart from controlling your power supply, the soldering station has an organization function because it holds your soldering iron and the sponge for cleaning the tip of your iron.
The soldering iron easily accumulates particles of the solder at its tip. It’s is important to keep it clean to allow proper heat transmission. A sponge on the soldering station serves in cleaning the tip of the soldering iron and keeping it working efficiently.
Avoid using a wet sponge to prevent spoiling the tip and shortening the life of the soldering iron through expansion and contraction. Besides, a damp sponge cools the iron, implying higher energy consumption.
Soldering Iron Stand
To stay safe from burns or setting objects around the soldering space ablaze, a soldering iron stand comes in handy. Using the stand shields the person soldering or other surfaces from coming into contact with the tip or the iron. The stand is often built into the soldering station.
The third/helping hand
The helping hand is a tool with two alligator clips to help hold the pieces being soldered. A magnifying glass may be attached to the third hand to help the person soldering be precise when applying the solder, especially when working on minute details.
With all the above tools, the soldering job can be commenced. But doing so relies on the user’s soldering skills while performing the task.
How to solder
If we are addressing an expert in soldering, it might be easy, to sum up the soldering process by indicating that soldering involves heating the metal and placing the solder on the heated metal to create a joint between two electronic parts.
But such a broad description may not make sense when addressing soldering for beginners. A novice in soldering may require a more broken down guideline. Here are the 4 basic steps in the soldering process.
Tinning is a pre-soldering step that involves the application of solder on the tips of the work parts so that the actual soldering to create a joint can be stronger. Tinning may also be done at the end of the soldering job to smoothen out the joint and extend its life.
Step#2: Heat the parts
By first turning the soldering iron on and adjusting it to the required voltage, say 4000C, touch the work parts with the tip of the iron at the same time and let it heat them for 3-4 seconds. The parts must be heated well enough to melt the solder.
Step#3: Solder the joint
While holding the soldering iron on the work parts, apply the solder to melt it on the joint and make the bond. Be sure not to touch the solder with the tip of the soldering iron. The joint should be hot enough when the solder is applied to avoid a poor connection.
Step#4: Snip any extra solder
When the joint is done, remove the soldering iron and allow the solder to cool. Avoid hurrying the cooling process by blowing. This will spoil the joint and make it uneven. A good joint has a smooth cone shape. If the joint has extra solder or there are spills around the joint, snip it to create an even surface. Snipping should be done when the joint is cool.
What if the joint goes wrong?
If soldering should go wrong, it can be removed through desoldering. Desoldering is simply reversing the soldering process, and it’s a key skill when it comes to soldering for beginners. This entails:
- Placing a desoldering braid or wick on the bad joint
- Heating the soldering iron and placing its tip on the desoldering braid to melt the solder and allow the braid to absorb it.
- Alternatively a mechanical vacuum known as a solder sucker can be used. The sucker is placed over the joint and a button pressed to suck the molten solder.
Tips for successful and safe soldering for beginners
A beginner has little experience and maybe more preoccupied about realizing the joint than how good the joint is. To ensure smooth volcano-shaped joints and safety when it comes to soldering for beginners, the following tips should be kept in mind.
- Soldering is a high-temperature task. Be cautious when applying solder on a joint and when handling the soldering iron to avoid burning or starting a fire.
- Use pliers to hold parts of the soldering to avoid burning. This should still be done at least 2 minutes after the soldering has been completed since molten solder can remain hot for a couple of minutes.
- Unless you are purchasing a soldering iron for plumbing, always think fine tips when buying soldering irons to work on PCBs.
- As a beginner, it is always advisable to try out and refine your soldering skills on an old board before working on a good one.
- Ensure your solder joints are smooth. It is the rule of the thumb for testing the goodness of a joint.
- Even with the correct voltage, retaining a soldering iron on electronic components can be destructive. Master the appropriate speed when soldering; the highly heated soldering iron cannot rest on an electronic part for more than a few seconds without causing destruction.
- Work in a well-ventilated room when soldering. This protects you from inhaling solder smoke. Good ventilation should especially be observed when you are using solder that has lead, exposing you to intoxication. If need be, use safety equipment such as masks and protective glasses.
- Always tin your wires to ensure better and long-lasting results. Working on clean surfaces is also a key condition for smooth cone-shaped soldering. Use a sponge to clean wires before soldering.
- You soldering iron should always be clean. Wipe the tip of the iron consistently to avoid solder buildup and, hence, poor heat transfer.
- When purchasing solder, be sure to buy the type that has a rosin core and never one with an acid core for soldering on electronics. Rosin enhances electrical contact. Solder with an acid core is used in plumbing.
- Unplug the soldering iron after soldering is complete. This prevents oxidizing and burning.
It’s Never to Late to Get Started with Soldering for Beginners
Knowing the correct tools for a soldering job is extremely important. A soldering iron is a fundamental tool for realizing the joint just as a soldering iron stand is crucial for safety from the hot iron. Equally important is possessing the correct skills for the delicate soldering job.
Following the safety and performance tips is key in ensuring that your first and subsequent soldering jobs are perfect and produce smooth cone-shaped joints that do not require desoldering but are instead strong and long-lasting.