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How to solder things correctly
Tools Required: Soldering iron, solder, tip tinner, wire cutters/strippers,
cleaning sponge, flux
Optional: Soldering Iron
stand, cotton swabs, heat-sink, fine grain sandpaper, alcohol
whatever type of helicopter you
fly, at one time or another you’ll need to solder something. It will
typically be soldering on a battery connector or joining a broken wire
together but may be something a little more complicated.
If you DO NOT solder your battery
connector on properly it can lead to loss of power or even the complete
loss of your helicopter, so knowing how to solder properly is really
Whatever the need, soldering is
also a great skill to have.
Besides your RC toys, there are a
ton of other things around house that might need soldering. You can
repair jewellery, fix kids toys, get an electronic device working again
or even fix a leaky pipe.
Once you master the basics,
you’ll find it’s kind of fun and not really all that difficult. So,
in this ‘how to’ article, we’ll be discussing some basic soldering
skills as well as some more advanced soldering tips and techniques to
make soldering easier and ensure a solid connection every time.
Regular cheap soldering irons cost
anywhere from $5 - $15 and will generally run anywhere from 15 watts to
50 watts. The higher the watts, the hotter the iron usually gets and the
more heat it can transfer to the parts being soldered. More expensive
soldering irons usually have the ability to adjust the temperature
depending on what you’re soldering.
For most jobs, a 25 watt or 30
watt iron will suffice, though more heavy duty soldering (like soldering
deans plugs to a thick battery pack wire) will work best with a 50, 60
or 80 watt iron. I’ve never made the splurge to purchase an expensive
variable heat soldering iron, but I do keep a bunch of different wattage
ones on hand for different jobs.
Always try to use a good quality
tip. One of the first irons I owned cost under $10 from Radio Shack, but
had a $15 tip from an electronics shop that outlasted the soldering iron
by a long shot.
Lower quality tips won’t last
and will oxidize and rust away in no time and need replacing, so in the
long run, a good tip is a great investment. Solder also won’t stick to
oxidized tips which can make soldering a lot more difficult than it
needs to be – more on this later. Just be sure to get a good tip –
even if you have a cheap iron.
Ideally, you want to as big as tip
as possible, but not one that’s so big it’s larger than what
you’re soldering to. A larger tip helps to transfer heat faster and
acts as a larger reservoir of heat so the tips doesn’t cool off while
the connection is being made.
For most soldering you’ll want
to use a chisel tip. Chisel tips will also heat the surface you’re
soldering to faster than conical tips because there’s a greater
surface area available to heat the parts you’re soldering.
The only time a conical tip should
be used is for fine circuit board work where you need a small point so
as to not disturb any other joints besides the one you’re soldering.
If possible, always use 60 / 40
rosin core solder. The rosin core contains flux which is the stuff that
helps it stick – you’ll see more on this later.
Solder comes is different
diameters from super thin to super thick. I keep a roll of thin stuff
and thicker stuff on had depending on if I’m soldering surface mount
components on a circuit board or something a little larger that requires
The thickness doesn’t really
matter too much - you just don’t want a big hunk of thick solder for
delicate work and for more super-sized soldering, using thin stuff can
take a while to build up enough solder to complete your work.
Also, despite common
misconceptions lead based solders are best and it’s not going to
poison you. The fumes from soldering are from the flux in the solder
boiling, not the lead. Lead boils at over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit while
most soldering irons don’t exceed 750. Though, that doesn’t mean the
fumes are good for you – over extended periods they’ve been know to
cause asthma so try to avoid inhaling them if at all possible.
Lead free solder also takes longer
to make a solid connection and it won’t cling to it as well which can
lead to other problems.
Make Solder Stick
Probably the hardest part of
soldering is getting the solder to adhere to the parts you’re
Put simply, solder won’t adhere
to parts that are dirty, so make sure you clean what you’re working on
(with water or alcohol and a cotton swab) and that it’s free from oil
and dirt prior to soldering.
Tip: The oil from your skin is
especially good at making solder not stick, so be sure to clean anything
you touch before soldering.
Solder also won’t stick to cold
parts, so be sure to use an adequately heated iron and heat up the parts
briefly prior to applying the solder and make sure that you’re using
the right sized iron.
When you’re ready to solder, you
also need to make sure there is a good physical connection between the
parts to transfer heat and melt the solder easily and evenly.
For example, if you’re soldering
two wires together, twist them tightly first. If you’re soldering a
component to a circuit board, bend the leads before soldering to help
hold the part in place and clip it in advance. Clipping it afterwards
can cause a crack in the joint and lead to a flaky connection.
You also need to make sure
there’s no oxidation (similar to rust) on the parts you’re soldering
or the soldering iron itself or the solder won’t adhere properly. If
the surface is overly oxidized or extremely shiny, use a fine grit (600)
sandpaper to rough it up a little. Be sure to wipe away the dust prior
Flux can also be purchased in
paste or liquid forms and can be applied to the joint prior to
soldering. For small jobs, it’s not necessary to use extra flux if
your solder has a core of it, but for larger surface area’s it may be
impossible to make the connection without adding a little extra flux.
To use it, just apply it to the
surface you’re soldering, heat it up then apply the solder.
The other secret to soldering is
keeping your tip tinned. Having a small amount of solder on the tip
helps to transfer heat to the part you’re soldering and is essential
to get it to stick.
Clean the tip every time you pick
up the iron and always keep it tinned by adding a small amount of solder
to the tip to prevent oxidation - even when you unplug your iron.
Tips & Techniques
When your iron is hot, the parts
are clean and you’re all ready to solder, here’s how to do it:
When you’re ready to solder,
clean the tip using the sponge, then tin the tip with fresh solder. Then
use the iron to heat the solder joint and then touch the opposite side
of the joint with the solder. Solder runs towards the heat and around
the part to get to the iron and it ensures that the part is hot enough
to make a good connection.
Never touch the solder directly to
the iron when soldering. When the joint is hot enough, it will flow
freely. If you put solder on the iron tip first, the flux boils off
before the solder even touches the joint.
You want to use enough solder to
clearly cover the joint, but not so much that you can’t see the
outlines of the wires or sides
Solder each connection as quickly
as possible… 2 to 5 seconds per joint should be more than enough.
Keeping the heat applied to the joint for too long can destroy some
electrical components from the excessive heat.
Just don’t push too hard,
especially when working on circuit boards. Excess pressure can cause the
little tabs to break off or pull away from the circuit board.
If joint is dull and solder
isn’t smooth, chances are you have a cold solder joint where the
solder didn’t meet smoothly and bond with the surface.
For this reason, it’s really
important that you don’t move or disturb the joint while it is
After it’s cooled off, clean the
parts you just soldered with alcohol (or water for water based flux)
using the cotton swabs. The excess flux may corrode the connections over
time and cause them to crack or come loose which in most cases isn’t
In cases when soldering sensitive
electrical components such as transistors, you may want to use a
heatsink (pictured at top of page) to dissipate extra heat.
To remove excess solder, you can
use a copper wire braid or solder sucker (both pictured at top of page).
I prefer the braid because it’s easier to use and more precise, but
both will work. The solder sucker or de-solderer uses suction to suck up
excess liquid solder. The copper braid sucks the solder through it and
the solder adheres to the braid thereby removing it from whatever your
By the way, if you need help to
hold things in place, you can use a helping hand type device. For things
like soldering Deans plugs, I’ll often just take a pair or pliers and
wrap a rubber band around it to hole the plug in place while I solder
the connection to it.
You can also use electrical take
to tape wires and such to the surface you’re working on while you
solder the connection.
That’s mostly all you need to
know. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask by
leaving a comment.