adsdad
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:21 pm

A decade ago at university, I learned to solder. It went badly: shaky hands and poor hand/eye coordination meant that the joints weren't great. Now I'd like to relearn to solder, not for any major projects, but really just as a skill to have.

Looking back, I'm wondering whether the absolute-cheapest Maplin's soldering iron might have been a major hindrance. Does anyone have any recommendations on good soldering irons? Currently I'm only planning on building a Gertboard and then looking for further inspiration, so it doesn't have to be very heavy duty, or able to heat large masses.

UK availability is necessary, cheapness is good (but not to the point that I'm likely to find it just too difficult and give up grumpily).

Adsdad

kme
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:30 pm

You need one with a magnetic thermostat so it doesn't overheat. If Weller is available in your area it's a good starting point.

max1zzz
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:34 pm

i have the cheapest soldering iron my nearest maplins (Guildford) had, just a 15w one and have not been dissapointed, it works just as well as a £70 gas one i have.

infant i just used it to solder a bank of 66 capacitors, allong with a relay  and a few other parts and it preformed solidly.

from my experience the cheepset irons preform just as well as the more expensive ones, the only problem i have come across is that the cable is a tad short, but a extension lead sorts that

Max

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johnbeetem
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:23 pm

My recommendations, YMMV:

1.  15W is good for SMT.

2.  Get an iron with a ground (earth) lead on the plug.  I have a cheap 15W Radio Shack iron that works fine.

3.  Heathkit had a wonderful soldering guide with each kit.  They're gone, but here's a decent site I found via Wikipedia: http://www.solderinguide.com/

4.  Use the iron to heat both the pad and the component, but don't touch the solder to the iron's tip -- let the component and the pad melt the solder.

5.  Keep a damp sponge handy for cleaning the tip.

6.  Re-tin the tip frequently.

7.  Gertboard has a fine-pitch device that's going to be a pain to solder.  You'll probably need solder flux and de-soldering braid as it will take a few tries to get that device soldered.  At my age I need a stereo microscope for anything under 50 mil pitch.

7a. My approach to that nasty component on Gertboard would be (1) get some solder on each pad, (2) squirt some flux over the pads, (3) place the component over the pads, (4) heat each component pin in turn pressing down gently, reflowing the solder already on the pad -- the flux should help the solder flow onto the pin and help prevent solder bridges.  You'll need a really small tip for that component.

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Jongoleur
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:24 pm

Another good brand is Antex.

I'd recommend looking at their site ( http://www.antex.co.uk ) but at the moment they're "closed for the Xmas period" and the silly buggers won't even let prospective customers browse their site!  Maplins stock Antex so you could look there.

I've had an Antex iron for years and its not given any problems.  When the Antex site reopens, I'll have to see if they still stock tips for mine - the current tip is suitable for soldering large components but would be a little thick for SMD use....
I'm just a bouncer, splatterers do it with more force.....

dhb
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:48 pm

I can't help with UK brands.  (Weller has a good reputation, though Hakko seems to be the value choice here.)

A couple things to consider though.  The biggest problems I've seen with cheap irons is too large of a tip and lack of heat.  So I'd first look for availability of replacement tips, especially finer tips.  Next I'd look for at least 40W and some sort of temperature control.  My first "temp control" was a incandescent light dimmer wired inline (and typically ran about 3/4 dial travel.)  I don't know if those are available for 220V mains though.  It worked fine.  The adjustment was a huge help soldering, nudge it hotter if the circuit has high thermal mass, lower if you can't keep up with the heat.  If a ready made or home-brew controller is beyond your budget, I guess I'd look for a 30W iron as a compromise.  (Oh, you'll need more heat if you're going lead-free!)

Edit to add:

I don't know the environmental laws you, as a hobbyist, face.  Industry is moving away from leaded solder.  The replacements aren't as easy to use.  In the US, leaded solder is still available and for the tiny amount I as a non-production hobbyist use I don't feel guilt for not having switched.  (Yet, I guess.)  Here, I strongly recommend "eutectic" lead-tin solder for beginners.  (63/37 usually.  60/40 is common & a little cheaper, but at hobbyist volume the extra care needed isn't worth the savings.)

Second point is get very fine (thin) solder.  Retail here I'd suggest the finest in stock.  (You can order even finer and that'd probably be a better choice.)  It makes it easier to control the amount of solder in each joint.

Lastly, search the forum here.  I recall a pointer to good you-tube tutorials on soldering.  I'm sure there was discussion in that thread that covered many of these points.

CookieMonster
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:41 pm

I'll +1 the Antex. The next thing better is probably 10-20x the cost (a thermostatically controlled Weller -- one of the middle or high end green ones (*)).

They (Antex) are very affordable, have a modern-electronics-safe grounded tip, heat up quickly, and the spring clip secured tips swap out to suit the job. Yes they are UK. Web site posted above. US customers can get faster service through http://www.antexusa.com/ and I believe there is an eBay site.

I have the 12W version and it is great for electronics work -- circuit boards, tying a couple of resistors together. If you need to do mains-size switches, or power connectors such as for batteries of electric R/C cars, boats, aircraft you will want more power. More better to get a second, larger iron for that.

(*) Do NOT get the red, hobbyist grade Weller. It does not have temperature feedback, just a voltage control dial. If you want that you can stick a mains light dimmer in a box and plug any iron into it. This thing takes forever to heat up (unless on high), cools off easily (unless on high), the tips slip internally to the heating element and lock with a screw that comes loose after a few temp cycles and the tip will wobble then fall out.

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liz
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:48 pm

With very fine-pitch work, it's worth practising coating the very end of a piece of braid in solder and melting *that* onto the component. It was easier to do without having to use braid with the old lead solder, but we've found the braid coating trick useful with the new crap EU stuff.
Director of Communications, Raspberry Pi

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Jongoleur
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:02 pm

liz said:


With very fine-pitch work, it's worth practising coating the very end of a piece of braid in solder and melting *that* onto the component. It was easier to do without having to use braid with the old lead solder, but we've found the braid coating trick useful with the new crap EU stuff.



I've not used the EU compliant stuff yet, I'm still working my way through a 2lb coil of Ersin Multicore (and there's another in the workbox), though I suppose I'll have to enter the "modern age" sometime soon if I've got to play with all these ultra-modern components...

Thanks for the tip!
I'm just a bouncer, splatterers do it with more force.....

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liz
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:09 pm

Yeah - we have a stack of old lead solder at home (one of the spare rooms got converted into an electronics lab as soon as we moved in). Unfortunately, we've had to work with the new stuff for everything we've done on Raspberry Pi (including the betas) because the legislation says we have to. It's horrible, and I wish some materials scientist out there would get working on something a bit easier to work with.
Director of Communications, Raspberry Pi

max1zzz
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:26 am

is the new stuff really that bad? I have never had any problems with it (well except some really really cheap stuff that was impossible to melt) but then again, i have never used the leaded stuff

Lakes
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:41 am

I have an Antex 15W and a 25W with a selection of tips, between them covers most jobs.

1+2? really?? hahaa

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Condemned
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:47 am

You can solder anything if you get the flux right! I have some liquid flux in a small needle-tipped dispensing bottle and use it whenever I rework a joint.

I use a £20 iron from Maplin which came with 4 tips. It'll comfortably solder through-hole stuff and with a little practice, 0603 components and 0.8mm TQFPs can be tackled. It's cheerfully seen me through 1000s of boards.

I have even managed 0402s and a 0.5mm pitch chip with the finest tip, but it's pushing things way too far really - prototypes and one-offs.

Oh - and get one of those tip cleaners that look like brass shavings - they're far superior to a damp sponge.

I'd second (third?) the 'avoid lead-free solder'; Higher temperatures, nasty flux and poor joint flow (I also suspect that the flux fumes are far worse for you than fumes from leaded solder).
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:19 am

Dave Jones' EEVBLOG is a great resource for source things especially the episode(s) he discusses the perfect beginner's Lab kit. Personally I have a Xytronic 60W solder station which I now use most and an Antex TCS temperature controlled iron  which is now at least 25 years old and was in every day use for at least 10 of those years. I don't think that either are perfect and I look at Metcal base stations regularly in Ebay. One point that Dave makes is  good solder preferably 0.4mm or similar I must say I have some nice Smart wire of a similar gauge and I can say it makes all the difference. Good technique comes from practice so get some fun kits and build them before starting on stuff that you don't know if it works otherwise you will be chasing your tail and second guessing yourself. The Veleman stuff is good for this but a bit expensive, most of which is quite forgiving on soldering technique. Can I suggest the USB Experimenter kit as you can use it on any computer and there is also Linux Libs which means you can strap it on to your 'PI not unlike  a Gert board but USB attached.

http://www.eevblog.com/

http://www.maplin.co.uk/usb-ex.....oard-42857

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riffraff
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:28 am

Quick and dirty rosin based flux: dissolve shavings from a violinists rosin block in pure acetone (not nail polish remover). Use a small camel hair brush to apply, or a sewing machine needle for smaller circuitry.

I used to strip scrap circuit boards back when components came in DIP packages and 74 and 74LS series ruled. Slather that stuff on both sides of the board with a 1/2" brush and hit it with a heat gun! First experience with SMT components, I helped a friend build about a hundred MDS downconverter boards for a ham fest and that stuff came in handy.

Benedict White
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:35 am

liz said:


Yeah - we have a stack of old lead solder at home (one of the spare rooms got converted into an electronics lab as soon as we moved in). Unfortunately, we've had to work with the new stuff for everything we've done on Raspberry Pi (including the betas) because the legislation says we have to. It's horrible, and I wish some materials scientist out there would get working on something a bit easier to work with.


There are not allowed legally at least to execute idiots on sight, so you may have to wait a bit.

Benedict White
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:37 am

riFFraFF said:


Quick and dirty rosin based flux: dissolve shavings from a violinists rosin block in pure acetone (not nail polish remover). Use a small camel hair brush to apply, or a sewing machine needle for smaller circuitry.

I used to strip scrap circuit boards back when components came in DIP packages and 74 and 74LS series ruled. Slather that stuff on both sides of the board with a 1/2" brush and hit it with a heat gun! First experience with SMT components, I helped a friend build about a hundred MDS downconverter boards for a ham fest and that stuff came in handy.


Roisin you say? I knew there was a good reason for playing the violin!

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riffraff
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:39 am

Yes, I am a ham-handed Philistine.

My temperature controlled soldering station is my father's circa 1940's Ungar wood burner handle with a 30 watt heating element from Radio Shack, an electronic light dimmer and a small analog contact thermometer. I have a curious little sharpener with a carbide blade that I suppose might have been used for draftsman's pencils that I use to keep a needle point on the tip for fine work.

Benedict White
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:46 am

riFFraFF said:


Yes, I am a ham-handed Philistine.

My temperature controlled soldering station is my father's circa 1940's Ungar wood burner handle with a 30 watt heating element from Radio Shack, an electronic light dimmer and a small analog contact thermometer. I have a curious little sharpener with a carbide blade that I suppose might have been used for draftsman's pencils that I use to keep a needle point on the tip for fine work.


No reason to make excuses! If its a dual purpose resin, then I am all for it, especially as I end up with bits I can't use for bows.

problemchild
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:47 am

I too did the hot air gun trick I don't think that rosin or any flux would of really helped in this sledgehammer of an art . 100's of memory boards actually put me through Uni '  !!

More to the point I wouldn't recommend any technique used for that as a valid way to learn to solder properly. Clean joints and a decent flux are two of the most important parts of good soldering but I don't think we need Lung rot Rosin  by the ton when we have Flux pens for around £4 and 500Ml of Liquid flux available for around 7-8£.

Use the proper gear, silly not too when it's all that cheap!

Bluemerlin
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:57 am

riFFraFF said:


I used to strip scrap circuit boards back when components came in DIP packages and 74 and 74LS series ruled. Slather that stuff on both sides of the board with a 1/2" brush and hit it with a heat gun!


What do you mean 'back when'. 74 and 74LS still rule. Nothing wrong with using them as a first foray into IC's. We used them by the dozen in uni.

Stop making me feel old.


dattaway
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 5:13 am

I have no problems with large tips soldering SMT work.  Flux, high heat, and working very fast helps the solder bead just where you want it.  Soldering is a true art.

adsdad
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:49 pm

Thanks for all the recommendations so far!

Looks like an Antex 12W or 15W soldering iron would be best for me to start off with for improving my wielding of irons. I'll make sure that I don't try heating anything too large, or try to go too quickly from one joint to the next (as if...) to make sure the temperature stays high enough.

So, does anyone have any recommendations on

- PVC or silicone cable?

- bits (just use the one that comes with the Antex or try a different shape)

- good cheap thin solder (probably doesn't exist)

- cheap electronics kits to experiment with (haven't looked at Maplin's recently, but historically their kits were uninspiring, and cost more than a RasPi for a rubbish kit -- an LED dice with a total of eight states...)

- places to buy this stuff from (in UK or cheap delivery to the UK)

- anything I'm likely to forget about (I know I need a helping hands thing, and a soldering iron stand, something to clean the tip with...)

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abishur
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:57 pm

A little late to the party, but I'd also put my vote in for Weller.  Specifically the WLC100 Soldering Station.  It's 40 bucks in my area, which by cost makes it a little intimidating for a first soldering iron, but it's rather worth it.  5 heat settings and lots of tips to choose from!
Dear forum: Play nice ;-)

Lakes
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Re: Soldering iron recommendations

Tue Jan 03, 2012 6:24 pm

A local Maplins Shop, if there`s one near you and you need stuff quickly or here`s some links..

http://www.bitsbox.co.uk/

http://www.kpsec.freeuk.com/links.htm

http://cpc.farnell.com/  they send you regular catalog updates and a huge telephone style catalog (free) which I never look at, as its easier to search the website.

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