Soldering alternatives

Ok, I've just ruined another board at my attempts at through hole soldering. I was trying to solder the Adafruit i2c backpack for the 8x8 led matrix, and it doesn't work when I attach it to the Uno. A few rows of lights turn on, but they don't seem to be controlled by the program. I assume I made accidental solder bridges or melted circuitry in the PCB.

Part of it is at 57, I'm having to switch between reading glasses and distance glasses (in addition to using the magnifying glass on the third hand jig). Part of it is eye/hand coordination. Part of it is either the iron is not hot enough or it is too hot, and I melt some of the substrate on the protoboard/pcb. Part of it is I don't have a dedicated soldering area, and I need to move stuff to do soldering, so I put off doing it. Part of it is I just don't have the patience to do it enough to get better at it.

I've tried several times to pick up the skill, but for whatever reason, I seem to have a block on getting the skill. What other options are there for attaching header pins or using a protoboard? I'd like to keep the price down to about $50 (US).

As I use hot-glue guns for quick crafting, I'm struck that something like a hot-glue gun for soldering would be nice. Ideally, it would have a heating element in the gun that melts the solder, and a tip that dispenses a fixed amount of liquid solder (with possibly an option to dispense a stream of solder to make solder bridges). Ideally you would have several tips that were different sizes with a center portion where the solder doesn't go. You would clip the wire to a small amount, put the gun over the wire, dispense the solder.

Or perhaps a little pot/heater to melt the solder (much like doing lead molds), and then I would use a small paint brush to attach it to the part being soldered.

I've seen solder syringes for sale, but I'm not really sure how they work.

Get some cheap/free junk parts and boards for practice soldering.

You need a temperature controlled iron, never bother with uncontrolled
irons they have negative value. Items to solder need to be free from oxide
and finger grease as much as possible - clean if necessary. Bare copper
always needs the oxide removed, tin-plated components are OK as is.

Only use rosin-multi-core solder.

Work fast, work at the right temperature, melt the solder onto the iron tip
as you apply the tip to the work so the flux does its job - easiest way is to
squash the solder between iron and the work - the solder should melt and flow.
Then apply a tiny bit more solder and withdraw. Visually examine, repeat if
not wetted properly - let the work cool down between each attempt so it doesn't
cook.

Clean tip on a wet sponge every time before each joint if you are learning,
this removes the build-up of oxide and burnt rosin.

Never leave a hot iron standing idle - the tip will oxidise, turn it off. An oxidised
tip is wasted (note lead-free solder uses a higher temperature and oxidation is more
rapid). You must not use abrasives on the tip, this will remove the thin
iron plating on the tip and the copper interior will start to dissolve away in the
solder and destroy the tip.

One common problem is bare-copper stripboard which has a lacquer coating
to stop the copper tarnishing - you have to remove the lacquer with wire-wool
to get it to solder readily.

With copper wires, tin them before soldering (to tin is to coat with solder), and
make sure the solder has run into the strands - if not cut the end off and repeat.

Michael,

A few years your senior, I understand! I started soldering at 12 when I built my first Knight Kit Super Regen shortwave. But, now I maintain a dedicated bench area for my trouble.
Outside of silver-bearing adheadives and conductive erpoxy, I simply do not think there is much alternative, especially for through-hole components because of physical stress on wires and pins. The smaller the part, the more appealing the alternatives; or just use solderr paste and an oven.

I would really suggest that you put your funds into a good temperature controlled iron.
Second, the PanaVice is an absolute necessity, IMO.

And third, secure a good close-up glass lens magnifier or goggles for the eyes. I use these which are quiet inexpensive but do work well:

Also, use quality solders, quality flux, and plenty of isopropal alcohol (90% - 100%).

Ray

Mike,
I'm over in Marlborough, down by I495/Rt 20. If you need a few things soldered like that mail them over, I'll have my wife put them on send them back. Just pay the return postage for USPS flat rate box. More complex things, we'll ask for $15 like we do on screw shields and other boards with many components.
Robert

Part of it is either the iron is not hot enough or it is too hot, and I melt some of the substrate on the protoboard/pcb.

What kind of soldering iron?

@Coding Badly: It is a very basic Radio Shack model (the only control is the plug).

@Crossroads: Thanks I may take you up on this.

@Mrburnette: Yep, one of the issues, is the distance for the table I'm using for doing soldering is just at the cross over point between between the glasses (I can't use the progressive lenses). I probably need to sit down and make a real soldering table and do the ergonomic stuff to get things at the right height, etc.

@MarkT: I am guilty of several of those things.

MichaelMeissner:
@Coding Badly: It is a very basic Radio Shack model (the only control is the plug).

Like you I used to use a simple iron. Like you I was constantly battling to get good quality joints. I can say beyond any doubt that getting a temperature controlled soldering iron will make a huge difference. It was well worth the money.

I think this is what I have (just ask if you want confirmation)...
https://www.google.com/search?q=WES51

This was an excellent investment for managing the tip...

Maybe its time to start saving up.... Sigh, I'm currently paying down a rather large camera purchase earlier in the year, so it will take some time.

MichaelMeissner:
Maybe its time to start saving up.... Sigh, I'm currently paying down a rather large camera purchase earlier in the year, so it will take some time.

I still occasionally use an old Ungar iron that is one temp because it is the best balanced iron in the house. I use a 1A 400V diode to put the iron in low power mode while I am not soldering. Just short the diode to return full heat in seconds. With the diode, the iron will melt thin solder and provide satisfactory heat for delicate joints.

Ray

Get one of these...

My $0.02 for thru-hole soldering:

Tip: Clean and shiny. “Tin” as they call it. Wipe with a wet sponge or rag. Let it heat up again.

Surface: No oxidation: The copper comment is valid. Good boards are HALS or hot Air Leveled Solder.

Pick a solder diameter close to what you need. IF you don’t have ROHS to worry about 60/40 soder is easy to work with. For some surface mount stuff 63/37 is used. The diference is with 60/40 the solder melts and solidifies at different temperatures. With 63/37 the temps are the same. Use solder with a rosen flux core.

Apply heat to the largest mass.

What usually works is this take the soldering iron and push the lead your soldering against the hole while heating both the lead and the pad. APPLY the solder to the lead/hole junction that is NOT in contact with the iron. REPEAT, don’t apply solder to the soldering tip.

Repeated “tests” are usually done where you briefly touch the solder to the area to see if it’s hot enough. You then develop a feel as to how much time you need to heat the area before you apply solder when you do another joint.

Solder syringes have a limited lifetime and are designed for used with surface mount parts. The general idea is to squeege the solder through a mask; place the componenents and reflow the solder.

I'm also up there... 2 years your junior. I totally understand how the eyesight gets worse.

I have LOTS of light and would do a horrible job if it were not for my Hakko FX-888 iron. They are not super expensive and It makes me a pro. A good iron will let you be a good solderer... a bad iron will make even a good solderer do a poor job.

My checklist:

  1. right temperature for the job 2) clean tip (I use sal amoniac to clean my tip if it has any built up deposits) 3) good solder with a decent amount of integrated flux.

Keepitsimplestupid nailed it... apply solder to the heated part of the items to be soldered... not where the tip is (or to the iron)

Crossroads (Mike), I swear we used to be neighbors (off elm street) before I moved.

Might have been - I've been in this house going on 24 years now.

Here's a very good soldering tutorial EEVblog #180 – Soldering Tutorial Part 1 – Tools – EEVblog

You have soem great advice so far. One addendum to the mentioned advice. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF FLUX. Flux is your friend. For me two things that made the biggest difference:

  1. Temperature controlled iron
  2. Really understanding how to use flux.

Flux is a critical part of soldering as it is used to clean and prep the surface so the solder can wet the surface properly. Without it, the oxides on the surface of the parts to be soldered will inhibit proper soldering. These oxides form both from the device sitting over time and from the heat of the soldering iron. They cause the solder to not wet properly, which results in a myriad of problems: You have to you sit there longer trying to solder the joint and as a result can kill the device to be soldered with excess heat. You get bad solder joints where the solder doesn't flow well around the joint. You can get cold solder joints, etc. etc. etc. Be liberal with the flux, you can always clean it off later. If you are finding that the solder melts on your iron but doesn't seem to wick well around the joint you likely aren't using enough flux. It was amazing to me that once I became "excessive" in using flux how quickly I could solder parts. As time has gone on, I have dialed back the amount I use to a more reasonable level but for a beginner it's a situation where it's MUCH better to use too much than to use too little. For fluxes use rosin or other electronics type fluxes. Do not under any circumstances use plumbing fluxes as these often have zinc chloride in them. This zinc chloride can leach into the board making your insulating board conductive.

im same age with terrible eyesight, borderline officially partially sighted, but i solder thru.hole and even 0805smd by hand.

get a headband with exchangeable lenses, 10x 15x and 20x. visor type is good if you cant take specs off, but I prefer flip.up separate eyepieces like a jewelers loupe, each with built.in light. I got mine on dx.com for about 12 quid.

echo to controlled iron. im not rich so I got tenma 60w from farnell (newark, element14 in us) its a rebadged atten 938d and cost 40quid. 2nd hest I ever spent. 1st was headband. 3rd was two anglepoise lamps with 100w daylight bulbs.

my own dos and donts.
ebay. dont buy cheap solder, it really is nasty crap. bite the bullet and get best u can afford. I use 60/40 multicore and my joints are beautiful. my soldering sint bad either
ebay. do buy cheap tips IF you are scrupulous re tip cleanliness and wipe after every joint. I also have one of those wire wool in a dome type things which are great for a quick stab and twist every 10 joints or so for the stubborn stuff. I know purists will say IGNORE HIM on this point but I have a cheap chinese tip on thats been there for 4 to 5 months now and is still bright and shiny and makes a clean joint about 10 econds after power.
dont use those little pots of tip tinner, you may as well dip your tip in acid and polish it with a brick

brace your hand against something. those croc clip helping hands arent much cop...too flimsy. I tend to use the side of my hand or third n little fingers against whatever im clamping the work with, even if its a lump of modelling clay stuck to the bench

I got one of these, it was about £12 but well spent. its very stable and flips over so you can insert next part topside, flip, solder, flip repeat. you can brace hand as above on edge of board without tipping it over, and its the right height to brace wrist on bench edge as an alternative.

hope this gives you inspiration not to quit. all I need now is a fume extractor so my guide dog doesnt gead lead poisoning...if I can do it, you can.

Uchwyt PCB ze stojakiem | Zamów w Conrad.pl.

There’s a lot of good advice in these posts, but there are are a couple of things I think need saying again anyway:

  1. If you can’t see what you are doing, you can’t solder. It’s just impossible. I know, I’ve tried from time to time. Never works.
  2. You need a temperature controlled soldering iron to make good a consistently reliable joints. Too hot won’t work, and too cold won’t work either.

Having repeated that, I’ll make some specific comments on what you wrote:

MichaelMeissner:
Ok, I’ve just ruined another board at my attempts at through hole soldering. I was trying to solder the Adafruit i2c backpack for the 8x8 led matrix, and it doesn’t work when I attach it to the Uno. A few rows of lights turn on, but they don’t seem to be controlled by the program. I assume I made accidental solder bridges or melted circuitry in the PCB.

Assume? If you can see properly what you have done, you don’t have to assume. If there is a solder bridge, you will see it. See point 1.

MichaelMeissner:
Part of it is at 57, I’m having to switch between reading glasses and distance glasses (in addition to using the magnifying glass on the third hand jig).

Forget the magnifying glass on the third hand jig. You need stereoscopic magnified vision, for depth perception. If your strong reading glasses don’t do the job, you need a visor or loupe or similar, just as BareMetal describes. Point 1 again.

MichaelMeissner:
Part of it is eye/hand coordination.

If you can see, your hands will steady. Ask any surgeon. Refer point 1.

MichaelMeissner:
Part of it is either the iron is not hot enough or it is too hot, and I melt some of the substrate on the protoboard/pcb.

Point 2.

MichaelMeissner:
Part of it is I don’t have a dedicated soldering area, and I need to move stuff to do soldering, so I put off doing it. Part of it is I just don’t have the patience to do it enough to get better at it.

Once you have the precursors to success in place, you will start succeeding. Absolutely 100% confident of that promise. And you will start enjoying it. You don’t need patience when you are enjoying yourself. You only need patience to endure frustration.

MichaelMeissner:
I’ve tried several times to pick up the skill, but for whatever reason, I seem to have a block on getting the skill.

I believe your “block” is primarily conceptual. See below.

MichaelMeissner:
What other options are there for attaching header pins or using a protoboard? I’d like to keep the price down to about $50 (US).

Very few options, realistically. But for $50 I believe you you can get a pretty decent controlled temp iron. Point 2.

MichaelMeissner:
As I use hot-glue guns for quick crafting, I’m struck that something like a hot-glue gun for soldering would be nice. Ideally, it would have a heating element in the gun that melts the solder, and a tip that dispenses a fixed amount of liquid solder (with possibly an option to dispense a stream of solder to make solder bridges). Ideally you would have several tips that were different sizes with a center portion where the solder doesn’t go. You would clip the wire to a small amount, put the gun over the wire, dispense the solder.

Actually, this is the part I really wanted to comment on.

This idea of a “solder as glue” is intuitively appealing, but anyone who has learnt anything about soldering will know why this just can’t work. And the reasons for this are important and fundamental to understand.

Solder sticks to hot metal, not cold metal. This means you have to heat the joint before you apply the molten solder. This is counter-intuitive, but until you can get this trick of “heat the work, not the solder” straight, you will be soldering badly.

Solder also will not stick to oxidised metal. Problem is, an oxide layer will start forming within seconds of cleaning to bare metal. What to do? The answer is flux, which deoxidises the metal at the same time you are creating a joint.

But here’s the rub: flux burns quickly at the soldering temperature of the iron (what do you think that smoke is?). After a few seconds, the blob of solder on the end of your iron isn’t going to stick to anything, unless you apply more flux.

So solder is not like hot glue. You need heat and flux ->on the joint<- for the solder to stick. Unlike glue, a blob of molten solder presented to a cold joint sans flux will not work.

So the recipe is a) apply iron to joint for a few seconds (like, between 2 and 5 seconds – not long) to get things hot. b) then touch the end of your fine multi-core solder to the joint near the tip of the iron sitting on the joint – ideally the solder should melt and flow to form a nicely fluxed joint almost immediately. c) if the solder doesn’t melt immediately, touch the tip briefly with the end of the solder to get things started.

See how little solder you get away with to get a fully covered joint. Less is more. It’s easier to add a bit more solder to a joint than to remove too much. Gradually acquire the skill of making surface tension and capillary action work for you.

MichaelMeissner:
Or perhaps a little pot/heater to melt the solder (much like doing lead molds), and then I would use a small paint brush to attach it to the part being soldered.

And solder is not at all like paint either (as I hope by now you might appreciate.)

People who can solder say soldering is easy, but actually it’s not easy. Sure, it’s easy once you know how to think about things in the right way, but in the beginning it’s all quite counter-intuitive. Starting out many years ago, I made bad joints with too much solder for far too long because I was learning by trial and error, didn’t think I needed better tools, and I don’t think I really believed what a lot of the old experienced guys writing in magazines would say. “Heat the work, not the solder? That doesn’t sound right. Humbug.” But when you shake off the inevitable beginner’s misconceptions, then suddenly it really does become easy. Do it for a while, and you will have trouble remembering what it was that made it hard when starting. :slight_smile:

I'm going to add to the weight of people saying to get a decent temperature controlled iron, good solder, and flux. I struggled for years with crappy Radio Shack irons and solder. It is -so- much easier with the good stuff!

Hard to add much to the great advice above. I'd also suggest the temperature controlled iron, I picked up a solder station from Farnell for about £50 which probably isn't great but made a massive difference to my soldering.

The other thing I'd add is lots and lots of practice. I've been soldering on and off for about 30 years now but only in the last year when I started to do it a lot more regularly and often do I feel that I'm finally getting the hang of it. If you're worried about damaging components then you could be holding yourself back from getting the knack. Grab some spare boards and cheap resistors and go for it :slight_smile:

Tommy

Thanks everybody. I'll start looking around for temp. controlled irons, and of course practice, practice, practice. Last night, I thought it was going well, and I soldered up a MCP23017 (i2c controller for 16 digital inputs/outputs) with 8 leds and 8 dip switches. All connections were in place, and it was working.

And then I still had room on the protoboard, so I decided to also add an ADS1015 (i2c controller for 4 analog inputs) and I have a solder bridge somewhere between VCC and ground. Sigh....