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   INFORMATION - 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 youll 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 important.

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, youll find its kind of fun and not really all that difficult. So, in this how to article, well 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.

Choosing A Soldering Iron

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 youre 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. Ive 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.

Tips Size & Selection

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 wont 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 wont 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 thats so big its larger than what youre soldering to. A larger tip helps to transfer heat faster and acts as a larger reservoir of heat so the tips doesnt cool off while the connection is being made.

For most soldering youll want to use a chisel tip. Chisel tips will also heat the surface youre soldering to faster than conical tips because theres a greater surface area available to heat the parts youre 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 youre soldering.

Selecting Solder

If possible, always use 60 / 40 rosin core solder. The rosin core contains flux which is the stuff that helps it stick youll 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 Im soldering surface mount components on a circuit board or something a little larger that requires more solder.

The thickness doesnt really matter too much - you just dont 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 its 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 dont exceed 750. Though, that doesnt mean the fumes are good for you over extended periods theyve 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 wont cling to it as well which can lead to other problems.

How To Make Solder Stick

Probably the hardest part of soldering is getting the solder to adhere to the parts youre soldering.

Put simply, solder wont adhere to parts that are dirty, so make sure you clean what youre working on (with water or alcohol and a cotton swab) and that its 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 wont 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 youre using the right sized iron.

When youre 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 youre soldering two wires together, twist them tightly first. If youre 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 theres no oxidation (similar to rust) on the parts youre soldering or the soldering iron itself or the solder wont 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 to soldering.

Flux can also be purchased in paste or liquid forms and can be applied to the joint prior to soldering. For small jobs, its not necessary to use extra flux if your solder has a core of it, but for larger surface areas it may be impossible to make the connection without adding a little extra flux.

To use it, just apply it to the surface youre 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 youre 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.

Soldering Tips & Techniques

When your iron is hot, the parts are clean and youre all ready to solder, heres how to do it:

When youre 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 cant 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 dont 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 isnt smooth, chances are you have a cold solder joint where the solder didnt meet smoothly and bond with the surface.

For this reason, its really important that you dont move or disturb the joint while it is cooling.

After its 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 isnt good.

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 its 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 de-soldering.

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, Ill 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 youre working on while you solder the connection.

Thats mostly all you need to know. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask by leaving a comment.

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